Rapha Trail Shorts Review
Cons: Don't work well with bulky knee pads, more expensive
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Rapha Trail Shorts
$150.00 at REI
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|Pros||Extremely pedal-friendly, quality construction, killer fit||Lightweight, ventilated, articulated fit, quality construction, thoughtful design||Trim and clean fit, quality chamois, pedal-friendly||Lightweight, comfortable, great fit, quick-drying||Affordable, comes with chamois liner, trim fit, clean style|
|Cons||Don't work well with bulky knee pads, more expensive||Expensive, short inseam||A little heavy, below average ventilation||Slightly longer and roomier than previous version||Hanging mesh pockets, limited ventilation|
|Bottom Line||High-quality trail riding shorts best for long hours in the saddle||They are expensive, but Kitsbow's quality construction, attention to detail, and high performance design can't be beat||A trim pair of trail riding shorts that deliver exceptional comfort and pedal-friendliness but don't breathe particularly well||Comfortable, lightweight, minimalist shorts for big days in the saddle||These trail riding shorts offer an excellent combination of performance and affordability|
|Rating Categories||Rapha Trail Shorts||Kitsbow Mescal Vent...||Troy Lee Designs Sk...||Patagonia Dirt Roamer||Fox Racing Ranger|
|Fit and Pedal Friendliness (20%)|
|Specs||Rapha Trail Shorts||Kitsbow Mescal Vent...||Troy Lee Designs Sk...||Patagonia Dirt Roamer||Fox Racing Ranger|
|Shell Fabric||88% Nylon 12% Elastane, Bluesign and Oeko-Tex certified||4-way stretch softshell, mesh vent panels||95% Coolmax polyester, 5% Lycra||4-way stretch 90 denier 86% recycled polyester/14% spandex with a DWR||2-way stretch ripstop fabric|
|Removable Inner Short?||No||No||Yes||Sold separately||Yes|
|Lining Main Fabric||None||None||AIR COMP||None||Removable liner|
|Chamois||None||None||TMF 4-hour||None, but compatible with Patagonia bibs and liners(sold separately)||Dual Density|
|Inseam Measurement (inches)||12.5 inch||12.5 inch||12.5 inch||12.5 inch||12 inch|
|Number of pockets||4||2||2||2||3|
|Weight (grams)||258 grams||261 grams||244 grams||164 grams||213 grams|
|Weight (ounces)||9.1 oz||9.2 oz||8.6 oz||5.8 oz||7.5 oz|
|Weight Liner||N/a||N/a||4.3 oz||N/a||3.8 oz|
Our Analysis and Test Results
Rapha has made a name for themselves in the road bike world and only just recently entered the mountain bike market. The Trail Shorts are the first baggy mountain bike shorts the brand has made, and they fit the high quality and high-end reputation that Rapha is known for. Sold with a repair kit and backed with a free repair service, it's clear that they want you to get your money's worth. We found these slim-fitting shorts to be impressively comfortable and pedal-friendly with a relatively clean, understated style. Additionally, Rapha sells a full line of jerseys, jackets, riding pants, and accessories in complementary colors so you can complete your riding kit. Yes, these shorts are expensive, but we feel the quality justifies the price tag.
The Rapha shorts offer tremendous levels of comfort. The Bluesign and Okeo-Tex certified materials are not only environmentally friendly but they feel pleasant against the skin at all temperatures. The fit is on the slimmer, performance-oriented side of the spectrum, but doesn't feel constrictive in any way. The waistband isn't bulky, and the adjustment straps don't dig into your hips or interfere with a hip pack. All of the seams lay nice and flat, including at the hem by the knees, and don't chafe or irritate the skin in any way. It seems like Rapha went out of their way to make these shorts as comfortable as possible, and we think they did an excellent job.
It should be noted that these shorts do not come with a padded chamois liner. Most serious riders already have a stash of their favorite liner shorts, but if not, you'll need to factor in the price of a liner with these shorts. Rapha does sell a Cargo Bib Liner with a super comfortable chamois pad for $135.
Fit and Pedal Friendliness
The Rapha shorts really stand out in terms of their excellent fit. These shorts are made for trail riding and they have a tailored, trim fit that suits that purpose well. They come in six sizes, XS-XXL, so you can be sure to get a pair that is relatively close to your waist size. The waistband is relatively static/non-stretch and has an adjustment system so you can dial in the fit, plus they have belt loops if you prefer. The inseam length changes by size, starting at 32 centimeters, or 12.5-inches in a size XS and increasing by 1 centimeter each size up to XXL. That means our size medium test pair had a 34 cm, or 13.4-inch inseam length. Our shorts fell right about the middle of the kneecap while standing and rose an inch or so above the knee while pedaling. The hem of the shorts is also cut at an angle, and they hang slightly lower in the front than the back.
