After a few hundred miles, we’re ready to offer up a review of the Trek Checkpoint SL 5, one of Trek’s best bang-for-your-buck offerings in their gravel line-up. It’s a bike that promises to do it all, but can it do it all perfectly? We’ll take a look at the ride, the build and what kind of rider this suits.
Trek Checkpoint SL 5 Review
Supply chain shortages severely cut Checkpoint availability through most of 2022, which went a long way towards building up demand for Trek’s most versatile bike. When bikes started shipping in the final months of the year, bike shops ordered heavy – and quickly sold out.
The SL 5 is entry-level carbon frame option in the Checkpoint line-up at $3,399, although the ALR frame is a killer option for anyone looking to stay under the $2500 mark.
One of the biggest differentiators in the gravel world right now is 1x vs 2x drivetrains. The Checkpoint line-up is split, with 1x SRAM options on 5 of the available models.
The SLR 5 is a 2x, boasting a Shimano GRX RX600 11 speed groupset with a long cage rear derailleur, so if you want to go 1x, you’ve got what you need. Lingering supply chain troubles did impact the SLR build. For example, the bike ships with a Praxis crankset with 48t-32t chainrings instead of the advertised RX600. While you’re going to give up some weight in the swap, this saved me money on upping to a 50t chainring instead of the listed 46t; I can live with a 48 – quiet comfortably, it turns out.
It also came with 45c Bontrager GR1 120 tpi tires. This substitution worked out well for me, but other riders may prefer the 40c tires it’s officially spec’d with.
Here’s a quick look at the most important Checkpoint SL 5 specs:
- Wheels: Bontrager Paradigm SL
- Shifters: Shimano GRX RX600
- Derailleurs: Shimano GRX RX810
- Cassette: Shimano 105 HG700 11-34
Big Things: Trek Checkpoint Tire Clearance
The Checkpoint clears 2.1” inch tires on 650b wheels, and easily, I’d add. It also clears 50mm 700 tires, an experiment conducted by our pals at Brick Wheels. That clearance may change slightly if you’re riding different rims, so make sure you double check it!
In Northern Michigan, we don’t have gravel roads. We have sand road with some rocks in it. Around these parts, tire clearance is a critical part of choosing a gravel bike because it’s all about girth; the wider the tire, the more floatation, the less swearing. Luckily, the Checkpoint and several other models from various brands have gone wider and wider in the past few years, opening up plenty of options for riders with all sorts of riding styles.
The Checkpoint immediately feels like an old friend. I’ve been lucky enough to ride 20+ very nice bikes over the past decade and the Checkpoint was the most intuitively comfortable to ride.
On the road, it splits the difference between snappy and stable, leaning toward stable. On the dirt, the bike loves going straight (more on that in a second) and I find myself in the drops much more often on the Checkpoint than other bikes, notably the Exploro. This might be partially based on stack height and head tube length, and it’s not exactly a bad thing.
When it comes to straight-line speed, I finally “get” Trek’s IsoSpeed. The IsoSpeed decoupler is used on a number of Trek road, mountain and gravel bikes to reduce road and trail vibration. It’s just a few millimeters of “forgiveness”, but it’s very noticeable on gravel. I was honestly very surprised at how effective it is and now I’m sort of itching for a Trek Procaliber, the 29er with the same technology in their line-up.
Trek Checkpoint SL 5 Weight
Officially, the bike weight in just a bit over 21 pounds. My bike is nearly 22 pounds due to the bigger 45mm tires. However, I can toss on my carbon road wheels and get under 21 like that. Is it the lightest bike out there? No. Is it the lightest carbon gravel bike out there? Absolutely not. Am I 7 pounds heavier than I used to be and only racing for fun? Yep, and odds are, so are you.
Other Notes and Tidbits
Okay, I’ll admit it. One of the biggest reasons I went for the carbon SL 5 over the aluminum ALR was the in-frame storage. I have a lingering habit of over-preparing for rides after being the “bike shop guy” on group rides. I come prepared with tubes, multiple CO2s, tools, quick links and usually a spare snack (for Wes). I also bring a minipump and my EpiPen, and I’m always annoyed by having a bulging seat bag and full pockets.
It’s tight, but you can fit in a tube, a tool, a CO2, a chuck and a tire lever into the Checkpoint’s in-frame storage. That’s all stuff I’m not putting in a bag or a pocket – and I dig it.
I know everyone is into getting “rad” and “rowdy”, which apparently requires wide handlebars with wide flairs. If you’ve met me, then you know I am the human version of pleated khakis. I’m plain flavored yogurt. I’m 8pm bedtime. I am not, and have never been, rowdy.
And that’s why the stock Elite Gravel 42cm bars rock. They actually fit me and I really like the shape.
It’s a sweet bike and if you’re going to have a one-bike-to-do-it-all, this should definitely be on your test ride list. (If you’re in TC and want to ride a 54, let me know!). Is it a townline sprint winner? A climbing machine? Aero AF? No. But if you like being able to hop on a bike and go, and feel comfortable mile after mile, then it’s a winner. I also think it’s much snappier than people might expect, right on par with most road bike I’ve ridden.
Comparisons: 3T Exploro, BMC Grandfondo Disc
Check out the Trek Checkpoint SL 5 at Brick Wheels or your local Trek dealer.