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Bikepacking with a Dropper

Posts and dropper-friendly seat bags for bikepackers

Dropper posts have taken the cycling world by storm, evolving quickly from a gravity-specific piece of equipment to a must-have on any kind of mountain bike. I've personally been hooked on them for going on eight years now, but for most of that time, it's been a challenge to utilize the benefits of a dropper while bikepacking. More voluminous seat bags translate to less clearance between the bag and the rear tire. Add in a dropper and maybe even rear suspension and most bikepacking-specific seat bags render the seatpost entirely useless. But the advantages of riding technical and steep terrain with a dropper are obvious, and on a loaded bike, getting your weight low and rearward is as important as ever. And just because a bike is loaded down for a multi-day trip shouldn't mean that you can't drop your saddle and get rowdy on descents!

In the past couple years, a handful of bikepacking gear makers have begun to produce smaller seat bags designed specifically for use with dropper seatposts. These bags are also well suited for riders with shorter legs and less clearance between the rear tire and saddle and on full-suspension bikes. Here we review four bikepacking seat bags designed specifically with dropper posts and increased tire clearance in mind. Each takes a unique approach to mounting and stabilizing the bag while allowing as much freedom as possible for a dropper to utilize its range of travel.

We also review a handful of dropper posts that have been extensively tested while loaded with a hefty seat bag. Droppers tend to wear and develop internal play much faster with added weight. And mounting yet another moving component to your bike creates one more opportunity for failure when adventuring through remote country (carrying a RockShox Enduro Collar or Wolf Tooth Valais Clamp for backcountry riding is highly recommended in case of dropper failure). Thus, not all droppers lend themselves well to bikepacking.

Seat Bag Test Results

Bedrock Bags Black Dragon

Photo: Kurt Refsnider

Volume: 4-6 liters
Weight: 385 grams
Price: $175
Minimum tire-to-saddle clearance: 5"

Pros:
• Incredibly stable design well suited for heavy loads
• Made of exceptionally durable materials
• Bag can be quickly removed while leaving the RailWing stabilizer attached

Cons:
• Stability and durability translate to a heavier bag

At first glance, the Bedrock Bags Black Dragon has the appearance of simply being a relatively small but conventional seat bag. However, it features an aluminum bracket, called the RailWing Stabilizer, that clamps around the saddle rails and anchors an additional webbing strap. This Colorado-made bag also includes a Wolf Tooth Valais Clamp for attaching to the seat post. The innovative mounting system results in the Black Dragon being a rock-solid, stable seat bag even when packed full of pounds of nut butter, cheese, and summer sausage.

Revelate Designs Vole

Photo: Kurt Refsnider

Volume: 3-5 liters
Weight: 290 grams
Price: Estimated: $125—Projected availability: March 2018
Minimum tire-to-saddle clearance: 4.5"

Pros:
• Simple mounting system holds bag snugly in place
• Quick to install and remove
• Lightweight yet durable materials

Cons:
• Seatpost strap limits available dropper travel a bit more than do other bags
• Has not yet gone into production

The Alaskan company Revelate Designs was among the first producers of bikepacking bags. The Vole is a forthcoming addition to Revelate's line of seat bags, and we have been testing a pre-production version of this model. It uses a conventional attachment system—sturdy straps that loop over the saddle rails and another strap around the seat post, all holding the bag securely in place. This is a no-frills bag, hitting the sweet spot in terms of being durable yet lightweight. It's also the smallest bag included in this test, so while it may not be able to hold your entire sleep kit, it will give you the most clearance for dropping your saddle and using all your rear suspension travel.

