What are some of the greatest innovations in mountain biking? Disc brakes, 1x gearing, dropper posts? And how would you rank them in order of importance to your riding? Many riders, myself included, would rank dropper posts as the best innovation and the one they would miss most.
There are still a few problems in this developing category: many are too expensive, long-stroke droppers don't on some frames, and we're still dealing with hit and miss reliability and a lack of serviceability. Upstart company PNW Components aims to address all these issues with the new Rainier IR dropper post.
In the beginning, we were granted 100mm dropper posts (remember Gravity Dropper?) and we were pleased. But as we changed our riding style and got used to the new component, 125mm travel became the norm, followed by 150mm, with some riders reaching out for 200mm droppers. It turns out, there's an ideal travel for each rider and riding style. The taller the rider and the longer the femur length, the more travel is proportional to the body. And with rowdier and more aggressive terrain and riding styles, longer dropper travel is desired as well. Most folks hover within a preference between 125mm and 200mm these days.
But quickly, we found out that not all bike frames can fit these longer dropper seatposts. Interrupted, bent, or excessively-long seat tubes often got in the way. Frame manufacturers addressed many of these issues in the latest iteration of their trail and enduro bikes, but the dropper length compatibility is still all over the map. And the typical rider has many bikes in the stable, spanning many bike generations.
The issue is when one installs a dropper post that is too long, the fully extended seat height is too high for the rider. There are two ways to address this, short of getting a shorter travel dropper post. One is to develop a shorter post, both insert length and stack height to the seat rails. The other is to implement a way to limit the full extension of the dropper post.
PNW, in their latest seatpost, shortened the insert length and designed a tool-free system to adjust the fully extended height of the post. The travel of their posts can be reduced by up to 30mm, in 5mm increments. Why only 30mm? Because beyond that, the buyer can buy a different travel dropper to suit their needs.
Price and Affordability
Dropper posts are cool but would you pay $800 for one? Or even $500? What about five posts for all the other bikes in the stable? It is not uncommon for us to see our friends' garages with a dropper post for their current bike but none for their older bikes. The cost of upgrading is sometimes prohibitive so the rider ends up with compromised/dangerous rides on the older bikes, or they stop riding them altogether.
PNW comes to the rescue with a $179 price point for their post. It's not an unbranded eBay/Amazon special that is often a riding liability. This full-featured post is worthy of a $10k bike and certainly ready for that trusty old hardtail that made you fall in love with mountain biking many years ago.
At just $179, with adjustable travel and the ability to be rebuilt, the new Rainier is as good as it gets. This price doesn't include a lever, but the buyer has the choice of a massive selection of levers in the market at different price points, including PNW's own high-quality Loam Lever.
Reliability and Serviceability
One thing we like is that PNW has a proven track record-this is not their first attempt in this crowded category. Some folks retort, "oh just put a strut like the one in my office chair!" But we now all know it's a lot more involved than that. This component is under a lot of stress and put through a lot of different elements and conditions.
It's cable-actuated, making it much simpler to service than hydraulic-actuated droppers, and the cable knob is terminated at the dropper instead of the lever. That means the owner can easily pop the spring-loaded cable off the post and ship it out to get serviced or service it with a replaceable cartridge if problems arise.
And as far as regular maintenance, tool-free seal retention systems means regular cleaning and greasing is an easy affair.
On the trail
We put this seatpost on a 2020 Specialized Enduro in place of the $800 electronic Rockshox Reverb AXS. Installation was easy, with the cable tightened at the Loam Lever end for easy cable length adjustment.
Related: 2020 Specialized Enduro review
We ordered a 170mm dropper to replace the outgoing 150mm, but it was a hair too long with the interrupted seat tube design of the Enduro. No problem with this seatpost-just unthread the collar, lift the plastic bushing and aligned the arrow to reduce travel by 5mm and voila... a 165mm dropper post was at hand!
On the trail, the dropper performed well and the two-bolt clamp makes saddle adjustment easy. This was my first time using the Loam Lever and it was money! It has a wide, grippy paddle that's easy to find and it's action was smooth with good leverage.
The post was silky smooth with little resistance when sliding down. To get the post up, the action was smooth and deliberate with just a little lever effort. A couple of times, I wanted the saddle to meet me halfway up so I just modulated the lever to get up to my height gradually.
How to Use the PNW Rainier's Travel Adjust System:
1. Begin by lowering dropper at or below the desired travel length (just make sure it's not fully extended).
2. Unthread the midcap with your hand and slide it up to reveal the white DU Bushing.
3. You'll see negative numbers with corresponding notches machined into the post (each number represents decreasing travel).
4. Slide the DU bushing up and rotate it to align the black arrow with the amount of travel you would like to reduce, then seat the arrow into the machined groove.
5. After pushing the DU bushing back down lower the midcap and hand tighten (no need to go overboard!) and ride off into the sunset with the perfect travel for you.
