So far, after over 100 miles, I am impressed with my new Trek Checkpoint ALR 5 for touring. After eleven years and 25,000 miles on my Surly Long Haul Trucker, I decided that I wanted a lighter ride. The Checkpoint is 12 pounds lighter than my LHT. Weight is an important factor for me since I am 77 years old.
At this age you would think that an electric would be the ticket. Not so. To me, I get satisfaction from using pedal power. My training rides and tours are both opportunities to experience the feeling of accomplishment that I get from pedal power. I believe that people get a different kind of satisfaction from riding an electric bicycle.
The Pedal Power Bike and Ski shop in Acton, Massachusetts, was a great help in making this decision. They had many Trek models to compare. The process took me from mountain bikes (not a fan of straight handlebars), to road bikes (narrow handlebars and narrow tires), to gravel bikes. It was clear from looking at the Checkpoint that it could be adapted to my style of riding. Most of my riding is touring and training for touring.
Customizing My Trek Checkpoint ALR 5
My Checkpoint is the largest frame in the lineup, 61cm., to suit my 34″ inseam. It also has a 175mm crank, same as my LHT. My customization included replacing the stock stem with a 35 degree stem. With the saddle positioned comfortably for me, the top of the saddle aligns with the midpoint of the stem. I like to ride as upright as possible with drop bars.
Since I often carry a trunk pack, I added a Topeak rear rack. I like Topeak because of the rail mount for the bag. My son, Eric, has the same rack and I like that a trunk bag with panniers is available. It is not good for heavy loads, but nice for day trips. I will need to get one.
Comparison with My Older Touring Bicycle
Side by side, the Checkpoint is very close to the LHT in overall dimensions. The wheelbase is about the same. The saddle and handlebar height are comparable. When I ride the Checkpoint, it feels like I am on the LHT, except for the weight. The Trek Checkpoint ALR 5 is aluminum with a carbon fiber fork and the LHT is steel.
Eric mentioned that he thought twelve pounds was worth one drive gear. Based on my initial rides, I think that is a good guess. You would think that my weight at 225 pounds would override the bicycle weight as a factor. My take is that because of the dynamics of pedaling, it is easier to accelerate and to hold a cadence with a lighter bicycle.
The reason is that as you pedal the bicycle accelerates and decelerates under you. It is imperceptible, but recovering from a very slight deceleration with each stroke has an impact on your performance. It is most noticeable when I increase my cadence to climb hills.
The Checkpoint is not a bicycle for heavy touring with four panniers and fifty pounds of gear. At least not for me. That was a strength of the LHT, being all steel. The load limit of the Crosscheck, including bicycle, rider, and gear, is 275 pounds. Given my weight, that will limit me to a load of about thirty pounds. Lighter riders will be able to load it up more. I am doing exclusively day trips and fully supported tours at this point, so the load limit is not a problem.
Great Stock Equipment
Stock items on the Checkpoint are good quality. Though my initial impulse was to replace the saddle, after riding I am very happy with the stock saddle. It supports my sit bones and is padded well enough to be comfortable for long trips.
Pedals are another consideration for me. For several years, I used Shimano SPD pedals. Being clipped to my pedals, in my opinion, was the major reason that I broke my femur on a tour in September 2021. Since then, I have been using various types of platform pedals. Nothing compares with the comfort of being clipped to your pedals.
When clipped, you are always on the sweet spot for pedaling. With platform pedals, I am constantly searching for that spot. When I find it, the feeling only lasts a moment before my foot slips. My right leg has always been a problem, even before my accident. My foot wants to toe out, making it difficult to maintain a comfortable position on the pedals.
I have become a pedal agnostic. None of the platform pedals that I have tried satisfy me. Aggressive spikes do not help and only add the risk of leg scrapes. The stock pedals on my Checkpoint will do just fine.
The stock tires also seem fine, but it will be many more miles before I can say with certainty. It took me a few years to find tires for my LHT that I felt were comfortable and reliable. For now, the tires that came on the Checkpoint are reasonably quiet and low drag.
Lots of Places to Mount Accessories
As a bicycle tourist, the other things that I look for are places to mount stuff. There are plenty of M5 mounting points on the frame and fork. There are lugs for fenders as well although there is no chainstay bridge to fasten the leading edge of the rear fender. I forgive that because of all of the good things about this bicycle.
A Few More Features
The Checkpoint is equipped with the Shimano GRX 11-speed drivetrain designed for gravel bikes. The brakes are Shimano RX400 hydraulic disc brakes. Mechanical shifting and braking are both controlled at the brake levers. This is a big change from the rim brakes and bar-end shifters that I had on the LHT. Front and rear axles are both thru axle skewers., which is expected on a newer bicycle. There are many other specific items in the build, but I think that the drivetrain and brakes are the most important. During my first rides, everything played very well together.
Trek Checkpoint ALR 5 My Choice for Touring
A gravel bike was never before on my radar. My thought before this was that a gravel bike is for off-road racing. Other than that, I was not sure what made it a gravel bike. When I think of gravel, I think of the coarse rock chunks that they mix with cement to make concrete. Think of gravel instead as similar to stone dust, used on bicycle trails like the Great Allegheny Passage. It turns out that a gravel bike may be the closest that you can get to a touring bike. The Trek Checkpoint ALR 5 is my choice.