Whilst I'm not sold on short pockets for road rides, I can see these being excellent for bikepackers and commuters alike. It's a shame not to enjoy bibs, and the pocket parity that would bring with the additional lower back compartment, but in this case the waist option might better suit the target market - and though thick, the chamois is an absolute dream.
Pockets could be useful in right scenario
Bib option would be nice
Women the world over know the frustration of clothing with insufficient pocket space. In fact, cycling kit is one of few markets where pocket equality is almost a given - but in summer 2018 Rapha decided that the traditional three compartment approach just wasn't enough, introducing the Cargo range.
After soft launching the concept with men, via the Cargo bib shorts and Cargo bib tights, Rapha has decided the design is good enough for women too, offering secret squirrel storage on its new Core Cargo waist shorts.
The concept is simple - add pockets to shorts, either limiting the amount of kit weighing down our jersey pockets, or allowing us to take more on the ride. With the increasing interest in gravel riding, bikepacking and all day adventures, this makes a lot of sense.
It's a useful idea for commuters who want pocket space whilst throwing on a t-shirt instead of a cycling specific jersey, too.
In designing its first women's version of the Cargo creation, Rapha has opted for a waist short in its value orientated Core range. As more of a bib short fan this isn't an approach I'm personally a fan of, so the illustration showing how to care for bib shorts when bikepacking depicted on the inside band felt to add insult to injury.
However, given the target audience - bikepackers and commuters - the waist short option that doesn't require any additional faff for pee stops might better meet the needs of the intended user.
The brand has built the shorts around its new women's chamois, also seen in the Souplesse shorts. This is constructed from multi-density and fully moulded foam which tapers at the edge. Tested by 38 women over 15,000 kilometres prior to release, it really is an exceptionally comfortable chamois.
The padding is quite thick, making it less ideal for those quick into town runs, but I can see it being a blessing on long gravel rides, especially with the extra provision at the rear which will suit a more upright position.
The shorts themselves, like Rapha's other offerings, are quite long and finished a few inches short of my knee. Being part of the Core range, the fit is much more relaxed than the Souplesse bibs, and I was comfortable in the X-Small on test. The laser cut leg grippers stay put using silicone, and though quite tight they didn't leave indents, whilst the fabric was soft and stretchy, drying quickly.
There's always the worry that waist shorts will dig in, or fall down. However, the high back meant there was no risk of exposing any skin and I forgot about the waist band when riding.
The lack of bib means that women do lose out on the lower back pocket which features on the men's Cargo shorts, which seems an unfortunate omission - but placing extra weight on the lower back of a waist short would be a recipe for disaster (and runaway bananas).
My concern with the side pockets was that items might move around, creating unnecessary jangle and irritation. However, placing a mini pump in one and my (oversized) phone in the other, I was pleasantly surprised to find my kit stayed put and was near forgotten about. I'll put this down to the tightly woven mesh of the compartment, which it has to be said, looks pretty cool with the 'Rapha' logo just peaking through.
In reality, on most road rides, the space in my pockets is sufficient. I can see more use for a lower back pocket, where I might store items I don't need until stopping (debit card, keys). However, if I was spinning down to town and didn't want to wear a jersey, or heading out for a long day and needed to carry a lot of kit, I can absolutely see these being a gold standard piece of kit.
The shorts come in at £95, which though not the cheapest, seems reasonable for a comfortable pair of shorts with a carefully researched and thoroughly tested chamois.
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Cycling Weekly's Digital Editor Michelle Arthurs-Brennan is a traditional journalist by trade, having begun her career working for a local newspaper before spending a few years at Evans Cycles, then combining the two with a career in cycling journalism.
When not typing or testing, Michelle is a road racer who also enjoys track riding and the occasional time trial, though dabbles in off-road riding too (either on a mountain bike, or a 'gravel bike'). She is passionate about supporting grassroots women's racing and founded the women's road race team 1904rt.
Favourite bikes include a custom carbon Werking road bike as well as the Specialized Tarmac SL6.
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