The Trek Checkpoint is one of the most versatile gravel bikes out there from a mainstream brand.
This versatility, paired with the comfortable ride provided by plush tyres and Trek’s compliance-boosting IsoSpeed technology, makes for a sensible option that will work well for many riders.
Trek Checkpoint SL 6 specs
The Checkpoint SL 6 sits in the middle of the new 2022 Trek Checkpoint SL range, updated with a refreshed geometry, clearance for 45mm tyres (on 700c wheels, or 2.1in tyres on 650b wheels) and the aforementioned mounting points.
The SL is the second-tier frame, made from Trek’s 500 Series OCLV carbon fibre. The top-tier SLR frame gets upscale 700 Series OCLV carbon for reduced weight, plus a seatmast with integrated IsoSpeed decoupler, compared to the SL’s conventional seatpost and seat tube-located IsoSpeed.
At 9.47kg for my size 56cm bike, the mid-range Checkpoint SL 6 is no heavyweight, though that definitely doesn’t make it the lightest gravel bike out there.
However, when you consider it’s built up with SRAM’s rather weighty Rival AXS XPLR groupset in a 1x guise and chunky alloy gravel wheels, you’re not giving up much in terms of frame weight for a package that’s more versatile than many of its contemporaries.
The finishing kit is all from in-house brand Bontrager, including the GR1 tyres.
For a little more, the Checkpoint SL 7 gets a SRAM Force groupset and Bontrager Aeolus wheels. Both upgrades together only drop a claimed 420g, but the 2x drivetrain will make this a better choice for most road riding.
If you can forgo electronic shifting, the Checkpoint’s SL 5’s Shimano GRX components won’t leave you wanting. The rims are slightly narrower (21mm), but this will only matter if you run very wide tyres.
Trek Checkpoint SL 6 ride impressions
The key feature of the Checkpoint family is Trek’s IsoSpeed decoupler system. On the Checkpoint SL, this splits the seat tube from the top tube, allowing it to flex around a pivot. This system helps take the sting out of bumps, particularly when seated. It’s hard to quantify but, psychologically at least, the system helps reduce fatigue on rough climbs.
Trek dropped front IsoSpeed for this generation of the Checkpoint. Nonetheless, despite the fork’s chunky blades and very broad crown, square-edged hits to the front wheel aren’t overly harsh.
The plump 700x40c Bontrager GR1 tyres mounted to the 25mm wide (internal) Bontrager Paradigm Comp wheelset also contribute as much to the comfortable ride as any carbon wizardry.
The tread consists of nine rows of tightly packed knobs that get larger towards the shoulder.
Like all tyres of this ilk, they don’t shed claggy mud very well, but have plenty of grip on drier surfaces when run at lower pressures. They also feel pretty good on the road.
Clearances for up to 2.1in tyres on 650b wheels or 45mm on 700c mean you can tackle wilder terrain.
The pliant ride and geometry make for a confident, fun and calm partner on singletrack trails and for high-speed riding.
It’s definitely not a gravel bike that errs into pseudo mountain bike territory, but it’s one of the better-behaved gravel bikes I’ve tested on gnarly trails.
A swap to gravel tyres with a more aggressive tread would also greatly improve control in rough terrain if that’s a key performance factor for you.
The Bontrager Elite Gravel is one of the best gravel bike handlebars I have used – in my mind, it really is close to perfection. It has long drops that give ample space for your hands to move around without squashing them up into the hooks. The 75mm reach is also generous enough to allow your hands to move fore and aft when riding on the tops.
At 42cm wide on the size 54 and 56cm bikes, it’s not excessively wide either. The squishy Bontrager P3 Verse Comp saddle will also be a crowd-pleaser.
The Checkpoint is slightly noisier over rough ground than other gravel bikes I have tested.
The cable-routing system forces the cables to run close to the underside of the stem so, off road, the cables rattle against the stem.
It’s also a shame that the external seat clamp (hooray!) sits above a rather ungainly step from the wider-diameter tube down to the clamping surface. Functionally, it’s fine and it’s a small detail, but it detracts visually from the otherwise premium-looking frameset.
Trek Checkpoint SL 6 eTap geometry
|Seat angle (degrees)||74.1||73.7||73.2||72.8||72.5||72.1|
|Head angle (degrees)||71.2||71.6||71.8||72.2||72.3||72.6|
|Seat tube (mm)||490||520||540||560||580||610|
|Top tube (mm)||541||555||570||584||597||617|
|Head tube (mm)||90||105||125||145||165||195|
|Fork offset (mm)||45||45||45||45||45||45|
|Bottom bracket drop (mm)||78||78||76||76||74||74|
Trek Checkpoint SL 6 eTap bottom line
The Checkpoint SL 6 presents decent value for money, with a well-thought-out build and a frameset that’s notably versatile without looking too ungainly.
As has been proven before, IsoSpeed really does work as advertised.
That comfortable ride – in combination with the ability to run an array of accessories and carry enough water to quench the thirst of a flannel-wearing gravel army – sets the Checkpoint apart as a sensible option for bikepacking, adventurous riding and those interested in traditional long-distance gravel racing.
How we tested
We set out to test three of the latest gravel race bikes – a fast-developing sub-genre of machines aimed at covered varied ground quickly.
The Trek Checkpoint has been redesigned for 2022 as a versatile gravel bike capable of turning its hand to racing or multi-day riding.
The Specialized S-Works Crux, meanwhile, has been reimagined as a super-light gravel machine aimed at go-fast riding.
Finally, the Wilier Rave SLR arrives as the Italian firm’s take on gravel, with road and off-road builds available.
Our testing involved skittering over the hardpacked Fosse Way in the Cotswolds, cruisy loops on local roads and getting bogged down in the mire of claggy mid-winter byways.
Bikes on test
|Price||AUD $5500.00EUR €4099.00GBP £3850.00USD $4300.00|
|Available sizes||49, 52, 54, 56, 58 and 61cm|
|Bottom bracket||SRAM DUB, T47|
|Brakes||SRAM Paceline 160mm disc|
|Cassette||SRAM XPLR XG-1251, 10-44t|
|Chain||SRAM Rival AXS|
|Cranks||SRAM Rival, 40t|
|Frame||Trek 500 Series OCLV carbon|
|Handlebar||Bontrager Elite Gravel|
|Rear derailleur||SRAM Rival XPLR eTap AXS|
|Saddle||Bontrager P3 Verse comp|
|Shifter||SRAM Rival eTap AXS|
|Tyres||Bontrager GR1 Team Issue, 40c|
|Wheels||Bontrager Paradigm Comp 25|