March 1, 2018

Steve Heal's avatar

By Steve Heal

With a name derived from early the gravel scene where you ride or race from Checkpoint to checkpoint, Trek’s first true entry into the gravel market is the real deal. In the early days of the Dirty Kanza there was no GPS allowed. When you checked in at a card table in a hotel lobby you got your race number and a small hand-drawn map that just got you to the first checkpoint.  At that checkpoint they would give you the map for the next 50 miles, and so on until you were done…finish or no finish. This was also in the days before support crews were allowed at the DK, so the checkpoints were also gas stations in the middle of nowhere so you could load up on food and water…from a rural gas station. For those of us who have been riding and racing gravel since then, this name rings true.

For the past few years, Trek has had a glaring hole in their lineup where we’ve been pining for a gravel bike. They have always had world-class cyclocross bikes with the Crockett and the Boone.  A few years ago they added a drop bar adventure-touring bike in the 920, and last year they added a 29+ bikepacking adventure bike called the 1120.

Last year Trek also took advantage of the massive tire clearance (for a road bike) that their Domane disc bikes have and put out two models with 35c Schwalbe G-One All Around gravel tires in the Domane ALR 5 Gravel and SL 5 Gravel. While these bikes are great Colorado bikes that are equally comfortable on the paved and unpaved roads, true gravel aficionados were quick to point out that these were not bikes capable enough for rides like the Dirty Kanza or Landrun 100. Trek’s new Checkpoint is a well thought-out line that fills that gap.

The Checkpoint is a true gravel adventure bike that is not only fast and capable but it doesn’t pigeonhole itself because it is so customizable. It has a similar geometry Trek’s cross bikes, but with a lower bottom bracket, adjustable chainstay length and a slightly higher front end. While the stack height is higher, it remains neutral. It’s low enough for shorter, more aggressive rides and races, but upright enough for long rides like the Dirty Kanza or Trans-Iowa.

I know what you’re thinking: “But how much tire clearance does it have?” Trek also knew this would be your first question so they made clearance a priority. One of the most noticeable design features of the SL models is a dropped driveside chainstay. This allows Trek to keep the chainstays short (but adjustable) while still providing enough room to clear 45c tires … and that’s in keeping with CPSC tire clearance standards. This means that fatter tires will fit just fine!

Now that’s twice that I’ve mentioned adjustable chainstays, so here’s the deal. The Checkpoint uses Trek Stranglehold adjustable dropout on all models. The Stanglehold allows you to adjust the chainstay length by 15mm. This range allows you to adjust the geometry for you preference or the style of riding you’ll be doing, but it also allows you to run the Checkpoint as a single speed, whether by choice or necessity. 

I’ve used the Stranglehold dropouts on a few of Trek bikes and absolutely love them. They have been on my Stache 29+ hardtail that I’ve only used as a geared bike. I set them when I built the bike and then just ignored them. Other systems are quick to develop creaks, or flex under load, but the Stranglehold just worked. I also have a Crockett cyclocross bike that I run single speed.  Even after racing cross in the mud, hosing it off, and then racing again the next day or next weekend it has remained quiet and held strong. If I were setting up a Checkpoint for myself, which I hope to do soon, I would leave it geared, but set the Stranglehold up so that if tragedy were to strike my derailleur, I would have a go-to gear that I could cut my chain for and be rolling again in no time.

But Stranglehold dropouts are just one of the features that help this bike be so customizable.  Every Checkpoint has hidden fender mounts, as well as front and rear rack mounts. This makes the Checkpoint a perfect year-round commuter bike. Carbon models also have mounts for bolt-on bento style bags. There is also a mount for a bottle cage under the downtube, and sizes 56cm and above can fit up to three bottles inside the triangle, with mounts for two bottles on the top of the downtube and one on the seat tube. Other bikes have had this ability in the past, but Trek has an extra mounting point so that you can adjust where the bottle mount so it looks normal with two bottle or three.

Carbon models all come with Trek Isospeed decoupler to soak up bumps and cut down on fatigue. Also, many people worry about carbon frames on gravel road because your tires can kick up small rocks. Trek thought about that, too, and added their carbon armor protection under the downtube. They’ve been successfully using this protection on their carbon mountain bikes for years now, so this should give those worriers some peace of mind.

On the other end of the versatility spectrum, this bike makes a great road bike, too!  All models come with complete Shimano compact double groupsets with 11-34 cassettes. That gives you plenty of gear options for climbing, descending, and the most competitive group rides. Every Checkpoint also comes with full hydraulic disc brakes, even at the $1,699.99 entry price point. 

Even though these bikes can take 45c knobby gravel tires, they come stock with modest 35c Schwalbe G-One All-Round TLE tires. These tires have a round profile, which keeps only a small patch on the ground when running higher pressures for the road, but still have enough grip and bite for gravel riding. I raced the 38c version of these tires in the Dirty Kanza in 2017 and loved them!

The Checkpoint is exciting for us here at Wheat Ridge Cyclery because it seems like the perfect bike for all-around road and gravel riding in Colorado. Use it as a regular road bike and never let it touch dirt. Race all the big gravel races across the U.S. on it. Grind out miles to your daily grind with the Checkpoint as your commuter bike. Rip around singletrack trails on Green Mountain in the middle of your ‘road’ ride. Set it up for bikepacking or touring and get lost for a few days. The Checkpoint is ready for just about any adventure!

While Trek’s entry into the gravel market may be a bit late, it seems to check all the boxes so I made a Checkpoint checklist:

  • Men’s and Women’s models
  • Clearance for 45c tires (and then some…)
  • Mounts for any bottle and bag configuration
  • 12mm thru axles front and read
  • Flat mount disc brakes
  • Hydraulic disc brakes
  • Compact cranks
  • 11-34 cassette
  • Shimano, Shimano, Shimano
  • Fender mounts
  • Front and rear rack mounts
  • Ability to go single speed
  • Isospeed to soak up bumps
  • Carbon armor frame protection