The Trek Farley is a fast fat bike. This test is not so much about comparing the Farley to other fat bikes, but more to look at how it compares to other off road breeds of bike. Unlike the traditional tundra-crossing image of a fat bike, the Farley really can be compared to other options you might be considering for thrashing around the woods. In particular we’ll consider the three main worries of potential fat bike owners: I’ll be slow, I’ll look like an idiot, and how fast would Klaas Boom be on it?
Before it arrived, it looked like the Farley had some key features going for it:
- it’s billed as being quick, light and versatile (maybe a fat bike that doesn’t require you to grow a beard and live in the arctic),
- the 27.5″ wheels should give it a bit more rolling speed to keep up with your friends who have not yet got a fat bike (there are two kinds of riders: those with a fat bike, and those who are going to get a fat bike at some point),
- the ‘stranglehold’ drop out means you can adjust the wheel base, allowing for extra fat 26″ wheels or a single speed conversion (should you wish to grow that beard after all).
All of the above, but add to that:
- it really is very big,
- the tubeless conversion was reasonably straightforward (scissors to narrow the tape it came with a bit, followed by two strips of Duck tape and Stan’s valves) .
- there aren’t many tyre options out there at the moment (I would have liked to try out some fat (>3.5″) beach tyres, but can’t find any – I’d expect more options to become available soon though).
Fat bikes are too big, slow, heavy and cumbersome aren’t they?
You can take it for granted that on the Farley you can smash through and over a lot of stuff you couldn’t on other bikes (even other fat bikes, given the monster 27.5″ wheels). But is that all it’s good for? Is it actually a sane purchase and could you keep up with the others if you rocked up to a ride on the Farley?
We took the Farley to the Internationale Sluitingsprijs, Oostmalle. This is the Belgian cyclocross season finale, with a fast and sandy parcour. The UCI tyre width limit of 34 mm meant we couldn’t sneak the Farley into the race, but gave it a spin on the course afterwards.
Finding a rut, staying in it, and pedalling round it, is the key to fast cornering in sand on a cyclocross bike.
It’s not as easy as Wout makes it look! Get it right on a cross bike and there’s not a much faster way to do it. Get it wrong, and you’re off and walking. The Farley didn’t care – get it right and it was fun, get it wrong and it was still fun. Sure, ploughing off into the deep sand slows you down a bit, but you can still keep moving.
On a timed section, with two sandy corners and short climbs, we noticed little difference between a cross bike and the Farley. Yes, it took a little more physical effort to get the fat bike out of the corners and up the climbs, but this is offset by the ease and confidence with which you can enter the bends.
I could feel slightly disheartened to be, on a cross bike, only as fast as a fat bike. Perhaps though, this is more of an indicator of how racy the Farley is.
So, it’s pretty fast and nimble, but what about the weight? The day before, at Leuven, four-time World Cyclocross Champion Roland Liboton felt compelled to pick it up, and was suitably impressed. He’s a strong chap though, so we thought a better test would be to see if one of the close-to-paralytic fans from the beer tents lining the Sluitingsprijs finishing straight could mange the task. Boris duly obliged, and even took it for a short spin.
At just under 13kg (with tubeless setup), it’s pretty light for a fatbike (similar to the Canyon Dude, and significantly lighter than many other options). Go for the Farley 9.8 and you’re getting down into the range of cross country hardtail weights. With the ‘floaty’ feeling from the big tyres, and its excellent aggressive geometry, the 9.6 is still nice and nimble up the climbs though.
From Oostmalle we went south to the Massif Central, taking the Farley for a spin at Super Besse. Unfortunately there wasn’t much snow and the snow I did ride on was rather icy and slushy – the kind you couldn’t bind into a snow ball, so getting good purchase with a bike tyre was never going to be easy. Dropping the tyre pressures right down close to 3 psi, it was possible to make some headway though.
It’s perhaps worth dwelling a little on the subject of tyre pressures. You can increase traction on loose surfaces by increasing the contact area. This is not the case for two smooth surfaces, where contact area won’t increase the friction, but where the surfaces are interlocking somehow (e.g. Velcro, tyre tread digging in to mud, grains of sand binding together), surface area is important. It’s easy to calculate the contact area as weight divided by pressure, i.e. low pressure means more contact (the type of tyre will have some affect on the contact area, but not much – this is a pretty fair approximation). This holds true whatever the size of the tyre. The benefit of the big tyres on fat bikes is that you can run them at pressures so low that other bikes would be bottoming out on the rim.
