The booming gravel segment is changing the entire drop bar world. Not just in terms of technology, but also in terms of style. Cargo bibs offer both, emancipating us from the constraints of tight jerseys, and offering a completely new riding experience. We present to you the most exciting insights from our group test of the 13 best cargo bibs from the hottest brands.
What’s the next big thing in the drop bar world? We’ve already seen specially adapted suspension for road and gravel bikes, along with all kinds of aerodynamic optimisations. And electronic shifting is becoming the norm as it’s become available in the more affordable price ranges. Road bike tires keep getting wider and the emergence of a new breed of cool riders, styles, and communities might just be a logical consequence of this, along with new kinds of bibs that can cater to them!
That’s where cargo bibs come in. We’ve noticed these special bibs popping up everywhere, especially in the relatively new gravel scene, which has already broken some of the unspoken rules of cycling in recent years (hairy legs!). By now, almost all cycling kit brands have caught on, offering one or more models. The differences are huge, and so are the prices. Cargo bibs are characterised by pockets that are sewn in or on, which can offer a surprising amount of storage capacity. That allows you to replace your jersey with a tank top, shirt, or other sinfully non-aero clothing. This opens up completely new possibilities for what we can wear and carry on the bike and, conversely, brings in completely new styles. We took a closer look at the cargo bib market, testing and comparing the hottest models extensively to help you find out which bibs are best for you and what you should pay attention to when buying.
We love dungarees!
After all, dungarees have bibs. So, bib shorts are effectively dungarees for cyclists. No, that doesn’t mean they’re reserved for country bumpkins, but as proven as dungarees are on the farm, so are bibs convenient on the bike. Thanks to the shoulder straps, everything stays where it belongs. That’s why almost everyone in the road bike world rides in bib shorts instead of strapless versions. For those of us who don’t have a pro-peloton figure, there’s another bonus: there’s no waistband that can get stuck in the folds of your belly #formorerealityintheinternet. But back to the actual topic: the shorts act as an intermediary to one of the three contact points on the bike – handlebars, pedals, and saddle. While you can tackle longer rides without gloves and clipless pedals, good bib shorts count as an essential piece of cycling kit alongside helmets. If, in future, we can store our energy bars, phone, keys, and other ride essentials such as tools or a light jacket in our pants, what rules still apply to tops? Let your creativity run wild! If you ask us, it’s not just hairy legs that should be allowed in cycling, but also hairy upper bodies and everything that provides more freedom and therefore lets us have more fun on our bikes. But beware, even if some of the shorts claim to be abrasion resistant, you shouldn’t underestimate the risk of injury when crashing without a top.
Cargo ≠ cargo – Our test field at a glance
Not all cargo bibs are equal. The market has grown enormously and there is a good selection for women, too, which we think is great. As such, our test field includes 5 women’s and 8 men’s models. Prices start at € 84.95 for the ROSE UNPAVED bib W II women’s gravel bib shorts, while the MAAP Alt_Road Cargo Bib costs € 265. Note: we always give you the recommended retail price, but you can often save by getting discounts and special offers, especially towards the end of the season. Covering a wide range of prices is very important, since it allows us to check whether more expensive is necessarily better, or whether you can get better bibs for your intended use for less.
The pockets of cargo bibs are mainly located on the legs and the lower back, though there are exceptions, like the Café Du Cycliste Chloe bibs, which have a chest pocket. We found big differences in the number of pockets offered. While the Isadore Gravel Bib Short must make do with just one – albeit very large – pocket, the Specialized/Fjällräven Adventure Bib Shorts SWAT have a whopping 7 pockets. The Canyon Cargo Bibshort also takes a unique approach with small pockets on the straps as well as loops that can be used to stow your arm warmers or even attach a light. Some bibs come with zippered pockets (MAAP, Specialized/Fjällräven), while others have flaps (Isadore, POC) to safely store important items.
In general, all the cargo bibs can be worn with nothing in the pockets. Empty pockets are much less noticeable on black or dark bibs, making them more difficult to distinguish from regular bibs. In terms of design, it is a nice solution to hide the reflectors under the mesh of the leg pockets. However, it’s impractical when you’re carrying stuff, because – rocket science – that covers the reflectors and renders them useless.
If you’re going to carry a backpack despite wearing cargo bibs, you may feel the back pockets, especially if they make use of a zipper (Specialized/Fjällräven). Some of the back pockets are placed so high on the bibs that they sit above the pockets of your jersey, should you decide to wear one, allowing you to use both options.
The specified dimensions and weights refer to the tested size (see the weight column). The pocket measurements are always taken from centre to centre, and all dimensions are approximate values, considering the elasticity of the fabric and manufacturing tolerances.
