Rapha Trail Jersey, Cargo Liner Shorts, and Trail Shorts in Review
Rapha started a new chapter in their ascension to cycling gear dominance with their expansion into mountain bike clothing. Wearing Rapha cycling clothing amongst other mountain bike riders might engender some side-eye from friends wearing more traditional gear from the likes of Giro or Pearl Izumi. After all, when people think of Rapha, they think of road bike riders grimacing through sepia-toned rides that end with an espresso stop. Mountain biking is anything but that. Different attitude, different mindset, and ultimately more focused on thrill seeking kind of fun rather than Type II kind of fun.
As one might assume, the line of Rapha Performance Trailwear is a nice bit of kit to wear. Styling errs toward solid, natural shades and cuts tend to be a little less boxy than most other brands. But does Rapha’s normally-polished appearance stand up to the rigors of mountain biking, especially given the price points?
We took out Rapha Trail Short Sleeve and ¾ Sleeve Jerseys, Rapha Trail Cargo Bib Liner Short, Rapha Trail Shorts, and Women’s ¾ Sleeve Jersey and put them through their paces to find out.
Rapha Trail Short Sleeve Jersey
Rapha seemed to play it fairly safe with the Trail Short Sleeve Jersey. Rapha uses “environmentally preferred materials” for the torso area of the jersey, which consists of 100% polyester, 68% of it recycled. The sleeves are mostly nylon with a touch of spandex to allow the jersey to move with you as you ride the bike, and seem a bit sturdier to hold up against tree branch snags or close brushes with boulders. Both parts of the jersey material are textured, which seems to promote airflow and better drying time as a result.
Importantly, Rapha includes a repair kit that includes matching fabric bits should you take a spill and need to patch your jersey. Rapha also offers their repair program should you crash and need a fix. If there is anyone else who does this, we are unfamiliar with them! Great ideas, Rapha.
The jersey is typical Rapha in its looks too. Men’s and women’s jerseys both come in simple color blocks that skip the loud, branded colors of men’s MTB jerseys and the pinks and purples that dominate women’s MTB jerseys.
How much does fit play a role in how much you enjoy your ride? We think a company like Rapha understands the value of fit better than most mountain bike apparel manufacturers, if only partially due to their background in road cycling. Most jerseys tend to have a boxy feel to them and sometimes neglect details. The label at the neck is pressed into the jersey so it doesn’t scratch, the collar cuff is soft, and the seams are well-finished.
The looks are also pretty simple, which I like. I typically wear a normal t-shirt and shorts out riding and one of the reasons is because it doesn’t look much like I’m out riding a bike.
Cathryn was also able to ride in the Women’s Trail ¾ Sleeve Jersey, and she too echoed the importance of fit.
"Finding clothing that fits properly is important for everyone, but it seems to be harder in the cycling world. Rapha’s experience in making road cycling jerseys that need to fit almost skin-tight seems to benefit this Trail ¾ Sleeve Jersey, as this jersey fits me quite well. This jersey is on the form-fitting side but it doesn’t restrict me from moving around on the bike.
"It isn’t all perfect, however. I would need to size up in my next jersey because the length was a little short in my experience. While the back is longer than the front, it was still a little too short for my torso and would bunch up under my backpack. I would likely lose a bit of the athletic fit that I liked but I would gain enough coverage to cover my back with a backpack.
"Like a lot of women, I tend to have to pick and choose the apparel I use. I have a specific brand of pants that I know fits me well, I have others for tops. Fortunately, this Trail Jersey fits me well and fits me better than most other mountain bike jerseys, even with the need to personally size up."
Rapha Trail Shorts
One of the things I don’t like about mountain bike shorts is how accurate the “baggies” term is. MTB shorts tend to feel thin and flap in the wind, which makes them not much better than a plastic grocery bag. These Rapha Trail shorts are still lightweight, but they feel much more substantial than other trail shorts, more akin to a normal pair of shorts you’d wear off the bike.
I’ve crashed pretty hard in these shorts and haven’t found any tears, scrapes, or issues with these shorts. I am convinced that my crash would’ve caused tears in other, thinner shorts. Should there be any tears, Rapha includes a repair kit as well as their free repair program, just like the other Rapha gear here.
I appreciate the pocket setup of these shorts. There are two zipper pockets at the sides of the shorts that perfectly fit a phone and importantly, the phone doesn’t sway as I pedal. There are also two open hand pockets, something that not every MTB short comes with. I also like the elastic cinch belt, though there are also belt loops if you wanted to go that direction too. It makes for a short that is more adjustable than other shorts I’ve tried.
This is another instance of Rapha applying what they have learned from making bib shorts and making sure these pants work well. These are much more trail-focused in the fit, features, and feel, and avoid the motorcycle inspiration that other shorts tend to see. In short, they don’t feel too different from normal shorts, and I think that is a good thing. I am the kind of cyclist who tends to ride in a t-shirt and normal shorts. I don’t typically ride with knee pads, and so shorts like this that are longer to accommodate those pads are too long for my personal taste. However, I could count this as a comfortable short, something that I didn’t think about much while riding, outside of noticing how good the pockets were.
Rapha Cargo Bib Liner
Bib liners are usually where you can tell what kind of experience a clothing brand has making cycling gear, and Rapha shows off everything they know here. Because these are ‘cargo’ shorts, Rapha put two pockets at your lower back to carry smaller stuff, though I think most phones will fit. This upper area is a light mesh made of recycled materials that hold close to you without compressing much. The cuffs of the shorts have little silicone grippers to keep things in place, and the padding seems thick and durable.
A bib short liner is designed to work underneath a regular set of shorts. Compared to normal bib shorts, a liner is only designed to compress enough to keep the chamois pad in place. These do a good job, and the only time I think about these shorts is when it got bumpy. The fit really is that good. The suspenders never feel too long or too short and I greatly appreciated having the chamois pad for longer days. These are the best liner shorts I’ve ever used, which again makes sense considering Rapha’s background making road bike bib shorts.
As one would expect, Rapha took all of the things they have learned from making great road bike clothing and spun it into making great mountain bike gear. This gear is much more trail-oriented than enduro bro specific, both in look and feel. As a result, Rapha Trail gear may not be for everyone, but for someone like me who rarely uses mountain bike clothing in the first place, this works really nicely.
Brook Hillsgrove has been a mechanic and service writer at Contender Bicycles for the last year and a half. Originally hailing from New Hampshire, Brook grew up in the east coast trail and XC mountain biking world. After moving to Utah, he found a love for enduro-style riding. In the summer months, he spends his time at the bike park and trail riding around the SLC valley. He also loves weekend trips to the desert for freeride and classic big mountain trails in Moab.
Words by Brook Hillsgrove, Cathryn Haberman, and Alvin Holbrook.