The Trek Checkpoint All Road Checks All the Boxes

The beauty of a capable all-road bike is it can transport you from the inner city to more rural areas with ease and depending on the bike’s capabilities, you can ride everything from dirt roads to rugged Forest Service roads and even singletrack. In a city like Los Angeles, we’ve got a good mix of everything, and it wasn’t until I moved here that I realized this importance in a bike. For me and the kind of riding I enjoy, I prefer to be able to pedal out to the dirt from my front door.

Over the years, bikes that had only previously been available as a special order from a custom frame builder are slowly making their way into mainstream bike company’s catalogs. In that time, I’ve noticed a rather acute phenomenon, and most companies aren’t listening.

They’re not listening to what real, everyday cyclists are asking for. Who are they designing for? Who do they expect to buy their bikes? I’m not sure because I’ve seen a number of well-designed frames leave out crucial details that would make the bike from Brand X be the ultimate all-road bike, turned bikepacking bike, turned quiver killer.

Then there’s the Trek Checkpoint, which checks all the boxes, and I must say I was surprised when I saw it. After riding it on and off over the past few months, I’m finally ready to talk about this unique bike.

A History of Compliance

While the modern mantra of a brand like Trek’s mass appeal has been centered around marketing terms like “vertically compliant” and aerodynamics data in terms of their drop bar bike categories, that’s not what the brand solely focuses on. Many would argue their heyday lies in their early mountain bikes and touring bikes and that their pedigree lies in those days. The problem is, there was a lot of plastic bike marketing between those Trek 970’s and 520’s, so it puts Trek in an awkward position when it comes to designing, manufacturing and ultimately selling a bike like the Checkpoint. Personally, I think the consumer might be confused. Is Trek just jumping on the bikepacking, gravel, adventure, touring, or whatever it is you prefer to do in shorts and a t-shirt, not lycra bandwagon? Or is there a real fervor present when it comes to throwing their cycling cap in the ring. I suppose it all comes down to that saying “the proof is in the pudding.”

Don’t Call it a Gravel Bike

The big jump in the cycling industry will occur when racing data is not used in the marketing of a bike like the Checkpoint, and Trek has done a great job at selling this platform as a “fun” bike, right alongside their 1120 bikepacking MTB. While the Checkpoint falls into the “gravel” category, right alongside the Domane and Crockett, it’s a different bird altogether. In fact, I’d be more willing to put it into their “Adventure and Touring” category, because to call it a gravel bike, limits its usage to the potential audience.

What Trek Heard

“I wish the fork had rack mounts!” “Why can’t someone make a carbon fork with rack mounts?” “Where are the rack mounts?” “RACK MOUNTS RACK MOUNTS!” You’ve gotta be either really deaf or really arrogant to release a carbon bike that could be an excellent touring or bikepacking rig without freakin’ rack mounts on the fork. The thing is, Trek didn’t stop with the fork. There are rack mounts on the frame, extra bottle bosses, a third bottle mount location on the underside of the downtube, bosses for bolt-in bags, fender mounts, a dynamo light mount on the crown. This bike has all the bosses. Hot damn! We’re getting somewhere!

You Have the Clearance

Remember when it was hard to find a bike that cleared a 43mm tire like those beautiful Rock n Roads? Or hell, even a 40mm on a bike from big “Brand X” was hard to squeeze in. Now, you can usually fit a 40mm on a disc “all road.” All I’m trying to say is, the times are a changin’. The Trek Checkpoint fits a 45mm tire like the WTB Riddler with plenty of clearance. If you’re planning on riding in a muddy zone, you might want to err on a smaller tire. The coolest thing about this bike and what has ultimately influenced my own re-build of my Firefly is that you can ride a double crankset on it with a 45mm tire thanks to a slightly dropped chainstay. Color me impressed!

