TESTED: Trek’s First True Gravel Bike, The Checkpoint
After waiting and watching the market develop, Trek has finally introduced a dedicated gravel platform, the Checkpoint. Although slightly late to the game, Trek has a very solid entry with its new line, with updated standards and a range of features that should satisfy just about every goal a multi-surface rider could envision, from competing in gravel races to embarking on adventures of any distance.
What’s New for 2018?
Checkpoint is a brand new line in the Trek family; previously, its multi-surface road offerings were split between the Domane Disc, which has clearance for 35mm tyres but is decidedly more a performance road bike in features and geometry, and the cyclocross-focused Boone and Crockett lines. The Checkpoint is a dedicated multi-surface bike, with more tyre clearance than any bike in Trek’s drop-bar line, and a full range of mounts for racks, bags, fenders, and hydration.
The Checkpoint Family Includes Carbon and Aluminum Models
There are four models in the Checkpoint line, three of which come in men’s and women’s options. The SL6 and SL5 feature OCLV 500 carbon frames; while the ALR5 and ALR4 models are aluminum. Women’s options differ only in saddle and handlebar touchpoints and paint; geometry and most parts are identical.
The two carbon models have an OCLV carbon frame with rubberised armour on the down tube and a rear IsoSpeed decoupler. The SL6 gets a full Shimano Ultegra drivetrain with RT800 hydraulic disc brakes and the new Shimano Freeza rotors. The SL5 has a Shimano 105 drivetrain and non-series hydraulic discs.
The aluminum models don’t have the IsoSpeed decoupler or the top-tube bag mount. They do, however, have all of the other bottle, rack, and fender mounts. The ALR5 uses a Shimano 105 drivetrain and non-series hydraulic disc brakes, while the ALR4 is kitted with a Shimano Tiagra 10-speed drivetrain and hydraulic brakes. Both have carbon forks, but not the same version as the SL bikes.
All men’s models come in six sizes: 49, 52, 54, 56, 58, and 61cm. Women’s models come in 49, 52, 54, and 56cm. Both the ALR and SL platforms are also available as framesets.
Claimed weight on the Checkpoint SL bare frame is 1,240g; the ALR frame is said to weigh 1,570g (both in a 56cm). Claimed fork weights are 470g (SL) and 600g (ALR).
Generous Tyre Clearance and the Option to Run It as a Singlespeed
At first glance, the Checkpoint looks largely like a first-generation Domane or Boone, with a rear-only IsoSpeed decoupler on the carbon models for a little bit of comfort. Trek’s road brand manager, Michael Mayer, says that the company opted to not give the bike the front IsoSpeed coupler found on most current Domane and Boone models for two reasons: Doing so would have increased the price, and the company feels like the larger tires most riders will choose lessens its importance.
The Checkpoint can accept up to 700x45mm rubber. That’s thanks in part to the asymmetric chainstay design, which drops the driveside chainstay so that it can still clear the chainrings while preserving generous tire clearance. Unlike some other brands, Trek does not officially say that the Checkpoint is compatible with 650b wheels. It’s designed around a 700c wheel size.
The Stranglehold sliding dropouts are similar to those found on the company’s Stache mountain bike and Crockett alloy cyclocross bike. They allow the rider to adjust wheelbase according to tyre size and riding preferences, and offer the option to run the bike as a singlespeed.
Trek didn’t hold back with mount options. Every bike in the line gets up to four bottle-cage mounts: three inside the main triangle (with a high/low option for the down tube) and one underneath the down tube. (Smaller sizes have only two mounts inside the main triangle.) There’s a top-tube mount for a frame bag, and full front and rear rack and fender eyelets. Trek uses 12x142mm and 12x100mm thru-axle wheel attachments and flat-mount disc brakes; cable routing is internal on the carbon bikes and partly internal on the aluminum models. While 1x drivetrains are increasingly popular, Trek opted for double chainrings on all models (all drivetrains are Shimano). Every bike has hydraulic disc brakes, tubeless-ready or tubeless-compatible rims, and comes with the same Schwalbe G-One multi-surface tyre in a 35mm width.
The Checkpoint is most similar to Trek’s Boone. But the Boone is focused on racing cyclocross, so there are several important differences. In addition to greater tire clearance, the Checkpoint has a slightly taller stack for a more upright rider position, and a lower bottom bracket.
The Stranglehold dropouts offer some adjustment for overall wheelbase, which allows you to shorten the wheelbase with narrower tires; shorter will mean more responsive handling, while longer offers more clearance for wider tyres and a more stable feel.
How It Rides
We’ve had limited time on the Checkpoint, but initial impressions are positive. The SL6 model in for testing is no featherweight, but is competitive with other multi-surface bikes that have similar features and parts kits. Trek has long excelled at carbon construction, and the frame doesn’t betray any flexiness under power. With the stock 35mm Schwalbe G-One tyres, grip and comfort are excellent on a variety of surfaces; descending on pavement feels a little slow, and the pebble tread isn’t as confident in aggressive cornering on pavement as a design like the Donnelly (née Clement) Strada USH, but that’s not what this bike is really designed for.
On two initial shakeout rides, I piloted the Checkpoint over a variety of surfaces ranging from paved climbs and descents to hardpack dirt to loose, sandy loam and even packed snow with icy ruts. The Checkpoint proved confident and capable in all conditions, and I’m looking forward to getting more time on it.