Tag Archives: touring bicycle

My New Trek Checkpoint ALR 5

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.

Trek Checkpoint ALR 5
My Trek Checkpoint ALR 5 showing the 35 degree stem, water bottle cages, tire pump, and Topeak rear rack.

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.

The Surly Long Haul Trucker is on the left and the Trek Checkpoint ALR 5 is on the right, showing how closely matched the overall dimensions are.

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.

The Checkpoint stock saddle is narrow enough to prevent chaffing, yet supportive and padded for comfort.

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.

The fork, down tube, and top tube all have several M5 thread mounting points for accessories.
A closeup of my water bottle cages and tire pump mounted to the Crosscheck frame using the M5 mounting holes.

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.

20,000 Miles on My LHT

On a recent tour from Pittsburgh to Washington DC I logged my 20,000th mile on my Surly Long Haul Trucker. I have trained and toured on my LHT since 2013. There are a lot of great memories connected with my bicycle.

My touring bicycle that has 20,000 miles on it
I continue to surpass milestones together with my Surly Long Haul Trucker, a bicycle that I have enjoyed on many tours and training runs

What remains of the original bike reveals the durability of the stock build. The wheelset lasted until last year at about 17,000 miles. Other things that I consider major components are still on the bike. That includes the bottom bracket and cranks, the brake levers and calipers, the stem and fork, and, of course, the frame. After market equipment has also fared well, including the Tubus racks and Shimano clipless pedals.

At this point I have some bragging rights on my bike. There have been occasions for considering a new bike, but now I can’t possibly do that. People like to admire a new bicycle, but they also can’t help being drawn into a story about a bike with 20,000 miles on it. The bike is a continuing challenge for me to achieve the next milestone: 25,000 miles. There is really no reason for me to change from a bike that fits me very well to an unknown bike that is shiny and new.

Apollo Bicycle Memories

Today I was reminded of my very first bicycle tour in 2012. It was a self-supported ride from Buffalo to Albany along the Erie Canal. All of my camping gear was new, purchased at REI after careful research. The weak link was my bicycle.

I was nostalgically attached to that bike because of the history that I had with it. At the time I bought it in 2010 I was living and working near London in Uxbridge. I purchased it for about $200 and toured around London with it every Sunday. It was an Apollo, a brand carried by Halfords, one of the UK auto supply chain stores. This was not a carefully researched purchase and at the time I didn’t know that bicycle touring was a thing.

After working in London for three months I moved back to the United States. I had the Apollo shipped back with me. While in Uxbridge the bike took me along the Grand Union Canal towpath into London, north past the M25, and southwest through Slough into Windsor. My Sunday day tours were all around 40 to 50 miles round trip. There were a lot of memories built around travels on that bike.

Early in 2012, two years after retiring, I began to research travel by bicycle and discovered the Erie Canal route. My camping plan and my camping gear were thorough and I had backup plans for any problems along the way. The only thing that I did to the bike was to add the bar end extensions and a rear view mirror.

Niagara County Camping Resort
Niagara County Camping Resort

The image shows my camp site at the Niagara County Camping Resort, my first encampment of that tour. The bike is featured up front in the photo as the star of the tour. The stock saddle was ill suited for touring and 50 or more miles per day. By the third day I was slathering Desitin(R) on my raw thighs. The worst problem was that the rig was very top heavy when loaded with two large Ortlieb(R) panniers and my tent on the rear rack. The tour stressed the low-end components on the bike and at the end of the tour I found that two or three teeth had snapped off of the cassette.

The tour was a smashing success, the experience itself rising above the problems with the bike. I overcame the problems and learned a lot about touring. It was a confidence builder that left me wanting more.

Late that year I bought my stock Surly Long Haul Trucker. As of this moment I have over 16,000 training and touring miles on that bike. I plan many more miles before hanging up my clipless pedals.