Trek Doing Trek

Sure, the bike isn’t without its designey nuances. There are a lot of details on the Checkpoint that are to be expected from a big brand. Personally, they come across as gimmicky, but I will say I could feel them working. Take for instance the decoupling that happens at the seat stay cluster, dubbed the Isospeed decoupler. Designed to work in conjunction with the Ride-Tuned Seatmast, the Isospeed decoupler offers – dammit, I didn’t want to use this word in this review – compliance when riding over washboard or rutted roads. Yes, I could feel it working, but am I sold on it as a feature? Ehhh. Part of the appeal to riding big tires is lower pressures and lower pressures eat up a lot of the road vibrations. That said, plenty of people will love that detail, as many gravel events benefit from a smaller tire. I suppose it’s sixes on the Isospeed decoupler. Hey, Trek put a lot of engineering thought into making the perfect bike, can ya blame them?

Another feature that will be polarizing is the Stranglehold dropout: perfect for converting the bike to singlespeed while offering a secure contact point for the bike’s thru-axle. I see something like the Stranglehold and I see time spent on the side of a road, in the dirt trying to fix it, but truthfully, after riding the bike for an extended period of time, it gave me zero issues.

For a bike with a ton of details, I will say, the only thing I don’t like about it isn’t a fault of the Checkpoint and in fact, it’s just something I don’t like about modern bikes in general. I’m not a fan of internal routing. Sure, it makes the bike clean looking, but it’s a hassle. A hassle to travel with, to tune, to set up, and to maintain. I’d rather have the cables on the underside of the downtube, easy to lube, easy to uncouple, and easy to maintain if you’re on a tour and something happens. Like I said, I can’t blame Trek, because that’s what the industry does with carbon bikes, and it isn’t their fault for following suit. I’m also a stickler for the pursuit of externally-routed bikes, so it’s not this bikes fault.

Aeolus XXX

As a side-note, before we jump into the build kit, I’d like to address this bike’s wheels, the new Aeolus XXX disc all-raod wheels which are an upgrade from the Checkpoint’s standard Bontrager Paradigm Comp wheelset. A big upgrade with a price point of $2,400 for a wheelset. Carbon wheels are expensive. Yes, they’re light, but it’s not the weight that merits the price tag for me, it’s the lack of maintenance. With an alloy rim, you have to be wary of casing jumps, or hitting rocks, because you only get a few free passes of dent pulling on an aluminum sidewall before the rim cracks. With carbon, there’s less chance of a crack or a break. I’ve had a lot of luck with carbon wheels, from various manufacturers, and especially with Bontrager’s wheels, which are made in Wisconsin at their HQ in Waterloo, which is the main reason for the hefty price point. While carbon is low maintenance, it also offers a somewhat polarizing ride quality. Some people find carbon wheels on an off-road bike to be too stiff, but with my preference for bigger rubber, I hardly notice a difference.

So with the maintenance or lack thereof, not being a concern, it comes down to a few other factors that make the wheels worth the investment. The first being external nipples. If by some strange occurrence, you need to true your wheels, the nipples are external, making it easy. The Aeolus platform also uses standard spokes, so if one breaks, any shop should have you covered. Also in terms of tubeless setup, these wheels were a cinch. The Aeolus wheels work as you’d expect from a pair of $2,400 wheels and if something happens, Bontrager backs it with their Carbon Wheel Program.

Build Kit

I wanted to try out Shimano 105. It’d been a while. When the Checkpoint first launched, this build kit was offered. Now, the carbon frameset comes built with Ultegra and the price reflects that. I figured there’s little difference between 105 and Ultegra, save for price point and looks, and over the years, Shimano’s groups have gotten so good, that the 105 kit looked intriguing. Honestly, I couldn’t tell the difference. At all. This no-nonsense build kit packs the seriousness where it’s needed – in the wheels and saves a little bit of money where it isn’t – in the group. Plus, the flat mount disc brakes just look damn good!

Final Notes

Riding the Checkpoint is on par with a lot of bikes in its category. It descends with confidence, maneuvers through city streets and singletrack and climbs as fast as you’re willing to push it. During the review, I forced myself to think about how the bike rode, only to find my mind drifting away as it should on a bike ride. This no-nonsense ride quality is only easy to achieve when it’s good. When something is off about a bike’s geometry, it’s all you think about, but when it’s dialed in for on and off-road riding, you barely take note of anythign eles. As it sits here, with pedals and bottles, the Checkpoint in a size 58 weighed 19.5lbs on the nose.

