Featuring a lightweight carbon frame, ride-smoothing IsoSpeed, and a SRAM wireless electronic groupset, Trek’s Checkpoint SL 6 eTap is a gravel beast that comes with lots of well-thought-out details. If you like it, check out 10 of the best gravel and adventure bikes 2022.
Trek describes the Checkpoint SL as “a true gravel powerhouse and a great choice for serious all-road adventurers”. The US company announced a new top-level Checkpoint SLR range about a year ago with the bikes focused on racing whereas the Checkpoint SLs are designed for adventure, whether that be going out exploring on a day ride or heading off on an epic trip.
Trek introduced a new ‘progressive’ geometry with the Checkpoint SLR, and the SL and ALR bikes have switched over to this too.
The new geometry features a front centre – the distance from the centre of the bottom bracket to the front axle – that’s 2cm longer than previously, with a shorter stem and handlebar to compensate. We’ve seen many brands take a similar approach with their gravel bikes.
“Extending the wheelbase gives some stability and allows the rider to be behind the front wheel and be able to get their weight back to get over obstacles a little bit easier,” said Travis Brown, lead project engineer for the Checkpoint. “That stability allows you to put the power down if you’re in a race event or just on a straight, flat road.”
Every bike comes with a stem that’s 1cm shorter than previously, while the SL and ALR models feature a Bontrager Elite handlebar that has a 75mm reach and a 128mm drop. Despite the frame’s longer reach, the ride position is the same as it was on the previous Checkpoint.
The Checkpoint SL is made from Trek’s 500 Series OCLV carbon and comes with the brand’s rear IsoSpeed. If you’ve not encountered IsoSpeed before, it’s Trek’s system for adding compliance and damping vibration, the idea being “to diminish the fatiguing impacts of the road, allowing the rider to remain fresher longer”.
Essentially, IsoSpeed decouples the seat tube from the top tube. This allows the seat tube to flex so that forces from the road aren’t transferred up to the saddle.
The Checkpoint SL is compatible with dropper seat posts and, like the SLR, has internal tool storage that you access via a door on the down tube.
As with the other Checkpoints the SL has threaded mounts that allow you to fit a bag within the big frame triangle. Trek’s Bontrager brand offers size-specific frame bags. You also get bento box and mudguard mounts, and bottle cage mounts on the underside of the down tube as well as inside the frame.
There are three pack mounts on the fork for more water bottles or bags and then two rack mounts on the back, so if you want to use this as a commuter bike or touring bike you have those options. Of course, the main point of all these mounts is that you can pack for whatever adventure you have in mind.
The Trek Checkpoint SL comes in three flavours: the SL 5 (£3,700) is a Shimano GRX RX810 build, the SL 7 eTap (£6,400) has SRAM Force eTap AXS components, while this SL 6 eTap (£4,450) has a SRAM Rival eTap AXS groupset with a 40T chainring and a 10-44 12-speed cassette.
If you're looking for something cheaper, check out the best gravel bikes under £1,500 in 2022 or the best gravel bikes under £1000 in 2022.
The Checkpoint SL 6 eTap rolls on tubeless-ready Bontrager GR1 Team Issue tyres that excel in fast and firm conditions. They feature a 120TPI construction for a relatively supple ride feel and Inner Strength casing for lightweight puncture protection.
All Trek Checkpoints are specced with 40mm tyres although there’s space for 700C x 45mm if you want to swap them. Checkpoints are designed with 700C wheels in mind but if you do want more tyre volume then you can go up to 2.1-inch on a 650B wheel.
The tyres are wrapped around Bontrager’s Paradigm Comp 25 wheels with tubeless-ready rims so you can run lower tyre pressures for increased grip and comfort without the threat of pinch flats.
Available in Crimson/Carbon Red Smoke, the Trek Checkpoint SL 6 eTap is a gravel/adventure bike that can handle pretty much anything.
Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now over 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.