The Ultimate Gravel Bike?!

We raced this unique gravel bike and put it to the test.

What is that thing?

The Diverge STR certainly has a distinct silhouette. The open design of the rear suspension gives it a raw, unfinished look. It makes you wonder if this bike is some sort of marketing gimmick or if it really works. We spent three weeks racing and riding the Diverge STR on a variety of terrain and varying conditions. What we found is that, to our surprise, the STR exceeded expectations.

Gravel cyclists sitting a Specialzed Diverge STR Gravel Bike
With a rear Future Shock, the Diverge STR is unlike any other bike on the market.

Full Suspension Gravel?

Well kinda… The premise behind the STR is that it “Suspends The Rider.” On a traditional full-suspension mountain bike, the suspension is used to separate the bike from the wheels for enhanced control and traction. On the STR, however, the “suspension” is designed to absorb gravel road chatter and delay the onset of rider fatigue. The idea is that the STR protects you from using excess energy to control the bike, thus making you faster, especially over longer distances.

Gravel cyclists sitting a Specialzed Diverge STR Gravel Bike
The STR’s “suspension” is designed to absorb road chatter.

Does it really work?

Surprisingly, it does. While the rear Future Shock does require a bit of initial tunning to get right, when it’s dialed-in, it works as advertised. It takes some getting used to though – the flex in the seatpost means that there can be quite a bit of forward/backward movement in the saddle. Specialized recommends adjusting your normal saddle position to compensate for this, but it’s still unnerving at first. We found that, when riding on pavement, we preferred to switch the rear shock to the locked-out setting. This made the STR feel more like the bikes we are accustomed to – though, just like on a mountain bike, you need to unlock the shock before you hit the dirt again.

Gravel cyclists riding a Specialzed Diverge STR Gravel Bike
Once it’s dialed in, the STR does a great job of dampening vibrations.

A washboard eating machine

Washboard is where the STR really excels. It is the perfect bike for dampening the effects of rough terrain. Once again, it’s not a mountain bike, if you want a bike for chunk and gnar, there is no substitute for bigger tires. While racing at the Cascade Gravel Grinder, we found that with the STR, we could still pedal over rough washboard sections where other riders were forced to hover out of the saddle. This was essentially free speed, making the STR one of the fastest bikes over these difficult sectors.

Specialzed Diverge STR Gravel Bike rear Future Shock features a three-position lockout switch
The rear Future Shock features a three-position lockout switch which should be familiar to anyone who has ridden a full suspension mountain bike.

A Race Bike in Disguise

There seems to be some confusion about what this bike is actually for. Specialized’s marketing campaign shows riders traversing harsh terrain and chunky gravel. At first glance, the STR looks like an adventure rig, ready to be laden with all the bags and accessories it can carry. But when you take a closer look, the STR is a totally capable gravel race bike. In fact, this is where the STR provides a big advantage over fully rigid gravel bikes. The STR appears to be the perfect bike for big mileage gravel races – think Unbound Gravel where riders are subjected to 200 miles of mixed terrain over the rolling hills of Kansas. Specialized claims that the STR can reduce fatigue on these epic days. We certainly felt that this claim held up at our, albeit shorter, races at Cascade. My legs were toasted by the end of the weekend, but surprisingly, my upper body felt like it handled it well considering it had just been subjected to over 10 hours of rough gravel riding.

Specialzed Diverge STR Gravel Bike steerer tube with Specialized’s Future Shock 2.0.Specialzed Diverge STR Gravel Bike steerer tube with Specialized’s Future Shock 2.0.
The steerer tube with Specialized’s Future Shock 2.0. The amount of dampening can be modified by simply turning the adjustment knob that takes the place of the stem cap.

Who is this bike for?

For a gravel pro or anyone looking to optimize their racing setup to the max, the Diverge STR is an amazing second bike in the stable. Pair the STR with the Crux or another lightweight gravel bike and you can choose a bike specifically for that day’s race. Hilly race with smooth surfaces and some pavement mixed it? Hop on the Crux. Massive day with 80% gravel and the possibility of washboard? The STR is probably the best bike for this day.

Specialized rolled out a special-edition of the STR for Unbound Gravel.

Just one bike?

That said, most of us are not pros and don’t have the luxury of owning multiple bikes – especially not multiple gravel bikes. For cyclists who ride mostly gravel, the Diverge STR could be the perfect bike. While it’s not as versatile as some other gravel bikes, the STR may also benefit riders with back pain or discomfort from rough terrain. On the road, however, the STR may feel slightly sluggish compared to other gravel bikes. For more adventurous rides, swap out the wheels for 650b and you can run up to 2.1” mountain bike tires – making this bike nearly as capable as a cross country mountain bike.

Two Gravel Cyclists on the Specialzed Diverge STR Gravel Bike
The Diverge STR Could be that one bike to rule them all.

What about the price?

The Diverge STR is probably not the right bike for the budget conscious rider. Just like with smartphones or computers, new tech comes at a price. Fortunately, Specialized still offers the option of a “hardtail” Diverge with a standard rear end and Future Shock suspension only in the headtube. Perhaps Specialized will release more bikes using this technology at a lower price point, but for now, the STR’s rear Future Shock is a premium technology.

Gravel cyclists riding a Specialzed Diverge STR Gravel Bike

Final Thoughts

This bike is surprisingly capable and there is a good reason why many racers are choosing to run this frame for longer events. After switching back to our normal gravel bikes, we find ourselves dreaming of the Diverge STR every time the road gets rough.

Specialized Diverge STR Bike

Specialized Diverge STR

Check out our selection of Specialized Diverge STR bikes, frames, and accessories.

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