Editor’s Note: “Over a Beer” is a regular opinion column written by Greg Heil. While Greg is the Editor in Chief for Singletracks.com, the opinions expressed in this commentary are his alone and do not necessarily represent the opinions of Singletracks.com.
One of the beautiful things about the mountain bike is how much you can change and modify your bike once you’ve purchased it. While there are general limitations based on the frame design, if you’re operating within reason you can modify or upgrade every single component on your bike except for the bare frame itself. And sometimes if you have enough tenacity, even modifying the frame is within the realm of possibility.
If you think about it, very few other human powered outdoor sports require the high level of technical gear that mountain biking does. But on the flip side, other types of outdoor gear isn’t nearly as customizable. Sure, you can tweak and tune a surf board, a pair of downhill skis, the gear in your climbing rack, maybe your whitewater raft… but all of these items provide very limited adjustability.
With skis—one of the sports I am most intimately familiar with after mountain biking—you can wax your bases a different way, tune your edges in a different fashion, or install one type of bindings instead of another. But if you actually want to change the ski itself, guess what? You can’t! It’s time to buy another pair of skis for the quiver.
Mountain bikes, on the flip side, allow you to customize them to your heart’s content. I personally begin by focusing on comfort and contact points to fit my body, and then move outwards from there.
Above and beyond fit, which is vitally important, what do most other upgrades do for you? Essentially, they make your bike ride better, provide you with better control, and most of the time, they allow you to go faster.
Don’t get me wrong: all of those reasons to upgrade are very good things, and I upgrade my personal bikes for those very reasons. But if we ask ourselves why, at the core, we mountain bike, is it to go faster, simply own the lightest bike, or rail the corners the fastest?
While perhaps all of those things play into it, I think we can all agree that the #1 reason that we mountain bike is because it’s fun.
If having fun is the main reason we ride, then it stands to reason that we should upgrade our bikes to be as fun to ride as possible. And I think that the #1 component that makes mountain bikes more fun to ride is the dropper post.
Droppers aren’t new by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve been using one on my personal bike for over half a decade now. But remarkably, many riders are still not using them.
Why is this?
I think a major contributing factor is that many mountain bikes still don’t come stock with a dropper post. This is especially true on the lower end of the market, where a dropper post is skipped over to save cost, as even mid-range dropper posts are extremely expensive when compared to a rigid post churned out by the thousands.
To all of those riders not using a dropper post yet, I say “do it!”
If my endorsement is good enough for you, great! But if not, here’s some more convincing.
In my mind, the biggest problem with a rigid seatpost is that it won’t allow you to corner properly when it’s all the way up in the ideal pedaling position. We’ve discussed cornering in great detail in other places, but in short, to truly corner well, you need to lean the bike into the corner while keeping your weight centered above the bottom bracket. With a seatpost all the way up, it’s simply impossible to achieve proper bike lean and your bike will either be too upright or your weight won’t remain over the bottom bracket, meaning that you’ll be off balance, slow, and uncertain of yourself in corners. Cornering well is a whole lot of fun, and droppers make it easy to corner properly all the time, even when the turn comes up on you suddenly.
The other major benefit of a dropper post is that it gives you way more room for the mountain bike to move vertically beneath you. As you descend a technical trail at speed with rocks, rollers, jumps, drops, and more, dropping the seat allows your bike much more room to flow up, down, and around all of the chunder, as your torso moves calmly down the trail in a straight line. Flowing down a fast, technical descent is incredibly fun, and a dropper post allows it to happen naturally. With your seat all the way up, your saddle is constantly coming up to smack you in the rump, and instead of allowing the bike to flow and your body to remain calm, your body is forced to move with your bike.
The most common objection to dropper posts, above and beyond the weight and the cost, is “well, I have a quick release on my post, so I just stop at the top of the descent and drop it.” While that can definitely be a great solution for some descents, the beauty of a dropper after you’ve used it for a while is how quickly you can activate it with minimal conscious thought. Personally, I find myself dropping and raising my seat literally dozens of times during a mountain bike ride, even in non-downhill sections of flow trail with corners, so that I can corner fast and enjoyably, as noted above. With a QR seatpost clamp, I literally can’t—or wouldn’t want to—stop that many times to raise and lower my seat. That wouldn’t be much fun, now would it?
