At € 12,999, the Trek Checkpoint SLR 9 eTap is the most expensive bike on test. It promises to be a bike that can do it all, with added compliance at the rear, and the most feature-rich frame. But can the high price tag be justified, and how does it compare to the competition in our 2023 gravel race group test?
This bike was reviewed as part of our 2023 gravel race bike shootout. You’ll find a comprehensive group test and test field overview here: Which is the best gravel race bike of 2023? 9 gravel race bikes in review
As one of the world’s largest bike brands, Trek have access to nearly inexhaustible resources. The Checkpoint incorporates all the brand’s know-how and promises to be a gravel race bike par excellence. Originally designed for long rides on everything from asphalt to rough gravel, the Checkpoint has gradually evolved into a gravel race bike over the years. It still has a clear focus on long-distance comfort and therefore comes equipped with Trek’s IsoSpeed system for more compliance on bumpy terrain. But how does the bike compare to the Canyon Grail CF SLX 9 eTap and Berria Belador Allroad 8? These two bikes also feature damping elements that go beyond the inherent flex in the frame. Can the Checkpoint SLR achieve the promised balance, combining comfort with that race bike feeling? How much value for money can the most expensive bike on test offer at just under € 13k? Do you really get more than with the Canyon Grail, which costs less than half as much?
Trek Checkpoint SLR 9 eTap – A true all-rounder or a jack of all trades but master of none?
The Checkpoint isn’t the lightest, fastest, or the most comfortable bike. Instead, Trek’s aim is for it to perform well in all conditions, which should make it the best all-rounder, capable of dominating all disciplines. It’s designed for stability and control, comfort, and functionality, placing little focus on aerodynamics and weight savings.
Surprisingly for a bike in this price range, it doesn’t feature a fully integrated cockpit. In contrast, the internal cable routing has been very cleverly solved. A neatly integrated rubber cover encloses the cables and prevents the ingress of dirt, unlike on the Argon 18 Dark Matter. The convenient storage compartment in the down tube has a multi-tool hidden in the lid, and the compartment is big enough for more than just a spare tube.
Trek Checkpoint SLR 9 eTap
Seatpost Trek Sitzturmaufsatz Carbon matt
Brakes SRAM Red eTap AXS HRD 160 mm
Drivetrain SRAM Red eTap AXS 1x12
Stem Bontrager RSL Carbon 90 mm
Handlebar Bontrager Iso Core pro 420 mm
Wheelset Bontrager Aeolus RSL 37V
Tires Bontrager GR1 Team Issue TR 700 x 40c
Size 49 52 54 56 58 61
Weight 8,28 kg
active damping thanks to IsoSpeed
storage space in the down tube
generous tire clearance
To drive the rear wheel, Trek rely on the flagship SRAM RED eTap AXS groupset, using a 1x setup and featuring a power metre – you wouldn’t expect anything less for the price.
The 45 mm tire clearance is above average in our test field and appropriate for a gravel race bike. The 40 mm Bontrager GR1 Team Issue tubeless ready tires, however, couldn’t deliver. Fitted to skinny rims, the tires inflate like balloons and tend to bounce. In addition, the tread pattern isn’t good at self-cleaning and quickly reaches its limits on loamy soil.
Visually, the Checkpoint is a low-key bike with round and voluminous tube shapes. It relies on understatement. The discreet paint job and restrained look don’t look like a € 12,999 bike. That said, you can customise the bike with the Trek’s Project One configurator, allowing you to design your very own, one-of-a-kind colour scheme.
Trek Checkpoint SLR 9 eTap – Compliant long-distance racer?
Despite the understated looks, the Trek Checkpoint SLR 9 eTap is a high-tech bike. One that is more comfortable thanks to the IsoSpeed system in the rear. The decoupled seat mast of the IsoSpeed system effectively absorbs small bumps, such as on woodland paths, and it doesn’t bounce back uncontrolled. It is very subtly integrated into the frame and doesn’t stand out. Unfortunately, there’s an imbalance in comfort between the front and rear. The front end is rigid and offers minimal compliance. We would have liked a little more compliance up front, especially for long distances. To complicate matters, Trek decided to fit a round handlebar. Sure, the Checkpoint isn’t an aero bike, but gravel bikes also benefit from the comfort of oval shaped tops, and it’s something we no longer want to do without.
The riding position is neither upright nor aggressive, fitting for a comfort-oriented gravel race bike. It’s similar with the handling: it offers pronounced straight line stability but is slightly lacking in agility, which has a negative influence on the handling in technical terrain, whether you’re riding uphill or downhill. On the other hand, the bike excels on fast descents with long, open corners.
