When I found out I’d be testing the new Rapha Women’s Core Cargo padded shorts, I was pretty excited. Despite being a lover of bib shorts all my life and avoiding non-bibbed options for fear of waist strangulation by poorly designed waistbands, I had every faith in the Rapha name as they’ve been a brand of tremendous reliability in my eyes for some time.
I measured myself using Rapha’s sizing guide, and to my surprise, it came up as a small (XXS-XL available). Whilst I’m usually a size small in MTB kit, I was used to going up a size or two for road cycling kit. The shorts arrived just a couple of days later, and first of all, judging Rapha on its packaging, I was pleased. A padded brown paper jiffy bag that was easy to recycle, brownie points there straight away!
As I unwrapped the shorts from their packing, I noticed a strange little diagram on the inside of the waistband of the shorts which was not accompanied by any words, just this:
What confused me the most about this diagram (other than the fact I had no idea what it was for) was that in the third sketch, it shows someone standing on their shorts that are wrapped up, yet they are still wearing cycling shoes, so…does that mean they’re just standing there bottom half commando stamping on their shorts? Strange, but you do you I suppose.
After some scouring of the internet with no luck, I dropped a message to my fellow cargo short testers, to quickly learn that this was in fact a bikepacking towel drying method, but the question still begged, why go through all the effort to print this little diagram on some shorts?
Bemusement aside, I was eager to get my legs into some Rapha goodness and I tried on the shorts straight away despite not heading out on the bike that day. The material is so smooth and nice on the skin, the waistband is deep, so it doesn’t strangle your waist as you lean forward to ride, the pockets are subtle but also big enough to store my phone (which isn’t small as I always opt for the biggest phone size around!) and keys, snacks etc, and the size was pretty much spot on. As cargo shorts, they carried stowed items effortlessly.
I currently have the Women’s Cargo Bib shorts in my wardrobe too, so I had a good comparison for these non-bibbed Core Cargo shorts. These shorts fitted a tad looser than my bibs, but I’d prefer it to be that way in order to feel suffocated around the waist.
I headed out on the bike the next day to put them through their paces, but unfortunately for me, this is where it all went wrong. The smooth material soon became an enemy, as I found myself sliding off my saddle repeatedly. Not by a lot, but enough that I was having to shuffle back every few minutes. I hadn’t changed any positions on my bike and it was the same set up I had been riding for years in many different shorts, and never had I come across the issue of sliding forward off of the saddle.
The second, and most disappointing part about the shorts was the pad. Whilst it was comfortable on my bum and undercarriage, it was far too wide for my body which meant that I had the sides of the shorts digging into my upper thighs/groin pant line as I pedalled which quickly saw me turn home to try again another day.
I left it a few days, hoping that I’d forget what annoyed me and that I was just in a particularly irritable mood that first test day, and on my next test venture, I headed out on the mountain bike.
I found more success here, whilst the pad still dug into my thighs on the climbs, it wasn’t as severe as it had been on the road bike and the only reasoning I can think of is that my MTB saddle is likely to be a tad wider than my road saddle. After a good couple of hours on the MTB, I began to sink into them a little better and I didn’t suffer with the sliding off the saddle problem as much as I did on my road bike.
At the end of the day I just hadn’t settled into them as much as I’d have liked, and given the choice between heading out for a ride in these shorts, or any of my others at home, these would probably be my go-to shorts when all other kit is in the wash.
To say I’m disappointed would be an understatement, I’ve got a pair of the Cargo Bib Shorts and they fit wonderfully.
Bemused by the stark difference in fit between the two, I got out a measuring tape and had to find out whether or not there was a physical difference, measuring the narrowest part of the pad (that had been causing me the problem) on both shorts. My Cargo Bib Shorts were 10cm wide at the narrowest, and these Core Cargo shorts on test? They were 11.5cm at their narrowest point.
The Rapha Core Cargo shorts verdict
Despite them both being a women’s size small from Rapha, I was confused as to why the pad would vary so much. I can say with confidence that If the pad was more proportionate to the size of the short and in line with their other shorts, then these would be THE perfect short companion for road cyclists, gravel grinders and mountain bikers alike.
Rapha Women's Core Cargo shorts£95 €115 $98
Last modified: 7th July 2021