This gravel bike is fast in a way I am not used to off-road. The light 500 Series OCLV Carbon frame and easy-to-use 1x SRAM eTap AXS shifting means the bike takes off from under you, regardless of surface. And thanks to a granny gear with a 40×50 ratio it even wants to burn up steep and loose dirt trails.

While the acceleration is reminiscent of stiffer, more roadfocused bikes, the rest of the components are forgiving enough to give you comfort and help you maintain speed when your surface is far from an asphalt street. Even the rooted and rippled coniferous trails of New England didn’t slow it down. I would have felt reckless if I hadn’t had so much control.

On more than one occasion I pulled the front wheel off the trail as I shot out of a dip only to land directly on a large root or rock edge and the 40c tires (run at 45psi) easily ate it up without sending the shock to my wrists. And the IsoSpeed decoupler—which detaches the seat post from the frame, allowing it to act like a small spring—made for a noticeable decrease in hard hits to the rear tire (translating to hard hits to my rear). Even the comfort features in the Checkpoint help you maintain speed.

The drawbacks are few but did appear on a few occasions. The aero wheels certainly contributed to speed, but a strong crosswind on a banking, downhill gravel turn pushed me across the road and gave me that eerie “floating” feeling when I wanted a firm grip to the road. I’d sacrifice some aero for a bit more control. And while I loved the ease and effectiveness of shifting, I did miss the tactile confirmation of cables while riding on louder, rougher sections of trail—though I suspect, with more miles, trust would replace that tactile feedback.

Overall, the bike feels snappy and eager, no matter what you’re riding over. And the forgiving comfort features allow you to achieve speed without paying for it the rest of the week with aches. Whether its dirt-road washboard, root trail or an asphalt climb, the Checkpoint SL 7 keeps you on, keeps you comfortable and, most of all, keeps you moving fast. It’s an ideal gravel bike for fast riders who are tired of shaking it up with cars but don’t have the world’s smoothest dirt roads at their disposal. 

$5,999.99; 19.06 lbs / 8.64kg; SRAM Force eTap AXS ×1 12-speed (40 crank, 10–50 cassette); Bontrager Aeolus Pro 3V Carbon wheels; 40c Bontrager GR1 Team issue, tubeless ready tires; hydraulic disc brakes.

From issue 98, get your copy here