Rapha Cargo Bib Review
Cons: Pricey, pockets stretch out, retain water once wet
Compare to Similar Products
Our Analysis and Test Results
After exhaustive testing and research, we're able to bring you our best effort in comparative analysis. We break these shorts down across six categories and compare them to the top road bike shorts available on the market so you can determine whether they're right for you, and if not, where you might look to find what you need. Take a look below to see how the Rapha Cargos perform.
Style is in the eye of the beholder, sure, but we can consider what's going on in the pro peloton and use a little judgment to get through this one. They get extra points for having color options, though the only real pizzazz comes with the orange shoulder strap option. The side pockets add a little texture, and the lines do inject a little more character into what is otherwise a smooth, no-nonsense appearance.
We think they did a particularly good job with reducing the Fred factor with the pockets. They're designed to be both useful and attractive. There's a certain demographic of us who gravitate toward cargo shorts, to the eternal chagrin of those who love us, but Rapha does a good job of giving us cargo shorts without alarming those around us - they look good for cargo shorts.
But we understand if you aren't into the pockets and need something a little sexier. You'll find our Top Pick for Short Course winners, the Gore C5 Bib Shorts+, to have a few more color options and a little more flare to them. The SUGOi Evolution Pro bib shorts also had a really nice cut with some color if you're after something a little flashier.
The Raphas are pretty good for what they're meant to do: get you across all sorts of terrain with a little extra cargo, in estimable comfort. Their nylon content is just slightly lower than most other cycling shorts, so they have a small degree of extra give compared to competitors, but the gauge is also slightly thicket. That may make up for the loss in material strength, but there's a modest tradeoff in moisture retention and breathability.
The Rapha Cargos are designed with a new hydrophobic material that confers a good degree of water resistance upon them, but once they're soaked through with sweat or rain, they feel something like a thick wetsuit and seem to retain the moisture. The Castelli NanoFlex 2 Bibs use a similar material, Nano Flex fabric, but do a slightly better job of getting rid of moisture. The thinner fabric in the Gore C5 Bib Shorts+ does a better job of releasing heat and moisture. The Assos T Equipe Evo top the measure here with both thinner material and a higher mix of polyester, which is somewhat hydrophobic.
Padding and Protection
These shorts have a bit of a different job from most of the other shorts in our lineup because they're made for touring. They need to have thicker, broader padding, which might be more of a hassle on short, hard rides, but the butt appreciates it when the ride is predominantly spent in the upright position, maxing out at 15 mph for half a day or more. That said, they're also good for commuting, especially if you need to stuff your ID badge in a quick-access spot or don't wear a jersey.
If you take a look at the picture below, you can see that the Raphas on the left have thicker padding that covers more area. The foam is a bit more firm than the other shorts, which spreads the pressure across the rest of the sitting region, making long, slow days in the saddle a more reasonable prospect. Their top layer is also pretty forgiving on the ol' undercarriage, using something like a fleece cloth to reduce friction.
If most of your rides are shorter than a few hours and you're spending a lot of time hammering and rarely see zone 2 or below, you'll probably want something with leaner padding and a smaller footprint. The SUGOi Evolution Pro bib shorts fit that description, making great functional mid-distance shorts. But our Editor's Choice winning Assos T Equipe Evo have the ultimate combination of friction reduction, form-fit, and padding.
Comfort and Fit
One of the best things about these shorts is their brushed inner lining. It has a smooth, fleece-like feel to it that also insulates and keeps your warm in chilly weather and has the added benefit of being hydrophobic, so it keeps you dry when you're creating moisture. The shoulder straps are especially appreciated. They're pretty smooth and reduce chafe on the shoulders and front bits, so you don't have to use bandaids to mitigate a bloody nipple situation.
Whereas some models like the Gore C5s are just short, athletic cuts, these are a much more relaxed, long cut, ending just above the knee. That can cause a bit of extra adjusting if you prefer your shorts to be a bit higher on the thigh. Luckily, the leg grippers do a good job of holding the shorts in place, though they can start to rub or itch after a few hours, causing you to have to run your finger under them and readjust every now and then.
