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Rapha Cargo bib shorts review: Unless you're often riding in the heat, buy the cheaper Core Cargo bibs instead

Are the Rapha Cargo Bibs appreciably better than the Core Cargo Bibs?

A white man wears a set of Rapha Cargo Bibs
(Image: © Will Jones)

Our Verdict

An excellent choice for bikepacking thanks to a massive capacity and non-compressive fit, but the Core Bibs do the job just as well.

For

  • Fit is extremely comfortably for all-day riding
  • Leg grippers will never let go
  • Reflective details

Against

  • Leg grippers uncomfortable
  • Thick chamois can get a little soupy

Adding pockets to bib shorts might be something bordering on heresy for certain sections of the cycling community, but for me, they’ve been such a good thing that I rarely ride in anything else now, for road or gravel. Any old bibs can be improved with a couple of pockets, but the best cargo bib shorts aren’t just a normal road pair with some mesh sewn onto the thighs; they add features that are a little more discipline-specific that take them away from the best cycling shorts into a realm of their own.

While excellent for road riding if you just want to carry a bit more luggage, cargo bibs are more aimed at the crossover of the Venn diagram of gravel and endurance riding, and Rapha was one of the first brands to produce them, at the time to a fair bit of derision and some memes.

This set of Rapha Cargo Bibs has come with me across France, along with the Core Cargo Bibs, along with day rides back home on both road and gravel, so I’ve got a decent flavour of the highs and lows, and how they stack up against their budget sibling. 

A white man wears a set of Rapha Cargo Bibs

They're not quite so plain as the core variety, but any reflective details in the pockets are obscured by the contents (Image credit: Will Jones)

Design and aesthetics 

Most cycling shorts are plain black, maybe with some branding or the odd design flourish. Cargo bibs, or bibs designed for gravel use, are often a little more garish. The Rapha Cargo Bibs aren’t overly embellished, but they do have a few details that elevate them over a plain black pair of bib shorts. 

Not so much gravel-specific as much as just attuned to long days in the saddle that may involve some night riding, they employ a lot of reflective detailing. A strip of subtle dots runs horizontally just below where a jersey would finish, and beneath the mesh pockets each leg features more reflective pointillism. Oddly, too, there is reflective detailing on the shoulder straps, for all those night miles you'll never do without a jersey on. It’s all very subtle though, and without blazing a halogen lamp at your legs you wouldn’t really notice it’s there as a reflective detail, over and above just some textural design work. 

The straps are contrasted in a horizontally striped mesh, with a totally solid back piece which makes them look a little bulky when viewed as an object in their own right. The Lycra lowers extend quite far up the back too, allowing the lower back pockets to be situated quite high up.

A white man wears a set of Rapha Cargo Bibs

The fit isn't so snug as other cargo bibs, as you can see in the material folding  (Image credit: Will Jones)

Comfort and fit 

The Rapha Cargo Bibs are a becoming a bit of an outlier in the premium bib short space; more and more models from various brands are opting for a compression fit, bringing claimed benefits of fatigue reduction. Not so these bibs, which feature a fit that while not loose, is definitely roomier than the competition. For a day ride, fast miles, and sitting at a café for a bit, compression is fine for me, but for long rides, I can find the tightest models rather constricting. Taking these bibs across France, spending 12hrs at a time in the saddle, and then sitting around at camp in them, the looser fit was a real benefit.

The leg length is long, but not as long as is becoming the norm nowadays, and the legs are hamstrung in my opinion by uncomfortable leg grippers. They take the form of a quite narrow band of rubberised dots, sewn into a double thickness area of material at the hem. It avoids having a visible strip of elastic, but the narrowness of the gripper in combination with being part of a slightly raised part of the shorts means they exert a noticeable pressure on the thigh. They are absolutely not going to shift, to their credit. They are tenacious grippers, so after riding hour after hour they leave a noticeable mark and it’s a bit of a relief to get them off the pressure spot.

Our cycling tech expert wears a set of Rapha Cargo Bibs

The straps are adequate, but don't always stay flat. Most don't though. (Image credit: Will Jones)

The straps are perfectly fine, if not exceptional. They’re plenty stretchy enough and never restrictive, but the solid back adds material (mesh, admittedly) that’s unnecessary and makes them a little more sweaty than they need to be in that area. In this respect, compared to the Rapha Core Cargo bib shorts which feature a large oval cutout, I’d say both options offer similar levels of sweatiness.

While we’re on the topic of being sweaty it’s a good time to get into the chamois pad. While some brands go for a ‘less is more’ approach, Rapha goes for a ‘more is more’ tactic; it is very thick. Providing you’ve got a saddle that suits you it’s plenty comfortable enough, and despite the looser fit of the bibs, it doesn’t shift about. 