If you’re still on the fence about a dropper post, I encourage you to just give it a chance and try one out. And don’t write it off after just the first day, either—spend some time with it, find a comfortable position for the lever on your bar, work on training yourself until it becomes natural, and if you decide to switch back to a rigid post after riding with a dropper for a week… let me know in the comments section below!
If you need help picking the best dropper for you, be sure to check out Aaron’s excellent Dropper Post Buyer’s Guide.
Greg, reading your explanation on the importance of dropper posts for cornering, maybe proper cornering instructions should now begin with “Actuate your dropper post to lower your seat”. 🙂
Actually, that’s how the instructions did begin at the BetterRide clinic I took 🙂 Either that, or “manually lower your rigid post” … which is a PITA
I agree, the reason I have not gone to a carbon bar, etc . Not worth it. It’s a simple no for dropper due to then massive amount of weight added to the bike, and cost, and “leave well enough alone” for now. You even agree in the future things will change. Yes they have been around for many many years. The industry needs a few years to figure it all out. Also I notice many of the guy I ride with that have the dropper rarely use them and always complain if issue. Side to side movement, not always working( dropping) , so I can wait.
I thought you said you weren’t a weight weenie…
My point was, the future is now. They’ve ALREADY had several years of development. Will they continue to get better? Yes, of course. That’s how all products work.
And if your buddies really aren’t using their droppers, why don’t you see if you can borrow one of theirs for a while?
“It’s a simple no for dropper due to then massive amount of weight added to the bike, and cost, and “leave well enough alone” for now. ”
A massive amount of weight? At best, it’ll add 1/40th to your bike’s relative weight (.5 lbs on a 20 lb bike.) It’s also non-rotating weight so you won’t notice it while sprinting, pumping, or climbing.
I think mine came in around 650g for nearly a lbs penalty. not rotating but it is high up, so for cross country or whatever it is you do with twenty #bikes I have to side with the bay sayers, at least so far as admitting is pretty significant.
Ok, I was using a 450 gram dropper post compared to a 200 gram seat post. I’m sure some are heavier/lighter.
It’s still 1/20th of the bike weight, and if we add in rider/equipment weight, it’s closer to 1/150th or more of the weight.
I just picked up the RM Instinct and it came with a dropper post. In a month and a half of riding, I’ve never really used it. The areas I ride mostly in don’t have the technical drop lines of the west. I’d never considered it for cornering until the last ride when a shop guy explained how it would benefit in cornering. I tried it once (albeit a little late) and ended up in the willy-wacks. Guess I need to practice (something I never really consciously do while biking -maybe a good forum thread).
I really enjoy these discussions. I hope we can enjoy a conversation around a real beer again sometime.
Don’t give up! One of the biggest misconceptions about droppers is that you only use them on steep, gnarly terrain. I use my dropper on every trail I ride, even tame ones. As Greg mentioned, they really allow you to corner faster and more confidently.
As with any new skill, it will take time to learn, but it will soon become second nature. In fact, I find myself reflexively searching for the dropper remote button on test bikes that don’t have one mounted.
love it! i agree completely with article. i’d put dropper #1, then tubeless tires #2 (i used to get a ton of flats running tubes). i ride technical terrain, but even if i didn’t i hate riding any descent with seat up(you can do it, but its just not fun). i’ve been on sedona trails where its a 20 foot technical section and i drop and re-raise. so glad they were invented. where i live, its mostly all up, then down so i held out for awhile, but i really wanted it for road trips to places like sedona, SW utah, etc. but even locally i use it a ton. they will only get better and better (i ride a ks-lev 150mm dropper posts currently, its great)
These discussions are great. I too enjoy them. I would love to try the D post, however the trails I ride, and there are some sketchy parts for sure, I seem to be okay at post level. I do have to drop the level from the height when rideing to the trails.
I was never one to adjust my post ever. I would keep it up and learned to descend that way. I’ve been riding 20 years like this and never really thought about it. Last summer it seemed that everyone had a dropper but me, so over the winter I picked one up on eBay to give it a try.
I can honestly say that the dropper post is a must have if you are an all mountain rider like me. I often climb up the trail and bomb down the hills and having the post down made a huge difference in my control. If your a XC Racer or Downhiller who takes lifts, don’t get a dropper. Everyone else get one.
