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Gravel Gear

Video review: Trek Checkpoint SLR 9 eTap tested in SBT GRVL

The gravel machine we named the 2021 VeloNews Bike of the Year has only gotten better. Here's how.

Review Rating


Pros

smooth but relatively nimble ride, cool integration, race-friendly geometry

Cons

price, not super light


Size Reviewed

56cm

Weight

17.9lb

Price

$11,999

Brand

Trek


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Trek’s new Checkpoint SLR 9 eTap is an excellent gravel race bike, built with features and geometry that calm rough surfaces without the handling feeling vague or sluggish. For 2022, Trek added some cool new stuff to the top-end Checkpoint, including progressive (read: longer) geometry, integrated frame bags mounts, integrated storage, and elastomer-damped IsoSpeed rear suspension.

Also read: Details of the full 2022 Checkpoint lineup

(Photo: Ben Delaney)

I raced and very much appreciated the original Checkpoint at Unbound Gravel when it was still called the Dirty Kanza, and when we spotted the Trek-Segafredo riders on a new, unannounced model at Unbound Gravel this year, I asked Trek to borrow a test bike ahead of the launch today.

I swapped in a Quarq power meter, a 44t ring, and a longer stem, and raced the bike at SBT GRVL, and have since ridden it quite a bit elsewhere in Colorado. After two months on it, I can say that the bike we named the 2021 VeloNews Bike of the Year has only gotten better. Here’s how.

The new Checkpoint gets internal routing for a cleaner, more aero profile. (Photo: Ben Delaney)

Carbon damping

Trek has the touchpoints dialed in.

While some of the bikes in the Checkpoint line have a flared bar, the SLR 9 has a straight Bontrager Pro IsoCore VR-SF. The IsoCore bar has damping that works, and the slightly flattened shape of the top disperses pressure in the palms. Bar shape of course is personal preference, but I like this straight, shallow bar — and the damping absolutely makes it an upgrade over an alloy bar.

The previous Checkpoint’s IsoSpeed Decoupler featured a seatmast and seat tube that flexed, with the top tube/seatstay junction serving as a pivot point of sorts. The flex wasn’t huge, but certainly noticeable and, for me, appreciated. The new top-end SLR gets a modified, L-shaped design that continues from the seatmast into the top tube, inside which an elastomer damps the rebound.

The SLR IsoSpeed is an L-shaped piece from the seatmast into the top tube, where an elastomer piece provided rebound damping. (Photo: Ben Delaney)

Total movement of the system is about 1cm under extreme loads. So, not a lot. But enough to take the edge off.

Trek opted not to use its front IsoSpeed design on the Checkpoint, as the 5mm of total movement was not worth the complexity and weight, Trek road director Jordan Roessingh said.

I even like the stock saddle, a Bontrager P3 Verse Pro, although your results may vary. For reference, I typically use a Specialized Power.

Handling and rider position

The Checkpoint has a lot of bottom bracket drop (76mm in a size 56cm), which helps it feel planted although it does mean greater chance of pedal strikes on steep, off-camber sections or rocky trails. Only the Specialized Diverge has more at 85mm, while the Cervélo Áspero is one of the few others as low as the Checkpoint.

But what I really like about the Checkpoint is how I can get a road-like position on the bike with endurance-bike-like handling. For 2022, Trek extended the front center of the bikes by 2cm, a trend we are generally seeing now across manufacturers to give riders a bit more stability at speed on rough roads. To keep rider geometry the same, the bike’s come with reduced stem and bar reach.

Don’t care about aero on gravel? How about just running a big burrito handlebar bag? The absence of cables helps with both. (Photo: Ben Delaney)

But the front angles are still relatively quick, with a 72.2-degree head tube and 61mm of trail in 56cm. Compare that to a slacker bike like a Salsa Warbird (70.8/71mm) or a Giant Revolt (71/71mm), or the super-slack BMC URS (70/77mm) or just-far-out Evil Chamois Hagar (66.7/93mm). Point is, there is a range of handling options in gravel bikes out there, from the stable but racier options like this Checkpoint to the send-it-in-flannel options like the BMC or Evil. For me — and particularly for a race like SBT GRVL — the Checkpoint feels spot on.

