TREK CHECKPOINT SLR 9
PRICE: $12,000 / WEIGHT: 17.8 LB (54CM)
TREK OVERHAULED ITS gravel-loving Checkpoint line for 2022, revising the bikes’ geometry and equipping them with more features. To meet the diverse needs of riders in the ever-evolving world of gravel riding, Trek focused each of the Checkpoint’s three platforms—SLR, SL, and ALR—on different riders. It has positioned the SLR carbon bikes for gravel racers and the SL for all-purpose riders; the aluminum ALR platform is designed with utility in mind, having a durable aluminum frame and ability to fit up a rack.
Since gravel riding is all about long rides, no matter which model you chose, Trek expects you will use your bike to get out and explore. It made these frames capable of attaching all sorts of bags, bottles, and gear that you would require on the road, trail, or on an extended trip away from home. All sizes of the Checkpoint have a bottle mount under the down tube, a bottle mount on the seat tube, and at least one on the top side of the down tube.
Cargo and bags are a big part of the gravel experience, so the new Checkpoint has frame bag mounts inside the front triangle. These mounts mate up with new direct-mount Bontrager frame bags, which Trek offers in unique dimensions to fit each frame size. The frame also has a mount for a top tube bag. The SL and ALR models get three pack-mounts on the fork, increasing water- or cargo-carrying capacity. Hoses and housing run internally, which keeps them out of the way of straps and bags. All models get mudguard mounts as well, and carbon models get in-frame storage similar to what Trek uses on the Domane.
To make things easier for service, and reduce creaking on those long rides, Trek switched to threaded T47 bottom brackets. All Checkpoints have gravel gearing and clutch-style rear derailleurs (Shimano GRX or SRAM eTap AXS), as well as 40mm tubeless-ready tires (with clearance up to 45mm) and tubeless-ready rims. Trek sells each model with 700c wheels, but they will fit 650b wheels, which bumps tire clearance up to 53mm (2.1 inches).
Trek updated all three models’ geometry, which is significantly more progressive than on previous versions. Trek took a page from the mountain bike playbook and stretched the reach on each size frame by about two centimeters, which also increases the bikes’ front center measurement by the same amount. To mitigate cockpit length changes, Trek equips the bikes with shorter stems and shorter-reach bars. Chainstays on the frame grow by a centimeter (to 435mm on all sizes), and Trek increased trail by about six millimeters, even though head angles remain about the same. The overall wheelbase is a little longer and stack heights are a bit taller. Jordan Roessingh, Trek’s director of road product, says the brand made the changes to improve stability. These revisions also reduce toe overlap on smaller frame sizes, which is a big plus for smaller riders wanting to use all the available tire clearance.
One surprising omission from the new Checkpoint is IsoSpeed in the front, a feature found in Trek’s Domane all-road series of bikes. Trek claims that front IsoSpeed does not provide a sufficient gain in compliance for a bike with big tires, so it was left off the new Checkpoint. It does, at least, provide a less complicated front end, and some weight savings. Rear IsoSpeed is still present on all models, as it has more deflection than front IsoSpeed system, even with larger tires.
I tested the top-of-the-line SLR 9 eTap AXS and spent a month evaluating it on long gravel rides, some road riding, and plenty of singletrack.
On anything dirt, and especially on singletrack, the new Checkpoint is better than the previous generation—and one of the best gravel bikes I’ve been on. I love the previous generation’s aboveaverage comfort and smoothness, and that’s still present. But the geometry updates make the new bike much more capable; and the faster and more technical the dirt, the more the geometry pays off. The bike is accurate, but not darty, and composed but appropriately flickable.
But make a bike with geometry that lets us ride faster and we’re going to go faster. The Checkpoint is so damn fast through rough terrain that I take issue with Trek’s decision to forgo front IsoSpeed or correct the geometry for a suspension fork. This is a pretty compliant bike overall, but many times I whacked stuff that made my hands and arms sting. Bigger tires help, but a 45mm maximum isn’t that big (Canyon’s Grizl fits 50s, for example).
Basically, there were times I felt like the geometry was writing checks the Checkpoint couldn’t cash. But, then, adding weighty suspension and fatter tires changes the character of the bike, and I love how this bike rides. We’re at an interesting point with “progressive” gravel bikes. They are tickling the edges of mountain bike capability, but if riders start to ride them more like they do mountain bikes, then suspension needs to be a part of the conversation.
While the old Checkpoint felt almost like a road bike that could do gravel, the new one definitely takes cues from the world of mountain bikes. On balance, this works out okay for the most fun and challenging parts of gravel rides, though the Checkpoint bike feels somewhat sluggish on tamer sections of road and trail. That’s a compromise I’m okay with, but if you want more quickness on pavement from your gravel bike, you might be happier on something like a Cervelo Aspero 5 or the 3T Exploro Racemax.
Trek isn’t breaking any new ground with the Checkpoint’s geometry and handling traits. This mountain bike–influenced, longer, more stable geometry is an increasingly popular trend, and is already found on other gravel bikes. When used for actual gravel and off-pavement riding and racing, this geometry makes sense. But if riders are buying gravel bikes because they want more capability and comfort out of a drop-bar bike—though are mostly sticking to pavement—I don’t think this geometry suits that type of rider.
Trek made these SLR models for gravel racers coming from a road-riding background and gave them a traditional-shape road bar. But the Checkpoint is still a gravel bike, and flared drops are awesome for comfort and control. Thankfully, Trek didn’t do anything weird with the bar and stem on the new Checkpoint, so riders can fit any bar they desire.
As gravel evolves, so does the equipment, and the Checkpoint embraces those changes nicely. What was a very road-influenced gravel bike is now much more capable off-road. While it is less peppy on the pavement, it’s significantly better in more technical terrain—where it’s faster for racers, carries more for adventure riders, and is simply more versatile, which benefits all riders.