Trek Checkpoint ARL 5 Bike Review

Trek Checkpoint ALR 5 Bike

What is it?

Having previously introduced the short-lived Domane Gravel, essentially a road bike with big tires squeezed in, the Checkpoint represents Trek’s first proper crack at making a gravel racer.

A completely new design created from the ground up, it’s suited to adventuring, gravel grinding, or even a spot of more conventional touring, and its unique adjustable dropout system allows riders to tune the bike’s handling by lengthening or shortening its chainstays.

Available with either a carbon or aluminum chassis, we procured the mid-range ALR5 which includes a 300 Series Alpha Aluminum frame, carbon fork, tapered head tube, BB86.s-fit bottom bracket, flat-mount disc brakes, and stranglehold dropouts.

It looks like a cyclocross bike…

Oh no it doesn’t! If it was a cyclocross bike, it’d probably be at the back of the Trek catalog. This year the cool machines with drop handlebars and chunky tires are called adventure bikes.

Basically, they do a similar thing, except adventure bikes will fit slightly wider tires, have a geometry more suited to riding all day, and are adapted to carry lots of lightweight luggage. However, other than the slightly higher gearing, you could certainly use it for cyclocross, too.

So it’s a touring bike?

It could be if that’s your thing. Mounting points bloom from the Trek’s frame and fork as readily as pimples on a teenager. Making it drought-resistant, there’s space to carry four water bottles.

On the top tube is a mount for a snack box, for mid-ride grazing, while on each fork blade is a fitting for a holster to attach a drybag or similar. Alongside these, there are traditional fixings for a rear rack and space for mudguards.

So yes, it could serve as a touring bike, but you’ll need to think of a cool new name for it first. Perhaps “leisure freighting” or “enduro camping”.

What’s going on with those dropouts?

Adjustable geometry. Bet you didn’t realize you needed that. Provided via Trek’s proprietary Stranglehold dropouts, these horizontal sliding dropouts allow you to adjust the length of the bike’s chainstays. Long for stability, short for nippy turning.

They also mean you can set the Checkpoint up as a single-speed. Perhaps a niche choice as a full-time option, but should you mangle your derailleur somewhere out in the wilderness, it’ll also allow you to jury-rig your drivetrain in order to get you home.

Tell me about Trek’s IsoSpeed decoupler, then…

Who told you about that? As it stands, we can tell you, but can’t show you. This is because if you want Trek’s bump-gobbling IsoSpeed decoupler you’ll have to shell out another thousand pounds to get the carbon version of the Checkpoint.

Not only will this save you a ton of weight, but it’ll also score you an IsoSpeed decoupler.

Familiar from Trek’s endurance road bikes, it’s a system that separates the seat tube from the top tube, allowing a greater degree of compliance without adding unwanted lateral flex. Instead on the ALR 5, you’ll have to rely on the bike’s carbon-fiber fork and sizable tires to provide most of the dampening.

Talk to me about the tires then…

With space for tires up to 45c wide, the ALR 5 comes with 40c models fitted as standard. Wide enough to survive a good thrashing when used off-road, their low- profile knobbles mean they won’t drag on smoother surfaces.

Made by in-house brand Bontrager and known as the GRi Comp, they bear a strong resemblance to Schwalbe’s popular G-One tires. Both these and the wheels can easily be set up tubeless, which for the style of riding the Checkpoint is ultimately aimed at would be an incredibly smart move.

What’s going on with the drivetrain?

While many adventure bikes have gone for a single-chainring, Trek’s stuck with a standard compact double but paired it to a fairly wide n-34t cassette. The result is a broad range of gears, with small jumps between each.

Aimed at travelling light and fast, it’s a system designed to be speedy and efficient. Unlike gnarlier adventure bikes aimed at rougher terrain, it doesn’t have an extremely low crawling gear for mega hills. However, on smoother unpaved roads and tracks it should help the Checkpoint fly along.

And what about the rest of the bits?

Shimano provides a complete 105 groupset, including its excellent flat-mount hydraulic brake callipers. All the finishing kit comes from Bontrager. For the cockpit, Trek has gone with a conventionally shaped handlebar, rather than a more radically flared model. This includes several I so Zone inserts that see shock-absorbing material hidden beneath the bar tape to add comfort for your hands.

But do I really need one?

We find ourselves saying this a lot at the moment, but you really can turn the Checkpoint to an awfully large range of tasks. With its conventional gearing, it’s only a tire change away from being a passable endurance road machine.

Yet it’ll happily go touring, either off-road or on the tarmac. Without making any changes you could put it to work as a cyclocross racer, or just use it for mucking about in the forest. Robust but not excessively heavy, it sits at the faster end of the gravel-bike spectrum.

Less aggressive than some designs we’ve seen, it’s well positioned to serve as the sole bike for an adventure-curious cyclist, or as an ultra­adaptable n+1 for those keen to supplement their existing racer.

Specs

Weight: 10.05 kg

Frame: 300 Series Alpha Aluminium

Groupset: Shimano105 11-speed

Brakes: ShimanoRS505 flat mount disc

Chainset: Shimano10550/34t

Cassette: ShimanoHG800 11-34t 11-speed

Bars: Bontrager RL IsoZone VR-CF, 31.8 mm

Stem: Bontrager Elite, 31.8 mm

Saddle: Bontrager Montrose Comp

Seatpost: Bontrager Approved

Wheels: Bontrager Tubeless Ready

Tyres: Bontrager GR1 Comp700x40c

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