Diverge str - inititial review by lukas brinkerhoff
Not all gravel is created equal
Southern Utah is known for its amazing riding and has a lot of things going for it, but it does lack 1 or 2 items in the riding department that make it unique. There is very little flat. The terrain is pretty much up or down, even our flat ends up being a climb. And we do not have smooth gravel.
Our gravel is best ridden with the biggest tires you can find. The most popular bikes have included some form of mechanical suspension and big, knobby tires. Due to the dry climate and rocky geology, our roads tend to lose their dirt and what is left over is what we call gravel but would more often be referred to as boulders. Varying sized boulders, but jumping on a gravel bike that has tires smaller than 42 and you are almost guaranteed to lose a couple of fillings. The more capable your bike is, the more you will probably enjoy riding gravel in our area.
There are lots of bikes out there that do gravel well, but I would venture to say there are only a few bikes that will excel in Southern Utah.
The idea behind this bike is simple, the execution is not.
STR stands for Suspend the Rider. Most suspension is built to suspend the bike and then the rider. You can see this on almost every modern mountain bike. The suspension is placed between the wheel and the frame hence suspending the bike. This allows the wheel to move when the bumps and drops come along. In general, it works well. The only real down side is the amount of potential energy loss by human efforts that are lost before they hit the wheels.
The Diverge and more recently the Diverge STR flipped this idea. Instead of placing the suspension between the wheels and the frame, a small amount of suspension is added between the handlebars and the frame, and in the case of the STR, under the seatpost and frame. By suspending the rider instead of the bike, little if anything is lost in way of efficiency, but gains in comfort and smoothness are huge. Specialized has been using this concept for several years, initially introducing it on the Roubaix.
Having owned and then sold, the previous version of Diverge, I was very intrigued by this new iteration completing the idea of suspending the rider.
So how does it ride?
Outside of two, 3-block trips to the shop, my first ride was a 60-mile route out in the Beaver Dam Wash area. Typically, I would hope for 3-4 rides closer to town to shake out any demons before a big, remote ride, but timing was off and I wanted to ride this thing.
The loop started on pavement. Immediately, I thought this is going to be a long ride. The framepost is way too soft. The framepost on the Diverge STR is essentially the spring and sets how soft or firm the bike’s range can be used at. Following the guidelines that shipped with the bike, I had swapped out the firm post to the light one. I’m a little guy. On top of the adjustability provided by swapping frameposts, the damper that comes on the Diverge STR allows for three different levels of compression and rebound adjustment. As we began pedaling, I just flipped the damper to the firmest setting and figured I would end up swapping things around later.
With the damper at its firmest setting, things felt pretty normal except when I hit a pot hole and all of a sudden the seatpost drops out from behind me, once more feeling super soft.
And then we hit the dirt road.
The bike felt smooth even with the damper essentially locked out. After a couple of miles, I got curious and opened the damper halfway to see how things felt. They felt soft, but smooth. The washboards are there, and I can feel them, but they don’t buck me off the saddle. I can stay seated over things that normally would have my breaking cadence, slightly standing up to absorb the bouncing with my legs while trying to continue to pedal.
We keep rolling and the bike and I start to settle on a rhythm. I find myself noticing the moving seatpost less and less. Until I look down and see that the damper has flipped all the way open, didn’t even notice, but as I look down I can see everything moving. Not sure why I hadn’t thought of it, but the framepost doesn’t just allow forward and backward motion. It also moves side to side. It might sound counterintuitive, but the motion allows me to stay planted on the saddle. Staying planted is usually a problem on a regular gravel ride. The bouncing and jarring caused by the uneven surface are transferred up through the seatpost and into your butt. Not with the STR. Instead, the whole thing moves with you. This gave the added benefit of a reduction in soreness.
Once the damper was open, there was no going back. Thirty or so miles in and I had more or less stopped noticing the motion at all. It was smooth and I could tell that, but the bike was predictable and comfortable.
I was very happy to find that the STR handled identically to the last Diverge I owned. In my opinion, the angles are all perfect. The bike just wants to rip, leave the ground, bomb down steep, chunky stuff. It wants it all.
I must admit, I started out skeptical. By the time we were ending the ride, I was sold. I can see that this bike might not be for everyone or for every area, but it’s probably the best gravel bike you can get for Southern Utah.
What about ripping some singletrack?
Monday was a preview of the Red Rock Rampage course, on gravel bikes (if you haven’t heard, there is now a gravel category at the Intermountain Cup races. Same course, same day, new challenge).
The confidence to just let this bike do it’s thing was amplified by the technical riding. I was hesitant to ride the rampage course on a drop bar bike. Josh Wolfe took off and I tried to stay on his wheel. Once we got to the top and started to descend you couldn’t have removed the smile from my face even with a stick. Not once did I feel like the bike couldn’t handle it. I found myself leaving the ground to gap over rocky sections. It was a point and shoot situation, point it and it would shoot right there.
I was all smiles at the end. Definitely looking forward to this weekend.
I would put this as a bike that was specifically created for the type of gravel riding we have in Southern Utah. The future shocks smooth out the rocky stuff that tends to pass as our roads. The geo handles everything else with a stable, confidence inspiring ride. I look forward to getting even more dialed and seeing what this bike can do long term. Like the Diverge that preceded this one, I can’t recommend it enough. Super fun, super smooth.