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The latest version of Specialized's Diverge Comp E5 is a very capable gravel racer that works well on the road too. It's fun to ride thanks to a quality frameset and sorted geometry, and the Future Shock tames the bumps for a smooth route across the trails.
Last year I rode the entry-level carbon fibre model Diverge, which has been discontinued for 2020, and a lot of what I said in that review holds true here for this Comp E5 model. After all, they share the same geometry, and both come with the same Future Shock damping system, plus there is very little to really differentiate between the ride quality of the carbon fibre frame and the aluminium alloy one.
Specialized makes very good alloy frames, you see. Its Allez Sprint Comp is one of the best examples out there, with a great balance of stiffness and comfort – something the Diverge also delivers on, with the added bonus of larger quality tyres and that Future Shock.
The geometry of the Diverge is more similar to that found on an endurance road bike than the majority of gravel bikes on the market. With a 72.5-degree head angle (56cm model), a 73.5-degree seat angle and a short 1,011mm wheelbase, this is an aggressive bike to ride, which means plenty of excitement when off the beaten track.
On loose terrain the steering feels sharp, and even with the progressive damping of the Future Shock you can still feel plenty of feedback from the front tyre, so you know exactly what the bike is up to.
Whether on firm singletrack through the woods or wide sweeping gravel tracks, the Diverge feels planted and gives you plenty of confidence to push the bike hard into the corners – even with its standard 35mm Roadsport tyres scrabbling for grip on all but the smoothest of surfaces.
Even its 10.29kg weight does little to dampen the fun, as the Diverge feels a lot more flickable than you'd expect.
You notice it a bit on the hills, especially on really steep climbs, but at least that is offset by the fact that Specialized has gone for a gravel-friendly 48/32t Praxis chainset mated to an 11-34t cassette.
Climbing was also the only place I didn't really get on with the Future Shock – in the same way that I didn't on the carbon Diverge. It can't be locked out, so even with the firmest spring option (there's a choice of three) the front end still bobbed up and down when I was going for it out of the saddle.
The benefits can certainly be felt when you point the Specialized downhill, though. The 20mm of travel means you don't have to be quite so precise with your line when off-road and you can clout the odd rock/pothole/tree root without it unsettling the bike as much as it would on something with a rigid front.
The Diverge is no slouch on the road either, and you can really get a decent pace going – well, until you run out of gears anyway. Those small chainrings mean you won't be making much use of the inner one if you are a strong rider.
With many gravel tracks and byways being linked by sections of road, the versatility of the Diverge is a big bonus, and it'd make a decent all-round commuter too.
Specialized has its own grades of aluminium alloy and the Comp uses the E5 version to create what is a very nice looking frame.
To create that balance of stiffness and comfort Specialized has followed the familiar route of oversizing some parts of the frame while making others a little more slender to promote some flex.
Up front you get a beefy head tube and matching down tube, and the top tube tapers from front to back where it meets the skinnier seat tube.
The bottom bracket area has plenty of material going on to make sure none of your pedalling effort is wasted, and the chainstays are also suitably chunky to make sure all the power is going to the rear wheel. With the intended usage of the Diverge it is also good to see that a threaded bottom bracket has been specified rather than a press-fit option which, if the tolerances aren't perfect between the bearing cups and the frame, can allow water and grit to enter causing various creaks and groans every time you pedal.
The seatstays are very thin, which brings added comfort to the rear end through the stays being able to move. Their diminutive size does minimise their load-carrying ability, but Specialized has cleverly incorporated a rack mount into the seat clamp instead.
The Diverge Comp can also take mudguards.
Fork-wise, the Diverge uses the FACT carbon fibre option which has plenty of stiffness for great handling and to deal with the high stresses of the front disc brake.
Like the frame, it accepts a 12mm thru-axle for keeping the wheel attached, and neat looking flat mounts for fitting the hydraulic callipers.
I've touched on the geometry a bit already, but as for the rest of it you are getting a 561mm effective top tube length and a short 128mm head tube length. This is to compensate for the Future Shock and that 20mm of travel which, when coupled to that short head tube, means your overall front-end height isn't that different to most other bikes in a 56cm size.
Measuring the stack height from the top of the Future Shock does give the Diverge a slightly higher figure than normal at 613mm, although the reach is pretty much spot on at 379mm.
It is one of the best value for money groupsets out there, and you really can't fault the shifting or braking.
The shape of the new 7020 levers matches that of Ultegra and Dura-Ace, which means they are comfortable to use and spend a lot of time.
Shimano doesn't make a 105 chainset smaller than a compact 50/34, so to lower the gearing for off-road use it has chosen a Praxis Alba option instead, with matching bottom bracket.
I've used loads of Praxis chainsets over the years and they are a very good option. Shifting is just as good as Shimano's and the wear rates are pretty good too, plus the bottom brackets are robust enough for plenty of miles in crappy conditions.
