In November of 2018, I purchased my first “real” mountain bike — a brand new Trek Stache 5. In my brief review of that bike, I said something along the lines of “BOMB SMASH CRUSH.”
Little did I know, that almost exactly two years later, I’d be purchasing an even more outrageous monster truck of a bicycle: Trek’s 27.5″x4.5″ full-carbon Farley 9.6 fat bike.
Among several reasons for accepting a job in northeast Georgia, was the access to some superlative mountain biking. Not that north Florida had ever disappointed me, but rather, it seems that the foothills of the Appalachians, and the Blue Ridge Mountains seemed a super-enticing next evolution in lifestyle and location. And from almost the first ride I did in January of 2019, I was aching for a new bike — preferably something full-squish (full suspension).
As an interim step, as something different and something to work on developing skills on, I bought a BMX bike.
But just as soon after purchasing the BMX bike, right as I felt primed financially to buy a new mountain bike…well, I went splat in a bowl at a skate park and broke my collarbone and my arm, putting things on hold.
Around two months later, when the doctor cleared me for exercise again, I almost went straight to the bike shop to order a new whip. But the more logical, and competitive side of my brain stepped in and intervened.
I decided that I needed to make sure that I got back into shape first, and that I was at the same level of performance prior to picking out a new, better bike. I picked a list of Strava segments on my local, most-ridden trail system, and decided that I needed to get PRs on each of those segments before I’d even CONSIDER a new bike. With a goal in mind, I set out on my mission. (For those that don’t know what Strava is, it’s an activity tracking and sharing social media platform for athletes where you can record and share your workouts, and it ranks you against yourself, and every other person who’s recorded on that trail, segment, or road.)
In late September, I finally PRed on all the segments I’d picked, and in October, I checked off an item on my list of 2019 new years resolutions: race a true mountain bike or cyclocross race. I raced a 3hr endurance race in Hartwell, Georgia, on my two-year old Stache.
Like any “good” adult (or someone desperately pretending to be an adult) I went in to bike shopping with a budget. Very quickly, I realized that my budget wasn’t going to afford me a full-suspension mountain bike with the level of performance, quality components, and weight that I wanted.
So rather than try and make a performance compromise, I went in the opposite direction: I went for something radical — something relatively impractical, but hilarious and fun.
I bought a fat bike.
And man. It’s a smile machine. I’m always 100% honest to people when they ask: it’ll never be the fastest bike on a group ride. But it’s kind of like that one reckless adventure-seeking friend everyone has, or a buff cross-fit bro: the bike isn’t anywhere close to superlative in any one category, but it’s down for whatever, perfectly capable at pretty much everything, and pretty dang good at most things.
It’ll truck over technical singletrack confidently; it climbs powerfully with its stiff carbon frame and rigid fork, especially when its rider has some fresh legs. It grips relentlessly in corners, through mud, and on wet roots and obstacles. Though it’s no super-lightweight XC bike, at just over 28 pounds, it’s lighter than lots of modern trail bikes, and plenty capable of long-is gravel grinder rides. The limiting factor on the slog rides is tire rolling resistance and gearing: it’s just dang hard to push that much tire.
On the trail though, I can run 2.75/4.5 PSI front/rear without rim strikes, and that feels like a pillow over a lot of small bumps. Fast, rough downhills are a test of my skills and upper body fitness, though, as I’ve got to be very calculated and precise with jumps, landings, and other obstacles on a fully-rigid bike.
No bike, however, is without some cons. As with the Stache, Trek saw fit to equip the Farley with sliding rear “drop outs” (they’re not really drop outs, as it’s a thru-axle, but that’s the easiest way to describe them) to allow single-speed folks a relatively hassle-free way to add chain tension, and to allow super active riders to shorten the effective chain stay length. (I’ve not seen any reason to do that — the bike is already super responsive and flickable for me.) These sliding drop outs get gritty and cause frustrating creaking, and have already required a disassembly and greasing. The rims that Trek equips this bike with are relatively light (as far as I can tell, for fat bike rims), but I’ve already had to replace one, and once they’re back in stock, I’m going to have to replace another one. (Rim strike bent the rear irreparably, and a wreck wrecked the front one…) And then the SRAM Eagle…the internet and my fellow cyclists are full of warnings about how finicky the SRAM 12-speed system is. And my mid-level NX eagle derailleur that came stock crapped out and had to be warrantied. I’ve upgraded to the GX. Reliability aside, the 12-speed system is great. When it works. (LOL)
In short, the fat bike is a smile machine. You can’t pick it up or get on it without a smirk, smile, or giggle. Full carbon, full rigid was the way to go. It’s a monster truck of a bike: someone recently told me I’m the “Roll Coal” of mountain biking. The thing is fast — though not the fastest — but that’s not its goal. It’s an experience.