Michael Hanslip Coaching

If you want to go faster, you have to pedal harder

Design decisions

Is a gravel bike a road bike that takes fat tyres, or a mountain bike with drop handlebars?
With the Trek Checkpoint, Trek's design decisions place the frame somewhere in the middle of these two alternatives and have had multiple impacts on my commuter bike.
A bit over 3 years ago, Campagnolo released the Record 12 speed group. I had ridden the 11 speed disc brake option at Campagnolo Press Camp the year before, and I was sold. As I have put it many times, I didn't know I wanted disc brakes on a road bike until I tried them. They were that good. I purchased 2 groups from Campagnolo and then found frames to hang them on. For commuting duties, I picked a Checkpoint. I would have had fewer issues if I picked an Emonda, a Domane or even a Boone, but none of these frames will take a rack. I learned a long time ago that panniers beat a backpack without question.
There is a Trek kit to fit Campagnolo cranks in the BB90 bottom brackets most Trek frames had up until recently. This involves gluing some pieces into the BB bearing seat area to fully support the bearings that are pre-installed on Campag cranks. Then it is just bolt them in place and go. But that wasn't so simple with the Checkpoint. The chainstays bulge right behind the bottom bracket shell to make room for a fatter rear tyre. And the very straight arms of the Campagnolo Record crank wanted to pass through the left stay. Suddenly I had cranks I couldn't use.
After a lot of looking and frustration, I ended up with a set of Red 10 spd cranks with a 130 BCD spider for 39/53 rings. Before they even arrived I learned that they wouldn't fit on the bike either. That 39T inner ring would contact the right chainstay, and the 53T big ring was too tall for the front derailleur to clear at the top of the mounting slot. Those cranks went back and a set of 110 BCD compact Red cranks were purchased. Onto these went Praxis 34/50 chainrings. These fit fine.
Except the glued in Campagnolo adapter pieces were slightly in the way. And by slightly, I mean that when the cranks were installed, the inner face of the arms just around the bottom bracket shell lightly touched the rings on both sides. Ideally, they wouldn't be there. But the glue used was very strong and I was afraid of trying to remove them and damaging my still unridden frame.
Everything (except one thing - I'm coming back to this in a minute) was fine for 26 months. When the Red cranks broke at the pedal eye. Not a catastrophic failure; the pedal remained in the crank. But it wouldn't have taken many more kilometres to break it completely. With a 24 month warranty, SRAM said they would give me a discount on new Red cranks - only they didn't have any in stock.
To keep riding to work I installed a set of older Rival cranks I had on hand. With a 130 spider, my only option was to run the small chainring on the outside and remember not to touch the front derailleur for fear of losing the chain into the space where a small ring was meant to be. This went on for far too long. 39/11 is not a large top gear!
Eventually I found some near-new Rotor cranks that were old enough they had a 24 mm axle (new ones have 30 mm axles) and therefore fit in the frame (BB90 cannot accept 30 mm axles without running incredibly tiny and fragile bearings). These happened to have the same Praxis 34/50 rings on them as I had been running on the Red cranks. So they just bolted in and away I went with front gears again.

Back to my exception. The frame had a little temperature sensitive creak in it from day 1. I spent hours hunting the creak. Check bolts, lube things, pad things, remove things - nothing made the creak go away except really cold weather. Across the three different cranks the noise went on unaffected. It could not have been anything to do with the cranks or their bearings (the Red and Rival cranks used different bearings than the Rotor cranks - and I swapped bearings a couple of times just in case). I ran a different set of wheels. I removed the mudguards and rack, just to check. Swapped pedals. Got the torque wrench on the bar and stem.
The bike shop offered to replace the bearing seats for me. Trek customers used to have to toss their frames if they had a bearing seat issue in the bottom bracket before they developed a solution. There is a cutting tool to remove the existing seat surface, some new carbon bearing seats, some high-strength glue and a jig to ensure the new seats go in square to the frame. And as I left the shop after all this, it creaked.
The bike shop owner got the bike for a week and unbolted absolutely everything. He lubed and used a torque wrench and checked everything from pedals to water bottle cages to seat rails. He reinstalled my mudguards and rack in a slightly different way. And as I left the shop after all of this, it creaked.