A bike with a trunk that looks slower than it is.
The intuitive steering is easy for beginners to get to grips with.
Thanks to the light wheel and tire combination and the fast-rolling tread pattern of the tires, it’s very responsive and loves sprinting. Here, it pays off to opt against having flex in the frame. By limiting the compliance to the IsoSpeed seat mast, the frame can be designed to be stiff and direct, keeping power transfer losses to a minimum.
Trek Checkpoint SLR 9 eTap
|Seat tube||490 mm||520 mm||540 mm||560 mm||580 mm||610 mm|
|Top tube||541 mm||555 mm||570 mm||584 mm||597 mm||617 mm|
|Head tube||90 mm||105 mm||125 mm||145 mm||165 mm||195 mm|
|BB Drop||78 mm||78 mm||76 mm||76 mm||74 mm||74 mm|
|Chainstay||435 mm||435 mm||435 mm||435 mm||435 mm||435 mm|
|Reach||393 mm||399 mm||403 mm||407 mm||411 mm||417 mm|
|Stack||538 mm||553 mm||571 mm||592 mm||609 mm||639 mm|
Who is the Trek Checkpoint SLR 9 eTap for?
As a premium bike brand, Trek promise a lot with the Checkpoint SLR 9, and they deliver, too. However, it’s positioned as a bike for a less athletically ambitious target group. Like the Canyon Grail, the Checkpoint isn’t made for fast gravel races, performing best on relaxed weekend trips and forest service ways. If you’re out to rack up kilometres and avoid technical trails, the Checkpoint is the bike for you and is sure to put a smile on your face. The optional bikepacking equipment also makes it an ideal companion on big off-road adventures. This is where the Checkpoints racing ambitions lie. It can play to the strengths of its versatility and integrated damping on multi-day events and long self-supported races. However, it will need some tuning before you head off. A more compliant handlebar and more grippy tires will make the Checkpoint a high-performance bike.
Tuning tips: A handlebar with flattened tops and more compliance as well as tires with more grip and cushioning.
Conclusion on Trek Checkpoint SLR 9 eTap
Due to its components and the imbalanced comfort between the front and rear, the Trek Checkpoint SLR 9 eTap isn’t entirely convincing as a gravel racer. The do-it-all approach doesn’t make it feel like a race bike but rather like a bike for tech fans, which is further emphasised by its cutting-edge features. However, the comfortable rear end helps the Checkpoint perform well on long distances, making it a viable choice for multi-day rides together with the optional bikepacking kit.
- IsoSpeed system is inconspicuous and functional, providing added comfort at the rear
- storage compartment in the down tube
- round, less ergonomic handlebars
- Bontrager GR1 Team Issue TR tires lack grip in damp conditions and tend to bounce
- unbalanced level of compliance between the front and rear
You can find out more about at trek.com
For an overview of the test fleet head to the group test: Which is the best gravel race bike of 2023? 9 gravel race bikes in review
All bikes in test: Argon 18 Dark Matter | Berria Belador Allroad 8 | BMC Kaius 01 ONE | Canyon Grail CF SLX 9 eTap | Factor OSTRO Gravel | Fara Cycling F/All-Road | Ridley Kanzo Fast | Specialized S-Works Crux | Trek Checkpoint SLR 9 eTap
No, it’s not about perfect race tracks, it’s about efficiency. Fast, fleet-footed and efficient – those who want to speed along high-speed passages need a defined and spritely bike that accelerates with ease and efficiency. Nevertheless, reliable components are important too. We interpret “Smooth tarmac” bikes as follows: Hard efforts at high speeds with a maximum efficient bike on a consistently well-paved road. Effort-joy ratio: 80:30 (not everything has to be 100%!)↩
… also known as bike riding. Broken-up roads in the hinterland, deadlocked gravel roads, loose surfaces – sometimes muddy, sometimes bone-dry. For this, it takes bikes with super all-round, handling and wearing qualities uphill and downhill. Effort-joy ratio: 50:50↩
If you want to use your bike almost every day, you usually do not need an extremely tuned racing machine. Solid components, which are able to cope with the rigours of continuous usage in any kind of weather, are part of the basic equipment. At the same time, the bike should have practicable details: integrated fenders/assembly options, luggage racks/attachment points and a light system or at least the option of installing bike lights. The position on the bike should be rather relaxed, the overall comfort high, so that the Afterwork Ride becomes a cure and not a curse. Effort-joy ratio: 30:70↩
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Words: Calvin Zajac Photos: Robin Schmitt, Jan Richter, Nils Hofmeister