I must admit, I once was skeptical of the dedicated gravel bike category that has recently emerged, characterized by strange chainstays, oversized tubing and seemingly do-it-all ride feel without doing one thing really well. Another bike characteristic I waffle over is women’s specific design. This “feature” is widely interpreted; some to be applauded and some to be dismissed.
For these reasons, I was a little hesitant when offered an opportunity to test the new Checkpoint SL 5 WSD 49cm gravel bike. At the same time, I am supportive of bikes that encourage people, especially women, to ride more, explore more and fall back in love with child-like adventure. That’s an experience that the gravel bike category surge is either preceding or chasing. Regardless, a do-it-all (or, at least, do-most) bike is compelling and I had to try her out.
I’m a small rider with non-cyclist proportions (short legs, long torso and long arms). I combed through the Checkpoint 49cm’s geometry, focusing on numbers that often give me trouble: 165mm cranks on the small frames, check. Nice moderate reach that’s easily accommodated in both directions, check. Bars with a proportional width, check. Women’s saddle that’s made for women who ride real miles, check. Spin-able compact 50/34 upfront and 11-34 in the rear, check. My saddle height is 64cm and, luckily, the seat mast allowed for the saddle to go low enough (Trek’s seat masts are not designed to be cut). There I had it, an out-of-the-box bike ready for a high desert adventure.
Being familiar with Trek’s proven Boone CX, I expected this all-road girl to fly. And she did, right after I slammed the stack. I found the bike stable and easy to accelerate on the paved roads enroute to the trailhead. The Schwalbe G-One tires rolled super nice on pavement. Shimano 105 is trusty, tried and true and felt just as that – an approachable groupset than can do no wrong. It should be said that I’m on the fence with 2x vs 1x drivetrains for gravel bikes. In a perfect world, there is no paved roads between dirt or burning legs into headwind. In this perfect world, 1x rules; simple and clean. But in reality, gravel rides often include long stretches of road, with headwind and long sustained climbs. Here, the small jumps in gear ratios of 2x is awfully nice. I also thought of this bike’s feel with loaded bags. Again, 2x is marginally better for this application.
Once arriving at the trailhead, the Checkpoint spun up the double track climb. No surprises here with with spinny 34×34. The Checkpoint was secure and stable on the dense and smooth doubletrack. A few power moves accelerated the bike with ease. Baby heads and switchbacks emerged as the climb ensued. As I predicted, the Schwalbe G-One 35c tires did not do this bike justice. What was once stable now felt fragile. Don’t get me wrong, the G-One is a great tire, but save it as your road and light gravel set. This bike deserves some 45c WTB Nanos for real adventures. Around the switchbacks, the bike was not quite as nimble as an equally sized ‘cross bike even with the stays shortened via the horizontal sliding dropout. I suppose that’s the price you pay for all-day off-road comfort – a little longer wheelbase is comfortable but not necessarily agile.
On the descent, again, I would have liked more tire, otherwise, the Checkpoint cruised right along. She maintained solid composure over chunder with minimal buck, bounce and vibration, an attribute greatly appreciated should this ride have been 10x longer. The Shimano 105 hydro brakes were reliable and effective. As the ride pushed on over rolling fire road and doubletrack, the Checkpoint was smooth, quick and comfortable.
In releasing the Checkpoint, Trek has combined a lot of thoughtful technologies to ensure this drop bar adventurer minimizes rider fatigue: discreetly padded handlebar tops and drops, ‘decoupled’ seat tube, a rocker cup in the steerer tube, and some seriously beefy 500 Series OCLV carbon tubing. Can I pinpoint which feature afforded the bike it’s stable ride? No, but be that as it may, the Checkpoint delivers on the promised combined benefit of these technologies. She’s stable, stiff and quick on her toes.
The bike also comes loaded with versatility while not getting weighed down. The three sets of bottle bosses on this 49cm is to be appreciated for long adventures. The adjustable dropout is a neat feature. The added chainstay length would be nice for an off-road tour, right? The 49cm frame geometry is spot on for petite women, though I found the stack to be a little bit too high for my preference. The saddle was comfortable. The Bontrager wheelset is stealthy in all black alloy with a solid sounding hub. To top it off, she’s nice to look at.
Who I Would Recommend This Bike To?
I can see the Checkpoint easily replacing the casual roadie’s road bike, subbing for a full-rigid MTB, and completely outing the need for a cyclocross bike should suffering in circles not be desired. Interested in tackling a gravel race or multi-day adventure? The Checkpoint WSD has a girl covered without the shortcomings of a randonneur bike-of-the-past. Couple the Checkpoint WSD with a sweet trail bike and you’re looking at one well equipped female shredder with just two bikes, ready for any two wheeled adventure. Call me converted as I can confidently call the Checkpoint WSD Queen of the Quiver.
Specs and Features
Trek Checkpoint SL 5 WSD comes in 49cm (tested), 52cm, 54cm and 56cm, in Era White, and retails for $2,799.99 with these goodies:
- Shimano 105 2 x 11-speed
- 500 Series OCLV carbon frame with carbon armor
- Rear IsoSpeed Decoupler
- Full carbon fork
- Schwalbe G-One Tubeless ready tire
- Flat mount disk brakes
- Top tube bag mount, fork mount, rear mount, and vanishing fender mounts
- Tested size holds up to three bottle cages, larger frames can hold up to four
- Asymmetrical drop-stay to fit up to 700×45 tires
- Horizontal sliding dropout accommodates single speed drivetrains as well as 15mm of chainstay length adjustment.