Trek Checkpoint SL6 review

The Checkpoint is being released in both carbon and aluminium models to cater to rider’s varying budgets and needs. The Checkpoint SL6 is built from Trek’s premium 500 Series OCLV Carbon and has been designed for the adventure-minded gravel rider.

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The flagship Checkpoint SL 6 arrives sporting a full Shimano Ultegra drivetrain with a 50/34 compact crank and an 11-34 cassette. Stopping power comes courtesy of flat-mounted Shimano Ultegra hydraulic disc brakes paired with Shimano RT800 Ice-Tech Freeze rotors, and finned brake pads for additional cooling and stopping power. Bontrager’s Paradigm Comp Disc wheels have been fitted with tubeless-ready Schwalbe G-One 35c tyres.

 


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The Checkpoint's geometry shares some numbers with Trek's Boone cyclocross bike but with strategic tweaks to better tailor it to gravel riding. According to Trek these adaptions "offer comfort for the long haul and on rough terrain but remain aggressive enough to provide the speed and responsive ride-feel most gravel riders crave". It has a nearly identical reach to the Boone but with a slightly taller stack and lower bottom bracket height. The lower bottom bracket provides the additional stability riders look for on rougher roads while maintaining a tight wheelbase, long reach, and relatively low stack height which keeps Checkpoint fast and manoeuvrable.

 

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The chainstay length and wheelbase also match the Boone but with a slight twist. The Stranglehold dropouts let the rider adjust the bike’s geometry and gearing based on the requirements of the day’s ride and personal preference. The longest setting increases the bike’s stability for longer rides or bike-packing while shortening the wheelbase provides snappier, more responsive handling for gravel racing. The adjustment range is 15 mm for a 425 to 440 mm chainstay length. The dropouts also facilitate quick, no-fuss conversion to single speed.

 

Hardcore gravel riders can rejoice at the detail that has gone into the Checkpoint. Extra mounts on the top tube, seat tube and both sides of the downtube make it easy to carry extra gear and water with size 49, 52 and 54 cm frames accepting three bottle cages with four cages on sizes 56, 58 and 61 cm. Lowrider fork mounts will hold a rack such as Trek’s 720 fork rack while rear rack mounts provide the option to haul even more cargo. Hidden fender mounts give foul-weather riders the option to give themselves and their bikes some relief from wheel spray. There is even a top tube mount to quickly attach an easy-to-reach bag for on-the-go essentials.

 

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The Checkpoint SL 6 features the same rear IsoSpeed decoupler used on Trek's Domane and Boone models. It aims to minimize fatiguing vibrations from uneven road and trail surfaces, ensuring greater comfort for the rider. The SL model also comes with a carbon seatmast cap and Trek’s Carbon Armour to protect the downtube from carbon smashing debris. All Checkpoint models feature front and rear thru axles and Control Freak internal cable routing. There is even a chain-catcher to ensure the chain does not drop when the going gets rough.

 

The rims and tyres are tubeless ready, but you will need to invest in a tubeless conversion to get rid of the standard inner tubes. Throw in the frame's capability to run tyres as wide as 45c and you have a bike that ticks all the gravel boxes.

 

Specification


  • Frame500 Series OCLV Carbon, Rear IsoSpeed, Stranglehold dropouts, tapered head tube, BB90, flat mount disc brakes, rack mounts and hidden mudguard mounts, Control Freak, internal cable routing, 12 mm thru axle, 3S chain keeper, Ride Tuned seatmast
  • ForkCheckpoint carbon disc, carbon tapered steerer, flat mount disc brakes, rack mounts, hidden mudguard mounts, 12 mm thru axle
  • WheelsBontrager Paradigm Comp Tubeless Ready Disc, 12 mm thru axle
  • TyresSchwalbe G-One Allround, aramid bead, TL Easy, 700 c 35 c
  • ShiftersShimano Ultegra, 11 speed
  • Front derailleurShimano Ultegra, braze-on
  • Rear derailleurShimano Ultegra, Shadow design, 11-speed
  • CrankShimano Ultegra, 50/34 (compact)
  • Bottom bracketBB90
  • CassetteShimano HG800, 11-34, 11-speed
  • ChainShimano HG600, 11-speed
  • SaddleBontrager Montrose Comp
  • SeatpostBontrager Ride Tuned carbon seatmast cap, 20 mm offset
  • HandlebarBontrager RL IsoZone VR-CF, 31.8 mm
  • TapeBontrager tape
  • StemBontrager Elite, 31.8 mm, 7-degree, w/computer and light mounts
  • HeadsetIntegrated, cartridge bearing, sealed, 1-1/8˝ top, 1.5˝ bottom
  • BrakesetShimano Ultegra flat mount hydraulic disc
  • Actual weight (Size 54)9,03kg (no pedals, bottle cages or any other mounts)
  • Retail PriceR 69,999

