Fat bikes are here to stay. From a niche market among riders who wanted to explore the limits of biking snow, ice, and sand, they’ve expanded into the mainstream, taking over a significant share of the mountain bike market. Fat bikes don’t just offer the ability to ride with security on loose or slick surfaces. They can ride anywhere a conventional mountain bike can. Those huge tires soak up bumps without the need for expensive suspension. Beginners love the stability and traction, and a lot of people just love the look.
Image: Trek Farley 5
The Farley is Trek’s entry in the fat bike market, and the bikes in the Farley series show all of the experience and sophistication of the Trek brand. The Farley 5 is an affordable fat bike that brings real value to the table.
Let’s see how Trek’s entry in the sub-$2000 fat bike market stacks up.
Quick Overview: What I Think of the Trek Farley 5
Simple answer: it’s a great bike. It’s all you’d expect from Trek. The frame is well designed and beautifully built. The components deliver high performance at an accessible price. The whole package is a first class blend of performance and affordability and it will certainly satisfy anyone who buys it and rides it.
The Farley 5 is a great bike for the price, but it sits in a market niche that is absolutely saturated with great bikes. The $1500-2100 range is a sweet spot for fat bikes, with numerous contenders from reputable manufacturers. The Farley 5 is a fine bike for the price, but whether it’s the best bike for the price is less certain.
Let’s take a closer look.
What You Get
Like every bike, the Farley 5 is a package of components. Let’s see what this $1799 fat bike brings to the table.
Trek’s aluminum frames are of the highest quality, and the Farley frame is no exception. The design is sleek and understated: no swirly hydroformed tubes, just a well, built, businesslike frame.
The Farley’s geometry is designed for versatility and all-around use. The welds are flawless and the paint job superb. Shifting cables and the dropper post hydraulics are internally routed. The horizontal dropout is ready for geared or single speed use and allows some tweaking of the wheelbase. You can lengthen the distance between the wheels for greater stability or shorten it if you’re after quick handling. The small size will fit riders down to 5 feet tall and the XXL will accommodate riders up to 6’8”.
Like most fat bikes at this price range, the Farley 5 mounts its front wheel on a rigid fork, relying on the monster tires to soak up trail bumps. The Farley 5 carries a Bontrager carbon fork, which is solid and durable and peels a bit of weight off the full package relative to aluminum-forked competitors.
The drivetrain is built on mid-range products from premier manufacturers. The crankset is the Race Face Ride, the chain is from KMC. For the critical shifter, derailleur, and cassette, Trek turns to Shimano’s Deore series components.
Premium drivetrain manufacturers Shimano and SRAM have long used a trickle-down approach to technology: the latest developments go into the most expensive products, and the technology they replace is passed on down the chain. That process has left the mid-range products performing so well that many riders are questioning the need to pay the very substantial price premium on the high-end component lines. These components may not have high-end bling but they are reliable, effective, and easy to use.
Some riders might question the use of a 1×10-speed drivetrain when 1×11 or 1×12 are preferred by many competitors. In practice, the range of gears makes more difference than the number of choices within that range. The 1×10 drivetrain on the Farley 5 has a range from 11 teeth on the smallest rear ring to 46 teeth on the largest ring. That is only marginally different from the 11-50 range on the 12-speed drivetrain featured on the $2600 Farley 7. If climbing very steep hills is on your agenda you might want those 4 extra teeth but most riders will barely notice the difference.
The SRAM Level hydraulic disc brakes and 160mm Avid CleanSweep rotors on the Farley 5 are not top-of-the-line models, but it would take a very demanding rider to spot the differences. You will have no problem controlling your speed.
Choosy riders who ride at high speeds or on steep terrain might want to swap the 160mm rotors out for larger models, particularly in the front. It’s an easy upgrade, but for most riders it won’t be necessary. Remember that braking technique gives you a lot more control than pure stopping power.
The Farley 5 carries 27.5” wheels. Add the extra diameter of the oversized tires and the total functioning diameter will be close to that of a conventional 29” wheel. That lets you hold momentum and roll over obstacles, but may compromise nimble handling. That won’t bother most riders: fat bikes are designed to plow over obstacles, not to dodge around them.
The wheels are built around Bontrager hubs, which carry Bontrager’s Switch through axle system for extra rigidity, and SunRingle Mulefut rims. The Bontrager Gnarwhal 4.5 tires are serious pieces of rubber even by fat bike standards, and get high marks for traction and stability. These are fairly aggressive tires aimed at trail or soft-surface riding, and if you plan to use them on cement you may experience noticeable tire drag.
Trek sticks with Bontrager to fill out the parts catalog, sourcing the saddle, handlebar, grips and stem from the same manufacturer.
There are two notable components in the cockpit. The TranzX dropper post lets you raise and lower your saddle on the fly, a great feature on rolling terrain with frequent transitions between climbing and descending. The Bontrager Blendr stem allows easy mounting of accessories like lights, GPS, bike computers, or a GoPro or similar camera.