I feel that the dropper is one of the more important innovations to come to MT biking, along with rear suspension and fork lockout.
There was a time where I said two inches of travel is fine. Disk brakes!? Why? Then I saw the light.
A dropper is one of those advances where yes, they are pricey.. They seem extravagant, but once you use one on a bike with anything near modern geometry such as the slacker head angles(and even not so slack), you will wonder how you ever lived without it.
What people often miss and I see it in photos on facebook, videos on Youtube, all on the web and even live on trails, is that the newer geometries allow one to ride in a much more neutral position when descending. Feet heavy and weight over the BB. That said, lowering oneself deeper into the attack position allows for lower center of gravity, more mobility and far greater control than sliding the hips and weight back. The dropper post facilitates this and is worth its weight in gold for that reason.
If your trails don’t require it, then I can see that. If you are truly ridding all mountain and descending anything remotely steep or gnarly, then having a dropper will only up your game, your comfort and your safety and stability. Hell buy a cheap cable operated one for just over 100 USD and try out the concept, then decide if you want to drop 400 for a good one.
I’m all in on dropper posts. I have loved my dropper post from day one. Riding the Sticky Forest in New Zealand a couple of weeks ago reminded me of how much I value my dropper post. The trails were constantly changing vertically and were immersed in corners and moderately technically root drops and the like. The problem was I was on a rental bike that didn’t have a dropper post. I was constantly getting off the bike to change seat height for the next climb or descent.
Beyond the improvements in geometry in recent years (and these are truly most important of course), I would say that the dropper post and wider handle bars/short stems are the two developments that feel most beneficial to me while riding. For some riders wider bars are not desirable because their trails have too many narrowly spaced trees. But if that is not your predominant riding setting (and your setting is beyond beginner type trails), wide bars are the way to go. And I may be wrong, but I’m guessing there is no longer any argument for long stems unless your frame does not fit you properly. Maybe plus sized tires and increased tire diameters could be argued in favor of also for really helping riders, but I haven’t moved in that direction yet.
Surprise, surprise….I’ll be on the outside looking in on this issue as well. I have RS Reverb droppers on both my bikes and that’s been the case for all the bikes I’ve went thru the last 2-3 years at least. All my friends have them as well. That being said, I’ve never adapted to using them on a regular basis. I use them more to adjust bikes on a multi-bike rack than I do for riding. My friends use them constantly on the same rides that I use them once or twice the entire ride. By the way, I lead 95% of our rides…especially down the sketchy terrain most of us are willing to attempt.
Admittedly, I don’t adapt to change well. After (4) decades of riding dirt bikes, I’m just too used to having that seat between my legs. Even when I do drop it, I don’t drop it more than 2-3 inches so that I can always squeeze the seat between my legs. Dropping it completely out of the way is NOT an option. Also, after 25 years of riding mountain bikes, I’ve pretty much perfected my technique for hanging my rear end off the back of the saddle.
I also agree with what others have said about reliability. Among my group of friends, we can’t go (2) weeks without somebody having some issue with one of their droppers. One guy is on Reverb #3 in less than a year and just this past weekend on a trip to Utah, we had issues with a KS that wouldn’t drop and then a Crankbrothers model that wouldn’t stay up. For what they are charging for these things, they should be more reliable.
Well put. I had Motorcycles, street and dirt riding for years. Mountain biking for a well since they came out, so a long time. I agree with all your points .
I spent four K on my plus bike set up and don’t have the cash to just spend. Single dad blah blah I have to put my coin to good use. Trying one of a buddies is a good idea and yes there is now. I was a hard core v braker but the hydraulic disc has come a long way . so 4 yrs ago I jumped in. Now even better. I will do the same with the dropper post. Just not reliable and at $3-$4 hun is a bit much .the thompson looks like the one I want and at $800 canadian, ouch. Next year maybe. Weight weenie plus bike ? no I don’t think so. At 27lbs I’m probably heavier than others but don’t care .
