The inexorable rise of the ‘gravel’ bike – a style of machine with a specific racing application in America, but which, by happy coincidence, is almost purpose-built with UK conditions in mind – continues unabated. Specialized, obviously keen to embrace the trend, has scrapped the Secteur (essentially, an aluminium Roubaix), and for MY2015 has ushered in the Diverge – perhaps the most versatile bike we’ve seen since the Saracen Avro.
Cyclo-cross bikes have gained in popularity in recent years for adventurous commuters seeking out the long way home, but the penalty paid from a machine typically shod with knobbly tyres and necessarily built around a geometry that prioritises stability over speed can be a lack of on-road zip. The Diverge is intended as a ‘have your cake and eat it’ bike, and we hope soon to judge its success in this regard on a test ride. Specialized UK are engaged in the not unenjoyable task of researching test loops for just such a purpose, we understand and Booth makes an interesting point about the differing pleasures of riding a sleek and elegant road bike like the Tarmac or Venge, and the Diverge – one that might reconnect you with your earliest love of cycling. “There is something fun about riding a bike in an environment where maybe it shouldn’t be,” Booth says. “It takes you back to being a kid where you had one bike, and you’d take your BMX on a local trail because you didn’t have a mountain bike, or you’d ride a mountain bike on the road because you didn’t have a road bike. There is that childhood thing about a bike like this.”
What is immediately apparent, and to us at least, of greater appeal, is its sheer practicality. Like the Avro, the range-topping Diverge pairs disc brakes (Shimano’s R785 calipers and the ST-RS685 hydro/mechanical STI lever, in this instance) with the bolt-thru axles, hopefully providing some of the extra stiffness demanded by the superior braking forces. They’re not wildly more complicated than a quick release skewer to operate either: just a few turns with an Allen key is sufficient to remove them, should you need to stow the Diverge in the boot of a car, or similar. Additionally, as any mountain biker will tell you, the wheel is always centred. That said, the diameter of the bolt thru axles deployed here is considerably less than those you’re likely to find on a mountain bike (12mm here, rather than the 20/15mm combination found on many off-road machines). Still, riders taking advantage of the rack mounts to load up the bike are likely to be glad of the extra stiffness and, as Booth points out, there’s no moving part (a suspension fork) to stiffen.
Still more impressive are the integrated mudguard and rack mounts, even on models with composite frames (aluminium chassis also account for some of the Diverge line-up, notably the SmartWeld-ed Diverge Comp). This has the appearance of a machine able to laugh in the face of the perennially wet British climate and willing to duty on light touring missions. Further evidence can be found in the Specialized Roubaix Pro tyres: 120tpi covers with a 32c casing and 30c tread (to provide additional cushioning for the contact patch). The tread, incidentally, is the ‘Gripton’, introduced with the flagship S-Works Turbo (and now featured also on the all-condition Armadillo Elite). It’s mounted to a DT Axis 4.0 rim with 21mm internal diameter: not the widest we’ve encountered, but certainly on trend with broader profiles intended to offer a more aerodynamic contour, and, more specifically in this application, greater freedom of movement for the tyre at lower pressures.
While it’s easy to be knocked sideways by the often jaw-dropping beauty of flagship race machinery (Morgan Hill has this covered too: stay tuned for the MY2015 S-Works Allez) there is something very pleasing about one of cycling’s biggest players dedicating its considerable resources to designing the type of multi-purpose machine that should encourage more people to cycle. The Diverge range opens with the £750, Shimano Claris-equipped A1, but even here we find disc brakes (Tektro Spyre mechanical) and 30c tyres (Specialized’s 60 TPI Espoir Sport). We wish Specialized well with the Diverge – a bike that in our opinion deserves to succeed.