Crankbrothers recently released what may be the most important product in the history of the iconic brand: the Highline dropper seatpost. I met with the staff at the Laguna Beach headquarters there to go over its functions and learn about its development – which reportedly transpired over a 30-month period. Afterwards, some of us, including Crankbrothers athlete Cedric Gracia, went for a spin on the local hills to get some time on the new dropper. It was impressive. The short version, is that the Highline was exactly what I was hoping to see: a brilliantly simple and well-executed design that feels and performs like it had been thoroughly field tested before it was sent to market. It was.
Inside the Highline Seatpost
Crankbrothers’ global tech manager Tim Young talked me through the Highline dropper while he was installing it on my BMC Trail Fox. The key component is an easily replaceable aluminum cartridge that contains the pre-charged pneumatic spring, and the hydraulic metering systems which control and actuate the post. The cartridge is non serviceable, and carries a three-year warranty. The reason that Crankbrothers went the cartridge route was to make the Highline as user friendly as possible. I learned to disassemble and reassemble the post in about four minutes using one Allen key and one open-end wrench.
Rotary Valve: The Highline’s key innovation may be its rotary valve. Rather than pulling a pop-off or tapered needle, Crankbrothers devised a rotary valve to meter the hydraulic fluid. The cable-actuated remote pulls a spiral plunger which rotates a disc inside the cartridge.
• Weight: 580g (includes: remote, cable, and housing)
• Infinite travel adjustment - 5” / 125mm
• Diameter: 30.9, 31.6mm
• Length: 400mm
• 50mm clamp-head height
• Internal routing
• Quick-connect mechanism for ease of cable installation
• Quick-release, two-bolt clamp head.
• Jagwire Elite Ultra-Slick cable and Lex-SL housing
• Self-contained hydraulic cartridge
• Igus LL-glide bearing and keys
• Trelleborg seal
• Three year warranty
• MSRP: $350.00, €350.00
• Contact: Crankbrothers
When a hole in the disc lines up with a hole in the valve, fluid can pass, allowing the post to either be extended or retracted. Reportedly, the advantage of the rotary action is that the force required to open and close the valve remains consistent regardless of the pressure in the hydraulic circuit. Jason Schiers, head of US research and development, says that creates a consistent feel at the remote lever and also paves the way for a low-energy electronic remote control, should they decide to go that direction at a later date.
Cable Actuated: The handlebar-mounted remote control lever is cable-actuated, and uses Jagwire’s top-of-the-line Elite coated cable and Lex SL housing. The gear-cable’s fixed barrel slips into the base of the seatpost without tools, and the cable-end is retained by a small Allen grub screw built into the handlebar remote lever. In this way, there is no possibility that pulling on the seatpost will accidentally yank the cable out of the valve body. In addition, using a conventional cable and housing eliminates the need to bleed or fuss with hydraulic hoses, and should ease the task of installing an internally-routed system.
Double Keyway: Both bushings and the keyed bearing elements inside the 7075 T6 alloy post are made from Igus composite material. Two keyways are used to minimize any saddle side play, and a high-quality Trelleborg dust wiper keeps crud and moisture at bay. The seal-head may be unscrewed by hand, and Crankbrothers recommends that the assembly be lubricated once each year.
Minimized Seat Clamp: Crankbrothers used the tried and true two-bolt seat clamp retainer for the Highline, but added a slotted hole in the rear-facing end. The clamp can thus be unhinged from one side to facilitate simple saddle exchanges. The low-profile clamping head is only 50-millimeters tall and it is centered, in keeping with the steeper-is-better seat-tube angle trend.
Multi-Adjustable Remote Lever: Perhaps the most user-friendly aspect of the Highline is its handlebar remote lever. It can be mounted lever-up, or lever down and on either the right or left side of the bar. A spherical swivel clamp enables the lever to be rotated 360-degrees, or angled up to 22-degrees to adapt to any brake lever and suit almost all rider’s ergonomics.
