The format of pockets on bib shorts has been around for ages with the likes of Specialized’s SWAT short liners offering mountain bikers added comfort and storage under their baggies. It wasn’t until the growing gravel and adventure riding scene started demanding more storage that we saw pockets start appearing on outer layer bib shorts too.
While Rapha didn’t invent the Cargo bib short, the London cycling fashionistas certainly helped bring it into the drop-bar mainstream. Rapha’s Cargo shorts are part of the brand’s Explore range which is targeted at gravel riders and bikepackers
Lots of brands are now jumping onto the gravel train and offering their own cargo bib shorts, yet Rapha’s Cargo bib shorts are still one of the best gravel bike shorts. Around. Keep reading to find out why these bib shorts have become our go-to for big gravel adventures.
Design and specifications
The fit of the Cargo bibs is influenced by Rapha’s Brevet range. Brevet is a road cycling term relating to long-distance randonneur (opens in new tab) events, that translates to a relaxed fit that's still supportive enough to be comfortable over the long distances that tend to be covered in gravel riding. The material isn’t super thin but works well over a good range of temperatures, it's also treated to be water-resistant to offer a little protection from light rain.
The chamois has also been transposed from the Brevet range, the pad is size-specific and uses a high-density foam which Rapha claims to offer optimal support and additional support for long-distance rides. The chamois is also perforated which should help it dry out on long rides or overnight stops.
By adding pockets, the Rapha Cargo shorts have some serious storage capability. There's a large mesh cargo pocket on each leg giving quick access while riding and two smaller rear pockets which add flexible storage options – whether it's avoiding overstuffing jersey pockets, or opting to ride in a more casual t-shirt whilst still having the options of rear storage. The pockets are positioned high enough to sit above a short waistline if you prefer to ride in baggy bottoms too.
The shorts are finished with a reflective band of dots across the rear and reflective tags on the back of each leg, both of which add a little extra visibility when on the roads. There are Rapha logos on the outside of each leg, these are also reflective and are positioned behind the mesh of the pocket for a nicely understated finish.
The size range covers XS to XXL and we found that our medium test samples fitted true to size. Rapha has broadened the color range now too and the Cargo shorts come in either Black, Dark Grey, Dark Navy, or Teal.
One of the most impressive things about the Rapha Cargo bibs is the versatility of the fit. While it's not overly compressive, the shorts offer plenty of support for a comfortable fit no matter what ride I was going on. That meant they become the go-to for big days riding the cross-country mountain bike, gravel bike, or on-road. Chamois preference is a personal thing but the Rapha Brevet chamois is universally liked by my riding friends and is one of the more comfortable chamois I have used for gravel and long days in the saddle. It seems to dry pretty quickly as well, which is a big plus if you are riding for a long time or a couple of days in a row.
The finish is a little wrinkly but there was never any noticeable bunching that could become potential points of irritation. The leg grippers use silicon dots on the inside to grip the legs, the hem is a little narrow and not very stretchy but they don’t dig in and do a good job of holding the shorts in place. Otherwise, the shorts have a good length in the leg and the straps sit gently over the shoulders.
The pockets on both thighs are well positioned on the sides of both legs and the stretchy mesh pockets securely hold everything from a phone, GoPro, lumpy snacks, or gloves – no matter how hard you're pedaling. The two rear pockets are a little smaller than you would find on a road-style jersey, but they keep items pressed against the body – unlike some jerseys which can sway or sag with heavier items.
In fact, you don’t realize how handy having quick stash and grab access is, whether it's snapping Insta pics or grabbing a few extra things from the shop, until you go back to wearing regular shorts and have to find other places to put things.
While the leg pockets are definitely the handiest, the rear pockets give more flexibility with upper layers. However, even if you wear it with a cycling jersey I still used the bib rear pockets for flat valuables like keys and cards so they are separated from the rest of my riding kit and aren't at risk of popping out when you are grabbing something else.
When not in use, the pockets are subtly integrated into the shorts so even on a snobby road ride where cargo pockets would be deemed uncouth they will slip under the radar and nobody will know your dirty gravel secrets.
I have been using the Rapha Cargo shorts for a several months now, riding everything from gravel races to mountain biking. They still look great with no fading of color or fraying around the seams, and the pockets haven't developed any bagginess or sagginess either. They seem to handle the odd off-the-bike tumble pretty well too after having had a few off-and-slide down the trail moments with only one of the crashes actually resulting in a few little holes, which isn’t bad considering the rough trail center surface I slid down. Luckily Rapha offers crash repairs, so assuming the damage isn’t too severe your shorts can be sent off to get fixed.
Rapha already has a broad selection of bib shorts meaning the obvious selling point of the Cargo shorts is the storage. For me, having the extra cargo capacity is a game-changer. Whether it's a stuff-and-go trip to the shop mid-ride or adding a little more flexibility for storage on a ride, the pockets give you loads of options and are often missed when riding non-cargo shorts.
Rapha’s tailoring is spot on too with the Brevet fit offering excellent comfort whether it's multi-day long-distance bikepacking to smashy XC loops. The chamois works well for me and has a good rep with a lot of other riders too.
The price is certainly on the higher end but the quality and durability mean its money well spent. Considering the rough nature of off-road riding, the free repair service could be a bit of a bonus. If the Cargo shorts are a bit pricey, Rapha offers a Core Cargo version for almost half the price.
Tech Specs: Rapha Cargo bib shorts
- Price: $290 / £215
- Materials: 71% polyester, 29% elastane
- Colors: Black, Dark Grey, Dark Navy, Teal
- Size availability: XS to XXL