Great article. When I bought my last mtn bike I installed the Gravity Dropper seat post. Best up grade I have ever done, except for the stan’s rims with Chris king hubs. Really improved my bike skills going down hill & in switch backs. The Gravity Dropper is ligher then most dropper post & bullet proof. Been riding with it for 3 yrs & no issues. Talking about the carbon fiber handle bars, for me that was a great upgrade too smoothed out the ride. Helped my wrists from hurting. Have carpal tunnel. voiding surgery. The carbon handle bars help.
I’m definitely a dropper post believer, however, I’ve learned it’s not for everyone. Since I’ve moved to southern Michigan, the majority of riders here don’t use one and the trails don’t really call for one. The riding out here is definitely the XC variety with only a few downhill sections (I’m talking like 30 seconds).
That said, I still use my dropper on every ride because it definitely makes riding more fun!
Right on, thanks for chiming in Jared, and sharing that perspective!! I mean, I definitely know lots of people that don’t use them… but I still think they can help make riding more fun, no matter the terrain 🙂
Agreed, I think they make riding more fun, even if the terrain isn’t pointed down.
Greg, I’ve been convinced of the need for a dropper for a while now, as I’m one of those who’s continually stopping to lower/raise my seat w/ a quick release.
One of things that’s held me back is the difficulty in deciding which one to get, as there doesn’t seem to be a convenient way to do a longer term test (a week?) of my top 3 choices. It seems common for people to buy and sell 2 or more of them before they settle on their preferred one. Is that they best way to do it or do you have a better recommendation?
Honestly, everyone’s always talking about how unreliable droppers are and while that’s the case to an extent, I’ve been overall pretty lucky with mine. My original RockShox Reverb I had to get warrantied 3 times, but it never totally failed on me (was always still rideable), and RockShox was great about warrantying it. In fact, they sent me the brand-new Reverb with all-new internals for my latest warranty request, so they’ve taken care of me.
Some of the KS droppers I’ve used on review bikes have been a bit finicky to set up the cable tension (adjusting your seat height during bike setup with an internally-routed cable-actuated post can be tricky), but honestly, they’ve worked pretty good for me too. I’ve used a couple of the old school Gravity Droppers and while I think the newer posts are way better, the older ones got the job done.
All that to say, I honestly think that the “droppers are unreliable” crap is overstated. While maybe it wouldn’t be a good idea to buy a used dropper post that’s 3 years old, the new crop of posts is pretty dang impressive.
The one possible thing to look at is whether or not you want to use a southpaw remote if you’re running a 1x drivetrain. The Reverb isn’t compatible with a Southpaw (someone correct me if I’m wrong on this), and the southpaws are pretty dang awesome & intuitive.
Well here in our world we have had a few different brands fail. ROck Shox, KS LEV dropper, etc . I am yet to see a Thompson owner complain.
The only way I know to get a week or so test period is renting a bike that comes with a dropper for that long of a period. However, that could cost a pretty penny unless you’re in really good with your LBS (or write reviews for a reputable website.)
I’ve mostly used Specialized droppers along with a TranzX on my Fatboy, and they’ve been reliable. Some folks don’t like the fact the command posts are not infinitely adjustable, but I love the set point factor (unlike the TranzX). My suggestion is see if you can ride some friends’ bikes to see which one you like. That may be one of the reasons people need a try a few before finding one they like.
Also, if you’re running a 1x, find one that’s compatible with lever that looks like a front derailleur level. It makes using the dropper second nature!
Thanks Jared, that helps. The more I think about this, the more it seems wise for me to buy one used that’s about a year old. If I don’t like it, I could sell it for about what I paid for it and try another one used that’s about a year old. And keep repeating that until I’m hooked.
Dropper posts are like mini shocks and require maintenance. Some would argue the maintenance intervals are too short, but your mileage may vary. Yes they are evolving and becoming more reliable but are hardly unreliable. Stories on the interwebs abound concerning all manner of component failure and almost never are there real true accounts of how the end user treated said component or maintained it.
Like anything on our bikes today, they require maintenance. Everything on our bikes is lighter and more complex than it was in 1991. Hell, take my MAG21 shock, I think I did maintenance on it once every 3 or 4 seasons. Simple open bath design and heavy (duty) by today’s standards.
Simple fact today is you either need a good shop or you need to get the proper tools and wrench on your own bike. Nothing is completely set and forget on our bikes today. You need to ride an all rigid fat bike to achieve that level of unconcern for component health.
