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A decade ago, the rise of dropper posts changed the way we ride mountain bikes. The case for them on gravel is a bit tougher to make, but there’s no question that this one relatively simple piece of equipment fundamentally alters the versatility of a bike in a way few individual component selections can.
I’ll get into the ‘do droppers belong on gravel’ question further below, but first let’s focus on the dropper we’ve got here: Easton’s new EA70 AX.
Is it any good? Is 50mm of drop enough? Does the lever work? Read on to find out.
A dropper post, for the uninitiated, is simply seatpost that allows you to drop your saddle with the push of a button. Push button, sit on it, and it drops. Push the button again and it rises to its original position.
They’re ubiquitous on all but the most race-oriented mountain bikes these days because they allow you to get the saddle out of the way for technical trails, jumps, and the like. As gravel bikes get more capable, droppers slowly gaining traction in the drop bar world, too.
Most mountain bike droppers offer far more movement than the average groader needs, or can even fit on their bike – 175mm or more of drop for the long ones. And many don’t come in a 27.2 diameter, a size more common on gravel bikes than mountain bikes. Plus their actuation levers are designed for flat bars, not drop bars.
Hence the need for a gravel-specific dropper.
Easton EA70AX Dropper Specs
Easton’s EA70AX provides 50mm of drop, controlled via an internal cartridge design. It comes in two lengths, 350 and 400mm, both with a 0mm offset head. Clamp diameter is 27.2.
The saddle clamp is a functional two-bolt design, thank goodness. All other clamp designs should be banned.
Weight on our scale is 407 grams for the 350mm version, making it roughly half a pound heavier than a standard carbon seatpost.
The post is cable-actuated and intended for internal routing. Cleverly, the cable can be run in either direction, with the head either attached to the bottom of the post or at the lever. The post comes with a small barrel clamp that takes the place of the cable head if you’re running the cable head at the lever.
This is clever because it gives you a couple of actuation options. The first is Easton’s still formally unreleased EA90AX Lever, shown here but not quite available yet. It mounts on a drop bar and can be pressed either from the drops or from the hoods.
The second option is to use the left shift lever as a dropper lever. This includes Shimano’s GRX dummy lever and a SRAM left shifter. The only requirement is that the lever pull at least 6mm of cable, and both do. Of course, this requires a 1x drivetrain, as the lever can’t be used to actuate a front derailleur and a dropper. It’s a very clean and tidy option though.
EA70 AX Dropper Post pricing: USD $184.99 / CAD $239.99
This makes it more expensive than options like the PNW Components Rainier and KS E201, which also come in a 27.2, and in line with most high-end droppers from the likes of Rockshox and Fox.
I’ve spent much of the North American summer on this dropper, on both a Cannondale Topstone Lefty and a Cannondale FSi hardtail (matched with a Raceface flat bar lever). I threw it on the hardtail because I was intrigued to see whether the 50mm drop felt like enough on rougher terrain.
I put it on the Topstone because that bike is already trending toward the mountain bike end of the gravel spectrum. I’m running 47mm tires and that 30mm of front suspension provided by the Oliver makes it quite capable in the rough stuff.
The good news: It hasn’t failed. No droopy dropper syndrome, no failure to launch, just flawless up-and-down.
This would seem to be a prerequisite for any successful dropper offering, and yet it’s a segment that has struggled for years with reliability issues. The latest cartridge droppers seem to be more reliable, on the whole, than some of the air pressurized or hydraulically actuated posts from a few years ago. But we still run into a surprising failure rate.
A failure within the first four months of use would be unusual, so I can’t fully vouch for the EA70’s long-term reliability. But the signs are good.
The EA90AX Lever is excellent but requires a bit of experimentation to find a position that’s right for you.
The lever sits inboard on the left drop and unless you have very tiny hands can easily be reached from both the drops and the hoods.
The paddles on the lever are relatively small, but as long as you’ve got decent, low-friction cables and housing the actuation is light and easy. I found it easier to actuate from the drops, because you get a bit more leverage, but it wasn’t difficult from either position.
When you’re in the hoods, the lever stays out of the way of your fingers when you don’t need it. You forget it’s there.
I had to play with placement a bit to keep it off the top of my thumb when in the drops. I ended up raising it up a bit more than I expected to need to. But I have big hands.
Is 50mm enough?
Yes and no. Maybe. It depends.
Here’s the thing about gravel droppers: generally, I find that the sort of terrain that requires a dropper is also a bit much for a gravel bike. A dropper is ideal for steep terrain, which is terrifying on a drop bar bike with little or no suspension. Droppers are also for getting airborne, when you want to get the saddle out of the way so you can move the bike around. Gravel bikes don’t do a lot of air time.
Require is different from desire, though. I found myself actuating this dropper regularly to ride terrain that didn’t require it, from a “If I don’t drop my saddle I might die” perspective, but simply because I desired a bit more room to throw the bike around and have fun.
The 50mm of drop is enough to feel like the saddle’s out of the way, inspiring confidence on little whoops and jumps, or through a section that might require you to pick up the rear wheel over roots or rocks. It’s enough to push the saddle out of the way so you can drop your center of gravity for hard cornering on loose surfaces. 50mm is enough, most of the time.
It’s not enough to inspire confidence dropping into steep chutes or huck dirt jumps. But that’s not really gravel bike territory.
The comfort question
This is my real issue with mini droppers like this, and, much of the time, gravel droppers in general.
Both the bikes I tested this dropper on come with carbon seat posts designed to flex considerably, adding noticeable comfort to the ride. Removing those posts and replacing them with a stiff dropper post (a flexy dropper post wouldn’t work) did considerable damage to the ride quality of both the hardtail and the gravel bike. They were not as comfortable, full stop.
This is the catch-22 of the gravel dropper. You put one on because you’re riding rough terrain and feel like you want to get the saddle out of the way. But you’re then riding rough terrain on a bike that’s less comfortable than it was before. You trade increased versatility in the truly nasty bits for comfort throughout the rest of the ride. On a gravel bike with no rear suspension, you can’t have both.
This isn’t the fault of this dropper, it’s inherent in any dropper.
To be honest, this is why I liked the dropper on the hardtail more than on the gravel bike. It just felt at home there. It was enough drop to hit descents a bit faster, corner better, jump more comfortably, and the comfort factor was less noticeable with a 2.3” tire beneath me.
If you’re the sort that runs your gravel bikes deep into mountain bike territory, both in terms of riding surface and tire choice, a gravel dropper is likely to increase your fun factor. The key to unlocking a gravel dropper is a nice, fat rear tire, so that the loss of comfort is a non-issue.
If you’re running anything under a 40mm tire and your gravel bike sees a lot of easy dirt roads and pavement, a dropper just adds weight and ruins ride quality.