Rogue Panda Ripsey

Photo: Kurt Refsnider

Volume: Up to 4-8.5 liters
Weight: Roughly 250 grams
Price: Estimated: $160—Projected availability: Spring 2018
Minimum tire-to-saddle clearance: 5"

Pros:
• New ultralight design will be lightest seat bag of this style available
• Removable dry bag insert is completely waterproof
• 4-sided harness system holds bag very securely

Cons:
• Ultralight materials are less durable
• Design less stable when heavily loaded

Rogue Panda Design's Ripsey seat bag is named for a rugged segment of the Arizona Trail on which a dropper seatpost is much appreciated. This Arizona-made bag system uses a unique 4-sided harness and a waterproof dry bag insert. The harness is designed to strap around a Wolf Tooth Components Valais Clamp on the seatpost, and overall, the setup is slick and stable. Because this design holds its contents a bit farther behind the seatpost, packing the dry bag with lighter gear works best. We tested a prototype of the forthcoming ultralight version of this bag, made of some of the lightest materials available. These lighter materials definitely make a compromise in durability, and the lighter harness system is slightly less stable than the traditional harness Rogue Panda uses with the Highline seat bag, but for bikepacking racers looking to save weight at all costs, this will be a very attractive option.

Porcelain Rocket Albert

Photo: Kurt Refsnider

Volume: 6-8L
Weight: 430 grams
Price: $175
Minimum tire-to-saddle clearance: 6.5"

Pros:
• External frame completely eliminates side-to-side swaying
• Mounting system does not limit available dropper post travel
• Removable dry bag insert is waterproof

Cons:
• Mounting system not compatible with some dropper posts
• Big hits can cause frame and bag to gradually tilt downward
• Removal and installation requires tools and a bit of time

The Porcelain Rocket Albert, made in the USA and Canada, features a harness system with a 4130 chromoly external frame for support and to prevent side-to-side swaying. The frame is attached to the seatpost via two aluminum shims that get sandwiched between the saddle rails and clamp (because of this, the bag is not compatible with some seatposts, including the 9Point8 Fall Line). A waterproof dry bag slides into the harness, and the frame holds everything well clear of the seatpost, allowing for full dropper travel. It's a slick system, and the frame eliminates any swaying of the bag. But during testing, we had some trouble with the bag and frame slowly drooping on descents with successive big hits. Porcelain Rocket recommends a 5-lb weight limit for this bag, but it worked best during testing while carrying lightweight sleeping bag and insulation layers.

Seat bag testing conclusions

Photo: Kurt Refsnider

Best suited for carrying a heavy load: Bedrock Bags Black Dragon
Best suited for weight weenies: Revelate Designs Vole or Rogue Panda Ripsey (ultralight version)
Best suited for rough & overgrown trails: Revelate Designs or Bedrock Bags

Dropper Post Test Results

Thompson Elite Covert

Photo: Satchel Cronk

Weight: 590 grams
Price: $480
Loaded miles put on test post: 1,500

Pros:
• Buttery smooth operation
• Internal mechanism is known for its reliability

Cons:
• Gradually develops play when carrying a loaded seat bag
• Comes with a hefty price tag

Thomson's Elite dropper posts are perhaps the smoothest-operating posts on the market, and its precision-machined internal components have developed a reputation for being highly reliable. We put more than 1,500 miles of bikepacking on rough trails with a loaded seat bag on this post, and its buttery smooth operation never faltered. The simple cable-actuated mechanism has been 100% reliable, and the post never struggled to lift even a very heavily laden seat bag back to the fully-raised position. Our only complaint is that the post gradually developed some play, and the rate at which the play develop seemed faster on longer trips when carrying a heavier seat bag.

Crank Brothers Highline

Photo: Satchel Cronk

Weight: 560 grams
Price: $350
Loaded miles put on test post: 850

Pros:
• Relatively affordable
• Simple installation and easily removable from frame
• 3-year warranty

Cons:
• A very small amount of play developed during this testing
• Requires more thumb strength to actuate and is slower to compress than many droppers

Crank Brothers recently released their new Highline dropper post, and it comes with a reasonable price tag of $350 and a confidence-inspiring 3-year warranty. The cable-actuated mechanism is quick and easy to install, and when loaded with a heavy seat bag, the post never put up a protest of any sort. Our primary complaint with this post is that actuation requires more thumb strength than do most droppers, and the post is comparatively slow moving, both up and down. But the post only developed a minimal amount of play despite extensive testing, so for bikepackers looking for a relatively affordable dropper option, the Highline is well worth considering.

