Rapha Explore Shorts review – versatile gravel/MTB baggies

If gravel or adventure riding is your thing but the all-out Lycra look isn’t, then these shorts could be what you’ve been looking for

A man wearing Rapha Explore Shorts in a wood
(Image: © James Blackwell)

BikePerfect Verdict

A well designed and casual looking short aimed at gravel riders that’s just at home on the XC bike too.

Pros

  • +

    Great fit and length for longer days in the saddle

  • +

    Comfy material

  • +

    Look great

  • +

    Multi-sport use

Cons

  • -

    Two color design looks a little dated

  • -

    May benefit from some venting in hot weather

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Let’s face it, not all of us dig the full-on Lycra look for gravel and adventure riding. There’s no denying how comfortable it is, but for those who prefer a more casual look the Explore shorts from Rapha could be just what you’ve been waiting for. For 2024, the Explore shorts build on the original model – the Rapha Explore Overshorts, released back in 2022 – with some updated features, a new cut and new colors. 

Photo of rider wearing shorts sat on bench

The above the knee cut is perfect off the bike too (Image credit: James Blackwell)

Design and specifications

Mountain biking shorts have trended towards a more tailored cut, using lightweight and stretchy materials but the need to accommodate kneepads has meant they have needed to remain long - too long for gravel riding. The Explore short slips right in there for its gravel and adventure duties with an above the knee length and a slightly more relaxed cut than the original Explore Overshort.

The lightweight four-way stretch material has a slight brushed feel to it and it gets a DWR (durable waterproof repellent) treatment to help ward off showers and mud. There are two open side pockets, one zipped pocket on the thigh for a phone or snacks, and a rather generous rear pocket at the rear for small valuables.

A zip fly and small snap popper secure them in place with an elasticated waistband with a small snap buckle at the front for adjusting fit to suit. A simpler solution than the two adjustment buckles from the previous model. My size medium measured 11 inches at the leg opening with an inseam of 9 inches.

A small hanger loop at the rear is a nice touch, and means when sodden you can easily hang them up if you’re out in the wild.

If I’m honest, I did prefer the aesthetic of the previous model, with shared DNA from Rapha’s excellent mountain bike Men’s Trail Short. The angular seams and pockets are gone as is the simple one-color design. Replaced with a two-color design and more rounded off pockets and a small graphic and Rapha logo in subtle reflective print near the hem.

shot of short on rider standing three quarters on to camera

The roomy cut to the leg is just right for airflow and comfort and pedaling efficiency (Image credit: James Blackwell)

Performance

After many of miles during testing, I have become a real fan of the shorter looser fit. I was skeptical at first about the cut, but they soon proved to be very comfy when cranking out the miles with the hem of the short rising well above the knee and the loose fit really providing  a cool and comfortable pedaling experience, especially in warmer weather. They shrugged off trail spray and light showers and mud easily brushed off when dry.  

There’s no venting to the side pocket, it’s for storage only and my iPhone fitted perfectly as the pocket is high on the thigh and stayed place and didn’t flap about when pedaling hard or when out of the saddle.

That said, come summer it will be interesting how warm I get in them without any venting, but the lightweight material has so far proven to breathe well in spring temperatures.

Fit is pretty good for my size medium, at a 30inch waist, but I did need to cinch in the waist adjuster a little to accommodate the weight of stuff in my pockets. I like the stowablilty of these shorts using their own pocket, great when in transit of just storing them at home.

Close up photo of large rear pocket unzipped

You can zip up the shorts into the large rear pocket for storage or for stowing smaller items (Image credit: James Blackwell)

Verdict

These shorts could be described as multi-sport as they're as at home on a gravel/adventure bike as they are on an XC mountain bike and I’ve even gone trail running in them. They are high priced, but they certainly perform well, are lovely to ride in and look pretty good off the bike too.

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The lowdown: Rapha Explore Shorts
AttributesNotesRating
Design and fitExcellent cut and waist adjustment★★★★★
PerformanceSuper comfy and very pedal friendly★★★★★
DurabilityHave worn well throughout testing★★★★
Value for moneyHigh end price but worth it★★★★

Close-up photo of the front buckle

The lightweight buckle easily tailors fit (Image credit: James Blackwell)

Tech specs: Rapha Explore Shorts

  • Price: $135 / £110 / €128
  • Colors: Grey/Black Charcoal, Rock/Sage Grey
  • Materials: 88% nylon, 12% elastane
  • Sizes: XS,  S,M, L,XL, XXL
James Blackwell
Freelance writer

James, aka Jimmer, is a two-wheeled fanatic who spent 20 years working on MBUK. Over that time he got to ride some amazing places, ride with the world's top pros and of course, test a lot of bikes and kit. Having ridden and tested everything from XC to DH, he now calls the trail/downcountry stable his happy place. Although a self-confessed race-a-phobe, it hasn’t stopped him racing XC, DH, Enduro, Marathon and the notorious Megavalanche.