Friday, 16 May 2014

Are mountain bike dropper posts worth it?

A few thoughts on dropper posts

I've never thought I needed or wanted one before and whilst I know they have been around for some 15 years (I remember seeing the spring activated ones many moons ago), I just always saw them as something more aggressive riders would need / use.

Today with the high prices and their significant weight, it wasn't all that interesting to me. Until I used one.

Wait, what's a dropper post?

A dropper post is a seat-post that allows the rider to change the height (the amount of the post that sticks out of the frame) whilst they ride to suit the changes in terrain.

The advantage being that when the trail gets rough or points up or down, the rider can decrease the height of the seat post allowing them to shift their weight further over the back wheel to better balance and stabilise them on the bike without coming into contact with the saddle.

Many dropper posts are activated by a remote on the handlebar or by a lever under the saddle. When the dropper is activated, the rider's body weight pushes the dropper down when seated, or when standing the dropper post's internals raises the saddle. When the dropper is not activated (remote or lever not pressed) then the seat post height doesn't change.

What changed for me?

I bought a bike that came with a dropper post and whilst I wasn't expecting much from it, and in fact I was looking to replace it instantly with a Thomson solid seat post, but I did give it a try.

The X-Fusion dropper came standard
with my Cannondale Trigger
Well, knock me down and tickle me silly, I think dropper posts are great.

Even whilst riding around the garden I could see the benefits. Being able to drop or raise the post to suit the terrain was great, but how quickly it was to operate sealed the deal.

My first real ride with a dropper was around the Blue and Red routes of the Swinley Forest trails and I now can't imagine riding without it. It's even putting me off riding my single speed because (apart from the one gear), I know I'll want to be adjusting my saddle height over the different obstacles.

How I used the dropper post

Here's how I got the most benefit from the dropper post:

  • Roots and uneven ground - I could drop the post by an inch and continue to pedal well, but I could more easily stand and re-distribute weight when tires slipped on tricky roots
  • Drops - drop the post half way down or lower (the bigger the drop the lower the post) and throw my weight back as I either ride out the drop or jump-drop
  • Jumps - dropped the post as low as it could go and then used the complete space to swing the bike side to side and accelerate into the jump. Cleared the jump with no bump saddle bumping into my backside
  • Hills - raise the saddle to max and use the solid saddle as a platform to efficiently put power down into the pedals
  • Dismounting - OK, 29ers are actually pretty big and the Cannondale Trigger has great standover clearance, but the frame brace and saddle can sometimes cause feet to snag when you dismount. Drop the post and swing your leg over the back. Boom 

Tips and call outs

It wasn't all smooth sailing; there were a few times when I was caught out when trying to use the post, but with experience I'm sure I'll get the hang of it.

  • The remote for the Cannondale Trigger is mounted over the grip, so if you move your hand in too close you can accidentally activate the lever and change your saddle height (which made me LOL as I found myself being gently touched from below on a fast descent)
    Rigid hardtail single speeds are still fast
  • It's best to be prepared with the saddle height rather than change it as you're likely to get the height wrong if you wait until you're on top of the trail obstacle
  • The action is reliable and super smooth for the X-Fusion post, but the clamp at the top that holds the saddle does 'wiggle', but doesn't seem to affect performance, comfort or the ride
  • Don't change the height for everything single bit of the trail, find a good height for efficient riding and then change when it's going to significantly affect your speed or stability
  • It wasn't any faster around the blue / red of Swinley than my rigid single speed hardtail, but I would now like to get a dropper for it
Overall the dropper post surprised me with how well it worked and how often I wanted to use it on the trail. Enough even to make me want to upgrade my other bike with a dropper as well.

Friday, 2 May 2014

South Downs Way 50 ultra-marathon

I'd heard about how good the Centurion Running events were from reading countless Twitter and blog posts and I really wanted to run one. I also really wanted to complete my first real ultra of 50 miles too, as at that point I'd only run two 50k's, and felt like I was cheating by saying I'd ran an ultra. Combined, that meant either the South or the North Downs Way 50 miler events.

Excited, I went to register and lo and behold they were fully booked months in advance. Feeling a little deflated and unable to find an alternative event that didn't have me busy or out of the country, I conceded that I might have to wait until next year.

Justin Bateman running the SDW50
By chance, Justin Bateman, my friend and colleague, happened to book onto the South Downs event several months after I'd started looking. Bemused as to why he managed to get a slot when I didn't, I registered my interest again and to my pleasure received an email to let me know a space was available for me! I booked in a heart-beat.

And then, and only then, did I think about whether I'd be fit enough.

6 weeks to go

Well, bugger. I had 6 weeks to get into shape to run the longest run I've ever attempted (and being 40% longer than my previous long run over 4 months prior).

