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.

2019 Trek Checkpoint SL5 WSD gravel bike review shows its a capable road bike that works for cyclocross too

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.

First Ride

2019 Trek Checkpoint SL5 WSD gravel bike review shows its a capable road bike that works for cyclocross too

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.

2019 Trek Checkpoint SL5 WSD gravel bike review shows its a capable road bike that works for cyclocross too

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.

2019 Trek Checkpoint SL5 WSD gravel bike review shows its a capable road bike that works for cyclocross too

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.

Overall Impression

2019 Trek Checkpoint SL5 WSD gravel bike review with built in micro suspension frame flex Trek’s IsoSpeed frame design does a great job of muting harsh bumps and vibrations.

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.

2019 Trek Checkpoint SL5 WSD gravel bike has adjustable rear dropouts for singlespeed use and adjustable chainstay length

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?

2019 Trek Checkpoint SL5 WSD gravel bike review shows its a capable road bike that works for cyclocross too

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.

TrekBikes.com

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35 COMMENTS

  1. I have a quiver. Ideally I’d like to replace my touring-commuter-kid hauler and my old xc hardtail with a single bike. Was thinking about just getting a set of 650b wheels and some gravel tires on my hardtail (and maybe drop bars). With a fork lock-out, I think that puts me ahead as I feel I’m really giving up some fun running a gravel bike vs a hardtail when on actual trails (not a lot of gravel roads by me).

    Any comment after your test?

    • Hmm, hard to say. The new wave of gravel bikes are impressively versatile. Though running the Checkpoint with 650b’s in not recommended by Trek, I have seen similar gravel bikes with 27.5″ 2.0 tires and big flared drop bars shred the same single track as my trail-centric hardtail…and then do a whole lot of other riding like commuting, road riding and fireroad travel. But if you don’t have a lot of gravel near you, an adaptable hardtail is so fun on most trails – one that fits 29″ and 27.5+” for your ride of choice. The Santa Cruz Chameleon comes to mind.

    • What would 650B wheels improve? The reviewer never said she had trouble with the wheel size. Most of my smaller customers get pretty frustrated when a company decides wheel size for them. Feels pretty condescending.

  2. Brooke, how tall are you? That would be helpful to know given the focus on the fit for shorter riders. We know firsthand how difficult it can be finding a good fit in those sizes.

    • Hi arp,
      I am 5’2″, 64cm saddle height and 58cm reach to hoods. I thought the Checkpoint in 49cm would be too big, but I felt very comfortable on her.

  3. Nice review. I’ve got the guy’s version, and love it. Our gravel roads are nutty steep in places, so I installed an 11-40 cassette, XT derailleur, and Wolftooth Tanpan, which all seem to work well together.

    I swapped the Schwalbe 33c tires out for some Bontrager LT2 38c gravel tires before it left the shop. No regrets there.

    FYI, my LBS swapped in the correct length seat mast for me at the time of purchase, and I believe any Trek dealer will do that. No cutting required!

    • so, she didn’t know. No reason to be a tool.

      Integrated seat masts are a stupid fad that should be retired already. Hard to box a bike for travel, with an Orucase (or Post carry case) for example.

      • agree 100%. Between this and the Canyon Grail, the seat mast is what would steer me away from Trek. My Madone…. I have to remove to crank to get it into a travel box.

        I get that they probably do ride better/more compliant/whatever, and that there is a reason for one on a high-level race bike, but for us mere mortals, I think the hassles outweigh the benefits. It’s not like gravel racing is something anyone should take seriously.

  4. Why are bikes referred to as “she’s?” Would it be acceptable for a male reviewer to describe a bike in this way? Not hating, just wondering a real question;)

    • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grammatical_gender#Animate_and_inanimate

      The pronoun “she” is sometimes used to refer to things which can contain people such as countries, ships, or vehicles, or when referring to certain other machines. This, however, is considered a stylistically marked, optional figure of speech. This usage is furthermore in decline and advised against by most journalistic style guides such as the Chicago Manual of Style.[9] If used, the terms she, her, and hers are always used, regardless of the entity’s name – for example, “The U.S.S. John F. Kennedy (CVA-67) was laid down October 22, 1964. She was launched on April 1, 1967…”

      • Ride one. You probably won’t miss it. IsoSpeed front works better on road bikes in my opinion. Once the tires get above 30c, I found it’s effect becomes harder to notice.

        I also found that adding one of these to my stable has me putting more of my horses out to pasture (selling them..).

  5. I’m tired of the arrogance of Trek using their own bottom bracket standard. What purpose could it server other than to lock you into their parts and their service?

    What if you want to run a sub-compact crank with a 30 mm spindle? Good luck with that.

    • It is much lighter and makes the usable BB shell as wide as possible for stiffness & strength at the best possible weight. Trek doesn’t actually make any parts for it. It’s just a couple of bearings and a couple of dust shields. They’ve been using it since 2008 and there are now plenty of cassette choices that make a sub-compact crank less and less necessary.

  6. Great balanced review.
    I have the 58cm mens version of the bike and I am very positive about it (and it will replace a couple of bikes in my “quiver”).
    By the time you get up to my size the front stack isnt low, and there is no need for 650 size wheel discussions. I have added mudguards and get minor toe strike when commuting.
    I mounted a tubus rack easily.

  7. > It is much lighter and makes the usable BB shell
    > as wide as possible for stiffness & strength at the
    > best possible weight.

    BB386EVO offers the same advantages, plus it and open standard with about 10 manufacturers make bottom brackets for it at least 5 which are screw together, plus it can handle 30 mm crankset spindles.

    • The only problem it solves is offering an integrated system similar to Trek’s, to other manufacturers and the allowance of 30mm BB spindles, which is a problem in itself as they are generally only available on expensive cranks. With Trek’s 24mm system, the same BB is compatible with all Shimano 2pc. cranks, from Claris all the way to Dura Ace.

  8. Brooke: My LBS explained that the women’s Checkpoint frame is exactly the same as the men’s/unisex frame except for the saddle and handlebars. Is that correct?

    • Typically Trek WSD frames have a specific carbon layup for lighter riders. The narrow bars and saddles are typical of WSD as well.

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