Trek, to their credit, heard all of this (but they didn't get to hear my creak!) and agreed to replace the frame with a current equivalent (or credit me a frame's worth on a full new bike if I chose that option). As luck would have it, the colour they had in my size was one I loved. As the old Checkpoint used a seat mast and the new one a seat post, and because I had upgraded my aluminium mast to a carbon one, they replaced it with a carbon seat post. New Checkpoints use T47 bottom brackets (now you can use a 30 mm axle) and Trek put a new T47 bottom bracket for 24 mm axles in the box.
What we didn't know until I tried to assemble the new bike in my head (this will go here, this will go there, do this first, do this second ... etc) was that there is no cable stop for the front derailleur cable. Look at just about any bike, including my older Checkpoint, and you'll find that the cable housing stops on a fitting on the frame at the bottom of the downtube, and the bare inner wire runs around the bottom bracket and up to the arm on the front derailleur to pull it down for a shift to the big ring. Not on the the new Checkpoint. Trek's bike lineup of Checkpoints has one inexpensive mechanical Shimano drivetrain model, and Shimano's newest mechanical derailleurs have their own housing stop built into the front derailleur - and all the rest of the models are either one-by drivetrains (no front derailleur at all) or electronic shifting. Trek had no solution for my Campagnolo front derailleur.
I checked for solutions online. I can imagine a solution that is a cross between a chain drop device that attaches to the front derailleur bolt (it prevents the chain from moving inside of the inner ring when properly positioned) and a cable housing stop for cantilever brakes that hangs from the seat post binder bolt. No one makes such a thing that I could find. I guess the total market for these things is about 10 people.

If I wanted to go one-by, I would need a narrow-wide chainring and a K-Edge single ring road chain guide up front with a wide-ratio cassette at the back to give me close to my usual top and bottom gear choices. Unfortunately, I had ridden the bike as a one-by for some months and didn't like it much. And I have recently purchased a new close-ratio cassette to go on the new frame. Super Record cassettes are not cheap. It would bug me to purchase another in such short order.
The second option that came to mind was the recently announced Super Record wireless shifting. Then everything would either stay or be replaced with another Campagnolo part. Unfortunately, these pieces are not currently available. There is no solid time frame for when, either.
Option three was to go with the now obsolete wired Super Record option. It bugged me to buy more tools and a charger that will only ever be used on one bike, but it was a decided option. It not only has the benefits of option 2, but the shift levers are almost identical between mechanical and wired electronic, and it was all in stock.
The final option I considered was SRAM Red AXS. Super Record is so expensive, I thought a full Red gruppo might be about the same price as a partial Super Record one. Turns out it is a bit more, but not all that much more. The advantage of AXS is that I already have 3 bicycles at home in the AXS app (used to update firmware, control options in setup and view battery charge levels) and two that use the universal batteries (so loads of chargers and batteries to move around as needed).
Yes, I could have put a 105 mechanical or even electronic gruppo on for less than any of these other options (well probably more pricey than the one-by option), but I haven't liked anything Shimano since about 9 speed. I could have gone "gravel" and opted for Campagnolo Ekar, but I didn't know if the cranks would fit and my wheel (yes, Campagnolo brand) is not Ekar friendly - so new wheels necessary.
I chose Red. I still have Force on my old Madone, and the single shift lever per brake lever works a little differently for AXS than for mechanical, but I think I'll adjust quickly. I've ordered the SRAM-friendly freehub body for my Campagnolo wheels too (even got it on sale); odd that I can change to Shimano or SRAM but not to new Campagnolo with this wheel.

Every decision Trek made might have simplified their life, but it surely complicated my bike-building journey.

You can expect some Red reviews soon.