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
Distributed by JetBlack (02) 4560 1200
|Price (with & without remote)||$439 / $399|
|Diameters||30.9 & 31.6mm|
|Total (inc remote & cable)||621g|
The Joplin post is now in its third generation. It began life as a Maverick branded product and was later offered for sale under the Crank Brothers name. With the most recent change it has gained an extra inch of travel (hence the ‘four’ in the name), which equates to 100mm of height adjustment. The R stands for ‘remote’, as the Joplin is available either with a bar mounted remote lever, or a direct seatpost mounted lever to actuate the height adjustment.
The remote is a clever ‘joystick’ device; push the stick in any direction and the seat is released for up or down motion. This remote was by far the best one in the test and the joystick can easily be set for thumb or forefinger actuation, as well as left or right placement on the bars.
For what its worth, the Joplin comes delivered in the fanciest packaging of the posts that we had on review. More importantly, the post itself is a very attractive item—I thought the black and gold colour scheme looked really good. The remote cable exits from the rear of the seatpost head, which seems like the better option for cable management.
The Joplin requires a few changes in habit compared to other posts. If it hasn’t been used for some time, or if it has been placed upside down, it can require numerous cycles through its travel before it returns smoothly upwards. If you lift the bike by the seat and it is not fully extended, the post pulls up, which is initially disconcerting. Then the reverse occurs when you sit, as the post drops back to its original height.
For me, the main design issue came from the placement of the remote cable anchor-point on the top of the post. It sticks up a fair way and would contact the underside of my saddle when riding, which can’t be good for long-term durability of saddle or post. This will obviously vary depending on your choice of saddle but the Joplin provides less saddle clearance than the other posts that we had on test.
The return speed of the Joplin is on the slow side and there’s little scope to speed it up (at least you’ll never hurt yourself by getting smacked by a flying seat). Internally the post runs 50psi but upping the air pressure is not recommended. The stock 5wt oil can be swapped for 2.5wt to speed the return action but this increases the likelihood of air and oil mixing. This cavitation stifles the seatpost action and means you’ll need to cycle the post a few times to return its normal action. Some may also choose to run 7.5 or 10wt oil, this further slows the movement but improves the overall consistency of the return action.
Unlike the other posts on review, the Joplin offers a degree of user serviceability. Crank Brothers recommends a basic service every 100 hours and the required instructions come with the post. This lets you clean and re-lube the key-ways that control the sliding action. You can also replace the ASP guide blocks that prevent rotational movement, although it’s far more likely that these will be loose rather than worn as they rely on very low torque to hold them in place. More in-depth maintenance (such as replacing oil seals) should be handled by a qualified technician and JetBlack has a full service centre that handles work such as this. We didn’t encounter any issues with the test sample and it had virtually no play in any direction.
RockShox Reverb $380
Distributed by Monza Imports (03) 8327 8080