RockShox Reverb

Photo: Satchel Cronk

Weight: 560+ grams
Price: $349
Loaded miles put on test post: 500

Pros:
• Air spring easily lifts a heavily loaded seat bag
• 2-year warranty

Cons:
• Develops play relatively quickly when carrying bikepacking gear
• Hydraulic design is not particularly reliable

Walking into most any bike shop, you'll probably find more RockShox Reverb droppers than any other installed on bikes. This post hits the middle ground in most categories – smoothness, performance, weight, and price. Unfortunately, its hydraulic mechanism has developed a reputation for being less reliable than cable-actuated designs. For bikepackers, the post never struggles to pop back up even with a heavily loaded seat bag, but the internals of the post develop play relatively rapidly – more rapidly than any other post tested – and begins to literally rattle on rough trails. If using this post in the backcountry, we recommend carrying one of the RockShox Enduro Clamps just in case any problems arise in the dropper's ability to remain fully extended.

9Point8 Fall Line

Photo: Satchel Cronk

Weight: 520+ grams
Price: $399+
Loaded miles put on test post: 2000+

Pros:
• Design prevents development of play as internals wear
• Smooth action up and down
• Bomber reliability

Cons:
• Cable actuation setup can be a little finicky

9Point8 released their Fall Line dropper a few years back and has struggled to keep up with demand since then, and for good reason. Made in Canada, the Fall Line quickly developed a reputation for both top-notch performance and durability. The tested post has seen more than 2,000 miles of bikepacking use, and it currently feels just as good as when it was new. Initially, it struggled a bit in cold weather, but a quick disassembly and cleaning of the brake mechanism was the solution. The post has developed virtually no play within the internals, and it's still moving up and down smoothly and reliably. The cable-actuated mechanism is a touch on the finicky side to install, and occasionally, frame bag straps tugging on the cable housing became slightly problematic, but that is easily avoidable by simply keeping the housing well clear of any bag straps around the frame. Hidden inside the post are three tapered keys that slide in grooves, guiding the post up and down without rotating. The unique element in this design is that as these parts wear during use, the tapered geometry of the keys keep their fit within the grooves snug. Although this may sound gimmicky, it is incredibly effective at preventing play from developing within the seatpost, an issue that plagues virtually all other dropper designs. The Fall Line is our top pick for a reliable and durable dropper for bikepacking.

e*thirteen TRS+

Photo: Ryan Palmer

Weight: 690 g
Price: $279
Loaded miles put on test post: 100

Pros:
• One of the most affordable droppers available
• Entirely mechanical design is very simple and shop-serviceable
• Simple installation and easily removable from frame
• 5-year warranty

Cons:
• Rebound spring is not strong enough to use with added weight of a loaded bikepacking seat bag
• Only 3 positions to choose from when dropping the saddle

e*thirteen's new TRS+ dropper is a no-frills mechanical post that can be serviced with just basic tools – something very attractive to bikepackers looking for simplicity. This dropper's $279 price and unparalleled 5-year warranty are also quite attractive. Unlike the other posts tested here, this design uses an indexed design with 4 height positions and a coil spring for raising everything back up. While we laud the simple, serviceable design of this post, it isn't a viable option for bikepackers as the spring is not strong enough to reliably hoist a loaded seat bag back up to full mast. But for non-bikepackers looking for an affordable dropper, the TRS+ is a very worthy option.

Dropper post testing conclusions

Most durable and reliable design: 9Point8 Fall Line
Smoothest operating: Thomson Elite
Best suited for bikepackers on a budget: Crank Brothers Highline