Originally published in Issue #182
Some people claim there is a “wheelie gene” and either you are born with the innate balance needed to wheelie or you are doomed to a life of dull, two-wheels-on-the-ground riding. I’m not sure if I subscribe to that theory, but I do buy into the idea that some of us are genetically predisposed to seek change, even at the expense of dependability.
Obviously mountain bikes have been on a steady evolutionary journey from the moment Gary and Charlie toasted the forming of MountainBikes with what I am guessing would have been a celebratory doobie of NorCal’s finest. Or maybe it was Mexico’s finest back then; Wikipedia probably doesn’t have an entry for dope-import stats from the late ’70s. Or maybe it does, but I refuse to go down that rabbit hole, because I am actually typing more than two sentences without deleting and starting over. This is progress and I am going to roll with that, bad joint pun and all.
Digression aside, I’m not talking about obvious improvements that were quickly adopted. I’m sure some will debate this, but things like double-wall aluminum rims, folding-bead tires, index shifting, and clutch derailleurs quickly became the norm on high-performance bikes, with little fanfare. Good technology that was reliable when first introduced and quickly adopted by the masses.
Suspension was the first real test to the mountain bike consumer. Expensive, unreliable and flexy—the increase in performance came at a hefty price tag in both money and time spent on maintenance. These days, if it doesn’t have at least 120mm of travel, I’d rather just ride a rigid bike. But back then 63mm of poorly damped travel from a flimsy fork was revelatory for some people, and thanks to those early adopters, even sub-$500 suspension forks today are impressive performers.
The 29-inch wheel faced similar issues, with limited tire choice, bad suspension forks, wack geometry, and legions of haters. But some people rode those early bikes, saw the positive aspects buried under those issues, and handed manufacturers enough money to drive product development and create some truly impressive bikes. A well-designed 5-inch-travel 29er is by far the most potent all-around mountain bike ever made.
The point? Dropper posts. There is no single item in the last five years that has changed riding as much as the acceptance of dropper posts. After a good bit of time on a rigid bike equipped with a dropper, I realize that, if given the option, I would give up rear suspension, gears, and front suspension (in that order) before I would give up my dropper. The problem? Droppers, even after what seems like years of development, are, with few exceptions, expensive, finicky, and prone to failure.
Is it because many of them have us sitting on top of a closed hydraulic valve as we bounce down the trail? Maybe it is the little shifter cable and still-janky remote levers? Is it some patent issue I don’t know about? There is a reason my favorite droppers use a mechanical lock: That mechanism will keep the post in place even if the air spring fails and becomes unsprung. But those two posts have some issues as well: The Fox remote is hideous if mounted above the bars, and the Specialized only comes in a 35mm offset, which messes with bike fit.
I have a feeling that if we hang on, we’ll see more droppers at better prices with better remotes and reliability. The big question is, when will Shimano join the fray? This seems like a real possibility now that Fox [is now in] Shimano’s OEM territory with its ownership of Race Face and Easton. It would be pretty sweet to have Deore, SLX, XT, and XTR dropper-post options to go with some of the best drivetrains and brakes made.
In the year 2015, if you haven’t ridden a dropper post, you need to beg, borrow, or steal one, ASAP. I guarantee it will make your riding better and more fun. If it doesn’t, I may have proof that being genetically predisposed to not seek change also exists.
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