Michael Hanslip looks at the dropper-post phenomenon and reviews four of the most popular options. Roadies may seek out the optimal saddle height – the ‘one true position’ that provides the most efficient pedalling – but mountain bikers have always held different priorities.
Riding with the saddle up high may allow for efficient pedalling on smooth trails, but it also makes the bike more of a handful when the terrain turns rough, steep and technical. Skilled XC riders may manage just fine with the saddle at full height but the vast majority are safer, faster and more confident with a lower seat height.
Quick-release seatpost clamps have been around since the first mass-produced mountain bikes in the 1980s and are still common on frames in the trail and all-mountain categories (in fact, my first MTB had a strange seatpost with a quick release head on it so the fore-aft position of the saddle could be changed out on the trail too—I never really figured out what to do with that one!). However, stopping at the top of a descent to lower the saddle is really only practical in big hill terrain, where you ride up for a long while before going all the way down again. Rolling terrain is better tackled with a single seat height—often a compromised position that is sub-optimal for everything.
I remember the ‘Hite Rite’ as the first device that attempted to speed the seat height adjustment process for riders. It was a big steel spring that attached to your standard seatpost via a collar and permitted 75 or 110 mm of vertical movement whilst keeping the saddle pointed roughly straight ahead during adjustments. It required a near-perfect fit between the frame and the post and you needed good coordination to use it whilst riding, as you had to reach between your legs and undo the quick release before the saddle would move.
Fast forward around 20 years and we now have a good number of on-the-fly height adjustable seatposts to choose from. These new generation ‘dropper-posts’ permit between 75mm and 125mm of height adjustment, often without removing your hand from the bars. For this group test we assembled four of the most commonly available aftermarket posts and spent a month using each to see how they work. While four weeks isn’t enough saddle-time to draw any conclusions on their long-term durability, I’ve also looked into the serviceability of each product.
Finally, we consider the broader question; is it worth adding a height adjustable post to your bike? Certainly the industry seems convinced they are the way to go and by the time you read this there’ll be new models available from Fox and Giant that weren’t around when we kicked off this review. Numerous companies now specify dropper posts on new bikes and many more include cable guides for the handlebar remote on their trail and all-mountain frames.
Crank Brothers Joplin 4R $439
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