You are correct the southpaw remote is useless for a Reverb. A Reverb is hydro activated. A good, albeit expensive remote option is the one from Novyparts. http://www.pinkbike.com/news/novyparts-rockshox-reverb-remote-review-2015.html
Adding a dropper post to my bike was easily the best decision I have made. It basically turns your single bike into many. High post for climbing low for decending and positions in the middle for various other things. I use mine constantly while riding. While it may cost a fair amount it is beyond worth it with how much it improves the handling of the bike in every condition.
The biggest reason some people don’t use a dropper is that they have the bad habit of gripping the saddle with their thighs during descents as a sort of security blanket thing. You typically hear “I tried it, but I didn’t like it” because they were freaked out about not having the saddle to hold onto during descents. Of course, that bad habit of gripping the saddle with your inner thighs is the biggest thing holding back their downhilling whether you use a dropper or not. The fact that they then use it as an excuse to not run a dropper just holds their riding back even more.
The thing is, the faster you go, the more you have to lean the bike over to make it around a corner. Having the seat up limits how far you can lean the bike over without leaning your body with the bike, so either you slow down, or you lean with it and feel the bike sliding and think that’s as fast as you can go, not realizing that if the seat was out of the way, you could go quite a bit faster and do it safer too.
My biggest reason for not using the dropper post is exactly what MountainK1ng wrote, except I didn’t know that gripping the saddle was a bad habit. It’s just how I’ve ridden forever (and so be it – I’ve been riding longer than dropper posts have been around, so how would I have known if no one ever said anything? MountainK1ng – YOU would have told me, right?), so when I used a dropper post, I felt like I was going to fall off the bike. I went to a clinic in part to learn how to use it and feel more confident in cornering, but realized it wasn’t enough to have someone just tell me how great it was. (This is akin to my brother telling me how to bunny-hop by just using sound effects. Ahem.) Details! I need details!
Greg – I’m coming to Colorado this summer. Please teach me how to appreciate the dropper post. I’m willing!
The only reason I haven’t gotten one is the cost. I simply don’t mountain bike enough to make it worth it since there’s so few trails around me (and the ones that are around me have almost no elevation change).
Along with a shorter stem, the dropper seat post are two upgrades everyone should make. Along with all the reasons previously noted I’ll add another (especially for us older folks)………by dropping the seat it is easier to hop on and off your bike!
I added a KS Eten I got online for $140, it only drops 100mm but I love it. And I live in Florida, not many downhills here. I don’t use it much for cornering but anytime I am about to go over any obstacle I use it, and every time I stop, just so I can put my feet down easily..
Dropper ALL DAY!!
Greg, I think Julien Absalon read your article, he’s running a dropper post in the XC race at Albstadt!
So I rode a solid 5 rides this weekend. All but one pushing 3 hours, mostly technical, rock, up down, switchbacks. All at avery good pace. Everyone of the riders except one on the sat afternoon had a dropper post and swear by them. However they also had full suspension bikes and I was on a rigid fork hardtail plus. I lead most of the weekend. Well lets say 70% up front, #1 or #2 . Its not a race but just saying.I was yet to see them use the post, I guess being up front I can’t. I looked into a good one with a aftermarket lever. More of a side movement than a up and down ans total for this set was 771.$ ca. Most riders are saying avoid the cheap ones.
Why not just go seatless?!
I can’t see buying what should be a 30 dollar part that is sold for several hundred dollars (and they break more frequently as well).
I would buy one if I was a professional rider…… ie…. someone would give me one.
My two cents
If the guys you ride with are not using their posts because they are not working properly, you should look into the Canadian made 9point8 Fall Line dropper post. With cold temperatures in mind, they specifically made the internals mechanical which isn’t effected by cold weather.
Love my dropper (Fox Transfer with WT remote). At first, it was actually very difficult to adapt to as it felt very uncomfortable not having the seat there. Now, it’s hard to imagine riding without one. I adjust my seat almost as frequently as I change gears. Makes it significantly easier to keep your center of gravity low especially when cornering, on drops/jumps, etc. 1k+ miles and no issues whatsoever. All that said, sometimes I wonder if we might be better off forcing ourselves to ride without one every so often…