Dropper Post Evolution | #mtbflashbacks

September 15th, 2016

By Andrew Dodd in Features,Tech

Dropper Post Evolution – my favourite MTB product of all time

Have you ever tried riding any remotely technical, steep or fast off road terrain with your saddle at full ride height?

If you’re one of the lucky new generation riders that has come in to mountain biking with dropper posts becoming standard on many bikes, you might not realise how challenging riding a bike off road with the saddle up actually is.

The dropper post is a revelation for mountain biking – and this is where it evolved from…

Dropper Post

Although Nino Shurtner rides all the tech stuff the XC World Cup can throw at him, you can see on steep, technical parts of the course where a lot of control is needed – and a saddle pushing in the gut does not make this easy. If you want to be surprised – go out and try this yourself. Try it a few times on something similar with your saddle up – and then lower it. Being able to lower your centre of gravity and have the room to confidently move around on the bike changes everything. Suddenly even the most technical obstacles become rideable. Photo | Bartek Wolinski/Red Bull Content Pool

Hite Rite

Dropper post

Although the saddle is down – you can see why a Hite Rite would have been sought after back in the early days when riders experimented with different styles of technical riding.

Back in the 80’s when riders learnt that lowering their saddle drastically aided control, the Hite Rite was designed by Joe Breeze and Josh Angell (cheers to @retro_mtb for the heads up) as a method for lowering and returning your saddle.

The Hite Rite was a simple spring, with a collar to wrap around the seat post, and an open end to mount on the quick release lever mount on the seat collar. The idea was that you could flip the QR lever open and sit down to lower the seat, before closing the lever and tackling the terrain. The Hite Rite would return your seat to the raised position when you opened the QR and allowed it to return.

Dropper post

You have to love the simplicity of the Hite Rite – clearly a workaround created to solve a problem. Which is part one of product design – and why we have such great seat posts these days.

Whilst the concept of the Hite Rite was simple and effective it relied on a frame that had a properly reamed seat tube – otherwise the post would bind in the frame.

Dropper post evolution - Hite Rite

The Hite Rite is a classic bit of design – and technically the first dropper post out there on the market.

Office Chair Technology

As mountain biking frustratingly took a leaf from the road world, bikes became lighter at the expense of handling – the weight war overcame any kind of logic until the tail end of the 90’s when geometry and suspension was really being experimented with. Gradually bars got wider, angles got slacker and handling improved in adverse conditions – but still we were stuck with the saddle height thing.

You either became a ‘put up with it’ type of rider – or you stopped every ten minutes to lower your seat for the downhills.

Thankfully the folks at Gravity Dropper launched an adjustable height dropper post – based on the concept of an office chair*, but using a simple mechanical design with a coil spring.

*we actually made a dropper post from an old office chair, for a s*** bike challenge. Check this out. 

Although popular on US soil, this post didn’t become as popular as it should have in the UK – but things moved on rapidly when the Maverick Speedball dropper post, arrived, which was developed by Paul Turner (the same Paul Turner that started Rockshox).

Dropper Post

Although it certainly wasn’t the first dropper post on the market, the Maverick Speedball post became instantly popular. It worked admirably in dry conditions, but it did need a bit of TLC to keep it running in UK conditions. But still – 3in of saddle drop at the flick of a lever was enough to change everything. Off the back of this post came a dropper post revolution!

The Maverick Speedball was released in late 2004, and originally had a lever operation which you needed to remove your hands from the bars to operate. The post above is second generation with bar mounted lever kit.

The Speedball dropper post had an air spring operation (like office chairs) and featured 3in/75mm of drop and a simple clamp design licensed from Bontrager.

Although the Maverick design needed maintenance to keep it going in UK conditions, the overall concept was great. Californian brand Crank Brothers later licensed the design and released it in late 2007 as the Joplin post, which had a few alterations, including the later increase in drop to 4in/100mm which stepped things up yet again. However, the same issues with UK conditions affected the longterm durability.

Meanwhile, Kind Shock – known as KS – had been developing their own post, and released the i900 post. This post had a similar air operation to the Speedball and  Joplin dropper posts, but featured more drop at 125mm and was dramatically better in our climate. Like the other brands, a remote lever came later and KS continued to develop their technology.

Whilst KS were pushing the air technology, another US brand called Rase were producing a monster 10in dropper post called the Black Mamba – which used a mechanical operation similar to Gravity Dropper posts, but with a bit more of an agricultural design that needed a huge sleeve to keep the internals working in muddy conditions. Nice concept – but not one for the longterm mud pluggers out there.

The Rock Shox Game Changer

In 2010 it all changed when Rockshox swaggered on stage and mic-dropped the Reverb…

Dropper post

I had one of the very first Rock Shox Reverb seat posts in the UK, and bar a service – it is still being used today. Great design – and an iconic product.

With 125mm of fully sealed hydraulic action, the original Reverb had a smooth action unaffected by weather conditions. It also had a hydraulic remote lever and annoying external cable routing – which although could suffer in bad crashes, performed so well that most would forgive and forget the second they tried it!

Since the development of the Reverb, the cable routing is now ‘Stealth’ – coming from the base of the post to avoid the old loop of cable, and there are drop options form 100mm to a whopping 170mm! The Reverb is the most popular dropper post on the market today, although bike manufacturing giants Specialized and Giant are producing their own posts that they spec – which is having a big effect.

Currently there are dropper posts being produced by dozens of companies including Rockshox; Fox; KS; X-Fusion; Shimano; Magura; Gravity Dropper; Crank Brothers; Easton; Race Face; Nukeproof; Brand X; Giant; Specialized; Eightpins; Thomson; DNM and Fall Line. There’s certainly no shortage – and many are excellent quality too.

Where next?

Last year at Eurobike, everyone was saying wireless would be the future – and Magura were showing off a Bluetooth operated dropper post that had a slick performance. Other brands were rumoured to be developing wireless/electronic dropper posts too – which would work neatly with the electronic transmissions being shown off by Shimano and no doubt in the very near future by SRAM.  

However, at Eurobike 2016 we spotted what we think will be the future for dropper post design – a unit manufactured by Eightpins that is incorporated in to the seat tube of the bike.

Currently it will only be offered on Liteville bikes, but we heard a lot of manufacturers talking about the post – and the potential for the design to be seen on many bikes as standard.

Unlike the posts that we are familiar with that are a double tube design, the Eightpins design is lighter and can offer more. Seat height is adjustable, and the drop of the post can range from 150-220mm, depending on the frame size.

Of course strange frame designs will always need to use retrofit dropper post designs, but incorporating the dropper post in to frame design seems logical for us – and the perfect way to introduce dropper posts to the XC scene as the weight penalty will be much lower.

Whatever happens, I won’t be mountain biking without a dropper post ever again – as far as I’m concerned they are as essential as tyres.

Infact, I think I’d rather ride an old rigid bike with a dropper post than a modern suspension bike with the saddle locked at full height!


What do you think of dropper posts?

Could you live without one?

Let us know in the comments below…

 

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