The rest of the finishing kit is all Specialized branded, and it does the job.
The alloy handlebar offers plenty of stiffness and loads of clamping area for your lights and computer should you need it.
The drops are shallow, so even those of us who aren't massively flexible can make the most of them, although, showing its roadie roots, the Diverge doesn't have a flared handlebar like most gravel bikes, which is a shame. The wider stance at the bottom of a flared bar gives you more control on rough terrain, and if the bike was mine that would be one of the first changes I'd make.
The stem is also alloy and, well, it does exactly what a stem should do – keeps the handlebar attached to the fork steerer.
The Diverge's compact frame design means chances are you'll be running a lot of exposed seatpost, which improves comfort. If you wanted a tiny bit more, you could swap the standard alloy one for carbon, but it isn't a necessity. With the Future Shock at the front, though, it does make the rear end feel harsher than it really is.
Sitting atop the post is a Body Geometry Power Sport saddle and I really liked its short length. The firm padding gives a good platform to push against when pedalling hard and I found it comfortable for both long and short rides.
The wheels and tyres are both out of Specialized's parts bin. The Axis Sport Disc wheels aren't massively heavy and don't hamper the ability of the bike at all. With a 24-spoke build at the front and a slightly beefier 28 at the rear, they are aimed more at faster, unloaded gravel riding than others on the market, but I certainly had no issues with durability after some really hard-hitting gravel rides.
Rain, mud and grit haven't seen the bearings start grumbling yet, and they continue to spin with little resistance.
The Roadsport tyres are lightly treaded, which means they roll well on the tarmac and on firm off-road trails, but offer very little grip in deeper sections of small gravel or mud. They are only 35mm wide too, so if you are going to spend more time on the tracks and trails then wider, more knobbly tyres will make the Diverge more versatile and fun to ride away from the road.
As it is, though, I found the Roadsports to be tough and had no issues with punctures while out in the back lanes riding over a variety of road debris.
In my eyes, at £1,949 the Comp E5 offers better value for money than the Men's Diverge for £2,100 – they have similar ride qualities and weight but the alloy offering gets a much better groupset over the Tiagra found on the carbon model.
Saying that, it is still quite pricey against the opposition, even with the USP of the Future Shock. After all, it works well but doesn't make such a huge difference that it would affect my buying intentions.
The alloy Revolt 0 has the same finishing kit but comes in at just £1,499, although it does lack the carbon D-Fuse seatpost of the more expensive version, which David Arthur felt reduced the comfort.
Another option would be the new GT Grade, with the carbon-framed Expert model coming with the same finishing kit as the Diverge but for just an extra £50.
For an extra £150 you could have the brilliantly stiff Giant Revolt Advanced 2. Its carbon fibre frame design and flex-inducing components mean it is just as comfortable as the Diverge and lighter, too.
Overall, the Diverge Comp E5 is a great bike to ride. I like the geometry, which gives you a quick bike on the road and one that is exciting to play on off-road, too. The Future Shock helps, and if you like the idea of a bit of suspension to soften rough rides then the Specialized is definitely worth a look.
Fast, fun and versatile gravel bike that's great on the road too
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Specialized Diverge Comp E5 2020
Size tested: 56cm
About the bike
List the components used to build up the bike.
BOTTOM BRACKET Praxis, Threaded bearings
CHAIN KMC X11 EL, 11-speed
CRANKSET Praxis Alba
SHIFT LEVERS Shimano 105 hydraulic disc, ST-7025
FRONT DERAILLEUR Shimano 105, Braze-On
CASSETTE Shimano 105, 11-speed, 11-34t
REAR DERAILLEUR Shimano 105 R7000 GS, medium cage, 11-speed
FORK Specialized FACT carbon, flat-mount disc, 12x100mm thru-axle
SADDLE Body Geometry Power Sport, steel rails
SEAT BINDER Diverge rack-mount seat collar
TAPE Specialized S-Wrap
SEATPOST Alloy, 2-bolt Clamp, 12mm offset, 27.2mm, anti-corrosion hardware
HANDLEBARS Specialized Shallow Drop, 6061, 70x125mm, 31.8mm clamp
STEM Specialized, 3D-forged alloy, 4-bolt, 7-degree rise
REAR WHEEL Axis Sport Disc
INNER TUBES Presta valve, 48mm
FRONT TIRE Specialized Roadsport, 60TPI, wire bead, Flak Jacket protection, 700x35mm
REAR TIRE Specialized Roadsport, 60TPI, wire bead, Flak Jacket protection, 700x35mm
FRONT WHEEL Axis Sport Disc
FRONT BRAKE Shimano 105 R7070, flat-mount hydraulic disc
REAR BRAKE Shimano 105 R7070, flat-mount hydraulic disc
PEDALS Nylon, 105x78x28mm, loose ball w/reflectors
FRAME Specialized E5 Premium Aluminum, Future Shock Progressive suspension, 20mm of travel, threaded bottom bracket 12x142mm thru-axle, flat-mount disc
Tell us what the bike is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about the bike?
