Gravel Grinder News: Trek Introduces The Checkpoint Gravel Bike- by Guitar Ted
Trek has had what could have been the best gravel bike technology for several years wrapped up in a road racing bike called the Domane. The main feature of that bike being the decoupled seat tube, allowing that frame member to react under rider weight and against road irregularities as a leaf spring, of sorts. Trek dubbed this technology “ISO Speed”. Now Trek finally pulls the covers off a not very well kept secret today called the Checkpoint. This is a new bike aimed at the gravel rider which uses the ISO Speed decoupling technology in its higher end models. Let’s check it out…..
Trek didn’t just make a copy of a Domane with wider tire clearances, but instead based the design off the Trek Boone cyclo cross bike, and then made some adjustments to the geometry. Obviously, the right side chain stay is the first visual cue that something is different here. This ubiquitous feature of carbon gravel bikes helps keep the wheel base shorter and still allows for big chain ring and bigger tire clearances. Trek uses their well known seat mast design for all the carbon models as well.
The line up will consist of top of the line SL6 carbon and SL5 carbon bikes, with a women’s model in the SL5 being available. Two colorways will be available in the SL5 model, “Cobra Blood” and “Gravel”, (yes, that’s the color’s name). Both carbon Checkpoint levels will feature flat mount disc brakes, clearance for up to 45mm tires, hidden fender mounts, and rack mounts. Interestingly, larger sizes will have the capability to accept two water bottles inside the main triangle on the down tube, with one bottle on the seat tube and one under the down tube for a total of four bottle mounts. Smaller sizes will only have the more common three bottle mounts available. Trek also is offering a hard mount on the top tube for a top tube, “tank style” frame bag, much like Salsa Cycle’s Cutthroat model. Prices will be $3799.99 for the SL6 and $2799.99 for the SL5 models. Both prices are USD. The frame only is $1999.99USD.
Key components come from Shimano, and as such, no “1X” option is offered. However; you can get a Checkpoint frame only option and build the bike anyway you see fit. Carbon frames are also armored under the lower part of the down tube, and underneath the leading edges of both chain stays, to ward off any damage from flying gravel. Another Trek specific feature is their Stranglehold rear drop outs which feature a redundant securing mechanism, but maybe more importantly, a way to single speed the bike in case you shear off or damage the rear derailleur beyond field repair. This is a common occurrence at many gravel events.
Aluminum models also are offered in two levels, the ALR5 and ALR4, which only differ in terms of spec and color. A Women’s model will be offered in the ALR5 and ALR4 models as well as a frame set. The ALR aluminum models do not feature the ISO speed rear decoupler, the dropped right side chain stay, and also do not have the hard mount for a top tube bag, but they do have all the other features described above for the carbon models. There will be two colors each for the ALR5 and ALR4 offered. Women’s models will also have their own unique colorways. Pricing for the ALR5 models is $1999.99USD and ALR4’s are $1799.99USD. The frame only option goes for $959.00USD
The geometry is different on the Checkpoint with Trek using a slightly steeper head angle than many gravel bikes have and a lower bottom bracket than many gravel bikes have. The wheel base is kept in check and stack and reach are said to be nearly identical to the Boone cross bikes.
What We Think: Trek’s new offering is an exciting entry from a top player in the bicycle industry. This along with Specialized’s new Diverge bring gravel bikes a legitimacy and wider availability than ever before. But we are a bit dismayed that Trek did not bring its ISO speed to the front end of the carbon models, at least. It is also a bit disappointing that the ISO Speed rear decoupler was not used on the ALR aluminum frames, as they have done on the road side of Trek’s line. Perhaps this was planned so that these models can be “upgraded” in coming years? Hard to say.
Trek’s choice to use a steeper head angle than we’d like to see doesn’t surprise us. Trek has historically been on the steeper side with their cyclo cross bikes so anything coming from that side of their DNA, as Trek says the Checkpoint has, will be a steeper bike. That said, we are glad to see a lower than usual bottom bracket employed on the Checkpoint as that brings a very noticeable stability to the ride in loose terrain like gravel or looser dirt. Especially on descents. We were a bit surprised to read that Trek does not recommend using the Checkpoint with 650B wheels. Not that this is a really big deal, but some folks will perhaps be turned off by that recommendation.
Our take is that this is a fantastic first effort by Trek in the gravel category. (We’re not counting the previous Domane Gravel models, since they were nothing but rebadged Domane Disc models) We are surprised and disappointed that the ISO Speed technology wasn’t applied more as it has been across Trek’s road line up. But that said, we are expecting this model to be a very popular choice for gravel and back road cyclists for 2018 and beyond.
See more about these new bicycles at Trek’s website here.
Note: Information and images used for this post are courtesy of Trek Bicycles.