What is a Dropper Post and Where Did They Come From?

A bike, as a whole, really is greater than the sum of its parts, and good components like tires and brakes will definitely improve the ride. One such item is a dropper post.

What’s a dropper post, you ask? It’s a special seat post (support for the seat, which some people will insist on calling a “saddle”) that, with a flick of a lever, can be compressed to be moved down and out of the way.

Then, with another flick of the lever, it will pop back up to its original height; seat up for more efficient pedaling, seat down for a lower center of gravity when going downhill.

New Tech?

Is this a new invention? The short answer is no, the concept has been around since the 1980s. But as with many things in mountain biking, advances in technology finally got good enough over the past several years to make dropper posts standard equipment for most riders. 

Way back in “the day,” most mountain bikes would have a quick-release seat post clamp, and riders would stop at the top of a downhill section and release the clamp to lower the post. When they reached the bottom, they would then reverse the process to move the seat back to a normal riding position. 

The Hite-Rite from 1984 could be considered the first dropper post (or at least post “add-on”) because it could be adjusted on the fly.  Eventually, the system included a handlebar lever for remote activation.

Original Hite-Rite Dropper Post
Original Hite-Rite Dropper Post

For a number of reasons, and despite a strong following for the Hite-Rite (which continues today in classic MTB and retro circles), the concept never really stuck. Many riders just found them unnecessary, others were looking to save grams anywhere possible, and race courses were evolving so that it didn’t make sense to waste even a moment to adjust the bike.

There were a few other attempts over the next couple of decades, but it wasn’t until the RockShox Reverb hit in 2010 that the dropper post started its path as an essential component.

RockShox Reverb Dropper
RockShox Reverb Dropper

Since then, dropper posts of all stripes can be found on almost all mountain bikes, from cross-country rigs to those pointed downhill most of the time. As costs have come down, they’ve become common on many entry-level bikes, too, with quality and performance improving each year. Initially, the control cables were externally routed, but in most cases now the cable is routed inside the frame, activating the post’s release mechanism from its bottom. 

How does a dropper work?

Most work similarly. In their resting state, the dropper posts are extended and locked in place. A lever on the handlebar (usually sold separately) unlocks the extended post, and you sit on the seat to compress it. 

When the lever is released, the post stays down. You can drop the post in just a couple of seconds, and with the seat out of the way, you can easily lower your center of gravity, get back behind the seat, or otherwise maneuver around the bike. Then, with another flick of the lever on the handlebar, the post will go back up to its extended position. 

The extension of the post is achieved via air, springs, or hydraulics Will it shoot up with enough force to throw you off the bike? No. Could it give you a little slap on the butt? Maybe. Do some riders like that? Most mountain bikers do like pain, so…

How to identify a quality dropper?

Dropper seat posts are judged on how smoothly they work, how reliable they are, and how much travel they offer. You’ll find short travel posts, at 90mm to 100mm on gravel bikes and even *gasp* road bikes, with longer posts, up to 240mm on mountain bikes.

The vast majority of dropper posts on the market today work really well. Seals are better, compression and extension action is smoother, and they’re overall more reliable than some of the earlier models.

But remember, as with anything with moving parts, droppers will need service from time to time, so unlike a rigid post, you can’t just install and forget. And while you’ll always get what you pay for, there are several brands at lower price points that will provide reliable service. 

PNW components come to mind with their lineup of several posts starting under $150. I’ve got a PNW Ridge paired with a Wolf Tooth lever and they’ve never failed me.

On the other end of the spectrum, if you really don’t want to deal with cables, you can spend more than $800 on an electronic wireless Rockshox Reverb AXS post.

Are you ready to take the dropper post plunge?

So, the big question is: do you need a dropper post? I think most riders will benefit from one with a standard disclaimer, however, that some riders will be totally happy riding a rigid singlespeed and won’t think suspension or gears are necessary, and thus some people won’t think dropper posts are either.

And that’s true, no one *needs* a dropper post, but it provides more options for additional control over your bike. I’m a bit of a curmudgeon, and I was a late adopter of dropper posts. I had ridden for decades without one, and I’m one of those aforementioned singlespeed riders. That being said, I’ve been swayed over the years and definitely see a benefit. My local trails are technical and rocky, and being able to get low gives me more confidence on short, steep downhills and also helps me navigate rock gardens and drops.

Glen Sinsigalli, a rider from Beverly, MA, who admittedly doesn’t use his dropper post as much as he should, says, “The biggest advantage is on the steep downhills; you can get low without having to hang your butt behind the seat.”

Another Massachusetts rider, Jason Fitzgerald, AKA “J-Bone,” says of the dropper post, “it’s the single greatest invention in mountain biking.” 

“I love them for the ability to lower your center of gravity on the downs as well as the technical climbs,” he adds, “a true game changer.”

Fitzgerald has had a few dropper posts, ”but the one that stands out is the Bike Yoke Revive; zero issues, virtually no maintenance and little to no stiction,” he says. 

Jeff Soderman of Wenham, MA, has raced mountain bikes all over New England and in the Leadville 100, and he says dropper posts provide “confidence descending for someone who has more legs than handling skill.”

The Author Navigating Terrain on a Dropper Post Equipped Bike
Navigating Terrain on a Dropper Post Equipped Bike

In addition to all of the riding benefits, I’ve also found that having the ability to lower the seat can make it easier to move the bike in and out of doors, fit in trucks or vans, and even fit on a rack with other bikes.  

Ultimately, dropper posts give you more control, and more control is more fun. And, as Soderman puts it, “I can’t think of a good reason not to have one.”


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