Warm and comfortable tights are a winter essential and these Rapha Explore Cargo Winter Tights are great in both areas. They also include four pockets and boost night-time visibility, but you pay handsomely for them.
- Pros: Super-comfortable, great fit, winter insulation, cargo pockets
- Cons: Super-expensive
These brand new tights form part of an expanding push by Rapha into the adventure and bikepacking market, following on from the Cargo Bib Shorts which introduced those unusual pockets.
Many laughed when Rapha launched those shorts, but mountain bikers have been wearing similar shorts (hidden under baggy shorts) for years, and the cargo pockets proved invaluable for longer rides and riding over rough terrain when jersey/jacket pockets can easily eject their contents.
These tights feature four pockets, two above the bum and two on the side of the legs. The left-side pockets are made from water-resistant fabric and zipped, those on the right are made from a mesh material. So you can put valuables like a phone or brevet card in the zipped pockets and fast access food in the mesh pockets.
With pockets loaded, there's no discomfort or annoyance when pedalling. Their size, particularly the leg-mounted ones, limits the bulk and weight of items you can store anyway. The pockets can be used in addition to regular jersey and jacket pockets, or as an alternative – useful if you're wearing a backpack, say, commuting or bikepacking.
The leg-mounted pockets are really useful for long winter training rides, too. They provide more space for carrying food for a start (big bonus!) and access is really quick, much easier than digging around in the back of a jersey pocket. You can use your rear pockets for storing things you're not likely to need during a ride, like spares and tubes.
The tights are made from a fleece-backed fabric that feels luxuriously soft against the skin, and insulates well against very cold temperatures, coping with the recent cold snap down to a degree or two above zero. A water-repellent treatment keeps out rain for longer than regular tights and copes fine with short showers, but like most DWR treated garments, a sustained downpour will breach their limits.
Inside the shorts is a familiar Rapha padded insert. It's a comfortable shape with sufficient padding for very long rides. It's a fast-drying pad, ideal for multi-day rides, and stays dry on single long rides.
There's flatlock stitching throughout and construction is first class with not a hint of concern on the durability front. Stretchy mesh bib straps are comfortable over the shoulders and a full back panel provides an extra layer of warmth while also being breathable for warmer rides.
The fit is first class, too. The mediums on test fitted perfectly, neither too tight nor too loose. There's ample length in the legs and bib straps and no restriction around the knees when pedalling, which can be an issue with some bib tights. The material has a good deal of stretch and this, combined with the shape of the panels and position of the seams, ensures really good comfort.
Winter riding tends to mean lots of darkness and low light riding, so Rapha has added two big panels of reflective material on the back of the lower legs. This gets a massive thumbs up from me. As the photo shows, they really do provide a big boost of visibility and the benefit of their position is that the up and down pedalling motion, according to some studies, helps other road users see you from a distance.
As nice as they undoubtedly are, their price tag of £240 is a lot of money in anyone's book. If you can live without pockets, the Brevet Tights I tested last winter would be a good alternative, except Rapha doesn't appear to stock those anymore, or the Classic Winter tights are the same £200 price. They don't get the DWR rain protection of the Cargo tights though.
Or you could buy the excellent Core Winter Tights for £120 though they're not as insulating as the Cargos.
Of comparable price and performance are the Assos LL.habuTights_S7 which I found to be similarly luxurious and insulation on the coldest winter rides.
But you don't have to spend a fortune to get tights that will keep you warm and dry, as the £100 dhb Aeron Deep Winter Bib Tights prove, though the fit isn't quite perfect and no match for the Rapha Cargo tights.
For comfortable and warm riding in the winter, the Rapha Explore Cargo Tights have a lot to offer. They're amazingly comfortable and the fabric provides good protection against cold wind and lights rain. I love the big reflective details and the pockets are more useful than you'd think.
As nice as they are, though, there's no getting around that big price tag, and there are many very good winter bib tights that offer good performance and comfort for less cash. But if you can get around that price tag, they are extraordinarily nice.
Comfortable, warm, high-vis and with very useful pockets, but a big price tag
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road.cc test report
Make and model: Rapha Explore Cargo Winter Tights With Pad
Size tested: Medium
Tell us what the product is for
Rapha says, "Rapha's Cargo Bib Shorts represented a major departure from traditional bib short design, featuring pockets on the legs and the lower back for comfort and versatility on every ride. Building on their success, we've applied the same design approach to the Explore Cargo Winter Tights.
"Made from a fleece-backed fabric with a durable water repellent treatment, the tights are warm and shed water in all but concerted downpours. The redesigned calf section is made entirely of a highly reflective material printed with distinctive stripes. The continuous movement of this part of the body coupled with a reflective stripe at eye level on the rear drastically improve a rider's visibility in low light conditions. For immediate access to essentials on the move, two pairs of pockets feature on the outside of the upper legs and on the lower back section. Those on the left hand side are made of a water-resistant fabric and feature a zipper for security, those on the right feature a mesh material with excellent stretch for extra capacity. Reflective logos on the leg pockets provide an additional hi-vis element."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Brushed fleece inner for warmth and comfort
DWR treatment for water repellency
Two mesh pockets on the right leg and lower back
Lightweight mesh uppers for support without bulk
Fast-drying chamois pad for multi-day adventures
Flatlock stitching to prevent rubbing
These offer a lot of performance for the price, but there are lots of cheaper rivals, though none with extra pockets like these.
How easy is the product to care for? How did it respond to being washed?
No problems looking after them and putting them through a machine wash.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Stupendously comfortable and warm on long cold winter rides.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Super fit and comfort, reflective details and pockets which, while you can definitely live without them, are surprisingly useful.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?
Well, there aren't any other bib tights with pockets to compare them to, they are unique. But if you can live without pockets there are many very good options for less money.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Use this box to explain your overall score
Yes they are very expensive, but the price tag is the only thing there is to criticise, everything else is nigh-on perfect.
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.