I recently sold my 2018 Giant TCX cyclocross/gravel bike and replaced it with a 2021 Trek Checkpoint ALR-5. The Giant was a light-weight carbon fiber bike with great tire clearance, disc brakes, an excellent SRAM drive train, and reliable tubeless tires. However, it had one major problem. The frame was too big for me. So I sold it and replaced it with an aluminum-framed bike.
I liked my Giant TCX. Enough to ride it over 2,500 miles in three years. I primarily used my Giant for road and gravel rides with friends, long organized rides such as the Duncan Dehydrator and Tour of Payne, and as my indoor trainer during the winter.
What I didn’t like about my Giant TCX
I really enjoyed my Giant TCX but over time and after lots of miles, I found a few things I didn’t like.
- Frame too big – Ultimately this was the reason I sold the bike. I could have worked around the other items or changed components to my liking, but I couldn’t change the frame size. I shortened the stem as much as I couldn’t, moved the seat forward as far as I dared, yet I still found myself stretched out on the bike. If I rode with my hands on the hoods, I would invariably end up riding on the nose of my seat. I could get by with my hands on the flat of the bars, but then I didn’t have braking control. Ultimately I decided to get a frame that better fit me.
- Lack of mounting points for accessories – I liked the nice carbon frame, but since the TCX was designed as a cyclocross bike, it didn’t have mounting points for a rear rack or front rack or extra water bottle mounts. I could have ridden it with a bike-packing rig, but that doesn’t allow me to easily carry a laptop when I travel. I like to ride my bicycle to the coffee shop and work, which means I had to carry my laptop in a backpack on my back. I would arrive at the coffee shot with a sweaty back – not fun.
- SRAM 1x drivetrain – I really liked the shifting and ease-of-use of the SRAM 1x drivetrain, but it just didn’t have a low enough gear for when climbing long hills. I could have put on a smaller front chainring, but then I would lose top speed when riding down long hills. The gearing spread just didn’t work that well for me. It was great for riding the flats of western Oklahoma, but after my open-heart surgery in 2018, I couldn’t maintain my pace up long hills without struggling. And I could have changed out for a 2x drivetrain, but that wouldn’t fix the primary problem of the frame size.
What I love about the Checkpoint ALR5
I ended up selling my Giant TCX to my son and purchasing a 2021 Trek Checkpoint ALR5 with the Shimano GRX groupset. And I now love it. Here is why.
- Frame Size fits me – This is the reason I sold the Giant TCX and switched to the Trek Checkpoint. The frame on my TCX was just too big. Despite changing out several components, I just couldn’t get the TCX to fit. the TCX was a medium/large frame, which equated to around 56cm. The Checkpoint is a size 54cm frame. Now the bike fits me perfectly. My hands easily rest on the moods without feeling stretched or constantly riding on the nose of my seat.
- Shimano GRX 2×11 drivetrain – My TCX had a 1x drivetrain and when loaded or climbing steep hills, I wasn’t able to find a low enough gear. The Shimano GRX groupset gives me a lower gear without sacrificing any top-end speed.
- Mount points everywhere – I really like that the Checkpoint has a LOT of mounting lugs. I can easily attach a rear rack, front rack, multiple water bottles inside the frame, a front frame mount if I choose, and even a top mount for a “gas tank” style bag. Lots of options that cost very little weight.
- Wide tires and disc brakes – Both my Checkpoint and TCX had 40mm tires and disc brakes. The wide tires are great for almost any type of surface from smooth pavement to gravel and anything in between. The lower tire pressures soak up bumps a lot better on the bigger tires, and I think there is very little loss in speed, at least for me. And of course, disc brakes always work. Every time. I don’t have to worry about wet rims, mud, or dust. They just always work and are very powerful.
- Versatilty – The versatility of the Trek Checkpoint ALR5 is probably my favorite feature of the bike. I can strip it down and ride fast on the pavement, add water bottle cages and a frame bag and ride long dusty gravel rides and races, or attach a rear rack and some bicycle luggage and go on a multi-day cycling trip, either on the pavement, on dirt roads, or a mixture in between. The gearing allows me to load up the bike and still climb long hills, or keep up with a pack of riders on a weekend ride.
My other bike – Fuji Nevada 1.7 MTB
My other bike is a Fuji Nevada 1.7 hard-tail mountain bike. It was, and still is, my daily run around town bike, ride to the YMCA each morning (I would rather lock a $500 Fuji to a rack in front of the YMCA than a $2,000 Giant), and as my mountain bike when I wanted to ride some singletrack.
So is the Checkpoint the most versatile drop-bar bike?
It depends on who you ask. For my fitness level and experience, I think the 2021 Trek Checkpoint ALR5 with the Shimano GRX groupset is one of the most versatile bikes I have seen. I am by no means a bike tester and don’t get to play on all the cool toys, so I can’t speak for other brands or models of bikes. But I did extensive research before making this choice and spending my hard-earned money on this bike. I wanted something that I could ride in a group ride with friends and not get dropped, easily ride gravel when I wanted, a bike I could attach racks and go for a trip, or even just carry my laptop in a pannier to the local coffee shop each morning. The Checkpoint checks all those boxes for me. It is affordable, reliable, comfortable, and plenty fast. While there are lighter bikes, faster bikes, more aero bikes, better long-travel bikes, I feel this is one bike that comes close to a good all-around do-everything bike.
If I could have only one bicycle, it would probably be a hard-tail mountain bike. But since I can have two bikes, the Trek Checkpoint ALR5 with the Shimano GRX groupset is my second choice, and probably the one I will ride the most, at least during the summer months. Although I am still not sure I want to chain it up in front of the local YMCA and risk losing a $2,100 bicycle. I think that will continue to be the job of my $500 Fuji Nevada. The Checkpoint will be my everything else bike.