Comfortable, with pockets for carrying all your essentials so you can wear a looser fitting casual top or just boost your carrying capacity with a regular cycling jersey, Rapha's new Cargo bib shorts are ideally suited to adventure rides where a less pro race look is desirable. They're also handy for commuting, audax, touring and any long distance cycling. Provided you've got deep enough pockets to afford them in the first place.
- Pros: Secure pockets easy to use, comfortable fit and chamois, reflective stripes
- Cons: Need deep pockets to afford them, some early signs of wear
The new Cargo Bib Shorts are born out of the growing adventure and bikepacking trend, where there's a definite focus on less pro race-derived clothing, both in terms of fit and style. Several companies have cottoned onto this desire and started produced clothing that is both understated in appearance and looser fitting to maximise comfort.
Combining the fit and comfort of bib shorts with pockets on the legs and in the back, the idea is to use these to carry your essentials, freeing you up to wear a casual loose fitting T-shirt, such as the technical T-shirt and polo Rapha just happened to release as well, or any other polyester or merino-based loose-fitting top.
It's not exactly a new idea. Specialized has been selling SWAT bib shorts to mountain bikers for several years. Designed to be worn under baggy shorts, they feature pockets that keep your essentials hidden under a loose fitting jersey and let you ride without a hydration backpack.
If you've done much cyclo-cross or gravel riding with a regular cycling jersey, you might know that stuffed pockets can gradually become empty pockets as the contents are liable to be ejected when riding over bumpy ground. I've had to backtrack once or twice when a pump or energy bar has made a bid for freedom. The contents can also lead to the jersey shifting around on your lower back.
Rapha has placed the two rear pockets so that the contents don't cause discomfort when cycling, and they sit above the waistband of baggy overshorts. There's space for an inner tube, pump, phone and some energy bars with more to spare. The pockets don't move about on your back and the contents are held securely in place.
Additional storage comes via two mesh pockets on the legs. Rapha says it tested the pockets to ensure the contents are secure, and that is certainly the case. You obviously won't want to fill them with anything too heavy, save the rear back pockets for those bits, but for having quick access to energy bars, a Brevet card, phone or camera, or for stashing bits of clothing like a pair of gloves or cap, they work really well. Or a banana if you watched the launch video.
An obvious concern about the leg pockets is that adding anything to them is going to cause an annoyance when pedalling, but I didn't find that the case with lighter items. It's not like using baggy short side pockets and the contents bashing against your leg every pedal stroke, and because the stretchy mesh pockets pull the contents flush to your legs, discomfort is minimised if not avoided completely.
Rapha says there's enough capacity across the four pockets to carry what you'd normally stuff in three regular jersey pockets. This will clearly depend on how much stuff you do like to carry in those jersey pockets, but I found I was able to comfortably take all the essentials I'd need for a typical ride.
As for the actual bib shorts, well they are made from a lightweight water-resistant material so they can shrug off a rain shower yet cope with high temperatures. I've tested them in a range of conditions from near freezing to mid-20s and they proved adequate at managing those extremes with no overheating on warmer days. In the rain, though they're not waterproof, rain does bead off the surface, helping to keep you drier for longer.
The fabric also has a tough feeling to it, as you'd want from a product designed for the rigours and hardship of adventure riding and bikepacking, or grappling with overgrown bramble bushes. So far durability has been good, but the undercarriage fabric is showing signs of wear from a few muddy rides when the saddle effectively turned into a piece of sandpaper.
The padded insert comes straight from the Brevet bib shorts, which I've tested in the past and have nothing bad to say about. It's a comfortable pad with good cushioning and is perfectly shaped. The perforated construction is intended to help them dry out quickly for multi-day rides, and there are even instructions for wrapping the shorts in a towel after washing.
The regular fit is described by Rapha as close but relaxed and good for all day riding, and I'd say this is a good description. They're not loose but nor are they race tight, but they are probably erring on the snug side. Rapha has added more length in the torso, a lower front section for easier toilet stops and soft and stretchy bib straps from the Brevet bib shorts.
A nod to the long ride intention of these shorts is reflective details on the back of each leg to boost your visibility when the light is fading or you're riding through the night.