 

On the road less gravelled


Trek paid close attention to the frame design details and this also carried over to the bike's finishing equipment, with an overwhelming focus on comfort. From the Montrose Comp saddle with its pressure relieving channel and sufficient padding to the IsoZone handlebar with its built-in vibration-absorbing pads with extra cushioning underneath the handlebar tape. Even the bar tape strikes the balance between not too skinny to be hard and tiring but also not too thick to feel squishy. Just perfect. This along with the Bontrager handlebar makes for a comfortable front-end, quite a bit more comfortable than I was expecting considering that the Checkpoint does not come with Trek's bump absorbing IsoSpeed in front or something trick like Specialized's FutureShock. I couldn't help but wonder just how much of a difference the IsoSpeed would make in front considering just how comfortable the Checkpoint SL6 already is.

 

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The Checkpoint balances surefootedness and playfulness well. The bike feels comfortable on rougher sections without losing agility through overly slack and mellow geometry. The rear of the Checkpoint rides like an SUV with air suspension as it glides over whatever the road less gravelled could throw at it. There can be no doubt about the comfort the IsoSpeed decoupler brings as it provides the perfect amount of give without feeling soft. The Checkpoint SL6 is happy covering endless gravel miles and allows the rider to enjoy the scenery. The only thought that kept popping into my mind was how comfortable it is on corrugated gravel rides. On the single track sections, the bike handled well. It is not the type of riding I would do often on a gravel bike but it was great fun when I ducked into a trail.

 

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The 35mm Schwalbe G-One Allround tyres performed very well in most conditions with the low profile dimpled tread being grippy enough for gravel riding while only showing its shortcomings on the trails - as you might expect. On the road, the tyres are fast, rolling along with little noise or drag. The G-One's thrive on dry trails with muddy or very loose conditions causing them some trouble. This is not really a comment on their performance, but rather of the nature of the low profile gravel tyre.

 


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Through the mud and rain, there were no signs of clearance issues or a noisy bike. The Checkpoint's dropped chainstay reduces chain slap and on the trail noise, negating some benefits of a clutch derailleur. Some riders may prefer a 1x drivetrain but I felt that double chainring setup made it a more versatile ride when there was tar or faster, smooth sections in the mix.

 

On the road, the bike rides like an endurance bike - comfortable enough for longer, more scenic rides, but with enough focus and speed for when I wanted to go fast. Overall handling is also good considering that zooming around tarred corners is not a big focus point for this bike. The bike is no slouch on the climbs, more than happy to tackle a tarred mountain pass or two.

 

Verdict


The Checkpoint SL6 has been the first bike in a while that has cleared my mind of review thoughts. Simply the bike and me on (seemingly) endless gravel roads. That takes some doing, as I usually think of how a bike compares to another, how does it handle, what would I change, etc, etc, etc. I spent more time looking around and admiring my surrounds than on any other bike in recent memory. Sure, that is possible on any bike, but we quickly become so focused on performance (our own and a bike's) that we forget to sit up and take things in. Some of that must be down to the gravel genre. It looks and feels more lifestyle-focused but that could just be all the pretty pictures, videos, and marketing getting to me.

 

Whatever it was, it worked. I really enjoyed the Checkpoint. There was nothing in the parts choice or frame design that distracted from the riding experience. For the first time, I wondered how cool it would be to strap up some bags and essentials and just pedal into the wild.

 

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8 Comments

Kleinfontein, Nov 06 2018 08:36

The epitome of beauty...

Headshot, Nov 06 2018 11:06

No electric motor, no sale.  :)

Schmorglebot, Nov 06 2018 03:30

Okay, those raw carbon touches are gorgeous in the sun!

Furbz, Nov 06 2018 05:22

love the spez bottle cages

Mamil, Nov 07 2018 07:19

So much want

DirtyDan, Nov 07 2018 09:31

I'm surprised by the dropout feature!

You think the designer's primary intention was for "geometry versatility" or single speed capability?

Charlie600, Nov 10 2018 03:26

It's an amazing bike - absolutely loving mine and also using it as a commuter 3-4 days per week in Belgium. The fender mounts also means that it is the ultimate (speedy) winter commuter, especially when utilising 45 tyres.

TheJ, Nov 12 2018 09:02

love the spez bottle cages

 

Well spotted sir.