Trek Farley EX 9.8 fat bike review

Wagon wheeled snow tamer with legit summer capabilities, too

Fat Bike
Trek Farley EX 9.8 Review

There is no reason for an offseason with a bike like this.

Lowdown: Trek Farley EX 9.8 Fat Bike

Under normal circumstances this Mtbr bike review would have posted sometime back in the colder months when days were short and snow covered the trails. But these are not normal circumstances because this is not a normal bike. Indeed, while the Farley EX 9.8 resides within Trek’s fat bike family, its capabilities reach beyond winter thanks to a unique design that eschews the common 26-by-tubby wheel/tire combo, and instead rolls on 27.5 carbon wheels shod with comparatively skinny 3.8-inch tires. The Farley EX is also not your standard steep-angled fatty hardtail. It’s a fun (dare we say, playful) 120mm full suspension trail tamer that’s just as at home on dirt as it is plowing through pow. To learn more press play to watch this Trek Farley EX stoke video, then read the full Mtbr review below.

Stat Box
Frame: Carbon front/seatstay, alloy chainstay Handlebar: Bontrager Line Pro Carbon 750mm
Suspension: ABP, Full Floater, EVO link Chain: SRAM
Fork: 120mm RockShox Bluto RL Solo Air Saddle: Bontrager Evoke 3, Ti rails
Shock: 120mm Fox Performance Float EVOL RE:aktiv 3-position damper Seatpost: Bontrager Drop Line 125
Wheels: Trek Wampa Carbon 80 SL Cassette: SRAM 10-42, 11 speed
Tires: Bontrager Hodag, 27.5×3.80 Stem: Bontrager Line 35mm
Shifters: SRAM X1, 11 speed Headset: Integrated, cartridge bearing
Brakeset: SRAM Guide hydraulic disc Headtube angle: 68.8 degrees
Rotors: 180mm f/r Chainstay length: 443mm
Cable routing: Internal Seat tube angle: 67 degrees
Rear Derailleur: SRAM X01 Weight: 31.4 pounds (size XL)
Crank: Race Face Next, 30T MSRP: $5500
Bottom bracket: PF121 Rating: 4 Flamin' Chili Peppers 4 Chilis-out-of-5
Cassette: Shimano SLX 11-42

Pluses
Minuses
  • Legit four-season capability
  • Alloy rear triangle adds weight
  • Great for mixed condition rides
  • So-so front suspension
  • Better rollover with 27.5 wheel
  • Blew one rear shock while testing
  • Well-placed frame guards
  • Max tire width 4.0
  • Great dropper post
  • Heavy (for a carbon trail bike)
  • Ample standover height
  • Limited tire options
  • Rear suspension soaks up chatter
  • Tires not great in deep snow
  • Great looking bike
  • Delayed tire bite in loose terrain
  • Railable dry trail traction
  • A lot of money for fat bike
  • Good braking/shifting performance
  • Undamped tire bounce
  • Less tire squirm
  • Hard to manual
  • Light (for a fat bike)
  • Has trail bike manners
  • Outside the box design

Review: Trek Farley EX 9.8 Fat Bike

Before delving into what the Trek Farley EX 9.8 is, it’s helpful to understand what it’s not. By bypassing the fat bike standard 26×4.5 (or wider) wheel-tire combo, this “hybrid” fat bike is not the preferred weapon of choice for slaying deep powder in the Alaskan backcountry. If you’re looking to cut freshies from December to March, turn your attention to one of the many more traditional fat bikes on the market, which can run super wide tires. (Trek’s Farley 9.9, for instance.)

Trek Farley EX 9.8 Review

The Farley EX 9.8 proved to be a fast roller at January’s second annual Fat Bike World Championships in Crested Butte, Colorado.

The Farley EX 9.8 is also not a true trail bike. Sure it has 120mm of suspension front and rear. But those wide’ish tires and (sorry, RockShox) the so-so Bluto fork will leave you wanting more if a dedicated warm-weather shred machine is your sole focus. (In this case the Trek Remedy or Slash would be a better choice.)

However, if you’re looking for one bike to ride on packed snowy trails in winter (which is what most fat bikers do most of the time), and capably rip around your local singletrack in summer, then the Trek Farley EX 9.8 is one of (if not the) best options on the market. Its 27.5 wagon wheels (we’re talking fat bikes, remember) offer more roll over than 26ers. But they aren’t ginormous, meaning less unsettling squirm or undamped bounce when banging around dry trails.

