“It’s very much like a mountain biker’s road bike.” – David Studner, Trek product manager
After getting into gravel last fall with a half-baked Domane Gravel that’s more of a re-spec’d road bike with wider tubeless tires, Trek is finally going all in (a redemption perhaps?) with a new dedicated gravel line dubbed the Checkpoint. It’s a doozy one that incorporates some of the Wisconsin-based giant’s technical know how. It’s got fun and practical written all over it for the vast majority of us that don’t race, don’t want to race, and would like to have just one bike for everything because the whole N+1 rule is seriously getting out of control.
The new disc-only frame in either carbon or aluminum features a geometry with lower bottom bracket and higher stack than the cyclocross-specific Boone, 12×142 thru-axle rear, an adjustable Stranglehold dropout to allow 15mm of adjustment to further dial in the ride. The carbon framed model also comes with a non-adjustable IsoSpeed decoupler to absorb the bumps and rough edges.
There are also three women-specific models, hydraulic disc brakes for the entire line up, plenty of mounting points to haul gear, AND clearance for 45c tires. See that black piece of plastic on the downtube in the photo above? It’s integrated armor to protect your precious frame. It’s a SUV that doesn’t suck.
If that’s not enough to convince you, then the competitive price starting at $1,789 for the entry level aluminum Checkpoint ALR 4 and the flagship carbon Checkpoint SL6 at $3,799 might just win you over.
The Checkpoint is also available as a frame only with the aluminum Checkpoint ALR at $959 and carbon Checkpoint SL at $1,999.
The Bontrager Aeolus D3 TLR Carbon Clinchers. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
The Aeolus D3 uses Bontrager hubs with DT Swiss internals throughout and it has been buttery smooth and problem-free this past year. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Subtle AND removable graphics on the rims mean you can go totally stealth if you so choose. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
At 67g front and 70g rear, the included Bontrager skewers are not going to win any weight weenies battle anytime soon, yet they are very comfortable in hand with a smooth and sure-footed cam action that's close to the venerable Shimano Dura-Ace offering. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Still have plenty of cork left after one year of use. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Dried sealant and an inverse-patched tire patch. That's what the inside of the Bontrager R3 TLR Hard Case Lite looks like after one year of riding. Photo: Stephen Lam/element.ly
Let me make this clear: I did not expect myself to like tubeless road tires. My tubulars work just fine.
Plus, I have plenty of spare tubulars (intentionally) aging in my garage waiting for their turns.
Unfortunately, their call-ups might take longer now that I find myself enjoying, well, smitten over these Bontrager Aeolus 3 TLR D3 carbon clinchers that we’ve been playing with this past year.
But my love for tubeless road tires didn’t begin this way. In fact, it was like that very first shitty first date.
When the box showed up this past spring, I was as excited as kids running to their gifts under the Christmas tree on Christmas day. Coming in at 1,439 grams (644front/795rear) with the tubeless strip pre-installed and with the tire valves, skewers, and brake pads included, the Aeolus 3 was ready to rock straight out of the box. A bit of elbow grease and voila, got some 26mm Bontrager R3 Hard-Case Lite TLR tubeless tires installed and off we went.
Then I got a flat on the first ride. Boo.
A 2mm cut from a piece of glass went through the tread and I had just enough air to limp back home thanks to a can of Vittoria Pitstop and pumping more air whenever I could.
It wasn’t pretty and the cleanup aftermath was a pain. Nevertheless, I was able to ride home instead of walking home.
Frustrated but undeterred, I repaired the tire following instructions from Stan’s NoTubes and the tire worked like a charm. When I finally replaced the tires about 10 months later with Schwalbe Pro One , the tires had three major repairs and a handful of cuts that would normally spell the end of a clincher tire. But each time I was able to ride home without having to put in a tube (still have to pack a tube and repair kit with tubeless). And in a few instances, I didn’t even know I punctured until I stopped for my mid-ride coffee.
They have won me over since then and they’re now my go-to wheels. Yes, I reckon my tubulars are still lighter and arguably smoother, but I did find the extra peace of mind and the convenience of road tubeless tires pretty hard to beat. I can pick and choose my tires for the ride/weather without worrying about gluing in advance.
