In For Review: Rapha Cargo Bib Shorts, Explore T-Shirt, and Explore Hooded Pullover

Written by Alvin Holbrook, on June 30, 2021

The brand you've associated with austere black-and-white and suffering is changing. Rapha now has a line of lifestyle apparel and accessories with lots of colors that are concerned with more than just the purity of road cycling. While there is still an air of serious business in what they do, Rapha has expanded their work to include the Rapha Explore line of apparel and accessories. Not only does Explore strike a more casual tone but Rapha brings a lot of much-needed features to the most traditional of us cyclists.

Rapha BibshortCargo Bib Shorts

Tech

The Rapha Cargo Bib Shorts are ostensibly designed for the moments when you need to carry more food than you thought you did after a grocery store stop, or when you have trash you need to pack out while bike packing, or when you just want easy access to the bikepacking zine you're reading. In many ways, the Rapha Cargo Bibs are enablers. Not that that is a bad thing, however.

Each leg features an expandable mesh pocket and two rear pockets that sit out of sight under a t-shirt and above the waistline when worn with baggies or non-cycling shorts. All pockets get a reinforced top seam in the name of keeping the mesh tight ride after ride.

The bibs feature flatlock seams which are everywhere with the aim of eliminating chafing. This is paired with materials that are thicker than something you’d find on the Pro Team bibs. The bibs also use leg grippers at the bottom to keep the shorts in place, reflective stripes on each leg, and a reflective strap placed just above the chamois that is placed just right for visibility, regardless of whether you wear a traditional cycling jersey or not.Rapha BibshortImportantly, these shorts use Rapha’s Brevet pad, which is different than the Classic pad found on most other bibs due to increased perforation that aims to improve breathability and drying performance. Size-specific chamois is a natural choice of course, and you receive that here too. 

Branding overall is subtle. Photographed here is the black color of these bibs which has a few subtle stripes consisting of classic Rapha pink and grey reflective. Of course, you'd expect all of this polish, as this is Rapha's nicest cargo bib. You get what you pay for in most situations, and this is no different.Rapha BibshortRapha Bibshort

Fit

Let's talk about what everyone wants to know about with these shorts: the pockets. The pockets are really well placed, particularly when worn with something like the Rapha Randonnee shorts I own. It is uncanny, and almost as if they were designed by the same company? Weird.

Now, could I use these shorts to replace the pockets I would otherwise have used with cycling jersey that has pockets? Yes, and reasonably so. I think of those leg pockets as overflow. I wouldn’t want to carry anything particularly heavy there unless it's for a short period of time. You feel the weight of items less than you'd think for it being on a moving part of your body, but you also feel stuff when it's odd-shaped more so than if it is in your pack pocket.

These would be great with a handlebar bag on an all-day ride. Combined, this and a small bag could work well to carry tools, snacks, a phone, and whatever else you want to. That way you avoid saggy back pockets and loading up your legs too much.Rapha BibshortIt is hard to explain how nice and easy it is to reach into the thigh pocket to grab something when off road. I think you could reasonably call it a luxury, but it is something I would consider very worthwhile. But bear in mind that those areas - specifically around the back - get sweaty. If you’re predisposed to sweating on your lower back, consider some sort of pouch for your phone or wallet.

Comfort-wise? Excellent. Seriously, so good. The fabric is very hardy and seems like it will resist abrasions well and last after lots of washes. Better yet, the chamois is outstanding. Initial impressions showed that the chamois isn’t particularly thick, but it is dense. Riding it showed the pad to be supportive, particularly on longer rides. We often equate thickness in a chamois pad with comfort, but the nicest pads are actually fairly thin. The rest of the bib short is in line with Rapha Classic fit, which is comfortable for most people without being exceptionally racey.Rapha BibshortThe bib material (what looks like suspenders) is mesh, which does a good job of making the shorts comfortable over higher temperatures. The Florida heat was no match for the mesh, and I definitely felt more comfortable in it than I did in other stuff in the heat.

One final thing to note here is that the bib part of the shorts actually stretched a little bit in my time. I have a long torso and most bibs feel really tight around the shoulders. These stretched enough to feel just right in the saddle. Hasn’t changed much since.