We should also mention that the front is cut to drop below the belly button, making the wee experience even more fun and convenient. But if you're looking for something just a little more comfortable, you'll have some luck with the SUGOi Evolution Pro Bib Shorts. They have a bit more flexibility, and the cut is a little more athletic. You might also like the Editor's Choice Assos T Equipe Evo bib shorts, which have supple, form-fitting fabric in addition to one of the best chamois designs on the market.
Efficiency and Pedal Friendliness
These bib shorts are ideal for their intended use: long, slow days in the saddle. Shorts with better efficiency and pedal friendliness usually have similar of 70% nylon with the remainder made up of something stretchy, like elastane and/or polyester. These use 71% nylon and 29% elastane - a good mix for durability, strength, stretch, and flexibility.
These cycling shorts are a little different, though. Their cut is a little less athletic, and the chamois padding is both thicker and broader. That makes sense because the Cargos are meant to help save your tail while you're out touring the countryside and it's a reasonable trade-off. If you were using them to get down into an aero position for an hour, all that padding would get in the way and screw up your form, but since they're meant to facilitate and more upright, relaxed position, the larger chamois and padding makes sense.
We'd also be remiss if we didn't mention the obvious impact of the cargo pockets. Generally, you don't notice them, but if you're stuffed to the gills, you're going to notice, and it's going to have an impact on efficiency. We suggest trying to limit it to a few food items. They're probably fine for phones and other important objects, but…
If you are after something with a bit more efficiency, you'll be pleased with the flexible, form-fitting Assos bibs. Their chamois is also a lot thinner and moves with your body, so it's much more efficient on rides in the 3-hour and under range. If you want something with lighter material and less padding to fight with, take a look at the Gore C5 bibs.
These shorts use a fair amount of strong nylon in their mix, ensuring they have good toughness and longevity. That's aided by the thicker gauge of the fabric used. Add to that their minimized and protected seams, which cuts down on potential weak spots. Generally, these shorts should hold up to some good touring over a few seasons, but there are a few concerns.
Obviously, the mesh pockets have some limitations - like getting snagged on corners if you're walking around stores. But they also stretch out and don't return to their original tautness if they're over-stuffed. The material also tends to lose shape, which might be more concerning to riders looking for tighter, more supportive cycling shorts. And the most important concern: the fabric along the inner thighs tends to fray and wear down faster than you'd like in touring shorts, but still not terrible.
If you want something a little tougher, you'll probably have to sacrifice some desirable aspects of these. If you want a more general model that has top performance, you can't go wrong with the Editor's Choice Assos T Equipe Evo bib shorts.
These shorts perform pretty well across mo0st riding activities, but they're ideal for touring. That said, if you just do short rides, but would prefer to keep gels in your thigh pockets instead of stuffing your jersey pockets, they're fine for that.
We think these are great bib shorts, but $270 is a bit steep. There are probably a few other great options that you could consider, but if you'll be crossing vast expanses of uninhabited terrain, and absolutely need to tap out your legs and back for extra calorie storage and want to retain race-like performance, these will make more sense.
For the self-supported rider, there are few things more valuable out on the road than extra storage space for consumables. The Cargo shorts are clearly meant for the riders who believe pit-stops are sinful and therefore need to carry all fuel on-board, but they'd be great shorts even without the pockets. For sitting comfort, their chamois uses thick, targeted foam protected by a silky fleece-like cloth cover to help the miles roll by. Their durability and comfort really come into play for long-distance riders and touring. Nothing ruins a ride like discovering that the extra chafing you're feeling on the inner thigh is because you now see, you've rubbed through your shorts and it's all saddle on skin now. They also do a great job both wicking away sweat and resisting environmental moisture, adding to the reasons they're a smart pick for covering a lot of geography.
— Ryan Baham