The dropper seat post market has exploded over the past few years, with the posts gaining in popularity and credibility to the point that many – or most? – mountain bikers consider them a necessity for aggressive riding. But despite the entrance of major players like SRAM, Fox, etc. into the field, no individual post has emerged as the clear front runner in or benchmark for the rest of the industry.
9Point8 is a small concern founded by a group of riders in Ontario who also happen to be design engineers. Earlier this year they threw their hat into the dropper post ring with the release of the Pulse, billed as the first, and so-far only, “stepping” dropper seatpost. Phil Szczepaniak of 9Point8 swung through Vancouver this summer and dropped a Pulse off for us to review; I’ve been putting the post through its paces in varying conditions for the past few months.
The 9Point8 Pulse is a cable activated dropper post with a handlebar mounted remote, offering 100mm of adjustability with hydraulic internals and an air return spring. The seat angle and position are independently micro-adjustable, and 9Point8 offer both an inline and offset head for the post, allowing you to further fine-tune your saddle position to preference.
Out of the box, the post oozes quality, with machined parts, laser etched graphics and an understated but attractive aesthetic. Even the box and documentation bear impressive design elements, with clear installation instructions provided and supplemented by online videos and support. It took me less than 10 minutes and a glance at the instructions to get the post installed and set up; the process was straightforward and the hardware tolerances precise.
Out on the trail there was no break in period. The dropper action is smooth and precise, and the return quick but not threateningly so. (The speed of the return can be adjusted by setting the pressure of the air spring, accessed from the base of the post.) Once set by the rider, the saddle height remains fixed in place – pulling up on the saddle won’t cause it to extend, which can be cited as a complaint about some other posts.
The Pulse’s 100mm stroke is both infinitely adjustable – you can depress the lever and use your butt to adjust the saddle to whatever height you wish – and accessible in 5mm increments, or “steps”. The stepping action is achieved by keeping your weight on the saddle and depressing the level slightly and repeatedly until the desired saddle height is reached.
This dual functionality is achieved through a unique level design: depress the lever slightly to engage the stepping function, depress it completely to engage the infinite adjust option or to return the post to full extension. The lever boasts a clever and useful mounting system; installing or removing it is a breeze – but its unique design and function makes its use less intuitive and seamless than other designs I have used.
The lever has to be engaged with the index finger, which most riders usually reserve for braking. A quick move that can best be described as the hand equivalent of a climbing “foot switch” allowed me to activate the post without losing my ability to brake, but it took a bit of getting used to. It wasn’t a deal breaker, but any design that interferes with a mountain biker’s ability to brake has to be considered suboptimal.
Perhaps the Pulse’s lever design is the only option that allows both stepping and infinite-adjust functionality. But if that’s the case, I would personally ditch the stepping function and go with a more conventional thumb-operated lever design. Though it worked exactly as advertized, I cannot honestly say I ever appreciated the utility of the post’s stepping function. On punchy, varying terrain or in the face of sudden grade changes, where dropper posts prove most useful, the gradual stepping process and requirement to keep the saddle weighted negated the function’s utility. Even during cross country rides, where speed and keeping your weight on the saddle aren’t issues, the Pulse’s infinite adjustability function was such a fast and sufficiently precise means of setting the saddle height as to render the stepping option unnecessary.
Besides the slightly awkward lever, the only other quibble I had with the Pulse was that the cable attached to the head of the post, meaning its housing would move around when the post was adjusted. This didn’t cause me any problems during the review period, but in the past I’ve had housing rub paint off frames or buzz the tire during suspension compression; attaching the cable at a static point on the post seems a much tidier design.
At $499 USD (you can buy the Pulse directly through 9Point8′s website) the Pulse sits at the high end of the dropper post market. But for your money, you are getting a premium, incredibly well designed and executed product that is made right here in Canada and backed by a lifetime warranty. If the post’s stepping function appeals to you, its a unique feature of the Pulse that provides precise and reliable adjustment.
Another entry in the dropper post market and it does look like a quality piece of kit – but do its idiosyncrasies make it a hard sell?