We found the Trail Shorts to be very pedal-friendly and we would have no problem wearing them on all-day mega rides. In fact, the in-saddle experience is about as good as it gets. When you are turning the cranks, the low-profile nature of the shorts works wonders. There is no excess material bouncing around and the trim cut lays flat against the legs. The hem of the shorts rises above the knee while pedaling, the waist is articulated slightly, and the fabric stretches enough that there is no resistance to the pedal stroke. The angled hem of the shorts is shorter at the back of the leg which makes them less prone to rubbing the back of your knee or calf while pedaling. Additionally, when you are in and out of the saddle negotiating technical sections of trail, the crotch is tight against your body and is not prone to snagging the seat.
The Trail Shorts have a relatively minimalist aesthetic, but they come with most of the features riders have come to expect. The shorts are constructed with an 88% nylon/12% elastane material. The fabric has a little bit of stretch to it and is designed to allow heat and moisture to escape and appears to be of high quality.
At the waist, the shorts are secured with a zipper fly and a locking snap. Rather than a standard snap, this one has a small channel that locks the two sides together. This ensures that your shorts won't accidentally come undone while riding, but is slightly more involved to open and close than a typical snap. The waistband also features a locking cinch system to adjust the fit. On both sides of the shorts, straps are fed through locking tabs so you can quickly and easily fine-tune the fit. These shorts also have belt loops, and while we feel they are redundant given the effective low-profile adjustment system, some riders will probably appreciate having the option to use a belt.
On the front of the shorts are two standard hand pockets. These pockets are open at the top and are best for holding items or your hands while you are off the bike. On the outside of each thigh is a zippered back-loading thigh pocket. The back-loading design makes it easier to access the contents while you are sitting on the bike, and they are large enough to fit a modern smartphone. Inside the thigh pockets is a sleeve intended to secure a phone and keep it from flopping around while you pedal.
The marketing copy for the Trail Shorts states that they are designed for use with or without knee pads. We wore multiple sets of knee pads with these shorts and we found that they work far better with slim, minimalist knee pads. Bulkier knee pads didn't play all that nicely with the somewhat smaller leg opening. In addition, the shorter inseam length can lead to some gap between the top of your knee pad sleeve and the bottom of your shorts, depending on the pads, of course.
These shorts are made from quality materials and the construction appears to be top-notch. Throughout testing, we observed no signs of premature wear or breakdown. For the trail-riding application, they should offer plenty of day-to-day durability. Barring a significant number of crashes, the fabric feels like it should hold up. On top of that, Rapha has made a clear commitment to the longevity of their mountain bike products, and each pair of trail shorts comes with a set of color-matched iron-on patches so you can repair minor tears at home. Additionally, they offer a free repair service to fix issues that are too big or difficult to do at home. These shorts may be expensive, but it's clear that Rapha intends for them to last.
At first glance, the Trail Shorts could easily be confused for a regular pair of shorts. They have a clean appearance with a very simple design, a somewhat tailored fit, and a casual, understated look. There are no loud logos, crazy reinforced areas, funky stitching, or anything that really screams "mountain bike shorts". They come in several solid colorways with a small Rapha logo on the left thigh pocket. Two regular hand pockets at the front of the shorts further reinforce the casual vibe, particularly if you're wearing them around town or out for a post-ride beverage. The thigh pockets are slim, and the color-matched zippers almost hide the fact they are even there. The waist adjustment straps are low-profile and subtle, though the black straps may stand out slightly on the lighter color shorts.
As the name suggests, the Trail Shorts are designed for trail riding. Cross-country, trail, and all-mountain riders are the target market, and these shorts deliver comfort and pedal-friendliness in spades. They don't offer much in the way of protection other than coverage from the sun and a thin layer of material that will shrug off contact with bushes and trailside branches and some minor wipeouts. Gravity riders will probably want to look into other options with more coverage and beefier materials.
As mentioned earlier, the slightly smaller leg opening of the Trail Shorts works best with lighter-duty, low-profile knee pads. The inseam length of these shorts could also result in some pad gap, depending on the sleeve length of the pads you use.
Rapha cycling apparel has never been known as a value purchase, and the Trail Shorts are definitely on the high-end of the price spectrum. While expensive, they are made from quality materials with the craftsmanship that you'd expect for the price. They certainly won't be for everybody, but XC and trail riders who appreciate comfort and pedal-friendliness will find a lot to like here. Add in the fact that they come with repair patches and are backed with a repair program, and most riders should be able to get their money's worth.
The Rapha Trail Shorts are an impressive entry into the mountain bike market for this traditionally road-focused brand. These trail riding shorts should appeal most to riders who appreciate a slimmer, tailored fit and like to put in serious miles. They aren't cheap, but they are clearly built to last with quality materials and craftsmanship. If you've been waiting for Rapha to make mountain bike clothes, the wait is finally over.
— Pat Donahue
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