Question and Answer with Founder, Aaron Kerson
1. What's the motivation for the update? design goals?
The biggest pain point for customers we've helped with over the years is figuring out which size dropper will fit their bike. We even custom coded our own dropper size calculator on our website which helped tremendously, but if someone was between sizes they had to leave some meat on the bone and downsize to a lower travel which just isn't a good feeling. It's like being on a diet; you know you could eat more but you have to stop because, well, you're on a diet, which sucks. We wanted a simple to use, tool-less travel adjust system so riders could easily custom tune their dropper and maximize the amount of travel they could run. Related to fit, there are still a lot of bikes out there with shallow insertion depth in the seat tube so we also wanted to make the post as short as possible. We accomplished a significantly shorter post (varies by travel but for instance, our 125mm post is almost a full inch shorter than last year's) by reducing our actuator length in half and shortening the lower tube, making for one of the shortest posts on the market.
2. How is the company doing? How has it grown and progressed?
I am absolutely blown away by how much customers have supported us. This started as a side biz to keep Emily and me involved in the industry we loved while we worked boring jobs and finally made the decision to jump in head first about 3 years ago. Our growth has allowed Emily and me to expand the team (there's now 11 of us!) and also open our own fulfillment & service center so that we could better control our customer's experience. We're also able to kick off more product development projects so keep your eyes peeled later this year. Emily and I still remain the lowest paid employees in the company but we really believe in what we're doing and want to continue reinvesting profits into the company. It's exhausting, but incredibly validating hearing our customer's feedback and also being able to work alongside incredible people.
3. What are some of the rewards, challenges, and surprises of the PNW journey?
The short answer for biggest learnings is to treat people well, have empathy, truly focus on your customers (not just say that because Amazon does), manage expenses frugally and know your numbers. The biggest thing Em and I have learned personally is that there is no downtime when you're all-in with your own business. You see a lot of self-proclaimed "entrepreneurs" on social media giving the impression of a glamorous lifestyle, but in reality, it's constantly being "on" and requires a ton of grit/personal sacrifice. It's also quite lonely at times because there aren't a lot of people you can talk to about the challenges you're facing unless they've been through it. Years ago I read Tim Ferris's book, the 4-hour Work Week, which gave the impression you can simply outsource core components of a business to give you more free time. In reality, we haven't found that to be true. If you really care about your customers and want them stoked on their interaction with you, you can't just write a bunch of canned responses and outsource customer service. One of the biggest things I've enjoyed witnessing is seeing Emily's branding and design skills build over the years, she's the real deal, it's pretty incredible.
4. Who is the target market for this post?
This may sound a little flippant but really any rider wanting a killer dropper post. The days of spending a ton of money for better quality are over, which is what we're all about as a brand. We focus on bringing top quality and reliable products to market for affordable prices. Just because it's $179 doesn't mean it doesn't perform well or isn't going to last, which is why we provide a 3-year warranty to show we mean it.
5. How are able to offer so much for the money?
The three primary ways we deliver the quality we do for the prices we charge:
1. Selling directly to our dealers, online retailers and through our website rather than through distributors
2. Long-lasting relationships with our manufacturers who reward us with killer pricing
3. Every major expense is evaluated in terms of what it does for our customers. For instance, would they pay extra just because we have a big fancy office or attend trade shows? Probably not, so we don't spend money on things like that.
6. Has the Loam Lever helped the company reach a broader market?
The Loam Lever had a really surprising impact. That lever is definitely over the top in terms of craftsmanship and you could argue it doesn't fit with our brand ethos of affordable products, but once I got started developing it with our engineer I fell in love and didn't want to sacrifice any features. Once we brought it in and started getting reviews, sales of our other products increased significantly which says to me it helped establish us as a trustworthy brand doing interesting things.
7. What are some of the innovations, design advantages you've achieved with the new post?
The biggest innovations are the 30mm of travel reduction in 5mm increments, the tiny little actuator for better insertion clearance and significantly shorter the lower tube which took years to get right.
8. Who is the typical PNW customer? What kind of bike and how many of your posts do they own?
The typical PNW customer simply loves having fun on their bike with their friends. With how busy all of our lives are having free time is a major luxury so when you're out on the trail you need to make it count. Being stuck with a broken bike or tinkering with stuff on the trail just won't cut it so our customers appreciate our focus on reliability and expedient support if things do go wrong. Sure, some of our customers are elite-level athletes who race and our components are absolutely designed to perform well in these situations, but our main focus is on people wanting to get out and have a blast on the trail. We're lucky to have a very high returning customer rate who come back to buy multiple posts for other bikes in their quiver such as a gravel bike, steel hardtail or MTB for their significant other. The majority of our customers ride trail/enduro but we do quite well in the Gravel world as well.
9. How is the reliability and serviceability of the new post?
Servicing of all our droppers is extremely easy and takes all of 10-20 mins using standard tools. The cartridge is completely self-contained so there's no "tear down" or bleeding, it either works or doesn't so the servicing is purely cleaning off old lube inside the post and replacing it with fresh stuff. Our recommended service interval is as-needed so if the post feels a little sticky, give it a quick tune-up and you're good to go.