Explore Technical T-Shirt

Explore Technical T-Shirt

It is easy to say, “oh it's just a t-shirt. Any pair of Nike Dri-Fit will work fine.” And while we hate to say that cyclists are just “built different,” they kinda are. Or rather, their needs are different. The Rapha Explore Technical T-Shirt is clearly designed for those who want to carry a different mindset than that of a traditional zippered cycling jersey.

The Explore T-Shirt actually uses the same material as Rapha’s Classic Flyweight Jersey, which we find breathes about as well as other thin summer jerseys but feels a bit more stout in the hand.

Of course with any other polyester garment, you're more likely to retain body odor than the equivalent merino wool jersey. This is despite the quick-drying flyweight jersey fabric they use. Definitely thought after the ride that I needed to wash it, but if you’re not washing your cycling apparel after your ride… then you’re not me. I need to wash mine.Explore Technical T-Shirt

You get a bunch of other cycling-related features. Because the material is like that of their other cycling jerseys, it has a textured fabric that stands off the skin for better air flow. Other cycling-specific additions include a longer tail to cover your lower back while riding as well as bold reflective striping on the chest and upper back. Besides that, it is a really good t-shirt.

The fit is along the lines of athletic wear, the textured fabric feels like a good cycling jersey. It is an odd combination, but one that works well, particularly with cargo bibs or some sort of on-bike storage.Explore Technical T-Shirt

Explore Hooded Gore-Tex Pullover

Rapha Explore Pullover

Tech

Who doesn’t love Gore-Tex? The Gore-Tex found in this Explore Hooded Pullover is called Gore-Tex Active, the best waterproof material Rapha uses. It consists of a liner backing and a Gore-Tex membrane that encourages breathability. There is a third waterproof material on top that helps to prevent rain, snow, and moisture from penetrating. In short, breathable but still waterproof, thus the Active label. That breathability means it can be worn on mixed-weather days.

The hood is sized to fit just over a helmet and has adjustable elastic bands to keep it all in place. The elastic band means that if you prefer to place the hood under your helmet, you can.Rapha Explore PulloverMaybe the most prominent part of the jacket is the front pocket. It has internal mesh dividers that are just big enough for a standard-sized phone. The partitions mean you can organize, which helps with sagging.

Elsewhere you’ll find reflective stripes on the sides and reflective dots on the lower back half of the jersey. Rapha also figured it was a good idea to include a microfiber-lined collar to make sure the jacket is minimally scratchy against the face. Very helpful, particularly if you have facial hair.Rapha Explore Pullover

Fit

Fit is roomier than a road-specific jacket. It is roomy enough that it can be worn comfortably off the bike should you decide to go on walks.

The stitching and materials overall feel just a bit stouter than a traditional road-centric jacket too. It feels like it can take a beating. Gore-Tex Active in general is surprisingly light. The ability to pack it down easily into an integrated stuff sack is a very nice option.

I am a sucker for pouches and the kangaroo-style pouch at the front of the jacket is one of those things I love. One thing to note of course is that because the pouch is mounted relatively high -  on your chest rather than toward the torso - means it might grow uncomfortable carrying anything more than a phone and a few small things. Maybe a physical map if you’re about your maps.

Rider on a gravel road in the mountains

Conclusion

Conclusion

I'm not sure if Rapha is always serious business like they were when they launched years back in weathered sepia. And while the introduction of their Explore line marks a more casual tone, you can tell they took this just as seriously. It is a reliable adventure companion that works well on the daily commute, gravel, mountain biking, and even around town.

The Rapha Explore Hooded Gore-Tex Pullover ticks all the boxes. Its relaxed aesthetic ensures it looks good on and off the bike, and while Utah has seen limited precipitation this winter and spring, the jacket works very well in the times I’ve been able to take advantage of the rain.

The Rapha Explore Technical T-Shirt again feels more casual than serious, but the cycling jersey material and cycling-optimized fit make it feel great on the bike. Just make sure you find a way to store your phone, tools, and snacks.

And if you want to carry everything you would otherwise with a cycling jersey, the Rapha Cargo Bibs are a great choice. As bib shorts, they are comfortable, easy to wear, and are hard-wearing. The pockets on the side and back just add to it.

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Want to see Brandon's kit in person? Give us a call during business hours or send us an email any time to info@contenderbicycles.com

Words by Brandon Baumgardner and Alvin Holbrook. Photos by Berin Klawiter.


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