Why Crankbrothers Needs the Highline Dropper
Named after the famous slick-rock trail in Sedona, Arizona, the Highline represents an ideological turning point for Crankbrothers – a new period where intense product testing and manufacturing controls are pursued with the same vigor that it once bestowed upon its marketing and packaging efforts. The brand rocketed to prominence with a succession of vanguard high-end components, which included the breakthrough Joplin dropper post. But, Crankbrothers often faltered with quality control and follow-through issues – the worse example of which was the release of its Kronolog dropper post.
Conceptually, the Kronolog was a promising design. Unfortunately, the mechanical post was released with great fanfare and without adequate field testing. It was plagued with failures from day one. The embarrassment of the Kronolog should have spelled the demise of Crankbrothers, and if its Mallet pedals were not the first choice among pro gravity riders, it probably would have. To heal the self-inflicted wounds suffered from the Kronolog debacle, Crankbrothers needed to produce a “redemption dropper:” a bomb-proof-reliable, good looking, competitively priced, remote-adjustable seatpost that could right those wrongs. The Highline's performance and construction is head and shoulders above the Kronolog and if it stands the test of time (as it should), it will assure Crankbrothers fans that the brand is on the path to salvation..
Dropper seatposts are not as easy to get excited about, now that there are a half dozen worthy contenders on retailer’s shelves. That said, the Highline has some features that immediately distinguish it as a potential winner, beginning with how easily the post’s action can be modulated with the remote lever.
Crankbrother’s post rises quickly, but not so fast that it cannot be stopped with relative precision at a designated point in its 125-millimeter travel. The comfortable feeling remote lever unlocks the post within a millimeter or two beyond its engagement point and releasing the lever locks the post with equal quickness and sensitivity. I quickly learned that I could choose an intermediate pedaling height with repeatable accuracy, similar to using the indexed stops of the Fox and Specialized mechanical droppers.
Unlike its popular rival from RockShox, positioning the Highline’s remote lever is not an either/or situation. Its slim handlebar clamp can be tucked discreetly on either side of the brake lever perch and the ball-socket feature lets the user choose where and from what angle the lever meets up with the thumb. I found that feature to be much handier than anticipated. Originally, the lever was adjusted with zero free play in the cable, which disengaged the post instantly when depressed. I discovered that I wanted a little free-stroke to signal my brain that I was indeed depressing the lever before unlocking the post. Either way, turning the cable adjustment barrel is all you need to find your sweet spot.
I prefer my dropper post to make an audible clunk to signal that it has reached full height. Posts that do not provide feedback often leave me questioning whether I am truly at pedaling height, or if in that split second after I depressed the button, that the seatpost did not make it all the way to the top. The Highline’s smooth and silent action does in fact make an audible clunk at the end of is stroke. Not loud, but a clunk nonetheless.
Is 125 Millimeters Enough?
Contemporary frame geometry is gravitating towards steeper seat tube angles, which force riders to raise their saddles disproportionately higher to achieve an optimal pedaling position over the crankset. That, combined with the trend for ultra-low stand-over heights in larger frame sizes, has created a need for longer-stroke dropper posts, and for longer seatposts in general. The Highline’s 400-millimeter length has the latter covered, but at present, its 125mm stroke is at the limit for some riders who want their saddles slammed for descending and set at full XC height for pedaling sections. The Highline’s length and stroke worked well for me (at 5' 7", with a 32-inch inseam - 170cm/81cm respectively), but taller riders who own low-clearance frame designs may find themselves wishing for a longer-stroke post. When asked, Jason Schiers said that a 150-millimeter version of the Highline was in the planning stages.
| Crankbrothers' Highline dropper has the right stuff. It is beautifully made and operates with the smoothness of a precision instrument. Anyone with a couple of Allen wrenches and an open-end spanner can field strip the post. Its working bits are sealed in a lightweight cartridge that carries a three-year guarantee, and its cable-actuation feature ensures that anyone can service or install it without a bleed kit or special parts. I'll be continuing with a long-term review in the future, but so far it appears that the new Highline is indeed the "Redemption Dropper" that Crankbrothers needed to get back into the game. - RC|