THE UPS AND DOWNS OF THE DROPPER DEBATE

Is a dropper post for you?

When it comes to dropper seat posts, we have to admit to having a love/hate relationship with them (we love making fun of them and hate using them). Although the original concept for a dropper post arrived in the mid-’80s with the Hite-Rite (designed by mountain bike pioneer Joe Breeze), droppers  have attained a cult-like status in modern mountain bike circles where the “more is better” ethos seems to favor getting as much drop out of a seat post as travel in the suspension. 

But, not so in the drop-bar world where droppers are still grazing around the outer confines for gravel bike use. And for us, it’s less of a debate about the extra weight or complexity but simply whether a gravel bike needs one at all. It’s almost as strongly debated as the need for suspension on a gravel bike.

No doubt there are some gravel riders who will appreciate the concept, while others just won’t fathom the need to lower their seat for any of their riding. So, instead of trying to prove its place in the gravel market, let’s just review some of the benefits and drawbacks of running a dropper on your drop-bar rig. 

THE SETUP

Before you install a dropper post, there are a few restrictions to consider. First is the diameter of the post, and since most gravel bikes use a 27.2mm post, the number of options are minimized. If your bike uses a special shape or frame-specific seat post system, then you are out of luck. Next, you need to ensure your bike is compatible with some sort of cable routing option available. 

Once you have that sorted, then you need to ensure you have enough room for the post to insert into the frame. You see, the dropper post has to insert into your frame further than the total length of the drop. Whereas most mountain bike droppers have between 100mm and 175mm of travel, most gravel-oriented droppers have between 35–100mm of drop. But, key here is that the post needs to have ample room internally. It should also be noted that if you have a Shimano Di2-equipped bike and the battery is housed in the seat tube, it will need to be relocated.

If you have gotten this far, then things are looking good, but there are a few other things to consider. You need to ensure that when the post is fully extended that it doesn’t exceed your normal riding height. Sometimes if the seat clamp is too high, you might need to pick a post that has less total drop to ensure that when raised it doesn’t extend past your position. The last thing: few of the seat posts don’t have an option for setback, so if that is mandatory for your fit, then options become even slimmer.

THE LEVER

Currently, other than SRAM’s high-dollar, wireless AXS dropper, all dropper posts are actuated by a cable. Some droppers have the cable head at the lever side, while others have it connected to the bottom of the post. This means that you will need to find one that matches your dropper’s specifications and is designed for drop handlebars. 

Both Shimano (GRX) and SRAM (Force) offer brake levers that can control a dropper, but your bike would have to be 1x for this to be an option. For most, the best is a remote thumb-operated lever that is mounted just below the shifter hood and can be actuated from the drops or hoods.

BUT WHY?

There are a few very distinct advantages to having a dropper, but body position is the basis that they all revolve around. Lowering your saddle allows you to maintain a balanced position on your bike while lowering your center of gravity. Having this small amount of extra maneuverability can increase safety and confidence, especially (if only) on steep drop-in sections. 

The safety aspect comes because you can maintain the proper balance over the wheels, allowing for more traction and, in turn, control. This will allow you to have more confidence in situations that might otherwise have you feeling overwhelmed. 

WHY NOT?

Probably the most common reason is weight. Dropper posts are about 350 grams heavier than any normal post. Then there is the addition of another cable and housing loop to your cockpit. For many, this is enough to offset any perceived benefit. Then there is the fact that it’s another component that needs to be maintained, serviced and adjusted. Some are spring-loaded, while others are pressurized, but both will need to be serviced eventually. 

Another big drawback for many is that there is a slight amount of play or movement left to right at the head. This is not always obvious out of the box, but when a saddle is installed and there is a bit of wear, it starts to show. Then there is the fact that they are designed to have no flex and no built-in compliance to extend their service intervals. For many, this is a deal-breaker, as their post does the heavy lifting for compliance. This can be offset with larger-volume tires if there is room.

IS IT FOR YOU?

This is a question that only you can answer, and for most, realistically, it’s a no. Even for a person who would say that most gravel rides would have a few opportunities to see advantages, the vast majority of the time it isn’t needed. If you are the type of rider that is coming from a mountain bike and don’t mind heading down singletrack and XC routes, then you might opt for one. 

Exploring new routes and pushing the boundaries are fun, and for some, a dropper post can open up even more ride options. Currently, there are so many variables that finding one that will fit your needs is probably the hardest part. While the advantages are found when descending, it doesn’t always have to be crazy steep. Even on a gradual descent, lowering your position might help. 

We still remember coming away with mixed emotions after testing the dropper post on the Cannondale Topstone last year. While the remote actuating lever (next to the brake hood) was easy to locate, we had to force ourselves to drop the post to realize that doing so served no real purpose. Lowering the saddle on fire-road descents just felt awkward without having the saddle high to aid in maneuvering the bike.  

And when it came to super-steep and rocky sections, it was just safer and quicker to dismount and walk the section (heresy to mountain bikers) versus trying to get through it in the drops and fumbling for the lever.

Overall, like every other “new” technology rolling into the gravel segment, embracing dropper posts marks another evolutionary process, and in time, many of the drawbacks will be streamlined. For the gadget-obsessed who think the dropper post is a must-have, both the number of posts and frames with post-friendly cable routing are growing. Here are some of the dropper post options currently available.

HOW TO GET DROPPED

KS Lev 65/100/125mm: $329                       

www.kssuspension.com

Pro Discover 70mm: $300                           

www.pro-bikegear.com

PNW Rainier 27.2 Gen 3 125mm: $179        

www.pnwcomponents.com

Crankbrothers Highline 60/80/100/125mm: $249                   

www.crankbrothers.com

Rockshox Reverb AXS $800

www.sram.com

Fox Transfer SL 50/70mm $399

www.ridefox.com

Easton EA70 AX 50mm: $185                      

www.eastoncycling.com

DT Swiss D 232 60mm: $550                       

www.dtswiss.com

TranzX Hot Lap 50mm: $129                       

www.na.tranzx.com

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