PNW Rainier Dropper Post and Loam Lever - Reviewed
Please allow me two indulgences before we get to the review.
Indulgence #1 - It's amazing how long one can put up with something that kind of works but not really. Take the post that adorned my bike previous to this post. It only had 150mm of travel. And for the last few months, it really only had 140mm of travel, and 10mm of free float. Our ability to compromise can sometimes be quite staggering (if nobody else is impacted and expenditures are required).
Indulgence #2 - It's not that long ago that droppers kind of sucked and most reviews were along the lines of "it's a pretty great post! It went 6 months without needing a rebuild!" We've dramatically moved through several generations of posts and gotten to a place where there seems to be at least a dozen options that work reasonably well. I call that progress.
Into this steps PNW Components. Which, like me, you'd probably heard of but didn't know much about. Indeed, PNW seems to have sprung up from nowhere, into all of a sudden being everywhere. But perhaps it's just my limited life interests that allow my Instagram feed to become so saturated with their ads?
PNW is the (don't say brainchild...don't say brainchild)...ahh...the...ahhh... of Aaron and Emily Kerson, two cycling industry veterans who moved to Seattle and decided to start their own bike component company, as you do. PNW seems to be mostly about the shop/consumer direct sales model, but there seem to be dozens of options for you to get your hands on their stuff (distributors in Canada and Japan, worldwide via their own website, Amazon, REI, Backcountry and a whole host of other large, online bike part retailers). Free shipping, too, if you order from them. And a 3-year warranty. And if you e-mail them with a problem, it will most likely be Aaron on the other end of that response, and he seems to get pretty fired up about answering questions about his parts.
The PNW Components Rainier Post
The Rainier Post is PNW's lower cost model, compared to the Bachelor. This is done by using 6061 aluminum and a coil spring cartridge (vs. the 7005 and air spring of the Bachelor). This results in less adjustment (no adjustable air pressure) and a bit more weight (more aluminum, and that coil spring again). It comes in your relatively standard assortment of sizes (125 / 150 / 170mm travel, 30.9 or 31.6 mm diameter). I probably should have weighed the post before I put it on my bike, but who has time for such things? PNW claims 565g, and I'm sure that means something to somebody.
Each package includes a simple 1x style lever and the cable and housing necessary for installation. That will run you $267 CAD or $199 USD.
The post was set to arrive at a quiet point in my life, so I put some energy into reading the install instructions before the thing even showed up. "That looks like it is going to be complicated," I said to myself. I e-mailed Aaron at PNW to tell him the same thing. I could feel his nervous chuckles through his response e-mail. He assured me it wasn't. The post was already in the mail and he had no way to stop the shipment.
Sure enough, with the stock lever, install was a teensy bit complicated, as it is with any lever/post combo that insists on having the cable end attached to the lever, rather than to the post.* It's not impossible, but it's just complicated enough that you start to wonder why they did it like that. Plan for this to take you a good 30 minutes of your life (maybe 40?), and set aside a couple of spare cables as a sacrifice.
*I've gotten myself in trouble before for ranting about something that everybody does in a review. Like I'm hanging the sins of many on one, singled out perpetrator. So rather than talk for several paragraphs in the main body of this review about why it's difficult to install a post that requires you to bolt a gizmo onto the end of a cable, and then bury that gizmo deep in your frame...I'll talk about it below this article.**
Of course, this all gets much easier with the Loam Lever (we'll talk about that in a minute), which puts the cable end down where it belongs.*** It's remarkable how much easier set-up is when you can just slap your cable end into the post, and then yard away at the lever end like you're firing up an old chainsaw. It helped that my housing was pre-compressed and cut to the right length, but installing the post with the Loam Lever takes a fraction of the time. This is almost enough justification on its own for splurging for the Loam Lever.
***Not to be confused with up where it belongs.
The PNW Rainier Post - Stock Lever
With the stock lever, everything works fine. Setting up the lever was a bit counter intuitive. If you treated it like a shift lever, it didn't feel quite right. I found that I had to mount it at about a 45 degree angle, so that I could get a bit of leverage on it. Once I had that figured out, it felt comfortable and the post did everything that it was supposed to, in a calm and controlled manner. The engagement point is fairly obvious, and it is easy to control, even if you're just looking for a smidge of movement in one direction or another. My first few rides were on rolling, XC type terrain, and I very quickly found myself comfortably swapping my saddle height for even the slightest of elevation change.
The post seems fairly forgiving to cable tension, and works fine across a broad range of tensions. The last cable post I used only seemed to work properly across about 1/4 turn of the barrel nut adjustment range. A tiny bit too loose and the lever required so much stroke, activation was difficult. A tiny bit too tight and the post would spontaneously retract at inopportune moments. This wasn't an issue with this post.
The other thing that I noticed is that there is very little slop to this post, no matter which direction you tug on things. The nose of your saddle remains in whatever cock-eyed position you set it, and there is no extension when you pull up on the post, or hang your bike from your saddle. This is remarkably satisfying, somehow.
Speaking of saddle extension, one thing to note is that your return rate on this post is non-adjustable, due to the use of the coil spring. The return speed feels pretty good to me, but your experience may vary. I've included this beautiful, well-filmed video of the post return in action, so that you can judge for yourself.
