Monday, March 17, 2014

Farleigh by Bob Farley

Back in the day, Bob Farley built some classic steel road and track frames in suburban Melbourne. The phrase “back in the day” obviously refers to a time prior to now when a well built steel frame was regarded as the pinnacle in performance bicycles. It was a time before mass-produced carbon fibre and hydroformed alloy. It was a time when Greg Smithey’s “Original Buns of Steel” was the only workout video you needed to “…squeeze those cheeseburgers out of those thighs…”

Yes, it was the late 1980s and early 1990s.

You can still get quality handmade steel frames these days, but unfortunately they’re not very competitive price-wise due to the expense of the materials and labour required. The cost of the artisan espresso coffee alone that would be needed to get a boutique framebuilder through to completion on a single project is probably enough to run a small Asian sweatshop for three of four months. And if your framebuilder won’t drink coffee that’s not Fairtrade then you can imagine how difficult it’s going to be exploit their labour.

Farley’s handmade frames came out of Croydon in Victoria, a leafy suburb nestled somewhere in between Ringwood and Mooroolbark and whose main drawcard is a 19-aisle Coles Supermarket – the second largest in Victoria.
Croydon is famous for more than just large supermarkets.

Bob Farley’s frames are actually called Farleigh, rather than Farley with the different spelling used as a way of differentiating his (rather common) name from all the other Bob Farley’s out there – including this fairly mediocre baseball player from the early 1960s:
Just another Bob Farley.

As it turns out, compared with Bob Farley, Bob Farleigh is much less common and the only notable namesake is the frontman of Sydney-based hard rock band Not Like Horse – who are most fondly remembered for playing at Sydney’s Slaughterfest V mini-festival, which showcased “…death, doom, metal, grind, stoner, sludge, drone, thrash, punk, prog and more.”
If you attended Slaughterfest V hoping to meet framebuilder Bob Farley, you would have been sorely disappointed. But on the upside, you would have been treated to a barrage of Sludge Metal, which helps calm the nerves.

So Bob’s bikes were labelled Farleigh and are still quite popular on many of the track, fixie and bicycle restoration forums where they have become somewhat of a collector’s item. In fact, if this collectability continues to rise, hints from Farley’s marketing team suggest that a re-launch of the brand might not be too far away. Rebranding will obviously be in order and Farleigh by Bob Farley seems to be the most likely candidate at this stage.
Some notable details on Farleigh frames include the bottom bracket shell “F” cutout and the “F” stamp on top of the fork crowns.
Farley’s proprietary “F” cutout serves to reduce critical bottom bracket shell weight without affecting stiffness.

As a cyclist, Bob achieved great success, with an incredible 6-year stint as Eastern Vets club champion (1983-1988), ending the reign of previous triple champion Alan Sandford.

He has always been very much involved in Australian cycling, attending the 1986 Edinburgh Commonwealth Games as team mechanic and working with the V.I.S. as a mechanic and coach…and still manages to hold his own against the best of the V.I.S. Women’s Pavlova Eating Team:

The subject of this week’s post is a rather unusual Farleigh bike – a mountain bike. It was picked up second hand by Melbourne-based Foctor (female doctor) Jacinta O’Neill (who also moonlights as an ultra-endurance trail runner in her spare time):
“…when I saw him [the bike] it was love at first sight and I knew we were meant to be."

Based on the components, this bike appears to be mid-1990s era. It’s not known exactly how many of these were ever made but (an admittedly rather cursory) Google search revealed zero photos or information online about any other Farleigh mountain bikes.

Obviously there are more rigorous research methods out there, some of which require one to actually move away from the laptop, but in reality, who has time for that kind of painstakingly thorough fact-checking? Certainly not the people in the Fondriest factory who are in charge of spellchecking the English translations on their frame decals.

The Monolithic Bottom BrakeT Shell always promised so much.

This particular Farleigh runs an interesting mix of Shimano and SunTour componentry. A Deore XT M739 rear derailleur and Exage 500 LX front derailleur are coupled with SunTour’s 3x7-speed Accushift thumb shifters.
In true old-school mountain bike fashion, the bars on this beast measure in at a very svelte 485mm wide while the stem is an imposingly long 130mm. This means that while this bike can get through some impressively tight gaps, it does handle like a twitchier version of an ADHD child with Tourette’s.

Hubs are Shimano Deore LX and are laced to a pair of Araya alloy rims that are still looking quite spritely considering their age. However, the major highlight of the component choice for this bike is most certainly the Shimano Exage 500 LX cranks with Biopace chainrings.
As many bicycle enthusiasts will be aware, Biopace ovoid (non-round) chainrings were an innovation introduced by Shimano in 1983 that never really took off. Some people say this is because they didn’t work and caused a lot of knee problems, while other people say they worked well, allowing a smooth pedal stroke and helping prevent knee problems and that the consumer market was just not ready to accept them.

