The Trek Checkpoint SLR 9 eTap is the top model in the Wisconsin brand’s eight-bike gravel line for 2023. While some brands opt to split their line into ‘fast gravel’ and ‘adventure gravel’, Trek’s Checkpoint is built to handle both. As you’d hope for the price, there is very little to dislike about the Checkpoint SLR 9 eTap if you’re a fan of 1× drivetrains.
I’ve tested the Checkpoint SLR 9 eTap over many months and in many gravel races, including most recently the Robidoux Rendevous in Nebraska where I added aero bars and some other spec tweaks, and finished seventh.
While I do have some nits to pick – the standard tyres aren’t durable, the interior storage has a couple of (literal) snags – on the whole I really appreciate the bike, and how quickly Trek has gone from not having a gravel bike at all, to having a poor interim solution (anyone remember the ‘Domane Gravel’?), to having an excellent gravel bike that comes at a wide range of price points.
Trek Checkpoint SLR 9 eTap frameset
There is a lot going on here. Trek’s IsoSpeed Decoupler takes a new turn with an L-shaped piece that includes the visible seatmast and a hidden arm that extends inside the top tube and is damped with an elastomer.
What this means is a comfortable ride that soaks up bumps without feeling like a trampoline, or adding too much weight.
Another internal feature: like the Specialized Diverge, the Checkpoint has a hidden compartment in the down tube that you access by pulling a lever under the bottle cage.
Underneath, a multitool snaps into the compartment’s door, which is handy. And the bike comes with a little Velcro roll, where you can stash a tube, CO2, lever, and a breaker. It’s generally a cool feature, but the internal tube isn’t perfectly smooth, so inserting and removing the sleeve isn’t smooth either.
Unlike the first iteration of the Checkpoint, neither the IsoSpeed Decoupler nor the wheelbase are adjustable, which I think is a positive. Trek’s director of road bikes Jordan Roessingh said that most riders didn’t use either feature on the previous Checkpoint, which matches my experience.
The Checkpoint doesn’t have front IsoSpeed, either, the miniscule movement of the steerer tube that Trek has on the now-outgoing Domane endurance bike.
What the SLR 9 does have is room for up to 45mm tyres plus plenty of mud clearance, and it’s the tyre girth where much of your suspension originates.
Also notable on the carbon frame: three mounts on the inner triangle, one mount under the down tube, and a bag mount on the top tube. There’s a rubber plate on the down tube to protect against rocks.
Lastly, there is a cool story with additional bosses. While having hidden mudguard (fender) mounts or fork mounts isn’t unique, the addition of threads for a frame bag certainly is for a mainstream production bike.
We’ve seen small builders do this, so you can have a made-to-fit frame bag snug up inside the main triangle without the use of Velcro or other straps. But no big brand has done this before, and it’s notable.
Trek Checkpoint SLR 9 eTap parts build
Trek offers the Checkpoint in three base models: the aluminum AL, the mid-range carbon SL, and the top-end carbon SLR. Single and double-ring options are available.
This bike has SRAM’s Red XPLR groupset, with its 10-44 12-speed cassette, clutch Orbit rear derailleur, single front ring, and wireless shifting.
SRAM’s eTap shifters are excellent for 1× riding: the right lever shifts into a harder gear; the left shifter into an easier gear. Dead simple.
Dead or dying batteries are a reality in modern, high-end bikes, but SRAM’s easily swappable and quick charging batteries are easier to deal with than Shimano’s internal, single-battery system in that scenario.
The wheels are Trek’s Bontrager Aeolus RSL 37V carbon models, which are a good mid-depth (37mm) option for some aerodynamic benefit without handling compromise, with an internal rim width of 25mm that’s ideal for gravel tyres.
Like other Bonrager tubeless wheels, Trek ships wheels these with plastic insert strips for an airtight seal. While not as slick as the Campagnolo Levante wheelset’s approach that doesn’t require any sort of strips, Bontrager’s inserts do guarantee a nice, clean seal.
The Bontrager GR1 Team Issue tubeless tyres (not pictured as I swapped them out to race) use a middle of the road tread pattern, but in my experience don’t hold up to abuse as well as other high-end gravel tyres.
The Bontrager Pro IsoCore VR-SF bar is, in my opinion, excellent. An elastomer layer is sandwiched into the carbon layers, damping a bit of vibration.
But the notable part is how normal the bars are; in a year when integrated bar/stems and widely flared bars are popping up on gravel bikes, I appreciate a non-flared, non-integrated, shallow-drop bar for gravel. It makes adjustments and the addition of bolt-on items (like the aero bars I’ve fitted here) easy, as it should be.
