Review Title:  Trek Farley - Gobs of Fun, and Gobs of Traction

Bike:  2016 Trek Farley 9.6 through all four seasons.  

Tire Size:  27.5 X 3.8

Color:  Trek Charcoal

Retail Price: $3000

Size as tested:  M

Rider:  Greg Nass, 200 lbs. + give or take a pizza, 5’10”

With hard earned cash in hand, I headed to the bike shop to purchase a fat bike - soon I would be joining the fat bike movement.  I felt like the dad that was in the movie The Christmas Story when he got his “major award.”  Yes, this review is written by someone who actually had to lay down their own hard earned cash.  After trying several models and wheel sizes at the bike shop (and some online research), I landed on the 2016 Trek Farley 9.6 because it felt more like a normal bike and not a monster truck.  Plus, it plastered the biggest smile on my face out of the bunch and bike riding for me is all about the smiles and not the miles. Additionally, I just happened to get the buddy price since I know the owner.  The following information has been gained from riding the bike for one year with countless miles through all four seasons in typical Northeastern conditions surrounding Pittsburgh, PA.  

First Impressions

It's so shiny and new, I must park it in the living room until the first ride.  This is standard practice in Nassville and my wife even agrees that new bikes get to come inside until the first ride.  Although this bike appears to be simple in nature since it is a fully rigid bike without shocks, it’s actually very high tech.  The frame is made out of Trek’s OCLV Mountain Carbon fiber, which is very lightweight, stiff, yet flexy enough to absorb rough East Coast trail surfaces.  With a slack head angle of 69 degrees, it’s comfy and proved itself to be extremely stable on the trails climbing and descending.  The frame also includes internal derailleur & dropper post routing, which keeps things nice and clean and grab-free from branches and other trail debris.  These non-used routing options, however, are covered with filler pieces that are either screwed or tapped on.  The frame is also beefed up with carbon armor near the bottom bracket.  The bike has thru axles front and rear, which is a good thing for bigger guys and bigger tires that require lots of body torque.  The rear is a Stranglehold adjustable thru axle, which I did nothing with, zero adjustments, and had no problems over the course of the year.  

The components are typical of Trek - Bontrager, which in my experience is generally all around good stuff.  What makes this bike unique are the wheels.  According to the internet, Trek pioneered the 27.5 x 3.8 wheel size, which has become known as a “tweener” size or a “skinny fat” something between a 5’ fat and a 3” plus tire.  What sold me on this bike was how it felt similar to my 29er and I attribute that to the wheel/tire size combination. The wheels are Bontrager Jackalope Tubeless Ready, 80mm rim with offset spokes.  I am told the offset spokes greatly increases stiffness. I didn’t notice any flex from the wheels although they are surrounded by big fatty rubber, so truth be told, it would be hard to notice flex.  Over the course of a year, the wheelset has stayed true and I even tend to run low tire pressure and feel them occasionally bottom out.  What also made these wheels feel really fast is tubeless compatibility.  An absolute must for a fat bike is going tubeless since this saves nearly 1 lb. a tire in rotational weight.  When paired with the stock Bontrager Hodag 27.5 x 3.8 tires, things felt very responsive and secure with gobs of traction and excellent wear.  After one year, they still have hard corners on the knobs, although I do my best to stay off the roads when possible since, well, fat bikes stink on the road. Yeah, they are power sucking on the road to say the least unless you have the tires over inflated, then they roll just like a normal bike would.  The sidewalls are showing signs of threads, which is unfortunate, but from my experience with high end lightweight tires they all seem to show these signs after a year or so.

The drivetrain consists of a SRAM GX1, 11 speed cassette in the rear, with a Race Face Aeffect crankset up front with a 28 tooth cog.  This setup performed flawlessly after break-in only requiring cable tension adjustments from cable stretch.  This was also my first 1x system so this was also new to me.  I appreciate the simplicity of it, but occasionally miss being able to quickly switch into a bigger middle ring for quick acceleration.  This has nothing to do with SRAM and all to do with my preference.  I have, however, grown to love the 1x for its simplicity and the extra clearance it provides since I don’t hop logs as well as I used to when I was in my 20’s.  

The Farley came with Avid DB 3 hydraulic disc brakes, which provided great stopping power through all four seasons. Even though they stopped this big guy, they howled like a starving wolf in cold snowy conditions and even in wet conditions.  Other than that, they worked flawlessly and I was able to adjust the levers to just the right reach for my fingers - or finger more accurately.  I ride with my trigger finger on the lever at all times, even uphill.  It’s a habit I picked up from riding moto’s.  

The Farley weighed in at under 28 lbs with SPD pedals and bottle cage.  That's very lightweight for a bike with big fatties.  