And that's what you get with the stock package. A solid seatpost, with a rudimentary lever that is fairly easy to control, but that is a teensy bit finicky to set up right the first time before moving along to easy to use from there on out.
PNW Rainier Dropper Return
The PNW Rainier post - with the Loam Lever
In my package, PNW was nice enough to include a Loam Lever, which is their contribution to the fancy dropper lever trend that is now sweeping the upscale cycling community. It's a nicely machined chunk of aluminum, pivots on a sealed bearing, and has a special little injection molded pad for your thumb. It comes in one of three mounting options (22.2 mm bar clamp, ispec for Shimano, and Matchmaker X for SRAM), and is compatible with a long list of posts. On its own, the Loam Lever will run you $93CAD or $69USD.
Now, being a cheap bastard, part of me feels like this is crazy money to spend on a somewhat frivolous bike part. I mean, read what I wrote above. Everything works pretty well with the stock lever. Sure, it's far easier to set up the post with the Loam Lever. But most of us are probably happy to save $93CAD for 10-20 minutes of extra install effort.
But this lever really does improve the way this post functions, and it just might do the same for your compatible cable actuated post. It does this in 3 simple ways.
1 - Improved ergonomics. There's nothing ground-breaking here. It works pretty much just like the thumb paddle on your shifter hung off the other side of your bike. PNW isn't the only company doing this, but they've managed to make this lever work just like you expect it to. The tiny little thumb pad is a nice touch too. I can't say that I can remember too many times when my thumb went flying off a non-padded lever, but every bit helps when you're panic dropping your post heading into a drop you forgot about. I'm surprised somebody hasn't done this for shift levers.
2 - Increased leverage. This lever is a lot longer than the stock lever. This makes it work better, by requiring less force, and by increasing the amount of lever throw necessary for actuation, which makes it a bit easier to finesse and feather through the activation point.
3 - Increased adjustability. The Loam Lever comes with an inboard and an outboard mounting point, as well as the ability to fine tune the reach of the lever. Chances are pretty good you'll find a way to set it up exactly where and how you want.
This all adds up to an improved feel to the dropper. Everything feels just a tiny bit smoother, and a little bit more precise. Yes, the stock lever is fine, just like GX or SLX makes for a solid drivetrain choice. But XO1 or XTR exist for a reason, and the Loam Lever similarly adds a touch of class to a contact point and refines the function of the whole system. It's not necessary, but it sure is nice.
One nice thing is that PNW offers the ability to bundle the Loam Lever with your post. Use the "addtheloam" discount code with your order, and it will drop $40USD from your total (couldn't get it to give it to me in CDN). This turns the Loam Lever into a $30USD upgrade, which feels a lot easier to stomach.
I only have 2, small gripes with this lever. First, the barrel nut is ugly. It looks like it came off a low spec derailleur. For $93CAD, I feel like they could source something a tiny bit fancier. The stock lever actually comes with a nicer looking barrel nut! Second, the bolt that mounts the clamp to the lever is the same bolt that tensions the clamp. It requires a bit of a juggling exercise to get everything lined up and bolted together on your bar, especially with a cable attached. Other than these two small gripes, this is a wonderful bike part, and it will see action on any bike that comes into my possession for the forseeable future.
As mentioned off the top, there are a lot more options for dropper posts these days than there once was. Even at this price point, there are some pretty great posts to consider (include a lever with your One Up and it is very close in price with the discounted Loam Lever). It's nice to have all of these options.
If it were my money, this would definitely be a post that I would consider. I like that PNW is located just down the road in Seattle. I like that they seem eager for you to break into your own post and get your hands dirty. I like that there is no air spring to mess around with. Or leak. I like that all their parts come with a 3 year warranty. I'd prefer if their small parts catalogue had a few more items, but I like where they're heading with the idea. I have only been running this post for a few months, but I've been very happy with how it is working, and it is a vast improvement over the post that came off the bike. I would happily run this post on just about any bike, and when I sell my current steed to my brother, he's most likely going to have to deal with the clapped out Reverb that gets swapped back in. And for $30USD, even a cheap bastard like myself would splurge for the Loam Lever.
**In the instructions, PNW tells you exactly how much space to
leave between the end of your housing and the barrel nut that attaches to your
post. This was helpful, but was also hard to execute properly, and took a few
attempts, and a couple of destroyed cables. Once it was all finished, I started
thinking that there must be an easier way to do this. I came up with the Uncle
Dave Shim-o-rama 3000. It involves cutting a chunk of cardboard to the proper
size, and then using that to properly set the barrel nut distance. Not to toot
my own horn too loudly, but Aaron claims to be working this into the install
instructions, and perhaps even including a template for the shim right there on
the box for the post. This proves, once and for all, that reviewing bike parts
is about more than just scoring free shit.
The other problem with the barrel nut attachment method is that no matter how closely you trim the cable to the barrel, you've probably left too much. This was fine for installing in the post, and for the function of the post, but it always seems to snag a bit when you try to remove the cable from the post. And then, once you've trimmed it to the correct length, there's no way you're loosening that barrel nut without destroying the whole cable.
This is not perfect. Fully manageable. But not perfect. And you should just buy the Loam Lever and avoid this altogether.
Note - Andrew Major recently did a teardown on the top of the line 300 USD PNW Bachelor post which comes stock with the Loam Lever.