GRAVEL Test: The do-it-all Trek Checkpoint ALR 4

Built with versatility in mind, the Trek Checkpoint ALR 4 is a value-offering gravel bike with a passport for adventure. It’s not half bad on road rides or commutes either.

Trek Checkpoint ALR4 gravel bike in Riebeek Kasteel, Western Cape, South Africa on 18 August 2019.
The Checkpoint is ready for any adventure! Neatly hidden mudguard mounts, rack mounts, up to four hydration mounts and 45c tyre clearance.

THE DETAILS

Sizes Available49, 52, 54, 56, 58, 61
Frame Material300 Series Alpha Aluminium, tapered head tube, BB86.5, flat mount disc brakes, Stranglehold dropouts, 12 mm thru axle
ForkCheckpoint carbon disc, alloy tapered steerer, flat mount disc brakes, rack mounts, hidden mudguard mounts, 12 mm thru axle
Wheelbase 102 or 117
Top Tube56.6
Seat Tube56
Chainstays425 or 440
Weight10.12kg
Trail6.1
StemBontrager Elite, 31.8 mm, 7-degree, w/computer and light mounts
ShiftersShimano RS405, 10 speed
SeatpostBontrager Approved, 2-bolt head, 27.2 mm, 8 mm offset
Seat Angle73.5
Seat  Bontrager Montrose Comp
Front tyreSchwalbe G-One Allround, 35mm
Rear tyreSchwalbe G-One Allround, 35mm
Front DerailleurShimano Tiagra
Rear DerailleurShimano Tiagra
Head Angle71.5
BarsBontrager RL IsoZone VR-CF, 31.8 mm, 44
CassetteShimano Tiagra, 11-34, 10-speed
CranksShimano Tiagra, 50/34 (compact)
BrakesShimano RS505 flat mount hydraulic disc  
Chainkeeper3S
Front wheelBontrager Tubeless Ready with alloy sealed bearing, 12 mm alloy axle, CenterLock
Rear wheelBontrager Tubeless Ready with alloy sealed bearing, 12 mm alloy axle, CenterLock
ChainKMC X10


THE BIKE

Trek’s Stranglehold sliding rear dropout system alters the chainstay length by 15mm which has a significant impact on the ride feel. In the short setting the bike is more responsive under acceleration, slightly more agile in tight turns whilst in the longer setting it’s far more stable at speed. Adjustable chain stays naturally offer more clearance for wider tyre options. This Stranglehold system also facilitates single-speed conversions for those who are that way inclined.

The geometry includes more fork rake, with less trail and a lower BB height which is set to improve stability on gravel adventures by keeping the center of gravity down, help the rider ‘sit into’ the bike and tame the steering. The front end of the bike is a little higher to optimize offroad handling, safety and outright rally-ability.

Front and rear quick release 12mm thru axles are the business for a versatile road / adventure machine and commuters will love this spec too. The Checkpoint is ready for any adventure with neatly hidden mudguard mounts, rack mounts and up to four hydration mounts.

The frame, complete with punchy Orange paintwork, neat welds and a classic look is designed around 700c wheels and not 650b. The internal cable routing on the frame is via a single port on the downtube whilst the carbon fork has external cable routing. Tubeless-ready Bontrager rims are a nice touch, and can handle tyre sizes from 28c to a generous 45c. Complete front wheel, in tubeless setup, with rotor, weighs in at 1 490grams. The complete rear wheel, in tubeless setup, with cassette and rotor weighs 2 192grams.

A Shimano Tiagra drivetrain in 50/34 compact and 11/34 rear iteration offers close-spaced ratios with a 1:1 lowest gear for the big climbs. Tiagra front and rear derailleurs are on mech duty whilst braking is handled by Shimano RS505 flat mount hydraulic disc brakes. The Trek Checkpoint has an integrated chain-catcher too.

WALK AROUND



RIDE IMPRESSIONS

COMFORT & HANDLING: The Bontrager Isozone bars in 44 width favor stability and control over aero points – and I love them. Trek opted for the zero flare bar which is in line with the overall objective of a do-it-all bike. The Bontrager Montrose Comp saddle is well padded and offers good comfort in all conditions. From the first ride, without needing to stop and tinker the Checkpoint was very comfortable. The cockpit ergonomics are superb, uncompromised. A bike that handles well will tell you so – there will be no ‘hey buddy, maybe you wana slow down a little?’ sensations coming to to the rider. With the Trek Checkpoint the messaging on my first 65kph tar descent was, ‘you got this, let it roll’ – and I obliged. The handling can be summed up as minimal twitch with maximum stability.

TARMAC: As on an Endurance road bike, the upright riding position is confidence inspiring and a whole lot safer than a slammed, tucked in performance road setup. On descents the Checkpoint is naturally on rails and the big rubber, disc brakes and geometry have everything to do with this. Unashamedly I dropped a few roadies through the twisty descents on my local loop. Yup, it’s not the belter on tar climbs but using Strava and averaging test conditions out, it’s only around 10% slower on long climbs when compared to a performance / climbing road bike. Body position and the wide range, closer ratio gearing work in your favour though and the climbing is comfortable. On flat tarmac, with hands in the drops, you will work a little harder to hang onto the road bunch, but it’s very marginal. I used 55psi rear and 50psi on the front for the 100% tarmac days.

Trek Checkpoint ALR4 gravel bike in Riebeek Kasteel, Western Cape, South Africa on 18 August 2019.
The Schwalbe G-One’s are fantastic on hard-pack, smoother surfaces and known trails.

GRAVEL: I used a combination of bumpy and smooth gravel roads in the Winelands for the test rides. Considering this is a base level gravel bike without an IsoSpeed decoupler or any compliance inserts or the like the Checkpoint is a pretty remarkable ride. Being a base-level drivetrain without a clutch derailleur means there is a little extra noise coming from the drivetrain, especially when descending and not under tension. On the upside, no chains were dropped during the testing period. Not once.

There is good modulation as well as all-out stopping power with the Shimano system, in fact a little more than the Schwalbe G-Ones had in mind; so take it easy on loose surfaces and get your braking in early. What the Schwalbe’s make up for in rolling speed with the small and evenly sized knobs they might lack in all-out bite on off-cambers, sketchy corners and indeed with casing support. Do yourself a favor and just go tubeless – the performance gains from running lower psi’s are aplenty and all it will cost you is sealant and valves. The G-Ones are fantastic on hard-pack, smoother surfaces and known trails. They are a great racing option too – real fast. I generally stuck to 30psi front and 35psi rear for the gravel or mixed-use riding days.

IF THIS IS YOUR QUIVER KILLER…

First off a massive congratulations to you because it’s a great buy. Secondly, it’s a great idea to get a second set of tyres to amplify the versatility of the bike. The Schwalbe G-One’s are the business, but throwing a set of fast-rolling road tyres into your shopping basket will give you the option to roll with the big dogs on those ‘tarmac only’ days. On the other hand if you are going to ride undulating singletrack then think about adding a dropper post to the bike to improve the handling (and your safety) on the steeper more technical sections.



SUMMARY

You can learn more on this bike here but what I can tell you is at R27 999 the handling, comfort and versatility of the Trek Checkpoint is remarkable. It’s not the lightest or fastest available but it’s lekker fun and a great choice as a do-it-all, drop-bar bike.

Trek Checkpoint ALR4 gravel bike in Riebeek Kasteel, Western Cape, South Africa on 18 August 2019.
Adventure awaits you.

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