Specialized says, "While the real fun starts where the road ends, you still need a bike that'll get you there - one bike that shreds flowy singletrack, gravel, and traditional roads with equal authority. A more capable road bike won't cut it, nor will a more road-worthy 'cross bike for that matter. No, you need a dedicated gravel bike like the Diverge. First and foremost, it's fun and always down for a good time, but with a progressively-tuned Future Shock, our fast and stable Open Road Geometry, and plenty of tire clearance, it redefines the possibilities for adventure on a drop-bar bike."
It is indeed a very versatile gravel bike, ideally suited to those who like to ride hard and fast.
Where does this model sit in the range? Tell us briefly about the cheaper options and the more expensive options
The Comp E5 sits at the top of the alloy range; sitting below are the Elite E5 (£1,299) and the E5 (£899) although neither of these has the Future Shock.
Frame and fork
Tell us about the build quality and finish of the frame and fork?
A great quality alloy frame from Specialized, finished off with a hardwearing paint job.
Tell us about the materials used in the frame and fork?
The frame is made from Specialized's E5 aluminium alloy and the fork is carbon fibre.
Tell us about the geometry of the frame and fork?
The Diverge has more aggressive geometry than the majority of gravel/adventure bikes on the market, which makes it fun to ride fast off-road.
How was the bike in terms of height and reach? How did it compare to other bikes of the same stated size?
The reach is pretty much as I'd expect for this size and style of bike, and although the Diverge has a short head tube, taking the Future Shock and everything into consideration it has quite a high front end and taller realistic stack measurements than most.
Riding the bike
Was the bike comfortable to ride? Tell us how you felt about the ride quality.
Yes. The alloy frame is pretty much just as comfortable as the carbon fibre version and the Future Shock does a could job of taking out the vibration and small bumps in the road and trail.
Did the bike feel stiff in the right places? Did any part of the bike feel too stiff or too flexible?
The bottom half of the frame has excellent stiffness.
How did the bike transfer power? Did it feel efficient?
Yes, the Diverge does feel efficient, especially when being ridden hard. I wasn't a fan of the Future Shock 'bobbing' when climbing though.
Was there any toe-clip overlap with the front wheel? If so was it a problem?
How would you describe the steering? Was it lively neutral or unresponsive? Lively enough to be entertaining.
Tell us some more about the handling. How did the bike feel overall? Did it do particular things well or badly?
Speedy, which makes it great for changing direction rapidly on rough, loose terrain.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's comfort? would you recommend any changes?
The Future Shock is pretty impressive at taking out the worst of the rough stuff.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's stiffness? would you recommend any changes?
All the components delivered plenty of stiffness to match the frame.
Which components had the most effect (good or bad) on the bike's efficiency? would you recommend any changes?
Having lower gearing than a normal compact makes the Diverge easier to ride uphill when seated.
A great all-round drivetrain both in terms of performance and value. The shifting and braking can't really be faulted.
Wheels and tyres
Decent own brand wheels that take plenty of abuse without being overbuilt or exceptionally heavy.
Pretty good tyres for road use and hard-packed or dry trails, but you'll need something wider and grippier for more dedicated off-road riding.
A decent all-round package from Specialized, although I would like to see a flared handlebar for more stability off-road at speed.
Did you enjoy riding the bike? Yes
Would you consider buying the bike? Possibly, if I could find a good deal.
Would you recommend the bike to a friend? Yes
How does the price compare to that of similar bikes in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
Better value than the entry-level carbon Diverge tested last year, but you can get cheaper alloy framed gravel bikes with similar specs from brands like Giant. For this money, though, carbon fibre will be the choice for many.
Use this box to explain your overall score
The Diverge Comp E5 has an excellent frameset and a decent specification. It isn't priced as competitively as some other very good gravel bikes out there, but it does have a great ride and for that still gets an 8.
About the tester
I usually ride: This month's test bike My best bike is: B'Twin Ultra CF draped in the latest bling test components
I've been riding for: Over 20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, club rides, sportives, fixed/singlespeed,
With 20 years of road cycling and over 150,000 miles in his legs it's safe to say Stu is happiest when on the bike whatever the weather. Since writing his first review for road.cc back in 2009 he has also had a career in engineering including 3D-CAD design and product development, so has a real passion for all of the latest technology coming through in the industry but is also a sucker for a classic steel frame, skinny tyres, rim brakes and a damn good paintjob.
His fascination with gravel bikes is getting out of control too!