Words and photos by Ryan LaBar
Trek's Farley is about as 'Wisconsin' as a bike can be. The frame is named after the larger-than-life comic Chris Farley, who was born and raised in Madison; the wheels are named after the folklore animal, the Jackalope, which may not have originated in the Badger State, but has seriously deep roots there; and the tires are called Hodag, which is a fearsome mythological beast that resides near the town of Rhinelander in Northern Wisconsin. The only thing that could make this bike more Wisconsin is cheesehead-shaped hand pogies.
TREK FARLEY 8 | $3150 | TREKBIKES.COM
With all this Wisconsin packed into the Farley, I find it a bit interesting that Trek opted to limit the its tire clearance to 4 inches, where other big-name, warmer-climate-based bike companies are opting for 5 inches of clearance.
In soft conditions there's a big difference between 4- and 5-inch tires. The bigger tires will 'float' on top of the soft snow, where smaller tires will dredge in and lose traction. This is especially noticeable on climbs and makes for more hike-a-bikes. Running really low pressures (in the 3 PSI range) will help climbing traction, but make for some unwanted squish in corners and while mashing on the pedals.
In spite of this, I'm actually glad that Trek opted for the smaller tires because when conditions are hard-packed the Farley rides a lot like a standard mountain bike. The smaller clearance helps with this because it allows for shorter chainstays, which, at 17.32 inches, are actually shorter than Trek's Stache 29er trail hardtail. The head angle, at 70 degrees, teeters toward the steep end of the spectrum, but helps keep the bike controllable at the slower speeds that snow often affords. Because the Farley does handle like a 'summer-time' bike it's very easy to forget that the surface you're riding on is snow, and traction is quite limited. This will cause panic moments, and probably some crashes, but unless you square up a tree, crashing is like landing in a very cold foam pit.
Going into this test, I was a bit skeptical of suspension on a fatbike. Snow-packed trails are naturally pretty smooth, plus the low tire pressure helps to smooth out any trail impurities. Although, 20 years ago nobody thought mountain bikes needed suspension, and look what happened. Suspension is awesome–even when trails aren't particularly rough. The 100-mil-travel RockShox Bluto fork helped keep the front end of the bike tracking smooth through sections of trail that were 'post-holed' by human (and animal) feet and through natural trail dips and divots. The only time suspension would be a disadvantage is if the majority of your riding is done on groomed cross-country ski trails. RockShox sets a minimum recommended temperature of 32-degrees because sub-freezing temps can cause the seals to shrink, allowing air to leak between the positive to the negative chambers. That said, I haven't had any issues riding in temperatures consistently between 10 and 20 degrees.
Trek did a great job choosing parts for this bike. I'm a big fan of single-ring drivetrains for fatbikes especially because front shifting is generally the first thing to fail in sloppy conditions. The Jackalope wheel and Hodag tire combination are also really nice. If 11 pounds of hoops and rubber sounds like a lot, it's actually not–the combo is one of the lightest available and setting it up tubeless is crazy easy, even compared to non-fatbike setups. The only spec changes I'd make would be carbon-fiber handlebars and brake levers–not for the bling factor, but because they really help keep hands warmer.
While the Farley might not be my top-choice for riding in adverse conditions, it is certainly one of the most fun-to-ride fatbikes on the market when conditions are good, and is, so far, the only fatbike that I'd actually like to try once the snow melts and trails dry out.
Make sure to read our review of Specialized’s Fatboy Expert.