Opinion: Complete Bikes Shouldn’t Come with Dropper Posts
Ok, but hear me out...
Your bike probably didn’t come with the dropper post you wanted. Of course, that could be true of lots of the stuff it came with. Maybe you’d rather have had a Maxxis Assegai up front instead of a DHF. Maybe you needed a 30-tooth front ring, not a 32-tooth. Maybe you’re used to 800-millimeter bars, and the stock 780s feel a little cramped (though that’s a whole other story). These aren’t price-point moves like like speccing a Deore cassette instead of SLX. They’re just choices a product manager made because it suited their vision for the bike. Your choices aren’t objectively better. They’re just better for you. And besides, we’re talking about swaps you could reasonably make for under $80 each, if they matter that much.
Dropper posts, on the other hand, cost three or four times that. And in at least one respect, there probably was an objectively better choice than the one that was made for you. Or more accurately, a longer choice. If your size-medium bike came with a 150mm post, it’s quite possible you could fit a 170. And I know from personal experience that most of us who ride XL bikes can fit longer posts than the 170s that most brands still insist on speccing. And now that OneUp has introduced a 240mm option, suddenly even 200mm posts kinda feel like they come up short.
Now, I understand why this isn’t that simple. Even in today’s world of lower standover and deeper insertion, brands have to choose carefully. If they spec too long a post, and if it happens not to be internally adjustable, the bike is essentially unrideable until the consumer makes the necessary swap. On the other hand, if they spec too short a post, the only consequence is the consumer misses out on 20mm of butt clearance. It’s the definition of a first-world problem. So, brands err on the side of caution, and most bikes end up with shorter droppers than they could likely handle.
But what do we expect? This is the only reasonable scenario, right? I mean, what am I asking them to do, send complete bikes to their dealers with no seatpost, and just tell them to zip tie the saddle to the handlebars on the showroom floor? That’s obviously ridiculous, right? Bike manufacturers can’t supply us with a product that’s missing an important part just because they don’t know which one we want … right? Well, here’s the thing: They already do exactly that, and they’ve been doing it for years.
Pedals used to come in the parts box with most bikes, along with the owner’s manual, warranty card, and reflectors. Usually, they’d be Shimano M520s, blister-packed together with somewhat frightening plastic platforms clipped into one side of each. Those platforms made test rides more comfortable, made it possible for a bike to pass CPSC requirements thanks to their included reflectors, and made countless shop employees stab their palms with flat-head screwdrivers when removing them prior to sale. That is, as long as the customer actually wanted the pedals. Even in those days, plenty of people were already riding platform pedals on trail bikes. Or they were riding Time or Crankbrothers. Or maybe they preferred oversized Shimano DX, or thin and light XTR. Pedals are a personal choice, and brands realized this. So, suddenly and almost universally, the industry agreed to stop including pedals with bikes. It was a waste of their money and, in turn, their customers’ money. Many consumer-direct brands still include pedals, but they’re always platforms and usually cheap.
And this was a cost-saving measure involving a component that probably won’t cost the consumer more than $100 to replace. That is half the starting point for even some budget dropper posts, and we’re completely fine letting bike brands pick one out for us even though we know they’re probably going to pick one that’s shorter than we want.
So, what are the alternatives? Of course, if you’re dealing with a shop, they ought to be able to offer you a partial credit for your OEM post, and you can upgrade before you walk out the door. But that shifts much of the burden to the shop. It adds an element of unpredictability to their inventory. Though high-volume shops may turn over enough bikes with 170mm posts, and customers who are buying bikes with 150mm posts can be offered a take-off for a modest upcharge. But for shops who don’t do that kind of volume, it means investing more in inventory that may open them up to exploitation, offering a deal on an aftermarket seatpost upgrade as a way to “make the sale.” And that aftermarket scenario the only option for size-large and XL bikes that can fit 200mm (and now 240mm) posts, but come with a 170. At the moment, supply issues are tight enough that shops can generally stand their ground, but no matter which party pays for what, it involves another seatpost that made it from manufacture, to bike assembly, to bike wholesale, to bike retail that ended up never having to exist in the first place.
But then, if the OEM dropper went the way of OEM pedals, some brands would sell bikes with droppers, and other brands would sell them without. There would be no way to accurately identify exactly how much cash is ending up back in your pocket if you went with one of those hypothetical non-seatpost brands, and the bikes with droppers would have an advantage. Plus, because the savings would only add up to the OEM-level wholesale price, any cost savings would be a fraction of what you’d need to spend on an aftermarket post, with all of its aftermarket packaging and aftermarket supply chain. That’s not a solution either.
So, industry, I’ll tell you what I want, and it’s not totally unprecedented: Smaller brands who do their final assembly outside the Asian efficiency machine like Ibis, Evil, Fezzari and Orbea can offer customization options at point of sale, including dropper length. When those spec choices are made in a warehouse, packed to the ceiling with OEM products, it’s far less expensive than making them at a bike shop. So, for brands whose complete bikes are black boxes, sealed until they reach the shop, there should be an option for those shops to maintain an inventory of OEM posts in multiple lengths so that they can perform that final customization just like those smaller domestically-assembled brands. Shops would not be asked to go through aftermarket suppliers and pay off-the-shelf pricing, and aren’t asked by customers to “throw in” anything. It’s cut and dried. They measure you for your frame size and for your seatpost length and you make the final choice. If you want to upgrade to a non-OEM post, that’d cost ya’. But if you just want one that fits you, it won’t. Unfortunately, though, I can’t help you with those 780mm bars.
Photos: Travis Engel