The Checkpoint SL 7 AXS is Trek’s mid-range gravel bike, claiming to tick all the right boxes and promising to shake up the adventure gravel bike test field. The bike is dominated by mounting points as far as the eye can see, and a sleek design language. But can the more affordable SL variant prove itself against high-end racers?
This bike was tested as part of our 2023 adventure gravel bike group test – you can find an overview of the group test and test field here:
Trek Checkpoint SL – versatility for the win? For our adventure gravel bike group test, Trek didn’t send us the flagship SLR variant, putting their faith in their mid-range SL frameset instead. Did they make the right choice? The less race-focused version of their well-known gravel bike does without the top-of-the-line adjustable IsoSpeed system, relying on a more basic version which allows the use of a conventional round seatpost. In return, you get a lot of mounting points, and some bonus features like integrated cable routing and a storage compartment in the down tube. Is this the perfect adventure mobile, or just a watered down version of the SLR? And how does the – in Trek terms – affordably specced € 6,899 bike fare against the competition in our group test?
Trek Checkpoint SL 7 AXS – Top spec at an affordable price?
Trek offer the Checkpoint SL 7 AXS in two colours, Dark Aquatic and Carbon Smoke, and they’re a great fit. The metallic blue paint glitters in the sun and even lets some of the carbon shine through in certain spots. Coupled with subtle design details on the fork and seat tube, the Trek is stunning to look at. But that’s not just because of the paint: the frame also boasts a beautiful design language with Trek’s signature look. Classically high seat stays are almost refreshing in times of aero-everything. The design is completed with Trek’s iconic, curvaceous head tube, paired with home-mechanic-friendly semi-integrated cable routing. Overall, this results in a sporty yet restrained look, exuding a love of detail and quality like few bikes on test.
The Bontrager GR1 Team Issue tires, on the other hand, are a matter of taste, at least visually. That said, they roll superbly, especially on dry and fast terrain. Paired with the Bontrager Aeolus Pro 3V carbon wheels, this results in a fast and reliable combination.
But the in-house components don’t stop there. The stem, handlebar, saddle, and even the bar tape are supplied by Bontrager. The elite gravel handlebar is specifically designed for gravel, and it’s pleasantly ergonomic. At just 44 cm wide, however, it’s among the narrower bars on test – a whole 4 cm narrower than the massive handlebars on the GHOST. As always, contact points are a matter of personal preference and physiology, though our test crew had nothing to complain about here.
To get it all moving, the American brand rely on a 2x SRAM Force AXS groupset. With a 10–36 t cassette and 43/30 t crankset, the bike doesn’t just hold the pace on fast terrain, but also makes easy work of the climbs thanks to a small chainring. Unfortunately, our test bike still had the “old” Force model fitted with the somewhat bulky hoods, but Trek will be relying on the latest generation by 2024 at the latest. On paper, the Checkpoint SL seems ready for any adventure, which is emphasised by the large number of mounting points. Wherever you look, you’ll find neatly hidden bosses, integrated into the frame like everything else. There are bosses for a frame bag and top tube bag, as well as for a front rack or bottle cages on the fork legs, and it even comes with mounting points for a luggage rack on the rear.
For just under € 7,000, Trek promise a complete package made up of top-end components, a well thought out bikepacking system, and lots of bonus features like the slimmed-down IsoSpeed system, an integrated frame compartment, and a big down tube protector. It seems to tick all the right boxes!
Tuning tip: Swap the front tire for a 45 mm version for a little more compliance and grip
Trek Checkpoint SL 7 AXS
Fork rigid fork
Brakes SRAM Force 160/160 mm
Drivetrain SRAM Force eTap AXS 2x12
Stem 80 mm
Handlebar Bontrager GR Elite 440 mm
Wheelset Bontrager Aelous PRO 3V
Tires Bontrager GR1 Team Issue 28"
Size 49 52 54 56 58 61
Weight 9.18 kg
IsoSpeed suspension system
Almost all components made in-house
Integrated storage compartment
Trek Checkpoint SL 7 AXS – More gravel than the flagship SLR?
The Checkpoint feels lively, fast, and firm, which makes it a lot of fun to ride. The bike proves to be very efficient when putting the power down and on steep climbs, which is mainly due to the wide rear triangle and stiff bottom bracket, but also thanks to the fast rolling tires. That said, they quickly reach their limits in wet and muddy conditions with their semi-slick tread. You might want a little more grip on rugged off-road adventures, but thanks to 45 mm tire clearance, fitting much more aggressive tires shouldn’t be a problem on the Checkpoint SL 7. In terms of handling stability, it falls on the slightly more agile side of the spectrum, though it’s a well-balanced bike, nonetheless. The Checkpoint remains stable even on fast straights, yet it will weave through the tightest corners with ease. This is also reflected in its confidence-inspiring nature: “the moment you climb aboard, you feel at home”, was the highlight of the feedback from our test crew. It puts the rider in control and is sure to put a smile on your face, whether you’re a seasoned pro or new to drop bars, and it will stay there even if you hit the trails.
Although the bike has to make do without a suspension fork and dropper post, it performs brilliantly off-road. It’s stable and composed here too, letting you blast down flowing trails and dance through the corners. While the compliance is good, generally, it can’t keep up when things get very rough. It’s here that you notice the difference to the more expensive SLR. Although the SL also comes with IsoSpeed damping, it doesn’t work quite as well as the more sophisticated system on the high-end SLR, though it’s completely sufficient for most gravel riding.
Trek’s value banger: fast, good looking, and pure fun to ride.
The perfect gravel adventure with the Trek Checkpoint SL 7 AXS
At the risk of repeating ourselves, the bikes in this year’s test field are more versatile than ever. And the Checkpoint is no exception: clever, well thought-out, and affordably specced – for a Trek – it’s probably one of the most versatile bikes on test. Apart from very rough off-road gravel, the Checkpoint SL can do it all. It doesn’t disappoint as an everyday commuter either, thanks to the wealth of mounting points and relatively comfortable ride quality, adding a little spice to your daily commute.
Our conclusion on Trek Checkpoint SL 7 AXS
The Trek Checkpoint SL 7 AXS has been carefully considered down to the finest detail. Thanks to a host of cool features like IsoSpeed damping, an integrated storage compartment, and ample mounting points, it’s got everything you need for a great adventure ride. The incredibly fun handling, impeccable design, and enormous versatility also put the Trek at the top of the list. And so the € 6,899 Trek Checkpoint SL 7 just barely scrapes by the podium.
- outstanding versatility
- a lot of practical features
- high-quality design, boasting first-class workmanship
- no chainstay protector
For more information visit trekbikes.com
This bike was tested as part of our 2023 adventure gravel bike group test – you can find an overview of the group test and the test field here:
All bikes on review:Argon 18 Dark Matter | BMC URS 01 ONE | Cannondale Topstone Carbon 1 Lefty | Canyon Grizl CF SLX 8 Force AXS Trail | Falkenjagd A
RISTOS TRAIL GRAVEL | Focus Atlas 8.8 | Ghost Asket Advanced | Giant Revolt X | Merida Silex 10k | Mondraker Dusty XR | Orbea Terra M21e Team Custom M | Ridley Kanzo Adventure | Rose Backroad AL Plus | Santa Cruz Stigmata | Scott Solace Gravel eRIDE 10 | Specialized Diverge STR Pro | Trek Checkpoint SL 7 AXS | Wilier Adlar | YT Industries Szepter Core 4
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Words: Calvin Zajac Photos: Robin Schmitt, Jan Richter, Nils Hofmeister