Gravel grinding might be a new concept to many South Africans but over the past couple of years it’s started to gain enormous traction among cycling enthusiasts. While it’s still pretty niche it appeals to those who enjoy stitching together a selection of tarmac and gravel surfaces without the added heft of a bona fide mountain bike. The Santa Cruz Stigmata, Cotic X and Giant TCX are cases in point.
Words By Aaron Borrill // Photographs By Xavier Briel
Living out in the farmlands of Durbanville Hills brings with it many perks such as a surplus of gravel roads, but I’m often too afraid to take my road bike out for a good dirtying for fear of damaging it or puncturing. The gravel grinder concept then appeals to those who want the versatility of a mountain bike mixed with the speed and stiffness of a road bike. If these are the attributes you’re after then best you continue reading…
The devil is in the details
Visually the Diverge is a pretty understated machine and while it lacks the outright drama of its siblings, there’s a certain sophistication to its presence, and I like that. Pictured here in Expert trim the frame geometry takes most of its inspiration from the Roubaix road bike with gloss-white paint subtly complemented by Martini-like decals on the fork and rear stays. These details together with the DT R460 wheels and various other carbonfibre goodies lift an otherwise bland appearance.
“Not only was I able to out-brake my mates in the wet, I also carried more speed through the corners and got to the bottom first.” – Aaron Borrill, Bicycling Online Editor
On the road the Diverge feels right at home. Sure, you can feel the added resistance of the 28C Roubaix tyres but the forgiving, compact MTB gearing (42/32T front and 11-32T rear) ensures you won’t be dropped on the climbs. It’s not out of its depth in terms of outright speed on the road for that matter either. The lenient gearing in combination with the 175mm crank length also helps when tackling steeper, looser gravel climbs where a steady cadence and careful modulation of power is key to maintaining progress.
The Shimano hydraulic brakes are powerful and allow for precise modulation which is a treat for descending loose and tricky off-road descents. I must admit I was very impressed at how efficiently they work (I’d suggest operating them from the drops when negotiating single track as this position offers more control as well as lowers your center of gravity). While they don’t feel too different from regular rim-brake in terms of stopping power the benefit only comes to fore in wet conditions – something I experienced while descending Chapman’s Peak Drive in heavy rain. Not only was I able to out-brake my mates I also carried more speed through the corners and got to the bottom first. Disc brakes in the Pro peleton? I don’t see why not – the benefit this set-up offers in the wet is indisputable.
Ride and handling
While I spent a lot of time barreling along the corrugated dirt roads in and around the Northern suburbs of Cape Town I thought I’d take the Diverge to the slopes of Table Mountain to test its mettle in tougher terrain. The ‘Zert’ vibration inserts (dampers strategically placed in the seat post, forks and seat stays) were immediately noticeable delivering a softer and appreciably less abrasive ride quality than that of my stiff road bike. The compliance and all-round resilience of the frame means it’s exceptionally comfortable on choppier tarmac and gravel roads alike. Out on the road/trail the shorter chain-stays and wheelbase equip it with the same sense of acceleration and handling characteristics as that of a road bike. Traction is largely dependent on tyre choice and pressure.
The versatile 28C Roubaix tyres (the bike has clearance for up to 35mm) worked fairly well on the dirt but traction did become an issue on the looser stuff. Still, the overall control was very impressive, especially when scything through the apices of tarmac switchbacks or technical descents. The vibrations were immediately noticeable upon hitting the more corrugated gravel sections but not as obtrusive as I was expecting – besides, if it all gets a bit too much you do have the option of reducing the tyre pressures for added compliance (and grip).
The purity of the Diverge borders on spiritual. It’s a connected experience sprinkled with all the feedback and sensations regular mountain bikes seem to mask. It’s not perfect but you should remember the Diverge’s split focus and jack of all trades type of personality equips riders to efficiently explore a plethora of surfaces and routes without swapping bikes. While its relevance here in South Africa is still up for debate I think the versatility it offers will appeal to a large number of riders/enthusiasts looking for an inbetweener. What’s not to like? It’s fast and responsive, and for somebody who enjoys riding on mix of roads and terrain (very quickly) it undoubtedly keeps with the one-bike-does-all philosophy. I think I want one. In fact, let me rephrase that: I need one!
Diverge Elite Alloy – R23 500
Diverge Comp Carbon – R51 800
Diverge Expert Carbon – R62 100