5,000 Miles In -- Why the Specialized Diverge is the Most Under-Rated Bike on the Market

Getting Loose at Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado.

Getting Loose at Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado.

“Gravel” “Adventure” “All-Road” “Whatever You Call It” these bikes are all the rage now, but just a few years ago, finding the right “all-in-one” bike wasn’t so easy.

Back in 2014, I was looking for a bike — a very specific type of bike. I wanted a drop-bar bike that was as capable off the beaten path as it was on the road. It needed to handle wide, knobby tires, have hydraulic disc brakes, thru axles both front and back, and good gearing for off-road and road use.

Surprisingly, this wasn’t as easy as I thought. 

Coming from a mountain biking background, I knew that I wanted thru-axles for ease of alignment with the disc brakes as well as stiffness. I found bikes from Salsa, Marin, Kona, and Trek that fit most of my checklist, but they all came with quick-releases in the rear. This was before there was a road-bike disc standard for axles and most companies did not want to put the money into thru-axle rear triangles frames just yet.

And then, I found the specs for the 2015 Specialized Diverge Comp Carbon online. For a company that seemed to focus on their ultra-high-end road bikes, I was surprised to see a bike that was made for “adventure” taking risks on un-proven axle and brake standards(at that time). Even better, my local bike shop had just started carrying Specialized bikes so I put in an order for one of the first bikes off the boat (literally it turned out).

Feeling the Interstate 70 vibes just west of Denver, Colorado.

Feeling the Interstate 70 vibes just west of Denver, Colorado.

A “Road Bike” Without Compromise

I recently passed 5,000 miles on my Diverge and the biggest surprise for me is how capable the Diverge is on the road. Having the exact same geometry at the Specialized Roubaix road bike, it feels snappy, responsive, and I have no problems keeping up with a group ride full of dedicated road bikes (except that all the road riders here in Colorado are basically olympians and I can never keep up).

On two different cycling trips, I specifically rented a Specialized Tarmac (their high-end race bike) and a Specialized Roubaix (their high-end endurance road bike) to compare them with my Diverge. Although the Tarmac is slightly more snappy and responsive, I wouldn’t call my Diverge slow or sloppy by any measure and riding the Roubaix felt just like home.

Is it the lightest bike out there? No. Is it the most aero bike out there? No. But I don’t care. Simply put, the Diverge is a great road bike with bigger tire clearance and disc brakes that just makes it more awesome.

An “Adventure Bike” Without Compromise

What is great about the Diverge is the fact that I don’t need to worry about what “road” I am riding. I can ride on roads, cycling paths, gravel, dirt, or on single track MTB trails and feel confident that my bike will handle it without concern. I can be riding along on the road, see a fun-looking path and take it — no need to be overly protective of my fancy carbon road bike.

When I am specifically going to ride off-road, I swap out my stock wheel set with a custom-built wheel set (DT Swiss 350 hubs, 32-spoke Stan’s Arches Rims, Panaracer Gravel King SK 32mm tires) and off I go. Snow, dirt, mud, or gravel, the bike handles perfectly. My only regret is not getting the bigger 35mm tires for an even smoother ride.

The Diverge is so capable off the beaten path. Whenever I see lists of “Best Gravel Bike of the Year” or “The Only Bike You’ll Ever Need” they often do not mention the Diverge. This is a shame because it is such a great bike.

In “Full-Winter Mode” with 32mm knobby tires and a SKS X-Blade Mud Guard.

In “Full-Winter Mode” with 32mm knobby tires and a SKS X-Blade Mud Guard.

Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park. 12,000 feet. May, 2016.

Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park. 12,000 feet. May, 2016.

Shimano 105? That Must Mean You’re Not Hardcore.

Let’s talk about components for a moment. I am not a Dura-Ace level rider and I’m happy to admit it. I’m just a 34-year-old dad of two young boys just trying to have some fun riding bikes. I rode bikes blindly back and forth with Shimano 105 5800 11-speed and Ultegra 6800 11-speed and I honestly couldn’t tell the difference. I wanted to have Ultegra-level components on my bike to look fancy, but it was $500 more and I couldn’t justify it.