Mong expression models own
Most naturally and immediately, I booked two weeks away with work in Las Vegas and Cincinnati and once there did a daily regimen of over-eating (the hotels waffles, ice-cream and syrup was to die for). In my defence, I did manage a few half marathons (one and two Garmin data) in pan-cake flat Vegas (just like the hills of the South Downs) at a medium pace and I was rewarded with huge blood blisters and a sun-burnt face. But I felt I was on the way to getting back some fitness.

OMM Classic 25 proved worthy

4 weeks to go

Being back in Blighty, the next step was a run from home (via a train between Maidenhead and Slough) to work. A teensy bit more than a half marathon along a pancake-flat canal path (just like the hills of the South Downs). Running with a pack, on this and subsequent runs, taught me a lot about the pack and what it's like to run with weight on your back. To my surprise it wasn't awkward or particularly difficult on the run, it just meant more bits hurt afterwards.

2 weeks to go

With a few more half marathons and a single 21 miler under my belt I was feeling a lot better. Still, I had done no hill training and I wasn't getting in any additional base-fitness runs. Unlike Justin Bateman, who seemed to be running more than he's ever done before! (he ran more than 80 times from Jan 1 > race date. I ran 9 times. Utterly impressed at his commitment!)

Hungary the weekend before
And for some reason I had it in for me, so I booked a short break to Budapest for the weekend before the race. Queue more food, gentle walks along the Danube (just like the hills of the South Downs) and sun-burnt face.

A few days to go

Have I got a compass? A map? A decent water-proof? Proper running shorts? Common-sense? The mandatory kit list and supporting blurb all made it sound very serious. In a panic I ordered everything I needed and resorted to my road-bike water-proof.

The plan of getting in a test run with all of the gear and clothing never happened. It wasn't until the night before that I actually had all of the kit in one place.

Joined at the shoulder

Running 50 miles is nothing compared to waking my wife up at 05:00

05:00 is equivalent to the C-word to my wife. Asking her to wake up that early so she could drive Justin and I from Maidenhead to Worthing so that we could beast ourselves over the hills and then drive me (Justin didn't die, he stayed in Eastbourne) back some 10+ hours later was thoroughly appreciated and wonderful.

The event

Oddly I can't really remember much from it. Either I'm getting old or I dreamt up the whole thing up.

I do re-call that there were hills, Justin Bateman made an appearance and I had a photo at the finish with James Adams (who co-incidentally works at the same place I do). I also remember gorging myself on ham and cheese sandwiches at the checkpoints! And not to forget numerous cups of my secret weapon: Coca-Cola.

But other than that, all of the hills merged into one for me (apart from the one with the pigs. That was unique because they stunk so bad). They were green (the hills, not the pigs), the sky was generally grey and the company good. I guess it felt like a roving picnic across the South Downs.

The South Downs Way 50 route

Milestones of the event

  • Mile 0 - Somewhat unaware that I'm about to start a race that's 50 miles long
  • Mile 5 - A little too hot in a vest and top
  • Mile 10 - A little too cold in just a vest
  • Mile 20 - I have no recollection of this point in time
  • Mile 26 - legs starting to hurt
  • Mile 35 - legs feeling refreshed and amazing
  • Mile 41 - Lavender facial wipe to freshen me up for the cameras at the finish (I kid you not)
  • Mile 50 - I wanted to gun that running track! But I wanted more to finish with Justin (gaayyy!)
  • Drive home - my butt is on fire from the too tight shorts chafing by backside for 100,000 strides!

What did I learn from running the South Downs Way 50?

  • Centurion Running run awesome events
  • Their volunteers are on something illegal - far too happy, supportive and generally lovely people
  • Water bottles are a lot easier for replenishing your water supplies at checkpoints
  • Running up hills is generally easier for me than walking them
  • S-caps are worth their weight in gold, just don't store them in a jar where they can violently bounce around; use a small sealed plastic bag instead
  • 50 miles is a long way, but it's not a long long way
  • Having someone there at the end is nice
  • Having someone there at the end who can take photos is nicer
  • Not having to drive home after an event is lovely
  • If you see an ice-cream van en-route, don't ask Uncle Justin whether you can have one, just go for it
  • Trainers with larger toe boxes would help limit toe pain
  • Cutting toe nails the night before the run would help limit toe pain even more
  • I want to do another of their events, maybe even the Winter 100
Overall I really enjoyed this event and it's probably my best ever. I loved the organisation, the fanatic support at the check points, Justin's company and honesty and the final support of Ruth and Cate at the end.

Read Justin Bateman's write up on the SDW50.

Garmin data for the nerds.

SDW50 elevation profile