With pricing ranging from $959 for the aluminum frameset, to $1,999 for the carbon frameset, $1,789 for the complete aluminum, and $3,799 for the carbon complete, there’s a Checkpoint option for everyone. Combined with the details on this bike, there’s a usage for everyone too. While I didn’t take on any bikepacking or touring during the review period, the options are there, which is the point. They’re there, hidden under rubber boss covers, waiting for a reason to have bags, or racks mounted to them and that’s what matters. The people asked for attachments for racks and fenders on a carbon bike and Trek listened. The Checkpoint is a true boss.

The Trek Checkpoint comes in carbon, aluminum, and as a carbon frameset. Check out all the information you need at Trek!

Got questions? Drop them in the comments!

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  • Bill T

    “Compliance”, I started doing piece work at a LBS that sells Trek and watched a lot of Trek’s training videos they LOVE that word.

  • The bike I want right now. Thanks for the write up.

  • YaanG

    Looks nice! Personally I would want the handlebars a lot higher, probably more than moving the spacer and flipping the stem would achieve.
    What do you figure the max tire size with fenders would be?

    • Fenders are a hard thing for me to judge but win 50mm of space between the stays, I’d say maybe a 38mm with full fenders.

  • Eric Gustafson

    Seems like a nice bike, and I’ve had a few Treks over the years that I’ve loved (including the above-mentioned 750 and 520). For me, it always comes back to this, though: $2k for a carbon frameset (almost always made overseas) that anyone else can have, OR spend the same money on a full-custom steel frameset, that nobody else will have, from a builder I will meet and talk to?

    • Chris Valente

      Yeah I always have similar thoughts. The reality is that’s probably a $1k frame but they want you to pop for the whole bike so they tax the frame only option…

    • GNARdina

      I’m sure the Isospeed decoupler factors a good bit into the price.

      • Eric Gustafson

        The big brands have done things like this many times over the years – make something so stiff that it needs to be de-stiffened/softened/or adding ‘compliance’ by adding something else that makes it more complicated and more expensive. Specialized adding dampers to their carbon forks and seatposts comes to mind (as I just had one with those things in the shop the other day).

        • GNARdina

          My neighbor’s trek from a few years back has the decoupler, he loves it. I’m sure 23-25mm race tires need this feature more than a fat tire like John said though.

          • The main reason why ‘road’ bikes need these fancy flexy features is because people ride with tyres pumped up way too hard. Reduce tyre pressure and you’ll be amazed how much better it rides. A supposedly uncomfortable fast aero bike like the Venge with sensible tyre pressure is way more comfy than a Roubaix [with zertz] with ‘normal’ tyre pressure. Speaking from personal experience here of using both on identical mixed road, gravel and even some singletrack rides.
            Tubeless makes this easy, as snakebites become a thing of the past, so no need to whack pressure up to stop such punctures.

          • So true. I’ve found 27.5 wheels with 2.1″ tires at lower pressures eliminates most all road vibrations on my all-road bikes.

          • With my CX bike, I now ride with just 40psi in my Hutchinson Secteur/Sector 28 road tyres on [wide] Pacenti SL25 rims. It used to be 50psi with my narrower stock rims. Amazingly capable for offroad use too and I include MTB trails not just gravel. Though not so quick on rocky descents as you may imagine, but pretty darn fast up them. Overtaking people on their full sus MTBs at local MTB trail centres with a ‘road’ bike is also great fun.

          • GNARdina

            That’s exactly the point I was getting to. That same neighbor runs 23mm race tires that have a PSI of 120-130. So those rock hard tires don’t do any dampening. In that case the decoupler is extremely noticeable.