Some user reviews have mentioned that the saddle is uncomfortable, but saddles are very personal and no saddle will please everyone. If you have a favored model of saddle it’s always worth fitting it on a new bike, especially if the stock saddle doesn’t agree with your backside!
The components on the Farley 5 are what you’d expect from a mid-range bike from a premium manufacturer. They are of high quality and they will do their jobs very well. If you get a chance to try out the top of the line models you may wonder if the difference in performance justifies the difference in price.
Let’s rate the Farley 5 component mix relative to other fat bikes in the $1500-2000 range.
The trail is where it all comes together, and specifications don’t matter if performance doesn’t match up. The Farley 5 lives to its specifications. It feels comfortable from the start and invites you to push it. It won’t accelerate like a greyhound – no fat bike will – but the 27.5” wheels hold momentum and if the big wheels carry an agility penalty it’s barely noticeable.
One of the highest praises you can give a bike is to say you hardly notice that it’s there. When you’re riding, you don’t want to think about your components. When everything is right, you forget the bike and focus on the trail because you trust the bike to do what it’s meant to do. The Farley 5 fits into this category. Take it for a trail spin and you’ll probably come back without much to say about the bike, because the bike lets you focus on the trail. That’s what you want it to do.
The drivetrain and brakes on the Farley 5 will come as a pleasant surprise, and you might find it hard to believe that you’re riding a bike with mid-range components. The shifting is smooth and precise, the gear range is entirely adequate, and having 10 gears instead of 11 or 12 is not a noticeable liability.
There are a few potential limitations to recognize. The Gnarwhal 4.5 tires are truly beefy. You’ll appreciate them on rough, loose, or slick surfaces, but they may feel like tank treads on cement. If you’re looking for a trail/town combo bike you might want to use some less aggressive rubber. The gear range might be a limitation if your riding includes a lot of steep climbs.
The Farley 5 is a fine fat bike, but it sits at a price point that embraces quite a few fine fat bikes. Let’s look at some of the other players and how they stack up compared to the Farley 5.
The 2021 Norco Bigfoot 2 is hitting retailers at $1600 and carries specifications very similar to those of the Farley 5: 27.5” wheels, aggressive tires, SRAM Level brakes (with a 180mm front rotor), a Shimano Deore 1×12 drivetrain, and the same TranzX dropper post. You won’t get a carbon fork, though.
The Kona Wo gets a price hike for 2021 and comes in at exactly the same price point as the Farley 5. It carries an 11-speed Shimano Deore drivetrain, an aluminum fork, and Shimano hydraulic disc brakes. It carries 26” wheels, which could be an advantage to some riders and a disadvantage to others.
The KHS 4 Season 1000 includes a carbon-fork model for $1599 and a model wearing a Manitou Mastodon suspension fork for $1899. The drivetrain is an 11-speed Shimano SLX, a step up from the Deore, and the Shimano hydraulic disc brakes have a 180mm front rotor. There’s a KS dropper post, but some other components, notably the crank, are a step down. Wheel size is 26”.
The Salsa Mukluk has dropped to $1699 for its entry level model. The bike comes with an aluminum fork, 11-speed Shimano Deore drivetrain, Tektro hydraulic brakes, and 26” wheels with the highly regarded 45NRTH Dillinger 4.6” tires.
The Giant Yukon 1 pushes the price envelope slightly at $2100, but carries an upscale component package that includes a SRAM NX Eagle 12-speed drivetrain, SRAM Level T brakes, carbon fork, dropper post, and 27.5” wheels with Maxxis Colossus 4.5” wheels.
All of these are good bikes. Trek’s Farley 5 is a strong contender in this niche, but you’ll have to decide whether it’s the best choice for you. It’s a fun choice because you really can’t go wrong: any of these bikes will serve you well!
The Bottom Line
If you’re shopping for a fat bike and you have $1799 in your pocket you can buy a Farley 5 and ride away happy. If you’re shopping, though, you’ll still have to decide whether you could get a better deal elsewhere.
The Farley 5 has plus points: a carbon fork, 27.5” wheels, a dropper post, solid components, and an outstanding level of design and build quality. There are also features that could push you toward the competition. If you’re looking for 26” wheels, a wider range of gearing options, a bigger brake rotor in front, or even a suspension fork, you can find all of them on a bike in the same price range.
The choice comes down to which features are most important to you. The best option is narrow your list down to a few choices and test ride the contenders, if you can. Your final decision is likely to come down to personal feelings about each bike’s handling and looks.
If you’re not a selective shopper and you want a good fat bike fast, you could just grab a Farley 5 in your size. You’re not likely to regret the choice!
Let’s evaluate the Farley 5’s overall quality relative to other fat bikes in its price range.