Very comfortable shorts with a relaxed fit and unique styling. We'd like to see a toilet break feature, and the white upper didn't do too well in a colour wash - but aside from those minor gripes, these shorts have performed well, with the generously padded chamois keeping saddle sores at bay.
No toilet break function
The Rapha x Outdoor Voices collaboration pretty much took over the social media feeds of female cyclists when the collection launched - and not via Sponsored posts; the sharing was organic and it was largely because this capsule wardrobe offers a refreshing take on women's cycling that met a ready market during lockdown.
Outdoor Voices is a fitness brand that paired up with Rapha to create a limited edition range. The aim was to provide kit that met the performance needs of cyclists, whilst still being appealing to those not completely comfortable with the traditional lycra aesthetic. With many women taking up cycling during lockdown, but not necessarily keen to jump headfirst into the roadie culture, the range hit the sweetspot. For those of us already engrossed in cycling, the collection spoke of a more pleasure seeking take on cycling that was less about 'embracing the suffering' and more enjoying the ride.
So that's the ideological part of the equation covered. What of the actual shorts?
Rapha has gone for a soft upper, with a cross-over back and high front. The upper is made from a 'proprietary striped mesh', it's very stretchy and comfortable. There's no 'comfort break' feature built into these shorts, such as the clasp on offer on Rapha's Souplesse shorts. Rapha does offer a waist short version of these, but those of us who prefer bibs don't want to have to strip off in a field just to spend a penny - and with so many halterneck, clasp, droptail and other options around on the market (and working effectively) personally I see no reason we should have to.
Getting my criticisms out the way early, I did find the dark blue legs and white upper left me questioning if these should go in the machine with a colour wash or a white wash. In the end, I bundled them in with colour items - and the white on top has taken a very faint blue tinge.
The fit is based on Rapha's 'Classic' collection, which means it's pretty relaxed with a focus on comfort over sculpted aerodynamic performance. I wear a UK 8/10 and the size Small left plenty of breathing room, possibly a little too much - there was some bunching around the lower back and I might have been better sizing down on my normal Rapha gear to an X-Small.
The legs are fairly long as women's shorts go, and made from a comfortably compressive fabric. This is finished off with a 55mm leg gripper, with silicone spots on the inside to keep it all in place without creating a 'muffin/sausage leg', a definite plus.
The 'cargo' name denotes the provision of extra pockets vs normal cycling kit. There's one at the lower back, and then one on the outside of each quad.
I typically used the rear pocket to stash an inner tube, keeping the pockets on either thigh for gravel rides when I wanted some extra snacks at easy reach. They're effective, and nothing moved around or caused irritation. Front on, full pockets would generally give a bulky aesthetic, but I chose not to care when enjoying the countryside and fresh air.
The most crucial element of any pair of cycling shorts is the chamois, and in this case Rapha's recently developed 'Classic' pad provided ample comfort. It's notably thicker than most, making me very aware of it when walking around off the bike. If you prefer a thinner pad, you may want to look elsewhere. However, for relaxed endurance rides where I was often in the saddle for hours at a time, I found it to be extremely comfortable and the additional bulk was a welcome addition.
Coming in at £180, these are certainly an investment - indeed they're even more expensive than the Dyora shorts from Assos, matching the swing tag of the Gore C7's which we called a tad overpriced. Both the aforementioned pairs of shorts focus on the performance end of the scale, so with these tailored more to the accessible end of the market, I feel a good chunk of the price tag is attributed to the appealing aesthetic.
Michelle Arthurs-Brennan is Cycling Weekly's Tech Editor, and is responsible for managing the tech news and reviews both on the website and in Cycling Weekly magazine.
A traditional journalist by trade, Arthurs-Brennan began her career working for a local newspaper, before spending a few years at Evans Cycles, then combining writing and her love of bicycles first at Total Women's Cycling and then Cycling Weekly.
When not typing up reviews, news, and interviews Arthurs-Brennan 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 190rt.
She rides bikes of all kinds, but favourites include a custom carbon Werking road bike as well as the Specialized Tarmac SL6.
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