Dropper seat posts for cross country racing

Dropping into the Stadium in Stellenbosch:  Matt Delorme Photo
Dropper seat posts are extremely popular now and for good reason.  All 6 women that placed in front of me this weekend at the World cup opener were on one.  XC evolution! They can transform your comfort on steep terrain, allowing you to lower your center of gravity and increase your stability.  With more room to move vertically up and down on your bike it’s also easier to jump, manual and lean the bike through a corner.

I started the 2017 season with a dropper seat post on my full suspension bike wanting to give it an honest test.  These days they add about a pound to your bike, which can be well worth it if they help you gain more seconds in corners and descents than you would possibly lose on climbs due to added weight.
Getting low in the rough stuff in Czech on a dropper last year! Photo Rob Jones

But the question is, after years of racing pretty gnarly courses with your seat up, are you able to gain more seconds with it down?  There have been courses where I have loved having it and the increased stability pushing the limits on rock gardens and long descents, but others where due to the up down nature of the course I felt using a dropper cost me more time than it gained me. 

Seats down for a pure descent is a no brainer, but where xc trails are constantly going up and down, cresting a steep climb in a light gear and turning immediately into a short descent that you must then 180 and head back up, often the first priority is going to be gear selection and opening or closing suspension. Adding one more adjustment can take the time you should be using to attack the next section.  Yes, I am talking racing where every second counts.  For recreational riding and racing and adventure racing blind stages these seconds may not feel that significant compared to what a dropper can offer, but when you’re striving for the fastest most efficient race and seconds matter, it is definitely something I think about.

More recently I have been leaning towards not racing with one, at least on my full suspension and I lined up for the first World Cup of 2018 in Stellenbosch with seat up.  For cross country racing, particularly at a high level you have the opportunity to spend time on course  days prior getting descents dialled before you line up to race. You typically become pretty comfortable and as efficient on every feature with your seat up as with it down potentially negating the dropper’s benefits. With South Africa being a new Venue offering a lot of features to learn in a short time and with descents that were aggressive and lead to flat run outs a dropper would not have been regretted though!

Jumping is just part of the xc game nowadays. Matt Delorme Photo
Like anything, whatever you want to use in racing you have to spend a lot of time dialling in during training. If you choose to run a dropper, part of your course preparation has to become practicing where you are going to use it. You will go far faster down the entirety of a descent entering and exiting a descent with speed and your seat up than you will entering more slowly because you took the time to sit and lower your seat, rail the dh part, but then be inefficient getting back up to speed on exit.

I will 100% keep a dropper on my bigger suspension bikes, and look forward to trying one on my hardtail in 2018.  For xc racing I think it's still a toss up and seat up still gets the thumbs up a lot of the time.

Article updated from original piece in Pedal Magazine MTB Frontlines


Anonymous said…
I agree with everything Catherine says, but I think she is missing a point, which can be crucial on XC racing... it is the fact of safety. I mean, a dropper post can prevent you from a crash on extreme situation and you will definitely have less chances to crash and hurt yourself or lose time.
I use one on my XC bike and the time you lose on movig it up and down before and after a steep hill is minimum.
I think people will get used to it and will be seen on the races more and more.
Brad Woronuk said…
Equipment selection also plays an essential role in establishing mental confidence at the starting line.

I choose to race without a dropper post for cross-country events due to a mechanical that I experienced with a RockShox Reverb during one of my training rides, forcing me to abandon a ride early when the seat stopped rebounding. This is also the same reason that I switched to a 1-by drive train set-up rather than my previous 2-by (when the jury was still out).

Each rider has their own tolerance for risk and complexity, so it's important to find a setup that helps us to bring our best on race day. Some days that may mean dropper, other days it might be better to go 'old school'.

Thanks for the thoughtful post, always wonderful to gain the perspective of an elite athlete on these choices.
Kika said…
Absolutely guys. Increased confidence and stability are huge benefits of the dropper and make learning a new course wonderful. At worlds last year I raced the relay with seat up and added a dropper for the race as so many people were having bad crashes and I felt better safe than sorry. Often with practice time on course and riders used to seat up racing we actually do feel just as confident with the seat up....but yes totally section dependent!