Granted they might seem like a gimmick, and they received a fair amount of flak at launch, but the idea of adding pockets to bib shorts for off-road riding makes a lot of sense. They allow you to carry essentials close to the body without fear of losing anything, and free you to wear a normal T-shirt for more relaxed riding and style.
As much as they are aimed at multi-day bikepacking adventures, I'd also add their clear and obvious suitability to long distance rides, touring and audax events where the extra cargo capacity is a bonus as well as the comfort and weather resistant nature of the bib shorts. You can also add commuting to the list as well – wear them under a baggy pair of shorts and a casual tee for a fast and light outfit to and from the office.
A question mark remains over the long-term durability though – I'll update this review after several more months of testing to see how they stand up.
Naturally, with all Rapha products, there's no getting away from the high price. They sit somewhere in the middle of Rapha's bib short range, but they are over £100 more than the Specialized SWAT shorts I mentioned earlier, and £135 more than Nukeproof's Blackline Bib Shorts.
There aren't many rivals, though, so if you want bib shorts designed for the rigours of adventure riding with pockets, your choices are limited.
They're currently only available for men, but a women's version is on the way, with a choice of black, dark grey and dark navy colours.
Bib shorts with pockets ideal for adventure, touring and commuting in all weathers, with great comfort and fit, but hefty price
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Rapha Cargo Bib Shorts
Size tested: Small
Tell us what the product is for
Rapha says, "The Cargo Bib Shorts can carry everything you would keep in a jersey. Tested for over a year across Europe, in the heat of the Australian outback and the rugged wilderness of Argentina, these shorts were designed to excel at extremes but are just as comfortable on the commute or club run.
"By placing pockets on both legs and the upper back, these new bibs free you from the need for a traditional cycling jersey with pockets, letting you wear what you like. Pair them with a looser-fitting t-shirt for a more casual approach to riding, wherever your ride takes you.
"Made with a new lightweight water-resistant material, these bib shorts perform in the rain, shedding water as you ride. Comfortable up to 30 degrees centigrade, they also perform just as well in the heat as they do the wet, making them the ideal bibs for every ride. The perforated chamois has been designed to ensure quick drying for multi-day adventures.
"We tested the leg pockets to ensure your belongings are secure – whether you're carrying a little or a lot, the stretch opening keeps the contents in place. The pockets on the back were positioned to sit above the waistband of our Cotton and Randonnée shorts. This lets you cover up when you're not keen on lycra without losing access to your riding essentials.
"Comfortable shorts are the cornerstone of every great ride, and now you don't need anything else to set off. When you want just one piece of cycling kit for the job, the Cargo Bib Shorts will carry you through.
"The Rapha Cargo Bib Shorts are covered by our 30-day no quibble guarantee. Ride them on any adventure, big or small, and if you're not 100% satisfied, send them back to us within 30 days of receipt for a full refund or credit."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Leg pockets with secure stretch closure keep small items to hand
Back pockets mean you can forego the usual jersey
Two reflective stripes on both legs
Reflective stripe on the back of the shorts, ideally positioned for visibility on the road
Lower front yoke makes for easier toilet breaks
Same comfortable upper as Brevet Bib Shorts, with added stripe detail
Proven Brevet chamois pad, perforated to dry quickly, tested for long distance comfort
Comfortable Brevet fit suitable for long days in the saddle
Solidly made bib shorts.
The pockets provide a different way to dress and prepare for an off-road ride, and contents are held in place and don't cause discomfort.
So far so good, but there are signs of wear on the fabric in constant contact with the saddle – will update on this further down the line.
Fit is good.
Sizing is accurate and compares well to other brands and products.
Comfortable on long off-road rides in a range of temperatures and weather conditions. The chamois is a highlight.
They are expensive, but there aren't many bib shorts with pockets that add value to an otherwise simple garment.
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
No problems going through a regular wash cycle.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Provide all the cargo capacity you need and lets you wear a relaxed top or T-shirt for a more casual style.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Comfortable and the pockets work well.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Early signs of fabric wear.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Maybe
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Possibly
Use this box to explain your overall score
Expensive bib shorts but unlike most others with the addition of pockets making them an interesting choice for adventure, bikepacking, touring, audax and even commuting.
About the tester
I usually ride: My best bike is:
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Expert
I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo-cross, commuting, touring, mountain biking
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.