New Zealand is lucky to have a huge network of back roads. Narrow, largely gravel roads criss-cross hills and valleys all around rural areas. Add to these access tracks through conservation land as well as a growing list of cycleways and you have near infinite options for back road riding loops.
A cross country hardtail mountain bike has for a long time been my preference for this sort of riding. My Trek Superfly was the bike of choice – light, stiff but still capable for impromptu singletrack detours. For this winter I switched things up and retired the Superfly from the stable. The replacement chosen was all about maximising fun on backroad loops. With Ohakune being the base for winter, and plenty of riding options, versatility, reliability and fun were key considerations. Having heard good things about cyclocross bikes, it was an obvious choice to with a crossie.
I spoke with Darren at Cyco about options. The Boone is the cyclocross race bike from Trek, but difficult to get hold of in New Zealand. For 2018 Trek added the Checkpoint, essentially a cyclocross bike. Looking online I wasn’t completely enamoured with the look of the bike from the Trek website. It looks like it has a very upright position and the dropped driveside chainstay gives the bike an odd look. I made a trip to Cyco to see one in the flesh, I was relieved to see a bike that looked much better in real life. The perspective of the photos online is a bit misleading, a 54cm (my size) looked appropriately proportioned and like it could be set up with a more traditional road bike position. I pulled the trigger on a Checkpoint SL5.
I was keen on a 1x setup, so got the 2x 105 that comes stock changed for a 40t narrow wide front chain ring, teamed up with an 11-40 XT rear cassette. I wanted the 1x for a cleaner setup and also to keep things easier running for the inevitable mud-fests the bike would be subjected to.
Over the last two months the bike has seen a range of roads and trails in a wide range of conditions. From the outset I felt comfortable on the bike. Early rides included some laps of “The Pines” mountain bike area at National Park Village. The trails are tight and twisty with plenty of roots, all under a douglas fir canopy. While the limits of narrow tires in slick conditions was clear, I was able to make my way down most sections with minimal fuss. Where the bike comes into its own is on the climbs. The winding gravel climbs of the area feel great. The gearing and bike position feel at home on climbs of a moderate grade. When things get steeper the bike still does well, but can struggle a bit for traction in more slippery conditions.
Three components of the bike have been especially impressive:
- Disc brakes. The difference between road discs and old style rim brakes is day and night. Surely rim brakes will be obsolete in the next few years. Power, modulation and wet weather performance all far excel what is normal on a drop bar bike. Even on the wettest of the rides I have been on, the brakes have been faultless. No more rim brake bikes for me in the future.
- Schwalbe G-one cross tires. These 35c tires look pretty mild mannered, with quite densely packed, small knobs. However they continually surprise with their ability to provide grip. Cyco did convert them to tubeless, and I have been running between 30 – 40psi front and rear.
- Iso-speed decoupler. Trek use their iso-speed decoupler on a range of road and mountain bikes (more info here). I had not ridden a bike with iso-speed before the checkpoint, and was not sure if it was just a marketing led piece of technology. I have been pleasantly surprised with how it performs on the Checkpoint. Looking down the seat tube while riding corrugated Kiwi roads, you can see the seat post flexing. Things also feel appreciably smoother than they did on my old (pre-isospeed) Superfly. I would definitely look to have isospeed on my next road bike.
Overall would definitely recommend getting a cross bike for winter, and would certainly recommend the Checkpoint to others looking for a versatile, capable bike. I’ve barely used my TopFuel or Madone while down in Ohakune. The bike also has a ton of mounts for panniers and bike packing gear that I haven’t really even used yet. So versatile, it would even be a reasonable choice for adventure racing…