Below is a plot I’ve created of tyre pressures for varying rider weight and tyre contact area. Alongside is my guide as to what contact area feels appropriate for varying terrains. This should be taken with a few caveats: surfaces vary a lot – particularly sand and snow, and you may feel better with a different contact area to me. The relationship between rider weight, contact area and pressure still hold true though (you might just want to shift up/down the plot a little).
Note how much difference 1 psi makes when you get down below ~6 psi. It’s working in this pressure range that you really start to get to know the bike. Stay in the 8-12 psi range, and you’re not going to feel a load of difference, and could be missing out on a lot of fun.
Can you race the Trek Farley?
Well, I tried! First up was round one of the Southern XC series at Wasing. The conditions were atrocious: copious quantities of mud, with the addition of a gravel binding agent. These were not the conditions in which I’d hoped to be able to be able to prove the speed of the Farley. It wasn’t so bad for the first two of four laps. I put in some extra effort and on some steep climbs took advantage of the extra traction afforded by the 4.5″ tyres. Interestingly I could barely keep it upright on the road section. The massive tyres slid on a cushion of mud and it started to handle like an American muscle car, with the rear end washing out side to side.
Part way through lap 3 the extra effort started to take its toll and the mud build-up on the bike started to get ridiculous. I slipped back a few places and was just glad to make it to the finish. A post-race weigh-in revealed I’d been carrying a whopping 10 kg of mud around with me.
Next was the Battle on the Beach at Pembrey. I had high hopes of a good ride here in the Fat Bike UK Championships. Unfortunately I just didn’t have the horsepower required to propel the Farley down the beach. I had perhaps opted a bit more for comfort and traction on the tyre pressures (~10 psi), but the beach was more like a road surface. The Farley was wonderful on the single track and softer dunes though, turning the race into an absolute joy. In comparison to a night time ride on a cross bike with 33 mm tyres, the Farley was 2 seconds faster on a 2:11 section of dunes, but 11 seconds slower on a 2:21 section of undulating single track. Given dry conditions, it seems that the Farley can hold its own.
But can I ride such a big ostentatious bike?
When riding through the park on this bike, everyone turns to look, and those who haven’t noticed are urged to look by those who have. One wonders how many parents are left being nagged by their kids to buy them a bike ‘like that one’.
Riding a bike off road is pure and unadulterated wholesome fun whatever you’re doing it on though. So making it bigger is just making it better isn’t it?
To see if the bike is just too uncouth, or if it can mingle in civilised society, we took it to the Michelin star restaurant ‘La Promenade, Maison Dallais‘. We know Fabrice Dallais loves his cycling and we hoped sommelier Xavier Fortin could tell us if he could reconcile the characteristics of the Farley with a suitable wine.
Xavier decided on a magnum of Vouvray – “big and low pressure”. I’m afraid that beyond the vintage being 1990 (a good year for Loire wines) we could not discern the producer from the photographs (taken following a good deal of wine), but I would be pleased to enquire with Xavier if you need a wine for a special occasion with your Farley.
The size 19.5 was a little large for Fabrice but, after a short spin …
and some discussion of sand, snow and tyre pressures …
it’s looking like the Farley can mix with society.
So, it really is ok to ride this bike! Perhaps like drinking a modern style American pale ale, that’s cold and maybe a bit too bitter – it actually feels good, but don’t wear a matching t-shirt at the same time.
How did Klaas Boom get on with it?
This bike was clearly a little out of Klaas’s comfort zone, so we put on some classic American tunes to ease him in to the relaxed way of the fat bike. Rather surprisingly he beat his first lap on the Ridely X-Night by 4 seconds. It looks like the technical descents, coupled with the rooty ascents work in the fat bike’s favour. Rather than pick his way round the roots, Klaas could just blast straight up the climbs. Over a longer period the extra effort would start to tell. For this short lap though, the fat bike rules … for now at least, with the Scott Scale 700 RC the next bike Klaas will be taking round the test loop.
The Farley is now fitted with Alpkit bags (including a very nice custom frame bag) and ready for Bothying in the Highlands. I’ll report back soon …