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.