          • But the decoupler is an over engineered [or a marketing] solution to a problem that doesn’t have to exist. Let the tyres down instead. ;)
            All bikes can have the benefit of a comfy ride without redesigning the frame to fix a rider made problem. :D

          • GNARdina

            Disagree, I kept using the term Race Tires for a reason. When your goal is optimum speed on a bike dedicated to asphalt roads, a rock hard race tire is the best choice. Granted tires in racing are getting bigger and running lower pressure, but it’s still running at 100+ PSI on a 26-28 tire. Going back to my first statement “I’m sure 23-25mm race tires need this feature more than a fat tire like John said.” This feature doesn’t necessarily make sense on this wide tire bike, but for a true race focused road bike (which is where this Decoupler feature originated) it makes sense.

          • “When your goal is optimum speed on a bike dedicated to asphalt roads, a rock hard race tire is the best choice.”
            That’s last century thinking. Lower pressures in fact roll faster [up to a trade off point which will vary by surface]. Tarmac made be hard, but it’s not smooth like a lovely polished velodrome surface or a typical rolling resistance test surface. It’s anything but smooth in the real world. Heck, some off road paths are better than the roads around them in these parts. Not actually a joke.
            Just like a FS bike will roll faster on rocky ground, softer tyres deforming and acting like micro suspension will allow wheels to roll better on roads with a less than smooth surface. Another upside is increased comfort which allows you to go faster for longer. It doesn’t have to be all day epics to benefit from that either. I had bad hand and foot buzz from riding a supposedly comfy Specialized Roubaix on roads and a bit of light gravel on a local test loop of just 20km-ish. All because the tyres were pumped way too hard – 90psi on 28mm tyres. I rode same route on a Venge and it was blissfully comfy because tyres were a sensible pressure 75psi on 24mms. That’s a much bigger than a simple 15PSI difference in pressure BTW, because the Roubaix had a much bigger tyre volume. Hence why I say that flexy frames etc are a panacea to a problem caused by silly high pressures. The very comfy Venge with it’s ‘soft’ tyres was also considerably faster on all parts of the ride.

    • Paul Rowland

      Curious who is doing full custom steel framesets for $2k? I’m seeing $3-4K

  • John B.

    A step in the right direction. Need to work on those ugly cables. Not a big fan of the mast topper seatpost. How about a steel version Trek?

    • The cables were a hard thing for me. Should I trim them myself? It’s a review bike, so doing things like chopping the steerer and trimming cables is not something I normally do. Getting them to look presentable for photos was not easy…

      • John B.

        I understand. The bike looks terrific in the photos otherwise. I enjoyed your review and it’s good to see the bigger bike companies keeping up with trends and what people really want.

      • colavitos_ghost

        Your photos are–as always–stellar, and definitely not the problem here. It’s just that the cable routing (in addition to being a pain in the neck to work on) is an aesthetic nightmare. This pic is straight from Trek’s website. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/d8aeea3d1ee4a061f494616b9941d58d3e997985c639ae3e27397cfb26d74c89.jpg

  • Trenton South

    Stoked that you did a review on this bike, but even more stoked about your review of 105. I remember when 105 was the working mans/commuter drivetrain and now we are drowning in a sea of ultegra it’s a breath of fresh air to hear about your thoughts on 105. Kudos to you John.

    • nzlucas21

      105 is an (great) entry level racing groupset, Tiagra is a top end recreational groupset. 11sp 105 is as good as ‘most’ people need. When you want snappy changes under load such as in a crit then you really start to see the difference in the quality of the hardwear on your bike and how well the Mechanic tuned it.

  • marty larson

    I have the SL6 Ultegra version. After several hard events and long rides on it, I’m sold. The ISOspeed thing really does work, and saves the back on long rides. I felt as fresh as one would expect after the DK200, and fresh as a daisy after the Almanzo this year. My previous bike was a Salsa Warbird. It was a great bike too, but I wanted something I could run bigger tires with and do a SS conversion if I was so moved. Yes, I work for a Trek dealer, but I’m picky about what I ride. Several customs have come and gone. This production bike is staying.

    • Eric Gustafson

      With all due respect, and being there myself for a long time, there’s the rub. Bikes seem a lot better when they’re bought using EP pricing (half-price or so). At full MSRP, there’s a world of competition out there.

    • Eric Gustafson

      …and I view anything carbon as a 3-5 year product, but not for the ‘permanent collection.’

