A friend, who I recently introduced to mountain biking asked, “Why are there so many new dropper posts in the market?” as he saw me install another new dropper post in my garage. I said, “Sit down, son.” as I explained to him the landscape.
His remark was indeed true as this seems to be a hotbed of new product introductions. The reason is the category is fairly crucial now in mountain biking and the product is not mature yet. So many key developments are still evolving and old ones are being addressed.
Specifically, the new ones evolving are:
- longer travel – 125mm is no longer ideal
- adjustable travel – If full extension is too high, limit the extension height
- wireless – no wires for ease of installation (but at a price)
More important are the old issues that are still work in progress
- Price – we really need to shell out $500 per bike?
- Reliability – Can I depend on this on every ride in all conditions?
- Serviceability – Can I work on it myself and get it back in mint shape?
- Damping and ease of operation – does it disappear in the ride
- Lever compatibility
We are so much better off compared to five years ago when a significant part of the Mtbr audience still preferred the now 15-year old Gravity dropper due to price and reliability. We were plagued with $450 droppers that did not work reliably.
What is the e*thirteen Vario?
The Vario is e*thirteen’s latest entry into the mix and though it’s not their first effort, it’s a serious one with all the lessons learned in past products. It’s a $209 dropper post with 150 or 180mm of travel. The maximum travel can be adjusted or lowered in 5 mm up to 30mm. In the range of its full travel, it has infinite positions and not indexed with limited positions.
As an option, the rider can also choose the new Vario 1x dropper lever that is completely redesigned to provide a very secure, smooth, and seamless feel that mimics the ergonomics and actuation effort of the right-side shift lever. The rider can choose to use any brand lever that terminates the cable end at the lever side.
There are a ton of other design features that we’ll get in to later but we’ll do the ride impressions first. But be rest assured that all issues identified above have been addressed quite well. Except for that ‘wireless’ blip of course.
How does it ride?
We’ve had three rides on this dropper on our test Pivot Mach 4SL. No rain, or mud unfortunately but lots of poison oak! We even reluctantly installed the Vario lever even though we were perfectly accustomed to and happy with the Fox Transfer Lever on the bike.
The first impression was wow! The lever is smooth and solid. It feels like a forged structure with bearings and it’s spring-loaded, thus returning into place without waiting for the cable to pull it back. It’s kind of like getting a Toyota or Honda for the first time shutting the doors and using secure knobs, levers and controls. Installation was a breeze since all the bolts were 3mm (no tiny ones even to cinch down the cable) and there was a very cool lever reach adjust, reminiscent of the ones in cable brake levers, payphones, pagers. That was handy because I was able to control the angle of the dropper lever and then adjust the reach independently so I wouldn’t have to lift my thumb too far from the bar.
Then I sat on the seat and dropped it. It felt good since the effort/weight required to drop it was lower than the competition. It seemed to bind less too even though I pressed down on it at an angle. This turns out to be a key usability trait because this is what one does all day long. Up and down, repeat. When there’s a lot of effort or binding to get the seat down, the ride is compromised.
The feeling was very similar to the Bikeyoke Revive, a great post at $375 which seems to actuate down with ease even with pressed down from less than ideal angles. Anyway, the e*thirteen feels like money on the lever side and the dropper side with a solid feel that’s easy to actuate.
The speed of the dropper rise is variable as well depending on how far the lever is pushed. It can creep up very slowly or go up at a decent speed if the lever is pushed all the way. The lever mimics the look and feel of 1x shifter so it is seamless in the user interface. The sandpaper pad on the face of the lever is a little rough on bare hands but is ideal on gloved hands and/or wet conditions.
When the seatpost rises, it feels and sounds like a lot of air pushing it up and a bit of damping holding it down to let it rise at an ideal, controlled speed. I actually like this since this design will be able to counteract any stiction that develops in the seals between service intervals. The air pressure is not adjustable in this sealed cartridge so we’ll see how it holds up over time.
Anyway, three uneventful rides in and nothing but good vibes about this post so far.
A key feature of this post is the ability to reduce the travel of the post by up to 30mm in 5mm increments. Why is this important? Different frames have variations for seat tube heights and insert lengths so the same rider can use a 180mm post in one bike, but only 150 on another. Otherwise, they’re left trying to ride a bike where they can’t fully extend the seatpost since it will be too high.
Adjustable travel allows the rider to get a longer travel post, perhaps 180mm and limit the travel (perhaps to 165mm) and be at a perfect height with a fully extended seatpost.
The e*thirteen provides this with a system that is tool-free, easy and field adjustable. Why only 30mm you ask? That is often the adjustability needed to fit the rider into the bike. Remember that one should not use this feature to select between a 180mm dropper or 150mm dropper for example.
What didn’t we talk about?
The two-bolt head looks really solid and it has 28 degrees of tilt adjustability. This is good as bikes get weirder and seat angles go all the way slack or steep.
The post seems to have very little rotational play side to side and that’s a good thing. The saddle is one of the few contact points with the bike so any excessive play compromises riding.
Finally, the lever has three mounting positions. That’s actually handy since I’ve often found the two mounting hole positions on most levers not enough as brake levers sometimes limit where you can place the dropper lever.
- 30mm of easily adjustable travel
- Infinite travel gas spring
- Dual matte/polished finishing
- 3D forged stanchion with integrated head
- M6 T25 head hardware eliminates creaking – 28° seat angle adjustment
- Extra 12mm of fore/aft saddle adjustment for slack bikes – 597g 30.9 x 150-180 | 618g 31.6 x 150-180
- 571g 31.6 x 120-150 | 550g 30.9 x 120-150
- Price: $209 seatpost
Vario Lever Specs
- Light action lever with adjustable angle
- Three clamp mounting positions
- Grip tape paddle
- High-strength custom barrel adjuster
- Single tool mounting and adjustment
- Price: $49.95 lever
In summary, looks like a great effort that addresses all the demands on this very important product category. We’ll keep riding it hard this season and report back with long-term impressions.
For more information please visit https://www.ethirteen.com/products/vario-dropper-post.