Your bike should be able to take you everywhere your car can. Sure, it might take longer, but unless you’re looking for a bike that’s only designed to handle asphalt, you’ll probably need something a little more rugged than your average road bike.
Enter the Trek ALR 5. While this bike isn’t a mountain bike, it’s a more rugged design and gravel-eating geometry means that you can take this bike… pretty much anywhere. It is one of the most popular rugged bikes of the Trek Checkpoint line.
Still, you should know what you’re getting into before you invest in any new bike, especially a more expensive model like ALR 5.
The Checkpoint is Trek’s entry into the gravel bike market, but it’s status as a relative newcomer shouldn’t fool you. Instead, consider Trek’s late entry a combination of waiting to see if the market was a fad and waiting until they had a high-quality build that really stood out among the best gravel bike models.
The ALR 5 is a good mid to premium bike model with a maximum total weight limit of 275 pounds that performs about how you’d expect from a bike in this price range. It’s more rugged design means that this bike won’t ever be the fastest kid on the block, but it’s a well-balanced option.
Better yet, it accelerates and maintains speed well enough that experienced cyclists might find themselves outpacing the local road bikes, at least as long as they have the component and experience advantage.
The ALR 5 isn’t a bike that’s really designed for new cyclists. It’s also not really meant for the most technical trails or hardcore crosscheck, which can be a downside for some riders.
Still, the flexible design makes this a good do it all bike, especially for riders who are looking to have some run and explore more than they’re looking to beat record racing times or rock a near-impossible trail without wiping out.
Things to Consider Before Buying Gravel Bike
Gravel bikes are exactly what they sound like. They are designed to handle all-terrain conditions like a mountain bike, but generally don’t have the jump and bump suspension you need for a dirt trail. Instead, gravel bikes like to create a steady and relatively smooth ride quality over difficult surfaces, gravel in particular.
If you’ve ever ridden a road bike or a commuter bike over treacherous gravel roads, you know why this specialization is so important.
However, the best value gravel bike is heavier and a little slower and chunkier than their speedy competitors, which makes them less suitable for urban riders. They also don’t usually have the same kind of suspension system as a good mountain bike.
That’s not to say that you couldn’t hit some mountain trails on a gravel bike, you can. But you should expect that it’s going to perform differently, and you might get hung up on obstacles your mountain bike can easily mount or jump.
Essentially, remember that a best-value gravel bike isn’t truly designed for everyone, even though it is one of the more popular do-everything bike types.
Features & Benefits
We’ve talked a little about how Trek Checkpoint ALR 5 performs when it’s all put together, but that isn’t everything. You should still know what kind of components you’re working with and how those components will affect bike performance overall.
This bike has an aluminum frame instead of a lighter carbon design. The new alloy, 300 Series Alpha Aluminum, performs even better than Trek’s older aluminum frames, absorbing a little more road vibration without adding weight or losing durability.
Its circular and oval frame shape is fairly straightforward, but a glossy and incredibly clean paint job adds a little flair.
More importantly, the ALR 5 has consistently good welds, with high durability which makes it much less likely that you’ll break a weld while you’re riding.
The internal cable routing, aluminum tapered head tube, seat tube and down tube make ALR 5 a professional looking and a great bike. Internal routing also keeps your bike looking and riding cleaner while protecting component wires and reducing the wear and tear on your bike. The 300 series alpha aluminum tapered head or seat tube along with a sturdy down tube of ALR 5 makes your ride smooth and comfortable.
The ALR 5 might not come with any racks or integrated frame bag mounts, but the frame is pre-drilled for all the standard accessories, saving you money and time.
The Trek Checkpoint ALR 5‘s fork has carbon fiber checkpoint models, which is a lightweight suspension solution a little different from your average suspension fork. Instead of absorbing big impacts and providing travel space for jumps and bumps, this fork is focused on reducing road vibration and preventing constant low-level impacts from traveling up the bike. It also has fender mounts and 12x100mm thru axle.
That means that you’ll be able to ride over gravel without feeling like you’re being shaken apart, but you’ll still feel every pothole on the road.
While this suspension style is different, it’s very effective overall.
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The tubeless-ready rims are a real boon on this bike since they make it even easier to get a smooth ride over gravel.
However, you won’t be getting tubeless tires standard and massive tire clearance with the Trek Checkpoint ALR 5. Instead, you’ll be getting a set of fairly standard tires with a reasonable, but slightly outdated, tread.
The high-pressure tolerance of these tires makes them an understandable choice for Trek, but they’re also one of the first things that many cyclists upgrade when they buy this bike.