Shimano 105 5800 11-speed crankset. Trickle-down technology for the win!

Shimano 105 5800 11-speed crankset. Trickle-down technology for the win!

The Diverge has been extremely dependable. The only issue I’ve had is a snapped shift cable around 4,500 miles in. I also replaced the chain around 4,000 miles because the internet told me I should. All I do is keep the chain clean and lubed and the Shimano 105 11-speed has performed flawlessly.

Modifications to the Stock Specs

When I purchased the bike, I only made a few slight changes to the stock configuration of the Comp Carbon specs. 

Most significantly, I swapped out the crankset from a Praxis crankset (which was arguably lighter and stiffer) to a Shimano 105 5800 crankset. Why? I just don’t like the look of mixed components on a bike — I think it looks silly. Everything on my bike is Shimano 105 and it looks cleaner.

SWAT MTB Kit which attaches to the extra bottle mount on the Diverge.

SWAT MTB Kit which attaches to the extra bottle mount on the Diverge.

Another small (but important to me) detail is that the Diverge has a third bottle mount on the down tube which can handle the SWAT MTB Kit. It holds a spare tube, multi-tool, CO2 cartridge, and patch kit nice and neat below my water bottles. This means I don’t have to have a stupid saddle bag dangling under my butt, which is a big improvement to me!

Modifications to the Stock Specs

When I purchased the bike, I only made a few slight changes to the stock configuration of the Comp Carbon specs. 

Most significantly, I swapped out the crankset from a Praxis crankset (which was arguably lighter and stiffer) to a Shimano 105 5800 crankset. Why? I just don’t like the look of mixed components on a bike — I think it looks silly. Everything on my bike is Shimano 105 and it looks cleaner.

SWAT MTB Kit which attaches to the extra bottle mount on the Diverge.

Another small (but important to me) detail is that the Diverge has a third bottle mount on the down tube which can handle the SWAT MTB Kit. It holds a spare tube, multi-tool, CO2 cartridge, and patch kit nice and neat below my water bottles. This means I don’t have to have a stupid saddle bag dangling under my butt, which is a big improvement to me!


The Diverge’s Achilles’ Heel

Of course, nothing is ever 100% perfect because life sucks. Honestly, when I purchased the bike, I didn’t know anything about wheel sets or hub sizing. I just knew I wanted thru-axles for stiffness and ease of aligning my disc brakes when swapping wheels.

Get ready — this is going to get nerdy.

SCS “Short Chain Stay”

Basically, part of the reason the Diverge rides so much like a road bike is that it has short chain stays (the part of the frame that goes from the bottom bracket to the rear wheel). This helps keeps the bike responsive and snappy.

BUT, to make disc rotors fit in the frame and still have a good “chain line” (which I assume is important but don’t have time to learn about) they had to move the hub and the derailleur. Honestly, I don’t know exactly which way or how, but this means that only SCS wheels will fit the Diverge.

These diagrams mean something, I assume.

These diagrams mean something, I assume.

This is a big deal for some but not for me. The stock Axis 4.0 wheels are surprisingly light for alloy wheels (at 1625 grams) and have performed admirably. Also, I got lucky: the custom wheels that I already owned fit after some slight modifications. Do I want to get some fancy carbon wheels? Of course, but I’ll still be saving for quite a while as they are stupid-expensive.

Now, Specialized sells a non-SCS derailleur hanger (visit that link if you want to see the mess that is SCS) that is supposed to work with any wheel set. Also, they recently released the CruX and Sequoia with 142mm rear spacing and no mention of SCS, so I’m hoping they will kill it on the Diverge in the near future.

In Conclusion

Now, I don’t want to end this post talking about the negativity of SCS wheels because for most people, this is not a deal-breaker. It’s a bummer and I hope Specialized goes away from SCS, but I still love the bike.

So instead, I’ll end with a picture of my son asleep in his Thule RideAlong seat in Moab, Utah. He loves the Diverge and so should you.

The Specialized Diverge: Approved by two year olds everywhere!

The Specialized Diverge: Approved by two year olds everywhere!