      • marty larson

        notice *I* didn’t say permanent. Its still not going anywhere anytime soon though!

  • Jake B Sorensen

    I would like to know what you, or anyone here, thinks of the Schwalbe G One Allrounds as a tire for rides that are 2/3 road, 1/3 dirt.

    • ET

      My first ride with the Schwalbe G One Allrounds 38mm was tubeless on the road – I hit a monster piece of glass & the tire came apart like it was made of tissue paper. Stans was powerless to seal. Schwalbe actually gave me a discounted replacement after I complained – – and since then they have been great both on and off road – no flats in 1,000 miles or so – 50/50 Road/Gravel and very little wear.

    • I have the 27.5 version on my Sklar – which I use 1/2 road to 1/2 dirt – and absolutely LOVE them and that’s coming from a guy who usually hates Schwalbe.

      • Jake B Sorensen

        Thanks! Looks like I’ve found my next tire.

        • Damien Milazzo

          I’ll second John’s thumbs up. They are some of the best ‘gravel’ tires you can get. I toured a good portion of northern Colombia on them, and the roads were muddy, sandy, etc., and they always did fine. Less so for mud, but what touring tire is good in mud? When we’d stopped touring, I started doing road rides with Colombian friends and families into the mountains. They were awesome there too. Many of the descents were curving, turning, snaking, roller coasters of awesome, and the tires gripped like crazy. They felt confident at 55 kilometers an hour through the switchbacks, and at 100+ on the straights.

          They are also my go-to commuter tires, and are fine to ride on the spirited group rides in my hometown.

  • Harry

    You bet yer ass that seat tube angle gets all wrong when its being so compliant. ;-)

  • mark rothschild

    Bontrager, came from my town…Santa Cruz….

  • FAT999

    I still reckon it’s over-geared for any sort of touring or gravel riding, unless the terrain is flat as a pancake. Needs a 46/30 or 48/32 up front for most ‘normal’ riders. Other than that, ticks a few boxes for sure.

    • I dunno, my local rides are anything but flat. I climbed a 5,000′ dirt climb on this, with grades pitching well beyond 18% and up, as well as other super steep climbs and was a-ok. But that said, if I did any touring on it, I’d change the gearing. As it sits now though the gearing was fine for dirt roads in California.

      • FAT999

        You might be right; I’m a big lover of gears I’m likely to use, though. Probably because I’m 20+ years older than you and my health insurance doesn’t cover knee replacement!

    • M.R.

      Agree. I don’t see many people pushing a 50×11 on a bike with 45mm knobs, other than going downhill on pavement. For me, more gearing in the commonly used ranges would see more use.

  • planning_nerd

    Why would Trek have MY2019 bikes specced with the older and butt ugly RS505 levers? 105 got a redesign for 2019 with much better aesthetics. I would wait until Trek exhausts its stock of old 105 before buying this otherwise cool bike.

    • Samuel Jackson

      hmm

      They have MY2020 checkpoints up with the new non hideous hoods

      https://www.trekbikes.com/us/en_US/bikes/road-bikes/checkpoint/checkpoint-sl-5/p/24387/?colorCode=red

      • 2020 models!!
        It still 2018 and 2019 models aren’t inmost shops yet.

    • nzlucas21

      As far as I can see R7000 has had quite constrained supply. A quick check on wiggle and they don’t have it all yet, and Ultegra Hydrolic doesn’t seem to be in good supply yet either. Trek probably had no choice. Maybe the fire at Shimano has slowed things down?

      • Also some companies buy up a lot of component stock if they get a good deal on it.

    • rubikjazz

      Trek just released the Checkpoint SL5 with the new version of the 105.