Related: Bike-handling geometry: ‘Stable’ vs. ‘twitchy’ explained

Mounts and storage

Frame bags are ubiquitous these days, but frame bags that perfectly fit your frame are not. Custom bags can be tailored to your bike, and some boutique bike brands offer integrated mounts so you don’t have to have velcro straps. Trek is the first major brands to put all these pieces together in a stock configuration, offering bags per size that bolt into the frame.

The Bontrager frame bags have stout zipper pulls and dual-sided entry. As the velcro on many frame bags ends up scraping the inside of my legs or snagging my shorts, I appreciate the absence of velcro here. Plus, it looks clean.

The integrated mounts for size-specific frame bags are an excellent touch that I have only thus far seen from boutique brands. (Photo: Ben Delaney)

The downside to the frame bag is how it limits bottle access, and eliminates the ability to run a third bottle in the main triangle.

So about that third bottle… I used three cages for SBT GRVL and appreciated the extra hydration capacity. You need to run side-mount cages, as the two down tube mounts are tightly spaced.

The integrated storage is handy, if not the fastest solution for racing. I think of it as Plan D (with A being ‘don’t flat’, B being sealant, C being a plug or a tube from the saddle bag, and D being dig into the down tube for back-up supplies). (Photo: Ben Delaney)

The storage under a down tube cage is a handy addition, and the locking mechanism is simple and snug. For racing, getting into the down tube isn’t the fastest option, but it’s an excellent option for everyday riding and for back-up resources when racing.

Lastly, there is a fourth mount under the rubber-protected down tube. With the internal storage, I found this a bit superfluous, but it can’t hurt to have options. I have raced with a water bottle (with a dust cap) on that lower cage, and while you can pull it out while riding, putting it back in the cage while racing is, um, not advised.

It’s harder to forget when it’s connected to the bike. (Photo: Ben Delaney)

Build: Red XPLR and Aeolus RSL 37

SRAM’s new XPLR gravel group works well for gravel riding and racing with its 10-44 cassette. The bike comes with a 40t ring, which I find gets spun out pretty easily in fast groups and on even slight downhills. The biggest 46t option I find to cut too much into the climbing capabilities, so I like the 44t ring.

At SBT GRVL, I was definitely bottomed out in the 44-44 over the steepest part of the big climb, but was still pushing a decent cadence of 65rpm or so. And, I never felt like I needed a bigger gear; when it was really fast on the downhills I was just tucking and coasting.

A 1-1 low gear (44-44) is good for climbing all but the steepest stuff, and a 44-10 is good for fast riding. You can still get spun out on downhills, though. (Photo: Ben Delaney)

SRAM’s eTap shifting is well suited for gravel, where it’s pretty much impossible to accidentally shift in the wrong direction. I just wish SRAM had Garmin-controlling buttons like Shimano’s Di2 does, for jumping between pages with your hands still on the levers.

The ‘house brand’ wheels and tires are well done. Bontrager Aeolus RSL 37 wheels are light, 37mm deep, and have yet to give me the slightest issue, despite ample abuse.

The Bontrager GR1 Team Issue 40mm tires plump up to 43 on the wheels, and look and feel somewhat similar to Schwalbe’s excellent G Ones, with minimal knobs.

Bontrager’s 40mm GR1 Team Issue tubeless tires feel similar to the Schwalbe G One, which I love. Perhaps not quite as supple, but fast rolling and predictable. On the Bontrager wheels, they measure 43mm. (Photo: Ben Delaney)

Bottom line

Trek’s top-end Checkpoint is not cheap, but it delivers everything I look for in a gravel race bike: comfort, confidence, agility, durability, an endurance-road body position, and tons of storage options. It’s an excellent gravel machine.

A T47 threaded bottom bracket is now pretty much standard on all Trek drop-bar bikes. (Photo: Ben Delaney)