The extra thickness however does mean it’s effectively a larger sponge, and so on hot days, it can hold onto moisture more so than others I’ve used. This is in spite of the pad itself being perforated. Riding in them on back-to-back days, things begin to feel a little unpleasant, but to be perfectly frank, if you’ve only slept for three hours, you’re probably not going to care. It does mean that if you wash them mid-trip they will take that bit longer to dry. The thickness also is such that you would also do well to drop your saddle height a millimetre or two to compensate.

Being British, and therefore genetically predisposed to being prudish and easily embarrassed, this final point on the pad is a little hard to word… Simply put, it had the tendency to put my unmentionables in the wrong place and often required regular adjustment. This is something I’ve only experienced with Rapha shorts, and not just the Cargo Bibs, but the Pro Team bibs of old and the Core Cargo Bibs too.

A white man wears a set of Rapha Cargo Bibs

The full back can add a little extra heat capacity to proceedings. (Image credit: Will Jones)

Cargo capacity 

This is where the Rapha Cargo Bibs come into their own. Beyond keeping you in relative comfort, the function of a pair of cargo bib shorts is to allow you to carry more stuff, and in these bibs, you can pack them really quite full.

When bikepacking or touring I tend to keep the things I most usually need on my person. Keys, wallet, phone, a set of the best arm warmers and the best cycling gloves, spare layers, and snacks. I don’t want to have to mess about with a zip if I can avoid it, even if it means looking like a bit of a lumpen lunatic. You can quite happily chuck in a set of arm warmers, a pair of gloves, three chocolate bars and a phone into the leg pockets with room to spare. It makes them a little ungainly, and although the upper hem isn’t the most premium-looking option, it does a fantastic job of keeping the contents within the pocket rather than spilling out down the road. If you use them in combination with the Rapha Brevet Jersey your ability to carry stuff becomes slightly comical.

I rarely use the lower back pockets of cargo bibs since they are never big enough to replicate the pockets of a jersey, and it’s no different here. You can sling a phone, wallet and keys in but if you’re wearing a jersey don’t expect to be accessing them on the move.

A white man wears a set of Rapha Cargo Bibs

The pockets are pretty cavernous for their size (Image credit: Will Jones)

Thermal management

The Rapha Cargo Bibs wouldn’t be my go-to on scorching days, primarily because of the slightly thicker pad, but these weren’t excessively hot in the leg department; they toe a good middle ground for long days where the morning may be in single figures and hit the high 20s in the afternoon. A jack of all trades, in a good way.

As mentioned above the solid back panel can add to the heat capacity of things, but it does at least spread the pressure of the straps over a wider area, so if you’re broad of back then it’s probably a decent trade-off.

Value 

Like me you’ve probably browsed the bib shorts on the Rapha website and wondered are the premium bibs worth it over the Core bibs, and on balance, I’d say there probably isn't much in it. The Rapha Core Cargo Bibs feature the same shape and thickness of chamois, but it is devoid of perforations so is a little more sweaty. The Core model has no reflective details, but the leg reflectors on the premium version are usually covered by whatever gubbins you’ve stuffed in your pockets anyway.

The straps on the premium model are mesh, but the Core version features a large cutout on the back so they don’t feel noticeably different in that respect. Without getting too granular in terms of features and specs, the Core bibs aren’t any less comfy. If anything, thanks to wider, flatter leg grippers they’re probably a little more comfy.

A white man wears a set of Rapha Cargo Bibs

A good pair of shorts, slightly let down by overly aggressive grippers (Image credit: Will Jones)

Verdict 

If you like a thick chamois, and are regularly riding at night or in higher temperatures then these are an excellent pair of cargo bib shorts. They are comfortable both on and off the bike, the reflective detailing is good if you want to be seen, particularly from behind, and the cargo capacity is excellent. The chamois perforations do make the posterior comfort a little better than the Core model if you’re a particularly sweaty person too.

The main drawback to these shorts as far as I see it are a pair of uncomfortable leg grippers, and a lack of separation in terms of performance over the Core model. If you’re not riding through the night you’d do perfectly well to save a bit of cash here and get the Core model.

Testing scorecard and notes
AttributesNotesRating
Design and aestheticsA good looking pair of cargo bibs with neat reflective detailing8/10
Comfort and fitComfortable for long days, but the thick chamois holds on to moisture and leg grippers are uncomfortable7/10
Cargo capacityExcellent pockets. Not the most premium but functional and high capacity9/10
Thermal managementFor the purpose of endurance rides they manage heat very well, let down slightly by the chamois thickness8/10
ValueWhen the Core cargo Bibs do the job more or less just as well it's hard to justify the cost5/10
Total74%

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