By Nick Legan
Trek was slow to join the gravel scene, but its new Checkpoint shows that their conservative approach may have lead to a superior mixed-surface machine. With time to study the market, the Checkpoint transcends the capabilities of many gravel bikes currently for sale. The seven-model line has three women’s models, four men’s, and features both carbon fiber and aluminum frame options. With ample tire clearance, clever mounting solutions, well-sussed geometry, a priority on versatility, and affordable price points, the Checkpoint needs to be near the top of any adventure cyclist’s shopping list.
I was fortunate to attend a prelaunch media event in Boulder, Colorado, where Trek staffers took us through the new range before we headed out for a mixed-surface ride. What first stood out about the Checkpoint is that it was developed by Trek’s City Team and not the Road department that created the Boone and Crockett cyclocross bikes. This makes great sense as this approach broadens the prospective user instead of narrowing it. The result is a versatile bike that a highly competitive gravel racer would appreciate, but so too would a year-round commuter, a credit card tourer, or even a bikepacker.
A savvy eye will immediately spot the similarity between the Checkpoint and Trek’s Boone and Crockett cyclocross bikes, which is a great starting point to begin a description of the Checkpoint. Compared to those bikes, the Checkpoint has the same wheelbase and reach numbers as a Boone, but with a lower bottom bracket and a taller stack height. Borrowed from the Crockett model is Trek’s adjustable Stranglehold sliding rear dropout. This allows a rider to increase the wheelbase, making the Checkpoint more stable and increasing tire clearance. It also means that singlespeed builds or backcountry drivetrain hacks are easy to execute.
So the Checkpoint is a more stable, more upright version of Trek’s cyclocross bikes. So far, aside from the Stranglehold dropouts, this is in keeping with how most manufacturers are producing gravel bikes.
What’s impressive is that they accomplish those geometry figures while also providing clearance for 700c x 45mm tires. At the media event, Trek showed off a Checkpoint with 45mm tires and there was still loads of room for mud and debris.
Bear in mind that cyclocross bikes are designed around the UCI-mandated 33mm tire width. A new fork and a dropped driveside chainstay help accomplish this.
On top of class-leading tire clearance, the Checkpoint also has provisions for the amenities that go hand-in-hand with long gravel adventures. On sizes 56cm and larger, three water bottle cages can be mounted inside the main triangle. This isn’t a novel approach — it was used in the early days of mountain biking for carrying extra fluids — and Trek’s 920 touring bike has three bottle mounts in the triangle as well. The extra mounting locations also create interesting opportunities for custom bag makers who produce bolt-on framebags. An additional bottle mount is found on the underside of the down tube.
Hidden front rack and fender mounts allow for exceptional versatility and carrying capacity. Thanks to its mid-fork rack mount and dropout eyelets, the fork is also compatible with Trek’s own 720 fork rack, a cage and drybag system.
The top tube features a pair of mounts behind the stem for bolt-on top tube bags. As a finishing flourish, Bontrager’s Blendr-compatible stem makes mounting a GPS device and lights a cinch.
All of the above details are wonderful, and I thank Trek for taking the time to study what gravel and mixed-surface riders are doing out in the real world. But if the bike rides poorly, it’s all for naught. Thankfully, the Checkpoint is a treat on roads of all kinds.
While Trek produces both a front IsoSpeed Decoupler and an adjustable version of its rear IsoSpeed Decoupler, a simpler, nonadjustable rear version is used on the Checkpoint to keep costs down. The IsoSpeed Decoupler, essentially a hinge at the junction of the top tube and seat tube, lends an element of suspension to the Checkpoint. Unlike traditional suspension designs though, there is no maintenance required on an IsoSpeed Decoupler, which is great for long-distance travelers.
The decoupler, in addition to the 35mm Schwalbe G-One tubeless tires and the carbon fiber frame and fork, makes for a comfortable ride. The Checkpoint soaks up rough washboard sections and still behaves wonderfully on smooth tarmac. Hands and backsides are isolated from inconsistencies in the road or trail. Descending on the Checkpoint is particularly fun.
The IsoSpeed Decoupler also helps provide the now-cliché “vertically compliant and laterally stiff” ride. Out-of-the-saddle efforts are met with swift acceleration. No energy is wasted in moving the Checkpoint forward. That lateral stability also means that the cornering manners of the Checkpoint are wonderfully predictable.
While I’ve had the opportunity to ride the Checkpoint on several occasions, I look forward to loading it up with some camping gear and seeing how it does over the long haul. I’m also curious to mount up some larger tires and hit singletrack sections. Stay tuned for a long-term review in the coming months.
Perhaps the best feature of the Checkpoint lineup is its affordability. I’ve spent my time aboard the top of the heap, carbon fiber SL 6. It sells for $3,799 with Shimano Ultegra hydraulic brakes and mechanical shifting. While that is a lot of money, it’s not bad for this spec level.
Thankfully the range extends down to $1,789 for the base model ALR 4 and ALR 4 Women’s. This aluminum frame version retains most of the features of the carbon models including room for 45mm tires, Strangehold dropouts, and plentiful accessory mounts. The entire model line has Shimano drivetrains and hydraulic disc brakes. Every model also receives an 11–34T cassette and 50/34T chainrings. See the quick rundown below for a few more details on the range. To see the whole line and dive into geometry head to: trekbikes.com/us/en_US/checkpoint.
If you prefer to build your own custom version, framesets are also available with aluminum version selling for $960 and the carbon for $2,000.
A note on women’s models: geometry is shared between the women’s and men’s frames. On women’s models, Trek specs narrower handlebars, shorter stems, and women’s-specific saddles.
Checkpoint ALR 4 Women’s - $1,790, aluminum, Shimano Tiagra
Checkpoint ALR 4 - $1,790, aluminum, Shimano Tiagra
Checkpoint ALR 5 Women’s - $2,000, aluminum, Shimano 105
Checkpoint ALR 5 - $2,000, aluminum, Shimano 105
Checkpoint SL 5 Women’s - $2,800, carbon fiber, Shimano 105
Checkpoint SL 5 - $2,800, carbon fiber, Shimano 105
Nick Legan is the Technical Editor of Adventure Cyclist.
Checkpoint SL 6 - $3,800, carbon fiber, Shimano Ultegra