Four Seasons Riding

My maiden voyage happened to be a 12-inch snowfall of near blizzard proportions with subzero temps that made for light fluffy powder, which is not typical of East Coast snow. As I geared up and launched on the trail, I fully expected to have the most amazing snow riding experience of my life.  I tore off down the trail probably a little too fast and danced all the way down like a drunken sailor and eventually bounced off the snow covered ground.  WHAT?!?!?!  I thought these things were amazing in the snow!  I then looked at my tire pressure and discovered they were way over inflated.  After finding my proper air pressure for my overweight frame, I was able to ride packed trails with ease, however, fresh fluffy powder still presented some problems.  I made it out on several more winter rides and preferred packed trails over making fresh tracks.  I had gobs and gobs of traction in packed snow.  Air pressure is key for any condition and finding that right air pressure, or sweet spot for trail conditions, is an art and also a science – one that I have been working on for a year.   As mentioned earlier, the Avid DB 3 brakes howled like a pack of wolves in the cold snow.  So much so that I found myself always dragging my brakes to keep them warm, or not using them at all because it made me cringe.  After doing some research, I found this is a common problem with fat bikes or any disc bike for that matter.  Basically it comes down to harmonics and vibrations that I won’t go into here.  A remedy that I found online written by some old school moto types is to apply Napa SilGlyd to the back of the pads.  I gave this a try and discovered that it works well.  I’ve found that the first stop of the ride I must drag my brakes a little, but after that initial drag I do not experience any howl for the remainder of the ride.  Give it a try and let me know what you discover.  

When spring finally made way for a thaw, I discovered big tires are awesome in slop, however, they throw lots of mud and water.  I’m not afraid of getting muddy or wet, but my riding glasses even became covered in mud to the point where I would have to stop and wipe them clean.  I highly recommend getting some fenders to protect you and the bike.  The tires provided gobs of traction through the sloppiest of sections including wet roots and shale, which can be a killer.  During the summer months, I was able to run the tires at a higher pressure, which decreases rolling resistance and made the ride even quicker.  The bike tended to feel like a BMX bike – fast and quick on hard pack trail.  Not what I expected from a fat bike.  Much like the spring, the bike excelled in the fall as well and the Hodags came through on wet leaves which, can take down the best of riders very quickly.  During my year on the bike, I experienced no calf-bang factor that plagues fat bikes and riders due to the seat stays being spread so wide to accommodate the fatter tires.  

For me, the Farley checks a lot of boxes and has become my only mountain bike.  I sold my others because this one puts the biggest smile on my face almost all of the time.  Probably the only box it doesn't check is an “all around rider” simply because it is painfully slow on the roads when the tires are inflated to trail pressure. Although, as soon as you hit the trails, the smile gets plastered back on the old face as the fun abounds.  Mountain bikes don’t belong on roads anyway and in my opinion fat bikes are true mountain bikes capable of riding in all seasons and all conditions and excel off road.

The Good

  • High end, lightweight, fun bike that provides the flexibility to accommodate different wheel sizes, riding conditions, and riding styles.  

  • According to Trek, you can run a combination of tire and wheel sizes including 26" x 5" or 27.5" x 3.8, or 4.5".  That’s versatility – boom!

  • Price.  Some could argue that 3k for a mountain bike is expensive, while others could argue it’s a lot of bike for the money.  The good news is that Trek actually lowered the price for the 2017 model by $200.  Way to go Trek!

The Bad

  • Filler pieces that are stuck on by tape or screwed in, and then fall out.  Over the course of the year, I lost three filler/cover pieces that were either taped on or the screws worked their way out.  I suggest that you go over each piece and apply a screw tight product or silicone adhesive.   This is really nitpicking though since losing these pieces didn’t hinder the ride at all.  It was just annoying.

  • Brake howl really stunk until a remedy was found as discussed earlier.  

  • Price.  

2017 Model Differences:

  • The retail price dropped to $2800.

  • Wheel/Tires:  Sun Ringle Mule Fut, 80mm, paired with Bontrager Barbegazi, tubeless-ready, folding: 27.5 x 4.5 tires.  I reached out to Trek to find out why they would switch out the original wheelset and increase the tire size to 4.5”.  According to Trek, “The new Barbegazi was a design improvement in tire capability that the MTB/Tire teams felt was a much better fit for the intended use and desired capability of the Farley hardtails. Changing the wheels, then, allowed us to offer the Farley hardtails with the same awesome spec from 2016 and the improved spec in the tires and still drop the price by $200 retail.”

  • Brakes:  SRAM Level T hydraulic disc

  • Color - Roarange

I hope this review helps you get out on the mountain.  Please support your local bike shop if possible.  

Blessings on the trails - Rev. Greg Nass