The following story first appeared in the fall 2021 print issue of Beta. To get print, sign up to be a Beta Pass or Outside+ member. Membership details HERE.
This is a surprisingly touchy subject. As I was reaching out to dropper post manufacturers, a few were pretty tightlipped about their cartridges. Some actually declined to comment altogether. As if it needs to be a secret that not every part inside every dropper post was designed and manufactured in-house. Maybe that would undermine our belief in the boot-strap ingenuity it takes to make bike parts. Or maybe, since Fox, RockShox and BikeYoke make their internals from scratch, why shouldn’t everyone else?
Well, here’s the thing: Fox and RockShox have been designing seals and valves and air springs for decades. And BikeYoke is German. These are not your typical dropper manufacturers. They would only ever build their posts from the ground up. The brands who choose not to are no less worthy. If this were almost any other product, we wouldn’t think twice. Your computer relies on countless prefab chips, your car is lousy with third-party components, and your bike’s frame was probably contracted out by the brand printed on its downtube.
Of course, these arrangements span a wide spectrum, from off- the-shelf to custom-made, and dropper cartridges are no different. If a brand has a specific vision for their post’s chassis, they have to also maintain some control over what is inside it. In the case of OneUp, both are produced under the same roof by a dropper post manufac- turer in Taiwan. Because this factory already produces everything you would need to make a dropper post, OneUp was able to take a hybrid approach.
“Almost every component in our dropper post and cartridge is designed by us,” says Jonathan Staples, owner/engineer at OneUp. “[But] we do use off-the-shelf seals, o-rings and raw forgings.” OneUp has even patented many of the designs they’ve conceived in this sandbox, so they will become exclusive to OneUp. It’s a unique arrangement, especially considering that the bulk of the posts that come out of that factory don’t carry OneUp’s name, but OneUp wouldn’t hint at who they are.
That was a theme among the brands I spoke with. One of the first I could get to talk was PNW, and according to CMO Todd Cannatelli, PNW’s cartridge supplier is “one of the largest dropper post manufac- turers in the world,” and they have a similar back and forth relationship on design. “We have a kids’ dropper post, and we worked with the manufacturer to get lighter action,” Cannatelli explains. A totally off- the-shelf cartridge ecosystem wouldn’t allow for that sort of product, but he notes that innovation also sometimes flows the other way. “They’re doing their own research and coming up with their own ideas and they’ll come to us with some solutions that we could potentially integrate.”