Trek Checkpoint SL 5

I’m a fan of adventure bikes: they pry open the riding possibilities. Often, instead of thinking about how many kilometres to ride and at what average. I’m searching for interesting routes and the hours just pass by. The adventure bike takes me into remote landscapes where you wouldn’t normally venture. I’m always blown away by the incredible scenery and people of these far-out places.

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Better late to the game than never. Trek’s latest take on this adventure trend is the new Checkpoint. Trek has some real heritage in the touring game and, as it swings back into vogue, they have credentials. The multiple options for bottle mounts, racking mounts and clearance means this bike is up for anything and for any number of days. Well, until your work leave runs out, that is. 

As our office is based in Auckland’s Waitakere Ranges, and my time is limited (like most of us), I’ve been hunting out close-by tracks, railway lines and gravel roads. The quick blast from the city is appealing, and when you’re riding on this terrain you feel way out. The tracks offer stunning scenery with demanding but exciting riding. The stoke factor is always high when you’re returning home covered in mud. I love that I can ride whatever I feel like with these bikes; traditional road bikes simply wouldn’t cope on the areas I’m exploring. More often than not, I reach for the adventure bike rather than a road bike.

The Frame and Parts

Firstly, the frame offers versatility for riders.  The sliding “Stranglehold” dropouts on every Checkpoint allow for an extra 15 mm of chainstay length. The shortest position will provide a shorter, snappier ride, whilst extending the rear end up to a 440 mm chainstay length will certainly mellow things out. Those sliding dropouts allow for easy single-speed setups, too.

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Secondly, the tyre clearance is super-wide: it can accommodate a tyre up to 45c —enough rubber for any terrain! Catering to the multi-day bikepacking trend, there are multiple solutions for racks and bottle mounts. Larger frame sizes (56 cm and up) can fit three water bottles inside the main triangle (with room for a frame bag in some configurations), and there’s an additional mount on the underside of the down tube. Rack and fender mounts are standard as well, and bosses on the fork blades can be used for even more bottles. You can certainly escape for a while with this setup!

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The Checkpoint we rode was fitted with Shimano’s 105 hydraulic brake/shift levers, flat mount calipers, front derailleur, 50-34 crank, mid-cage rear derailleur, and an 11-34T cassette. The remainder of the components and wheels parts are provided by Bontrager. I have to say, Shimano’s 105 is flawless and rides like the previous generation Ultegra. Plus, it keeps the overall cost of the bike down and means you can abuse it as much as you like, since Shimano’s 105 replacement parts are super cheap.
 

The Ride

There’s no doubt this bike was truly tested, from mud trails to smooth tarmac and everything in between. In fact, I’ve still got the bike—and I’m currently venturing around California’s dirt roads on it. (More about that in Vol. 7.) Most of my adventure rides start on the road, and, as our landscape is lumpy, you have to go up and down a few times in order to get where you’re heading. The Checkpoint felt at home in this environment and got over the climbs relatively well. I shortened the rear dropout by around 2 mm, thus shortening the wheelbase. This helped increase the snappiness of the frame when stamping on the pedals. I liked having the bike kick underneath me on the climbs, and it didn’t require too much extra power to get the larger tyres turning over.

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The frame leans more towards a road geometry, which gives you that “snappy” feel as the power goes straight to the rear wheel. However, it’s easy to switch to the longer wheelbase when you want to go long or load up with gear. The adjustable dropouts take around 10-15 minutes to set up; if you’re not mechanically inclined; it would be best to run down to your local bike shop. The longer wheelbase was super stable on the rougher terrain—and when you’re packed up to the hilt, that extra stability means you can actually control the bike on sketchy gravel.

This playful rig allowed me to tackle more challenging terrain: ridiculous routes filled with terrible terrain consisting of tree roots, mud pits and tedious tracks. More often than not, our riding is pointing towards mountain biking! The Checkpoint transitions seamlessly from road riding into singletrack. I’ve ridden this bike on long haul road rides too; it’s super capable across the tarmac and holds its own. Yes, there’s a little more tyre volume and it’s not a lightweight whippet but you can still pedal this rig quickly. The setup and shock-absorbing frame mean you can ride at length with comfort and step off the bike with no aches—just sore legs!

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The comfort on- and off-road is helped by IsoSpeed, which is yet another iteration of Trek’s IsoSpeed “decoupler” at the seat cluster; it’s a pivoting axle system that allows the semi-integrated seat mast to flex more over rough terrain than would a more traditional fixed junction. When I returned home, there was defiantly less body fatigue. When taking on some steep and loose terrain, however, we felt gearing was inadequate, more suited to rolling gravel than singletrack. A 1x with a larger cassette would definitely help in these situations. The smart engineer dudes at Trek have already thought this through with the adjustable dropouts on the frame, which means a 1x one can easily be fitted.

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Technical terrain makes you focus on the here-and-now rather than the numbers. It’s not about totalling up the averages, metres gained and other ride stats. But, rather, “Wow, can you believe we linked that walking track with that access road and then looped back onto the tarseal?” If you seek adventure and want to tackle tough terrain, then this rig could be your answer. The Checkpoint floats incredibly well between any surfaces thrown its way. It’s tough to let this test rig go, so we’ve kept it for long-term testing! And that pretty well sums up what this bike is all about.

RRP: $3,999


Words & Images: Liam Friary & Cameron Mackenzie

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