But what about the rest of the wheel? Well, one year of abuse did not do anything to the DT-Swiss internals. They’re still smooth and quiet while the wheels remained true the entire time. The 35mm tall OCLV carbon rim also proved to be durable and comfortable throughout the test. One word of caution: the rims on the Aeolus 3 are significantly wider, measuring at 27mm on the outside with a 19.5 mm inner diameter, so make sure your bike has adequate clearance.
In the crosswind, the Aeolus 3 TLR D3 was easy to handle due to its lower rim height and rim shape, but my oh my, these wheels felt just as fast as some of the taller-rim hoops I’ve been on. Regarding the braking department, Bontrager recommends using their own cork brake pad with the wheels. While cork might lack absolute immediate stopping power, it makes up for its shortcoming by providing a very consistent and manageable lever feel that’s not so bad after getting used to it.
I also love the Aeolus’ overall minimalistic graphics. Big enough to show its maker yet not overly obnoxious as if I was a rolling billboard. And for those that want even more stealth, rejoice my friend, the decals on the rims can be easily removed since they are not water transferred decals with a clear coat on top.
If there’s any cleft with the Aeolus 3 TLR, it would be its $2,400 price tag. Pricey, yes, but a worthy prime candidate for those who are looking for those holy grail hoops for both training and racing with the added benefit of being tubeless. This is a set of hoops that could go fast without beating up the rider. I am addicted.
The hardest part of riding a sub-eleven pound, SRAM equipped, carbon fiber, one-piece bar/stem having, race tuned, fifteen thousand dollar bike is getting off it and giving it back.
I had my reservations about this machine, but when the call back came I didn’t want to give it up.
My wife, on the other hand, is happy to have the Trek Emonda SLR 10 out of the house, as I refused to leave this beauty in the garage.
This bike is light. Crazy light. Shockingly light. Everyone who put their hands on it made the same face. The “what the holy hell” face. And almost everyone who picked it up also asked “what are you doing with that?”
A very good question considering I am right on the edge of the bikes allowed weight limit and no one, and I mean no one, would consider me a climber. The only answer I could come up with is … “Why not?”
It was clear from the very first ride, the build choices for the SLR 10 were going to be an issue for me. The Tune wheels and saddle, although things of beauty, were not designed for everyday use. The Tune tubulars came laced up with a pair of tires more suited for the track than a long road ride and the saddle belonged in an art museum more than under my generous buttocks.
In short order I ate through the original tires and mounted up some excellent 25mm Continental Competition kicks. The more substantial tires fit into the Bontrager direct mount brakes no problem and upgrade the bike ride characteristic substantially.
Oh wait, I also, unfortunately, had to add a water bottle, a cage and a tool bag to my wonder whip adding so much unwanted additional weight as to almost turn the World’s Lightest Production bike into a tanker. But so it goes.
So the ultimate build seemed to be more about the impressively low weight, than the day-to-day ride-ability of the build. And I love that about this bike. It is ridiculous, but glorious.
My friend Cory says this build is for a 110 pound rider, who has a ton of money, a great mechanic and a desire to go fast uphill above all else. And I don’t completely disagree. But I meet none of those criteria, and I love this bike.
This bike demands you pay attention.
It demands you are in it.
You can’t just get on this bike and mindlessly go for a ride.
But if you are paying attention the Emonda will reward you by converting your effort into forward propulsion. Whether it be on long, sustained climbs, a short angry pitch or even hammering along the flats. The Emonda impresses.
Descending is a blast. I know this bike is pegged as a climber’s bike, but I loved tossing the Emonda downhill. Sure, if the road was sketchy the Emonda definitely didn’t soak up the chatter like some of the more all-around bikes available. You have to be all-in if you are going to be riding an Emonda, but you get back what you put in.
The direct-mount Bontrager brakes are powerful and take some time to become comfortable with. In the early going I locked up the rear wheel on a regular basis, but dialed in what pressure was needed to inspire confidence. And I thought they looked pretty cool, until Trek just launched the new Madone with some super trick looking integrated brakes.
So what does this all mean to you? It means Trek continues to make some pretty amazing bikes. Trek seems to have struggled a little bit with their highend marketing strategy in the post-Armstrong era. But now they have three Tour-worthy steeds in their stable: the recently reborn Madone, the lightweight wonder Emonda and the Classics classic Domane.
I am just suggesting if you are looking for a new Trek, a new race bike, or you love riding a bike with a little bit of a persnickety personality, then go throw your leg over an Emonda. Look closer at the SLR8 with a solid Dura Ace build and not-so-jaw-dropping price.