Like you, I miss a lot of things right now – concerts, international travel, and dining out, to name a few. But, mostly, I miss sports. In lieu of live games, I’ve regressed to YouTube, watching replays of classic shots, goals, and sprint finishes. For now, the nostalgia is holding me over.
A couple weeks ago, while bingeing on Tour de France replays, I found myself fixated on one peculiar thing: the best cyclists in the world were descending mountain passes in the Alps while sitting on their top tubes. It looked awkward, but sure enough, they were accelerating from the improved aerodynamics. And I thought to myself “why don’t they just use dropper posts?”
That simple question leads to many more, so here, four experts address six essential FAQs on the very subject...
Wait, what is a dropper post?
Nearly ubiquitous in the mountain bike world and growing in gravel circles, dropper posts are much less familiar to road riders. A dropper is an adjustable seatpost that allows riders to quickly lower or raise their seat, without stopping. Dropper posts are usually operated with a lever on the handlebars, typically employing the rider’s weight to depress the seat and hydraulics to raise it (as demo'ed on the Evil Chamois Hagar in the video below). But why?
“Many gravel riders are starting to prioritize performance over grams,” explains Matt Hornland, brand manager at Easton Cycling. “Others are looking for new types of adventure. This type of mixed terrain riding can be done without a dropper, but having one will make you more comfortable and confident.”
In the mountain bike park it’s surprising to see a full-squish bike without a dropper, due to the advantages they provide on steep, technical descents. But the value of droppers extends to gravel and even road riding as well. As I’ll explain, dropper seatposts help you have more fun.
What’s the value of a dropper?
The decision to install a dropper seatpost depends a lot on how you ride. “Droppers are still somewhat rare on gravel bikes,” notes Aaron Kerson, founder of PNW Components. “But the bottom line is that they make your ride more fun by lowering your center of gravity and allowing you to easily move from side to side, which keeps you from going over the bars and helps you to corner better.”
Kyle Taylor at Fox Factory echoes the sentiment. “Dropper posts expand your capabilities, plain and simple,” he says. “They arguably are the biggest advancement in biking in the last decade. Quickly lowering your saddle allows you to shift your weight faster. I foresee a dropper boom in the gravel world soon.”
In the mountain bike world, this is old news. “Dropper posts were adopted years ago on cross-country and enduro bikes because they enabled seamless transition from climbing to descending,” recalls SRAM’s Chris Mandell. “They give you full leg extension on climbs and then get the saddle out of the way on the downhill. As we start to see gravel riders take on new terrain, droppers will help them get rid of barriers.”
Are there downsides?
“There is a weight penalty, but it’s smaller than you’d guess” notes Kerson. “Often about two-hundred to three-hundred grams, depending on the length of the dropper and the weight of your old post.” Kerson believes the weight difference is often overstated and worth the tradeoff.
“Much of the road riding culture is built around having the lightest everything, sometimes at the expense of having fun” says Kerson. “We’re trying to change that.”
There are still hurdles to dropper post adoption en masse. “Compatibility can be a limiting factor. Not all frame manufacturers design for internal routing, although that’s steadily changing” says Kerson. “Droppers add a lever in your cockpit, which is hard with two-by drivetrains and adds complexity to the bike. Fortunately, many gravel bikes now come with one-bys, so there is an available spot for the lever.”
For a gravel bike to employ a dropper post, it also needs to have sufficient standover height, allowing the seatpost to travel up and down. This rarely was a challenge with mountain bikes, but certainly is with some gravel geometries. Many dropper post manufacturers have caught on to this hurdle and now make 50-millimeter posts for bikes with high top tubes.
“There was also a challenge with the diameter of the seat tube, but recent bikes have been standardized to a few sizes, so compliance is much easier that just a few years ago,” says Taylor.
Few of these hurdles are surprising to industry insiders. “We saw the same challenges a decade ago in the mountain bike world, with routing and compatibility,” says Mandell. “Eventually mountain bikers came around. We’re on that curve right now for gravel bikes, and things are quickly changing.”
Why aren’t droppers already universal?
“The gravel category is still figuring out its identity — new technologies often take some time to gain traction,” says Mandell. “To be widely accepted, gravel riders need to see the value. They need to understand that we’re not trying to turn them into mountain bikers, but that droppers are useful for what they are already riding.”
Mandell believes the extra weight is a common deterrent, but argues that riders aren’t seeing the full picture. “Being aerodynamic makes a bigger difference in terms of speed, anyway. If you can get your wind profile down it’ll make you go much faster [even with] a couple hundred grams of weight.”
“For the gravel and road communities, it’s about education,” says Kerson. “These riders need to learn how a dropper will help them, often by testing one themselves. Gravel riders most often come from the road world where droppers don’t exist. Many road cyclists have long eschewed mountain bike parts as heavy and impractical. But the gravel category is a cross pollination of the two worlds. It’s helping everyone learn.”
For these companies, the trend is clear. “We’re on the precipice of change,” says Taylor. “Just two or three years ago, very few gravel bikes had droppers, due to routing and limited cockpit space. But, with more reasonable price points, we’re starting to see it take off. I wouldn’t be surprised if roadies are next.”
Of course, there will always be some dropper holdouts, for good reason. “The decision to get a dropper can vary a lot by where you ride. If you live in a place that’s mostly flat with rolling hills, you probably don’t need one,” admits Hornland. “That said, if you are riding singletrack in that area, you might reconsider.”
Who should get a dropper?
Dropper posts make the most sense for riders who want to explore further off the beaten path, especially on steep dirt descents and flowy singletrack. For these riders, trying to bridge the gap between cyclocross and road, a dropper is almost a given. But there are other practical uses, too.
“We’re seeing a lot of bikepackers use droppers, to help them get on and off their heavy bikes,” reveals Kerson. “Some couples that share a bike use a dropper to adjust seat height for each other. Commuters, especially less experienced riders, use them to lower their seat at stops and put both feet on the ground.”
What are some good options?
For those with a bike that allows internal routing and a longer seat tube, our favorite is the PNW's Rainier 27.2 IR ($199). With three lever types and a 27.2-millimeter diameter, it works with many gravel bikes on the market. At a similar price point, Easton's EA70 AX ($185) might be better for those that can only fit 5o millimeters of travel on their bikes.
If you have a larger diameter seat tube and want to level up, Fox Factory's Transfer ($349 and in action at the top of this page) is a high-performing machine. And if cash is burning a hole in your pocket, the electronic Reverb AXS seatpost from SRAM/Rockshox is your best bet. The price is high ($800), but the seamless integration into SRAM’s road and mullet drivetrains sets it apart.