Needless to say, Biopace chainrings are somewhat of a contentious issue amongst bicycle component historians.

The non-circular shape of the Biopace chainrings was claimed to help eliminate the “dead zone” in the pedalling rotation, thus providing a more efficient pedal stroke. Effectively, they change the gearing ratio as the cranks are turned.

While Biopace eventually fizzled out, the idea of elliptical chainrings has since been revisited by a few different companies. In their infinite wisdom, modern manufacturers of non-circular chainrings decided that Shimano had got their ellipses all wrong and changed the orientation of the rings.

Component company Rotor claims that their Q-Rings assist by:
“…extending the time you spend in the power stroke…and smoothly accelerating the legs through the critically weak “dead spots”, simultaneously magnifying the feeble input in these zones, Q’s give that extra advantage you need to get ahead.”
2008 Tour de France winner Carlos Sastre and multiple road World Champion Marianne Vos have used Rotor’s “feeble input magnification” technology to achieve great success.

OSYMETRIC from the USA have some seriously weird-shaped chainrings, but don’t go calling them “elliptical” or “oval”:
“The OSYMETRIC ring is not an oval nor an ellipse – it is a twin cam shaped to win.”
It’s hard to disagree with their tagline, given the recent success of Team Sky riders Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome with OSYMETRIC chainrings.

Depending on who you talk to, the Biopace chainrings on the Farleigh represent either the cutting edge of technological equipment or nothing more than a design fad that neither "magnified feeble inputs" nor "was shaped to win."

But for any Biopace diehards out there, you can always take comfort in knowing that you had "...a computer-designed chainring whose non-round shape produces a pedalling cadence that more closely matches the natural speed changes in the human leg when walking or running."
“Shimano thoroughly analyzed the biomechanics of human pedaling, and finally came up with the efficient connection in the human/bicycle power train: the Shimano Biopace Chainring. Applying computer analysis to the biomechanics of human pedaling, we succeed in discovering the ideal chainring shape, for greatly rationalized use of the legs’ muscle power and improved pedaling efficiency.”
Tyres on the Farleigh are a very smart looking pair of blue Mitsuboshi Silver Star Competition III’s from the Japanese industrial belting manufacturer. Quality here is obviously fantastic, and despite their age the tyres still look good, and are a clear example of Mitsuboshi’s strong corporate philosophy:
“It is with this firm belief that we passionately produce belts for the new age and the good of mankind. Belts embracing infinite possibilities. We want to touch human hearts.”

It's clear that the Farleigh Mountain Bike not only touches human hearts, but also the feline variety. During this photo shoot, a curious ginger cat showed its appreciation for the bike, after the obligatory phase of disinterest and contempt, of course.
As a serious offroad machine for modern-day mountain biking, the Farleigh is probably lacking in a few major areas – chiefly handlebar width and suspension presence – however it can probably still hold its own dodging trams down Sydney Road in a race to that last table at The Brunswick Mess Hall.

Reappropriated as an urban commuter bike in its current iteration, and with a few modern gizmos added for safety, this Farleigh by Bob Farley is sure to turn a few heads on the local bike path.

When this frame was made, builder Bob Farley would not have dreamed about the futuristic world that it would one day be reborn in to.

If you want to find out more about Bob Farley (the man, not the bike), without having to leave the comfort of your smartphone, then the best you can hope for is to visit the Bob Farley Facebook page, which has been set up as a bit of a tribute. There are some funny quotes from Bob as well as a couple of videos.
“Before chuck Norris, BOB FARLEY ruled the world.. the slayer of the dinosaurs. With that cute face of his and mild temperament, how can he not be loved? Don't be the odd one out.”


  1. Back in the late 80's me and my mates (after getting ripped off by Bob) had some t shirts made up that read "I'd rather eat worms than ride a farleigh". We would wear them at the track all summer! Bob hated us for that. He was a likeable rogue.

  2. Some interesting comments and a few other rumours popping up regarding Bob Farley. Wouldn't mind seeing one of those t-shirts.

  3. Bob was a really great guy who looked after me and helped me make it to the world tour. I've got two farleigh track bikes and a road bike and would do anything to get that mountain bike!

  4. What tubing did Farley use for track frames?

    1. I see this is an old post but this may help. Back in the early and mid sixties Bob was an employee of Keep Bros. and Wood who where importers of Colombus and Bob was a devotee of their tubing,building frames for his own use from it.