Why A Dropper Seatpost Is A Must

why dropper posts are a must for mountain bikes

On a list of technical innovations that have improved mountain biking, very few things rank above the dropper seatpost.

Disc brakes would top the list because, you know, stopping is essential, and rim brakes were about as effective as the Fred Flinstone heel-stop in a car.

Tubeless tires were a revolution because you no longer had to choose between brain-rattling, crash-inducing tire pressures, or constant flats.

And suspension—front and rear—has clearly allowed people to ride harder, wilder terrain and to do it faster than ever.

The dropper seat post is as vital as any of those innovations, and here's why: like all those things, the dropper makes riding easier, more approachable, safer, and more fun. 

female mountain biker lowered dropper seatpost downhill riding

What is a dropper post?

And how exactly does it work?

It might be difficult to believe since pretty much every bike on the market today now comes with one, but 10 years ago, dropper posts were largely considered an extraneous accessory.

Most mountain bikes had fixed posts, like road bikes. So you took on technical obstacles with your saddle at full height, generally with your bum so far back and low that the seat pressed into your belly and the tire buzzed your shorts.

Then along came the dropper seat post, a device that allows you to move the saddle up and down while riding.

That means you can run it full height for pedaling and climbing but easily get the seat out of your way—and get your center of gravity lower and farther back—when the trail gets tricky.

Obstacles that were very difficult became much easier and safer.

The concept isn't new. I purchased my first mountain bike, a steel-framed Muddy Fox 26er, in 1989. That bike (and my next one) was fully rigid; Paul Turner unveiled the first-ever suspension fork around the same time, and it took years for squishy bikes to catch on.

At first, I simply stopped at the top of descents and used the quick-release post to manually lower the saddle for descents, as was the practice back then. But I eventually fitted that Muddy Fox with the original dropper post device, the Hite-Rite. Conceived by Joe Breeze in 1984, this coil-spring contraption was attached to the seat post quick release on one end and a collar on the post at the other. You just reached back, opened your quick release, sat on the saddle to compress the spring, closed the quick release, and voila: between 1.5 and 4.5 inches of adjustment, depending on the model.

oneup dropper seatposts in descending positions

Today's designs have come a long way.

The vast majority, including the Fox Transfer and the OneUp Dropper Post V2, are actuated from a remote lever on your bars that connects to the seatpost via a cable running through the frame.

Designs vary, but lifting duties are handled mainly by a pneumatic cylinder, like an office chair, which forces air and/or hydraulic oil through a chamber and moves a piston in the desired direction. Push and hold the lever, and your body weight moves the saddle down; push it again with your weight on the pedals, and the saddle springs upward. 

Even more progressive is the Rockshox Reverb AXS, which pairs the mechanical Reverb floating-piston internals with battery-driven motor actuation. A wireless, bar-mount lever operates the post, which means there are no convoluted cable routings to fuss over. But at $861, that convenience doesn't come cheap.

Do I really need a dropper post? 

mountain biker riding highline in sedona arizona

"Without a dropper, you will almost certainly be walking the chute and nose on Hiline. Same with the steep exit on Hangover. The dropper post made riding those lines possible."

Some old timers and luddites will tell you that you don't need a dropper post. They'll say that you can ride pretty much anything without one. And they are right. Sort of.

You can get down almost anything with a fixed-height post … if you are skilled enough, brave enough, or willing enough to crash.

It's like that old Muddy Fox of mine. It had no suspension. It had 1.75-inch tires that had to be run between 40 and 50 psi to prevent flats. It had a 120mm stem and probably around a 71- or 72-degree head angle. It had 500mm bars and V-brakes.

By modern-day standards, it was a road bike with knobby tires. And yet I threw myself down everything on it, sometimes succeeding, often crashing.

I didn't know any better then but compared to riding bikes of today, I was constantly uncomfortable and terrified. But I still rode. And I still loved it.

You know what I love more?

I love riding my full-suspension trail bike with 140mm of front and rear travel, 2.6-inch tires aired to 18 psi, 4-piston hydraulic disc brakes, and 800mm bars. It's plush. I have fun. I ride harder obstacles and go way faster than I ever could on the Muddy Fox. I crash less.

The point: All manner of technology makes mountain biking fun these days. The dropper post is one of them.

When the trail gets rowdier than your ability, a dropper lets you get the saddle out of your way and enjoy the ride rather than simply hanging on for dear life.

Could you do it without it? Maybe.

