Tuesday, May 16, 2017

A Dropped Ball

Specilized Command Post Blacklite- circa 2012
Back in about 2010 when I was still writing for Twenty Nine Inches, there was this thing coming around called a "dropper post". Now I have been around long enough to know what that was all about. It was an updated idea from the early days of modern mountain biking. Back then it was a fancy, sprung clamp affair called a Breeze and Angell Hite Rite. The idea was to get that saddle out of the way for descents. Of course, most early mountain bikes did not have very much exposed seat post, so the idea never really benefited riders like it does today. In my opinion, every serious off road rider should strongly consider having a dropper post. There is only one thing holding me back from saying a dropper post is essential for mountain biking......

That is because most of them are flawed in some serious way. 

First of all, one has to realize that the contact points of a bicycle really need to feel and actually be solid connections. Having unintentional  movement in the grips, saddle, or pedals will not impart a very high level of confidence. Something necessary for good mountain biking experiences, in my opinion. The thing is, almost all dropper post reviews mention that the saddle has some lateral movement. That's unacceptable.

Then there is the higher degree of maintenance involved in owning one of these devices. If you've ever noticed the backside of your seat post after a dirty ride, you will see lots of grit, or mud, or grime, or all three, splattered on that seat post. That stuff plays hell with seals and surfaces that are supposed to be smooth and slippery, like a dropper post's sliding parts. That dirt and mud causes sliding parts to not slide as well, and that's a problem many dropper posts end up having. This ends up causing lots of money to be spent on maintenance, not to mention down time while the post gets serviced.

It doesn't go super-droop, but that Command Post Blacklite still works good.
 Then there is the cost of entry. Many dropper posts are in the $400-$600 dollar range and you can get a halfway decent suspension fork for that money that will easily outlast most any dropper post in terms of longevity between necessary service times. Something seems weird here, but again, a seat post isn't as easy to design as it sounds. There are a lot of forces and some serious engineering is necessary to work around those forces at play here.

Some dropper posts have overcome many of the pitfalls that are bringing down the others which don't seem to be able to perform very long without play in the saddle or that need constant maintenance. However; those posts seem to be the ones that use a simpler, mechanical style design, and these don't appeal to all mountain bikers due to their inherent limitations.

The thing I see is that it is 2017 now. I mean, these things have been around a while and yet they are still really pricey and fraught with issues that cause me to hold off on getting one again. It feels like the dropper post manufacturers have actually dropped the ball instead of good product. It seems like we have sub-par choices instead of dropper posts that have value for the buck spent and work for a reasonably long time without maintenance. I feel that by now the issue of play in the saddle should have been put to bed. I think that maintenance issues need to be addressed so that these posts last longer between service intervals, and finally, we should be ditching the cables altogether that operate these things. I mean, we have Di2, E-tap, and whatnot, why can't we have a reliable, wireless controlled dropper post? (Yes, Magura, but they are the only players as of now)

Dropper posts are probably one of the best innovations in mountain biking in a long time. It is high time that the component be brought up to speed and then it will become an essential item for all of mountain biking.


Unknown said...

I'd agree with you up until the 9Point8 Fall Line series of droppers. I had a KS Lev before that, and it lasted all of a season, and I had customers who had them lest a lot less. It is barely serviceable, and almost always had to go back to the factory. With the 9.8, its only achilles heel was the fact its lever design was a bit janky, and it appears they've massively improved it. Its fully serviceable, and isn't terribly difficult, about on par with regular fork maintenance.

Doug Mayer said...

I went the cheap & simple route with the new X-Fusion Manic. $200 for a cartridge based 125mm internal dropper, shifter-style remote included. It's only been a month, but so far so good. Really is incredible how much more in control it feels on technical descents.

Smithhammer said...

My Fox Transfer 150mm internal has been flawless for the past year.

And agreed on useful they are - while I held out on them for a long time, I've realized I use my dropper more than I ever expected I would (and certainly more than the number of times I would stop, dismount and adjust my seat height like the old days), and I also use it in ways I hadn't expected.