  • Curt Weitkunat

    I think your review is spot-on,John, it is a pretty dialed in bike. I bought a Checkpoint SL5 back in April as an alternative to doing gravel and dirty rides on my cyclocross or mountain bike. After looking and trying other gravel bikes, I chose the Checkpoint after one test ride. I have pretty much ridden it exclusively since purchase. I think it great value for a carbon fiber bike. At first I thought it was a gimmick, but Iso decoupler has made me a believer in “compliance.” The 105 groupset and the flat-mount hydro brakes are great and better shifting than the Ultegra groupset on my ‘crosser. I won’t be touring or bikepacking with it, but I like the idea of being able to use bosses to mount extras pretty much anywhere on the bike. Definitely looking forward to being able to put wider tires on it, after I swapped out the 35mm Schwalbes for tubeless 40mm Maxxis Ramblers on the stock Bontrager rims. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e30067e5f9f9a208fe2373dcf157d099839d78f153668effc163641263f15d37.jpg

  • Albert

    Double chainsets are making a comeback!

    Also, I hear you about the cable routing. Is it just me, or would that port on the down tube make it awkward to run a frame bag?

    • I put one on and it seemed ok. It just pushed the cables to the downtube but didn’t create any binding.

    • Chris Valente

      If I ever have a chance to build a custom “all road” bike, it will have a double if I can make it work. Some of the gaps on the 11-42 on my cross bike are pretty annoying to find the sweet spot.

  • Great looking bike.

    also: flip the fork around so we can all have another virtual fist fight.

  • “I’d rather have the cables on the underside of the downtube, easy to lube, easy to uncouple, and easy to maintain if you’re on a tour and something happens.”
    Also easy to trash. Sliced through rear derailleur cable on my 1990 Stumpjumper Comp within a month of getting it. I had all cables stops rebrazed and fitted onto top tube.
    MTB bikes stopped coming with cables under there after a few years for good reason.

  • Chris Leydig

    I know they didn’t market it as 650b compatible, but you recon it could fit 650b x 45-50mm? Whenever I see dropped chainstays that’s where my mind goes…

    • I’d say so, for sure!

    • Nathan Kensley

      treks only concern with 650B builds is the bottom bracket is already low (7.6 cm in size 54,56) in 700c standard and can be a bit to low with 650B build if you get rowdy in the corners.

  • dang3rtown

    I took one of these for a week long test and was mostly impressed but the isospeed just made the rear triangle feel too noodly (is that a word?), particularly compared to how stiff the front end of the bike felt. If they got rid of the gimmick, I would be in!

  • Chris Lowe

    1) They lost me at the press fit bottom bracket. Not at all a fan.
    2) I wonder how these minimalist suspension set ups being used by Trek, Specialized and others will hold up after a few years. Will they start to creak after a few thousand miles?

    • valid points!

    • Josh McKinney

      To point #2, Isopseed has been around since 2014(?) and I haven’t seen or heard anything negative.

      • bruce golla

        Josh please bud, These kind of minimalist suspension set ups are a real headache for bike mechanics.

        • Josh McKinney

          Hi, bike mechanic here. No such issues on my end.

  • Matt Good

    I EP’d one of these things the moment they were available, and to say the least, I’m over the moon with it. I was in between getting my hands on a Rawland or a carbon Emonda w/ 8050 and plastic wheels. Granted I made changes before I even rode the Checkpoint stock… Compass Barlow Pass EL’s (put 3k w/ orange seal on the 1st set), Paradigm DT Swiss wheels from Bontrager, plastic stem, bars, different seatmast blah blah blah, all went on before it left work. The cable routing was garbage outta the box, but I feel as though I have mine looking fairly tidy, along with some help from those housing ball-joint things. The RS505’s are absolutely hideous, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t like the shape and feel when riding. The 2x is perfect IMO as it allows the bike to really play the role of “road bike” as well.
    Even though I don’t sell bikes at the shop I work at, and aren’t exactly a “kool aid” sipper, I can’t sing the praises of this bike enough. I will drop what I’m doing and rave like an idiot about how happy I’ve been with this thing. I 2nd the dude who said somewhere in this comments thread, something along the lines of, “this production bike is staying”.

  • I just rode the ALR5 version on a 5 day gravel bikepacking trip in northern Wisconsin. The bike did great loaded up with bikepacking bags. My only issue was with my tire choice. I was running 38c tires and wished I had something wider while on many of the looser gravel sections and single track we rode.

  • Peter Chesworth

    Another lovely useable sensible bike not based on racing. Wrong chain set but easily changed.