A Roadie Used a Dropper Post to Win a Big Race. Now What?
Matej Mohoric used a dropper seatpost to win Italy’s Milano-Sanremo road race, and then declared that the traditional mountain-bike component is “the future of cycling.” Here’s why that matters for you.
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On March 19, 2022, Matej Mohoric won the 113th edition of the Milan-San Remo road race after unleashing a downhill attack facilitated by a dropper seatpost.
This was big news among bike weenies such as myself, but your reaction to it will vary depending on where you fall on the cycling spectrum. If you’re a traditionalist, you may object to the use of mountain bike gizmos on road bikes, or even feel that the UCI should ban them. (Sorry, they’re officially legal at the moment.) If you’re the “marginal gains” type, you may at this very moment be trying to work out how to fit one to your S-Works Venge. Or, you may briefly wonder, “Mohoric who? Milan-San What?,” then shrug, hitch up your jorts, and pedal away on your lugged steel bike while twiddling your friction shifters with glee.
Well, no matter what you think about Mohoric and his telescoping seatpost, or how much or how little you care about pro racing, the fact is that this is important—really important. See, what happens at the elite levels of the sport has profound implications for cycling in general, similar to how government policy determines what you eat and how much you pay for it. High-fructose corn syrup is delicious, but it’s also subsidized, which is why it’s in everything, and why pretentious, discerning people go out of their way to find Mexican Coke. Similarly, if you ride a bike from a mainstream manufacturer, it probably hews pretty closely in form and function to what elite riders are using, which is why pretentious, discerning cyclists who want something different must go out of their way to get custom bikes, or vintage bikes, or Rivendells.
For years, road riders scoffed at the notion of using disc brakes on their bikes, even invoking the specter of riders’ limbs getting carved up by the rotors. Now, rim brakes on road bikes are going the way of the downtube shifter. And while dropper posts may suffer from the same mountain bike stigma as disc brakes once did, it would be pretty hard to wage a similar fear campaign against them–at least not without resorting to some highly unlikely scenarios.
Does this mean that in two years you’re not going to be able to buy a road bike without a dropper post? Not necessarily. Mohoric is not the first pro roadie to use a dropper post, but, after his big win he went so far as to say they’re the “future of cycling.” So while dropper posts may not become ubiquitous on the road, increased usage of them in this capacity is all but assured. But that doesn’t happen without the say-so of the sport’s governing bodies, which means that even if you never turn a pedal in competitive anger, their decisions will ultimately affect you. When the UCI decides whether or not to allow the use of certain equipment, they do so on the basis of safety and fairness.
The UCI rulebook, article 1.3.006 states, “Equipment shall be of a type that is sold for use by anyone practicing cycling as a sport.” The next article defines a bicycle as “a vehicle with two wheels which must be of equal diameter.” (Except for mountain biking, where you can apparently still use your vintage Beast of the East.) Furthermore, the front wheel must be “steerable,” and the rear wheel must be “driven.” Road, track, and cyclocross bikes must be “of a traditional pattern” and “built around a main triangle.” Fixed-gears are not permitted in road and cyclocross events, while freewheels, multiple gears, and brakes are not allowed in track events. And so on.
Not only do all of these rules help ensure “fairness of competition” by requiring all the riders to use more or less the same stuff, but they also mean that the respective disciplines retain their own individual identities. Even more profoundly, all this anal retention serves to preserve the very idea of the machine itself, which is why for all the new tech bike companies are peddling, the silhouette of the bicycle has gone largely unchanged for well over 100 years.
Then again, rules were meant to be broken, and while they do underpin the status quo, they also serve as a reference point for creating something new and a framework upon which to improvise. The traditionalist road racing scene produced some of mountain biking’s most important pioneers. The ongoing gravel boom is a direct result of people wanting something more adventurous than road riding and yet less technical than modern mountain biking, as well as the ability to participate in competitive events without having to register for a license and subscribe to a category system. Even if you’re not a “gravel rider” yourself you’re benefiting from the increased tire clearances and versatility that have become popular because of it. Paradoxically, cycling is so dynamic precisely because it’s so rule bound.
These rules should not concern the cycling iconoclast, nor should new tech trouble the traditionalist. The various disciplines should always remain just flexible enough to make room for innovation while still retaining their identity, and if that’s not enough you’re always welcome to create something new yourself. Cycling is wonderfully adaptable, and it exists in an endless process of invention and rediscovery. There’s room for both the old and the new, for the luddite and the early adopter alike.
Still, if you’re part of the former group, you might want to stockpile your soon-to-be-classic rigid road seatposts, just in case.