BIKEPACKING.com: The Lever Shootout

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Sometimes the smallest components on our bikes can make the biggest difference in how well a ride turns out, especially when your bike is your means of transportation on a camping trip. The longer the ride, the more we demand from these small parts and the bigger the impact they have if they so happen to fail. Which is why Miles Arbour of BIKEPACKING.com has pinned some of the cycling's most forgotten components against one another in this head-to-head shootout. Read on to see which of the three levers below comes away victorious! 

BIKEPACKING.com Presents: The Lever Shootout

Although we’d usually recommend a tire or wheel upgrade before investing in other small parts, there’s something about an ultra-smooth dropper post lever that really brings a bike build together. In this dropper post lever shootout, Miles takes a look at three high-end levers from Wolf Tooth Components, Paul, and PNW, all guaranteed to bring silky smooth actuation to your favorite post…

If you’re like me, you think a good singletrack-focused bikepacking route is a thing of beauty. Nothing beats tackling a long and challenging climb in search of remote, flowy singletrack. It often seems that first taste of trail after a long service road ascent does a damn good job of lifting spirits and eliminating any doubts I may have had regarding my route choice. I have also begun to appreciate a well outfitted hardtail mountain bike for this type of riding, finding true bliss with 130mm of travel, a good dropper post, and big 27.5+ tires. Unfortunately, the stock levers that come with the majority of dropper posts are typically far from the smoothest, most refined options out there. Just like shopping for good quality foods at your local farmers market or natural grocer, sometimes we want the best option available to us… sometimes we want to go full artisan.

Over the past few months – paired with my current dropper post of choice, the PNW Bachelor – I’ve been testing three of the most eclectic levers available. The levers in question? The Wolf Tooth Components ReMote, the Paul Dropper Trigger, and the PNW Loam Lever. All of which are high quality levers guaranteed to add that touch of perfection that likely no one but you will ever notice. In this shootout, I’ll take a detailed look at each lever, share my experience using them, and take a stab at recommending which one might be best suited for you.

BIKEPACKING.com Artisan Dropper Post Lever Shootout

BEARINGS, FEEL, AND DESIGN

I considered three elements while testing the dropper levers in question: bearings, feel, and design. I think the first – and arguably the most important feature of a good dropper post lever – is whether it has good quality bearings, low quality bearings, or no bearings at all. That’s right, your stock lever that pivots on a pin, bushing, or some kind of rivet isn’t going to cut it here. We’re talking about oversized, sealed bearings that are often replaceable when your lever inevitably starts to slow down. Next up, the overall feel of the lever, which is likely a bit more of a personal preference. This includes the position, the lever finish, and the action it takes to actuate the post. Finally, the design of the lever, which really just focuses on the adjustability and smaller details that bring the lever’s aesthetics together. These are artisan levers after all, so they better look artisanal.

PNW LOAM LEVER

Seattle-based PNW Components focuses on creating high-end bike components that aren’t priced like high-end bike components, and so far they’ve been doing a great job. Their line of dropper posts is particularly interesting, ranging from $179 to $239, offering options for both internal and external routing, different diameters, and several travel options. The Loam Lever is a recent addition to their lineup and was quick to grab our attention. It’s a great looking lever, has loads of features packed into such a tiny component, and best of all, it won’t burn a hole in your hand-stitched leather wallet.

BIKEPACKING.com Artisan Dropper Post Lever Shootout PNW Loam Lever Wolftooth

The first thing most people notice is the injection-molded thumb pad, which is unique to the Loam Lever. The idea there is to provide traction in both wet and dry conditions, which makes sense coming from riders who call the Pacific Northwest home. Not only does it work, the variety of colour options provide some flare to your bike as well. The lever pivots on a sealed cartridge bearing with an additional weather seal to keep the elements out, and has two horizontal positions to dial in the fit. As an added bonus, there is also a set screw that acts as an adjustable stop to position the lever’s resting position, similar to what some brake levers offer. A high quality Jagwire LEX-SL cable is included with the lever, and yep, the housing that comes with the Bachelor post is branded with some PNW flare as well.

On the trail, the action and smoothness of the Loam Lever were instantly recognizable. After some spring riding, not much has changed. A few of my colleagues at the bike shop I’ve been working in were quick to pick up the Loam Lever as well, commenting on its supple feel and overall quality. I liked it so much that I opted for a Limited Edition Stealth Black model for my Why Cycles S7 build to pair with the PNW Bachelor Dropper Post I’m running. A perfect match.