Will it be more enjoyable and more repeatable with a dropper? Definitely!

Are there things you simply won't be able to ride without one? Absolutely.

"Some Sedona trails evolved because of the dropper seatpost," says Thunder Mountain Service Manager, Dave Herbold.

"Without a dropper, you will almost certainly be walking the chute and nose on Hiline. Same with the steep exit on Hangover. The dropper post made riding those lines possible."

Herbold actually doesn't use a dropper. But that's a personal preference, and he's okay walking technical stretches if necessary. "Honestly," he says, "everyone should ride a dropper. They let you function with more confidence."

mountain biker riding slickrock with dropper post in sedona arizona

How do I pick the right model?

Despite all the models, features, and lengths of posts, choosing a dropper doesn't have to be tough.

First, pick a post with diameters to match your frame. The most common are 30.9mm or 31.6mm, but reputable brands make posts to fit most modern bikes.

Next, make sure your bike can take internal cable routings: There are still a few externally routed droppers out there for older bikes, but they are less widely available.

Finally, pick between hydraulic and mechanical posts—both work well. However, mechanical options are more easily serviced in the field and, therefore, perhaps a better option for home mechanics and those who like to venture deeper.

rockshox dropper post with detail highlights

Once you've narrowed down those options, the price will determine what features you get.

Don't cheap out, or you'll likely get something that's constantly broken.

"We've found that around the $200 mark buys the quality you need," says Seth Bell, Thunder Mountains Lead Mechanic.

Spending more will get you additional features, for instance, Kashima coating on the stanchion of the Fox Transfer or wireless setup on the Rockshox Reverb AXS. (Herbold calls Kashima, "more of a color than a feature.”)

Other features worth considering include a bleed valve to remove trapped air from the system and the ability to easily switch cylinders in the case of problems.

Finally comes the decision about how much travel, which can range from 90 to 240mm.

This is easy.

"Your bike frame, and how much physical post it will allow, is the determining factor," says Bell. "We recommend as much travel as your bike can take, which is determined by frame geometry, design, and bike size."

Is it hard to learn to ride with a dropper?

Yes, and no.

The first time you ride one, you'll likely face two challenges.

First, having the saddle low and out of your way will feel strange.

"A lot of riders use a saddle as an anchor point. So when you drop it lower, it's disorienting at first," says Bell. "You won't know where your bike is."

Second, it might be a challenge to simply remember to activate the post in time. You may be late lowering or raising the post or even have to slow down or stop to get it right.

The more you ride with a dropper, though, the more automatic it will become.

It's much like how shifting becomes second nature. Once you've been riding for a while, you anticipate the terrain and automatically move the gears up or down. Droppers are like that: they just take a little practice.

The basics are pretty simple.

If you're pedaling hard or climbing, keep the post fully extended to maximize your power. 

When the trail turns downward, lower the post to make it easier to push the bike around. 

On extremely technical terrain, be sure the post is fully dropped, ensuring you have the most space to get back behind the saddle and maneuver the bike.

But also, don't be afraid to use the dropper on flats or flow terrains like whoops and rollers. A partially dropped post in mixed terrain can make for faster and more confident turns and help gain speed when pumping the bars.

Don't they break a lot?

Are they worth the hassle?

Durability and longevity have improved over the years as brands have refined designs. But dropper posts can still be finicky.

bike mechanic working on a dropper seatpost

"From a mechanic's perspective, they are one of the higher maintenance parts on a bike. Just expect it," says Herbold.

Owners can, however, take some easy steps to keep their droppers in good working order.

Like all bike suspension, droppers should get serviced every 50 to 100 riding hours.

Herbold says that for anyone doing their own maintenance, this should include cracking the gasket seal and dropping a few drops of Slick Honey down the shaft. Bell also advises that posts should always be left in the open (or up) position when you store your bikes, as the increased pressure from storing them down can damage the seals.

bike mechanic performing routine maintenance for dropper seatpost

"Droppers take some maintenance and care," says Herbold. "But the demands don't outweigh the advantages you get from riding one."

If you have more questions about dropper posts or want to explore upgrading your bike with one, call us at 928-282-1106. Or stop by Thunder Mountain Bikes anytime you're in Sedona. We'd love to talk bikes with you.


by Aaron Gulley

Aaron has been writing about cycling, travel, and the outdoors and reviewing gear for the likes of Outside, Bicycling, Velonews, and others for over two decades.