Trek Checkpoint SLR 9 eTap geometry and sizing
Saddle rail height range
All dimensions in mm except where noted
Trek pushed the envelope a bit with geometry – or at least pushed the top tube. The new bike adds about 20mm to the top tube length, and cuts back a similar amount in stem length.
Call it progressive, call it ‘mountain bikey’, but the idea is stability at speed on rough terrain without an overly slacked-out fork.
With 67mm of trail, the bike is in the middle of the road with handling. It’s not nervous-and-nimble like the 58.6mm Cervélo Áspero-5, nor monster-truck stable like the 93mm Evil Chamois Hagar. It is, fans of children’s book analogies, that Goldilocks just right middle option.
The bike still sits quite low, with 76mm of bottom bracket drop, and a relatively long 1,048mm wheelbase.
The bike comes in six sizes, and the extension of the front triangle also allowed Trek to add more tyre clearance on the smaller sizes. The previous bike could only take a 40mm in the smaller frame sizes; now all bikes can handle 45mm tyres.
Riding and racing the Trek Checkpoint SLR 9 eTap
The new Checkpoint is a lot of fun to ride. It handles well in rough and loose gravel, but doesn’t feel like a tired dog when you’re on pavement.
Of course, tyre selection and pressure makes a big difference here, but just when comparing gravel-bike apples to gravel-bike apples, the Checkpoint is one of the better models I’ve ridden.
Light wheels also impact how a bike rides, and Trek has stacked the deck with its Bontragers. In a few months of often-abusive testing I’ve yet to knock them out of true or experience play in the hubs.
I raced this bike at SBT GRVL in 2021, and found the reaches of the 10-44 cassette to be just adequate.
With 9,000 feet of climbing and descending, the 44/10 top end was enough to not get spun out in a big group on tarmac, and the 44/44 was just enough to keep the gear turning over towards the end of the day when the gradient was double digits and the air was thin.
Photo: Robidoux Rendezvous
I also raced the bike this summer in Nebraska at the flatter Robidoux Rendevous. After reports from my friends and former winners Betsy Welch and Ashton Lambie warned to watch out for high winds, I bolted on aero bars with SRAM Blip remote shifters.
That’s one big boon of electronic drivetrains – you can put a shifter wherever you like. I appreciated the Checkpoint’s calm handling as I rode in the aerobars for a good portion of the 100-mile day.
Watch my video from the race for a full account of how it all went.
Trek Checkpoint SLR 9 eTap verdict
Photo: Robidoux Rendezvous
This is an awfully expensive gravel bike, although it is inline with the pricing of the Specialized S-Works Crux and Diverge models.
What Trek gets right with the Checkpoint is the handling, the comfort, the storage options, and the flexibility to alter the cockpit or the drivetrain.
The attention to detail, be it the chain catcher or the integrated bag mounts, is welcome and warranted for a top-end machine.
Aside from my gripes with the tyres being sub-par and the down tube storage being a bit fussy, there is hardly anything to complain about here but the price.
Trek Checkpoint SLR 9 eTap spec
|Price||£11,100 / $12,049 / €12,099|
|Frameset||Checkpoint SLR 9|
|Weight||8.1kg (size 56cm)|
|Sizes available||49, 52, 54, 56, 58, 61|
|Levers||SRAM Red eTap AXS, 12-speed|
|Brakes||SRAM Red with 160mm Centerline X centerlock rotors|
|Rear derailleur||SRAM Red XPLR eTap AXS|
|Front derailleur||N/A (but frame is built to accept one)|
|Crankset||SRAM AXS Power Meter 44t (comes with 40t)|
|Bottom bracket||SRAM DUB T47 threaded, internal bearing|
|Cassette||SRAM XG-1271, 10-44, 12-speed|
|Chain||SRAM RED D1, 12 speed|
|Wheels||Bontrager Aeolus RSL 37V, OCLV Carbon, Tubeless Ready, 37mm rims|
|Tyres||Bontrager GR1 Team Issue Tubeless Ready 40mm (not shown)|
|Bars||Bontrager Pro IsoCore VR-SF, 42cm|
|Stem||Bontrager RSL Carbon, 110mm (comes with 90mm)|
|Seatpost||Bontrager carbon seatmast cap, 5mm offset, short length|
|Saddle||Bontrager P3 Verse Pro, carbon rails, 145mm width|
All photos by Ben Delaney except where noted
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