WOLF TOOTH COMPONENTS REMOTE

Wolf Tooth Components is responsible for a wide variety of bike-specific accessories and components that I’ve grown to appreciate over the past couple of years. Most recently, I relied on Wolf Tooth for some key bits of my Why S7 dream build, all of which are high quality, machined in the USA, and easy on the eyes. Their dropper lever, the ReMote, is no different. The ReMote LA model that I tested uses a longer lever arm for a super light action, and the oversized bearing pivot maintains ultra smooth operation in all kinds of conditions. While I feel the machined finish shows off Wolf Tooth’s manufacturing, some may reasonably find the sharp edges and industrial look slightly off putting.

BIKEPACKING.com Artisan Alloy Dropper Post Lever Shootout PNW Components Loam Lever Wolftooth

While in use, the textured lever provided more grip than I originally imagined, and the ‘light action’ model had a soft yet precise actuation. There is a bit of horizontal adjustment, as the lever can move independently from the clamp itself, and it can easily be tweaked on the fly. I found the thumb pad position on the ReMote to be slightly further away from the bar, which may be due to the longer lever, so those with gangly digits may find this perfect.

The ReMote is available in several different mounting options, including Shimano IS-AB, IS-II, and IS-EV, and SRAM Matchmaker X. Plus, options to mount alongside both Magura and Hope brake levers. The standard ReMote 22.2 is used for mountain bikes and the 31.8 option can be used on road bikes when mounting next to your stem. I felt the 22.2 clamp was slim enough to keep my bar tight and tidy, but not flimsy looking.

PAUL DROPPER TRIGGER

For those not familiar with Paul, all of their products are handmade in Chico, California, and their growing line of bicycle components are considered by many to be the holy grail of precision and quality. Every piece of aluminum is 100% USA forged, and every product from Paul is 100% USA made, a combination worth paying a premium for. The Dropper Trigger is the newest lever I checked out, and the iconic Paul look we’ve grown to appreciate is instantly recognizable. So, as expected, this lever is by far the most timeless design and will suit your modern carbon full-squish as much as your weekend bar bike.

BIKEPACKING.com Artisan Alloy Dropper Post Lever Shootout PNW Components Loam Lever Wolftooth

Paul uses dual-stacked sealed cartridge bearings on the lever pivot for a long, serviceable life. The Dropper Trigger accepts both bar end and post end cable routing, depending on the dropper post being used, and that interface is by far the cleanest out of the bunch. The lever is crazy smooth, and has virtually no vertical play to speak of. There isn’t any lever position adjustment, so what you see is what you get, but if you’re buying Paul you’re likely more focused on superb aesthetics and craftsmanship, which is definitely what you get. While riding, this translates to an incredibly solid feel. It’s the sturdiest of the three in my opinion, making adjustments to saddle height quick and precise. With my setup, the lever’s barrel adjuster was positioned parallel to my bar, allowing it to tuck out of sight easily when running a front handlebar harness.

The only real downside, besides the lack of lever adjustment, is the smooth thumb pad that doesn’t provide much in the way of traction with or without gloves. However, the curved shape does provide a good spot for your thumb to sit, which makes up for the lack of traction. In true Paul fashion, the Dropper Trigger is available in a variety of finishes, including black, silver, polished, red, orange, blue, and gold. If you’re on the hunt for some bar candy, look no further.

WRAP UP

Sometimes you’ll pay a little more for the artisanal equivalent of a readily available product. So, what are you getting? In most cases, it means locally sourced ingredients, smaller batches, and a higher quality product. Although not all of the dropper levers I’ve highlighted boast 100% made-in-USA status (with the exception of Paul’s Dropper Trigger), they all unquestionably bring a higher level of performance that’s hard to miss. Similar to how you’ll feel after your first bikepacking trip with a dropper post, adding in a high quality lever really does make a noticeable difference. The best part is that none of these dropper levers are actually that much more expensive than some of the more ‘standard’ levers available, so it becomes an easy decision whether or not you should upgrade when your current lever wears out.

Although I believe everyone is a winner in this case, and you really can’t go wrong with any of the levers highlighted above, my personal favourite is the PNW Loam Lever. I think the Loam Lever offers a lot of super refined features in a great looking package. The price is right, people will ask you about it, and it looks damn good. No, it’s not made locally, but the quality is there and in the end that’s what matters for many of us.

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