The £1,000 Specialized Diverge E5 Sport brings the US company’s latest adventure and gravel bike design down to an attractive price point and produces a package that works well in a multitude of uses. With the stock tyres it’s a solid and dependable road bike for road riding and commuting, but needs a tyre swap to open it up to more varied terrain, whereupon it’s decently capable for rough stuffing.
The Diverge is the company’s adventure, gravel, call-it-what-you-want road bike. It’s designed for tackling rough roads and gravel tracks basically, with bigger tyre clearance, disc brakes and geometry that splits the difference between a road bike and a cyclocross bike. The range goes all the way to a heady £8,000 with the blingtastic S-Works model, but all the important DNA of that model are smartly diluted into this £1,000 model.
Tyre choice is critical with gravel and adventure bikes. It’s clear from the decision to fit the smooth treaded Espoir Sport 30mm wide tyres that Specialized reckons this bike, due to its price, features and geometry, will appeal to those looking for a daily workhorse commuter and road riding.
I’d tend to agree. It used to be that cyclocross bikes would be converted into rugged road bikes for commuting and winter cycling, but the Diverge is much better suited. It makes a great bike for getting from A to B. It’s speedy, comfortable and the wide tyres take out a lot of the sting from negotiating rough main roads. There’s provision for fitting mudguards as well and you could even fit a rear rack if you need to lug a laptop to the office.
To really unleash the off-road potential of the Diverge E5 Sport though you’ll need to factor in the cost of some suitable tyres. I swapped in some Panaracer Gravelking 40mm tyres and this simple change instantly gave the bike much more capacity to handle a wide multitude of surfaces, from potholed country lanes to sweet woodland singletrack. It may lose a bit of pace on the road, but show it a bridleway or gravel road and it’ll roll up its sleeves and happily tackle whatever terrain you want to show it.
The aluminium frame is smartly designed and displays plenty of stiffness when you want to surge up a short climb, and the FACT carbon fork helps shed a bit of weight ensures the front-end has a reassuring stoutness to it when cornering. I like the neat internal cable routing for the clean lines it gives the bike, and it keeps the cables from getting crudded up with mud and water. It’s good to see an external threaded bottom bracket as well for easy maintenance and a creak-free life.
The glaring omission on this model is obviously the lack of the Future Shock you get on more expensive models. The spring in a cartridge positioned at the top of the head tube is a cunningly clever technology (I was hugely impressed with the S-Works Diverge I tested) but clearly, it’s too expensive to find its way onto a £1,000 bike. Which is both a shame but in reality a good thing; it’s less complexity which will suit the customer this bike is aimed.
While the bike isn’t exactly harsh it would lend the bike a bit more chuck-ability in really rough terrain. It’ll cost you another £500 to go to the Diverge E5 Comp, the cheapest model with the Future Shock, which I’d give serious thought to if I was looking to ride on very rough terrain a lot. If you have a wider remit though you can happily live without it.
Specialized calls the geometry Open Road Geometry and has been developed to give the Diverge range a happy medium between road and off-road handling characteristics. The bottom bracket is lower than a cyclocross bike so you don’t feel so high on the bike, the head angle is a bit slacker to calm the steering on loose terrain and high-speed road descents, while the short chainstays keep it nimble through tighter corners. The front-end is also a bit higher for a more comfortable position, and there’s a generous stack of spacers for adjusting the handlebar height to suit your preference.
I applaud Specialized’s attention to detail in the choice of gearing. A Praxis Alba 2d 48/32t chainset combined with a Sunrace 11-32t cassette gives a nice spread of gears with a good low-end for grunting and grafting up steep and long climbs, and you need all the help as the Diverge E5 Sport is far from light at 10kg. The Shimano Sora shifters work smoothly with a bit more clunk than its higher-end offerings, but it proved reliable and the hoods are a nice shape. It’s a 9-speed groupset but in reality, I didn’t notice the lack of an extra sprocket or three.
It’s rare to get hydraulic disc brakes at this price so you’re looking at mechanical stoppers, and the Tektro Mira mechanical flat mount disc brakes work well once you get them bedded in.
Ride out of the shop and you’ll be disappointed at their lack of bite, but that’s because they do need bedding in to release their full potential. I found they worked well after a good few rides, with quiet operation and a nice lever feel, but there’s no getting around the fact they just aren’t in the same league as hydraulic discs.
Specialized has nailed the finishing kit. It usually does. It’s all the company’s own-branded stuff, from the Body Geometry Toupe Sport saddle which is impressively comfortable with a good deal of supportive padding to the Shallow Drop aluminium handlebar finished in luxurious S-Wrap tape. One detail I want to draw your attention to are the bar end plugs which use an expander plug inside to ensure they stay in the bars and don’t end up littering the road or trailside.
Based on riding my local roads and trails, I’ve been really impressed with the Diverge E5 Sport. It’s a competent bike for daily commuting and road rides that take in lots of rough surfaces, and with a change of tyres, it can contend with much more varied terrain. The equipment is thoughtful but where it does fall down, and it’s the usual problem for Specialized, is that it’s not the best equipped for the money.
An alternative is the Pinnacle Arkose X which for £900 does offer hydraulic disc brakes, a wide range Shimano Deore 1x groupset and 40mm wide WTB Nano Comp tyres, details that on paper give it more off-road capability but arguably a less rounded appeal to the Diverge, and the Pinnacle’s bar-end shifters might turn some people off compared to Shimano integrated shifter hoods.
Another possible rival is the £850 Marin Four Corners, which has a smart aluminium frame with good versatility and comfort, but it’s giving away a massive 3.7kg compared to the Diverge, a substantial weight difference considering the £150 price difference, and helps give the nod to the Specialized.
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