The 21 gears on this bike are a nice, flexible addition to the bike. But, in the gravel bike crowd, many people think that that many gears are overkill and unnecessary.
Thankfully, Trek seems to have anticipated that complaint and also lets you switch this bike over to a single-speed, and back, very quickly.
The combination of both the 21-speed mode and the single-speed mode makes this bike a good fit for most riding styles and a wider range of trails.
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Like many of the most important components on this bike, the brakes are from Shimano. That means that you’re likely to get high-quality and very consistent results from these brakes, even if you haven’t used a set of flat-mount disc brakes before.
The hydraulic disc brakes on this model are particularly important since they are much less likely to get gravel stuck in them and cause damage.
Fortunately, they also offer highly responsive performance without stopping you to fast to be dangerous on gravel trails.
|Feature||Specs||What it Means to You|
|Frame||300 Series Alpha Aluminum||This new aluminum is a lightweight and durable option that is even more damage resistant than previous aluminum alloys.|
|Wheels||Bontrager alloy, sealed bearing, center lock disc, 12x100mm thru axle, fender mounts||These wheels are tubeless-ready, come with reasonable tires pre-mounted, and are stronger than many. The biggest limitation is its low tire clearance.|
|Gear||Shimano 105 R7020||Shimano 105 R7020’s gearing systems are smooth and easy to use. The entire drivetrain is Shimano and offers 21 gears as well as a locking system that lets you switch to single-geared.|
|Brake System||Shimano 105 hydraulic disc, flat mount disc||Hydraulic disc brakes are generally some of the best options, with all-weather and all-condition performance that outlasts almost everything but combination brakes.|
Other Customers Reviews
Customers generally love that the Checkpoint ALR 5 is more rugged than many of the more popular bike models out there. It’s also clearly a durable option, and gravel riders love a bike that can take a hit. Take a look for yourself:
Trek Checkpoint ALR 5 vs Cannondale Topstone 105
Both of these bikes are high-quality gravel bikes with lots of gears and a rugged design that can hold up to a beating. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any major differences between the two. The Topstone 105 has a serious advantage in the dropper component that will let you drop your saddle for more maneuverability on the go.
The Topstone also comes with tubeless-ready tires (however, no massive tire clearance), which also gives it a little bit of a boost as the more versatile and adaptive of the two bikes.
Trek Checkpoint ALR 5 vs Trek SL5
The Trek SL3 is still a Checkpoint model, but it’s higher price point comes with several important innovations over the Trek Checkpoint ALR 5. The big advantage is that the SL5 smooths your ride even more than the Trek Checkpoint ALR 5.
It’s snazzier appearance and equally, rugged durability makes the SL5 a good option if you’ve got a little extra cash to spend.
However, the core of both bikes is similar. The ALR 5 still has the hydraulic disk brakes, tubeless-ready wheels, and high-end carbon fork you want for good gravel and drop bar bike. So while the SL5 does have some performance improvements, many riders will be just as happy with an ALR 5.
Trek Checkpoint ALR 5 vs ALR 4
The Trek Checkpoint ALR 4 has just had a new release for its 2021 model, which comes in several sleek and eye-catching colors, and has the same basic geometry and aggressive rider position as the Trek Checkpoint ALR 5.
The ALR 4 is the more affordable of the two, and even in this newest model, you’re looking at several slight downgrades in almost every component set. Where it matters you’ll still be getting similar components.
It’s still a Shimano drivetrain and brake set, for instance. Still, when you put it all together this model will be able to do just a little bit less than the ALR 5. By design.
Trek Checkpoint ALR 5 vs Specialized Diverge Comp E5
Another very similar model, the big difference here is that the Specialized Diverge Comp E5 uses a Tektro mechanical disc brake vs the ALR 5‘s Shimano hydraulic flat mount disc brake. Both are great braking systems, though the hydraulic is slightly nicer.
Really though, we’d say that between these two brake models performance differences are so slight that it’s more a matter of what you prefer rather than what works better.
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Overall, while the Trek Checkpoint ALR 5 isn’t necessarily the best gravel bike you can get your hands on, it’s got a good component set and is a high-value option for its price. When you start looking at better bikes than this one, you’re looking at much bigger cost differentials for smaller and smaller performance increases.
The extra cost might be worth it for some, but in our opinion, this bike is a solid option for gravel riders at all experience levels. So, next time you stop at a bike shop, don’t miss checking such mountain bikes to ensure you enjoy riding.