Trek Farley EX 9.8 Review

The low slung top tube avails superb standover.

They also roll comparatively fast, a fact I discovered at January’s Fat Bike World Championships in Crested Butte, where hard pack conditions netted an obvious speed advantage when side-by-side with fellow racers on standard (and often heavier) 26×4.5/4.8/5.0 set-ups. Indeed, despite being a full-suspension fat bike, the Farley EX 9.8 (size XL) weighs just over 31 pounds. And like 29ers on an XC course, the taller 27.5 wheels (along with narrower tires) carry speed better than their smaller diameter brethren once up to speed.

Trek Farley EX 9.8 Review

On a trail such as this traction is literally limitless. But do notice the rear tire squirm.

Frame and Suspension Dissemination

The frame’s carbon main triangle is the same as that used on the popular Trek Fuel EX. The rear end is alloy. The bike also gets Trek’s well regarded RE:aktiv suspension design, which in a nutshell is aimed at maintaining an efficient pedaling platform without degradation to big hit performance. This is achieved via the Fox Performance Float EVOL shock’s internal spring-loaded valve that permits increased low speed compression for pedaling support, but opens this valve when shock shaft speed — and chunder — increase.

Trek Farley EX 9.8 Review

Trek’s well regarded RE:aktiv suspension design maintains an efficient pedaling platform without degradation to big hit performance.

That suspension technology was not something I was overly aware of during winter riding. The bike pedaled well enough and dealt with small bumps capably, but there’s just not much big hitting on snow. On a handful of dry trail rides this spring, though, the Farley EX 9.8 performed better than expected, soaking up medium-sized drops with little complaint, while again staying efficient while climbing. But remember, this is a 120mm bike so there are limits to what it can do.

The frame also features Trek’s adjustable Mino linkage that allows for minor adjustment in geometry. The bike comes set in the high position, which nets a taller bottom bracket height and steeper head tube angle. Switch to the low position for a slightly slacker front end and lower BB. Preferring snappier steering when riding on snow, I left it in high during this test. But for more aggressive summer sessions, it would certainly make sense to slack things out a bit.

As already mentioned, front end suspension is handled by RockShox’s 120mm Bluto fork. During wintertime rides, the fork did its job, soaking up chatter and not losing performance in cold weather. But the slim 32mm stanchions just don’t match up well with the weight and torque of fat tires and wheels, especially when pushed hard on dry trail rides.

Trek Farley EX 9.8 Review

Proper cold weather testing of a dropper post. No issues to report.

Finally, before moving on to the rest of the spec, it must be mentioned that the first shock on our test bike failed, losing pressure and spilling its greasy innards all over the bottom of the frame. After sending it back to Trek who forwarded it on to Fox, here’s a summary of the somewhat inconclusive report we got back.

“It was a damper oil leak through the shaft and out of the adjusters… The adjusters had a non-factory replacement grease on them so this shock had been re-worked by somebody. Our suspicion is they accidentally damaged the small O-ring that seals the compression rod on install. The cold weather could have made the seal less compliant which accelerated the problem but we don’t think it was the root cause.”

Trek claimed no one on their end “re-worked” the shock, and instead guessed it could have happened at the factory. Whatever the case, Trek quickly sent a replacement shock, and it held up perfectly fine through the remainder of the test session, which included numerous sub-freezing rides. With all that said, we’re willing to chalk the failure up to a one-off problem and don’t see it as cause for alarm.

Continue to page 2 for more of the Mtbr Trek Farley 9.8 EX review »

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About the author: Jason Sumner

An avid cyclist, Jason Sumner has been writing about two-wheeled pursuits of all kinds since 1999. He’s covered the Tour de France, the Olympic Games, and dozens of other international cycling events. He also likes to throw himself into the fray, penning first-person accounts of cycling adventures all over the globe. Sumner, who joined the RoadBikeReview.com / Mtbr.com staff in 2013, has also done extensive gear testing and is the author of the cycling guide book "75 Classic Rides: Colorado." When not writing or riding, the native Coloradoan can be found enjoying time with his wife Lisa and daughter Cora.


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