Our women’s test field at a glance
|Café du Cycliste
|207 g (S)
|1 large pocket on the lower back, 32 x 9 cm1 pocket on the bib, 9.5 x 12.5 cm
|Women’s Gravel Bib Shorts
|177 g (M)
|1 large pocket on the back, accessible from both sides, 25 x 16 cm
|Women’s Core Cargo Shorts
|184 g (M)
1 pocket per leg, 15 x 11 cm
|Women’s Cargo Bib Shorts
|210 g (M)
|2 back pockets, 13.5 x 13 cm
1 pocket per leg, 15 x 12.5 cm
|UNPAVED bib W II Women Gravel-Bib Shorts
|170 g (38)
|1 back pocket with zip, 17.5 x 10.5 cm
1 pocket per leg, 15.5 x 8.5 cm
front strap pocket on the left, 10 x 5.5 cm
Unser Herren-Testfeld im Überblick
|Café du Cycliste
|166 g (M)
|3 pockets on the back, left & right: 6.5 x 11.5 cm, centre: 8 x 13.5 cm1 leg pocket on the left, 10 x 6 cm
|Café du Cycliste
|227 g (M)
|overshorts for the Helene bibs
1 pocket on the right with a snap fastener, 13.5 x 10 cm
1 zipped pocket on the left, 9 x 7.5 cm
|228 g (M)
|2 pockets on the back, 15 x 12 cm
1 pocket per leg, 18.5 x 11 cm
1 small pocket on the front straps, 10 x 6 cm
1 loop at the back + 2 each on the straps
|Gravel Bib Shorts217 g (L)
|217 g (L)
|1 large pocket on the back, accessible from both sides, 27 x 15 cm
|Alt_Road Cargo Bib
|204 g (M)
|2 pockets on the back, 13 x 14 cm
open pocket on left leg, zippered pocket on right leg, both 18.5 x 12 cm
|Rove Cargo VPDS Bib Shorts
|239 g (L)
|2 pockets on the back, 11.5 x 9.5 cm
1 pocket per leg, 18 x 13 cm
|Core Cargo Bib Shorts
|218 g (M)
|2 pockets on the back, 14 x 12 cm
1 pocket per leg, 16 x 11.5 cm
|Cargo Bib Shorts
|213 g (M)
|2 pockets on the back, 13.5 x 13.5 cm
1 pocket per leg, 17 x 15 cm
|Adventure Bib Shorts SWAT
|260 g (M)
|5 pockets on the back, 2 outer pockets 9.5 x 12 cm, 2 inner pockets 17.5 x 14 cm + 1 with zipper
1 pocket per leg, 15 x 15 cm
What makes a good cargo bib?
There are basic characteristics of good bibs that should logically apply to cargo bibs, too. The most difficult yet probably most important characteristic is the fit. And we don’t just mean the fit of the shorts, but also of the fit of the padding. However, since everyone’s butt and sit bones are different – fortunately – it’s impossible to make universal assessments of the fit. Of course, personal preference also plays a role. For example, how much compression do you want from your bib shorts? How short or long should the legs be? Strap vs upper body length, etc. And, finally, the anatomy of female bodies places different demands on the cut, padding, and bib construction for pee breaks compared to male anatomy. We’re glad to see the ever-growing range of women’s bib shorts and included 5 models in the group test. While we’re on the topic of men and women, you can find out more about the demographics of our readers by checking out the results of our annual reader survey.
A short lesson in history: the pad is also called a chamois (those in the know use French pronunciation, but the English variant is pronounced “shammy”). The term chamois comes from the animal of the same name, because the first roadies used to have the particularly soft chamois leather sewn into their trousers, offering at least some degree of padding. They treated the leather with so-called chamois cream before each ride to make it even softer and more supple. Both terms have been preserved to this day.
In addition to your individual requirements, there are certain properties that the bibs should always have: the fabric should remain opaque even when it’s stretched, it should be water-repellent and lined for winter riding or made for warm and dry summer conditions, depending on the intended use specified by the manufacturer. If the choice of materials and production is sustainable too, that’s always a plus. Safety reflectors should remain visible at all times. And of course, there are differences in the chamois. Is it suitable for long rides or do you simply want stylish cargo shorts for short coffee rides?
The size and position of the pockets doesn’t just have a major impact on the bib’s practicality, but also on safety.
As you can tell from the headline, we want to give you an insight into the range of cargo bib shorts on the market and help you choose the right model for you. So, let’s focus on the characteristics that set cargo bib shorts apart. Of course, the pockets, their size, and positioning play a major role. They don’t just have a big influence on practicality, but also on rider safety. We also looked at the workmanship, individual details, and whether you can close the pockets.
The models vary from having as few as 1 to as many as 7 pockets. We tested how easy it is to access the pockets, because there are some things we want access to while riding – like energy bars or gels, for example.
On the other hand, there are some goods that don’t need to be easily accessible, such as a rain jacket, which we recommend that you put on only when stationary – unless you’re a pro cyclist in a race where every second counts, safety comes first. And there are other items that you stow away at the start of your ride and only need to access when you’re done, such as your keys or wallet. You certainly don’t want to lose either of these! As you can see, the items you carry have different requirements in terms of their position/accessibility, security, and the size of the pocket.
- When it comes to the position and accessibility of the pockets, the spectrum ranges from “difficult to reach while riding” and “easily reachable when stationary” to “safely and intuitively accessible while on the move”.
- Some pockets have zippers, and some are open, though they have other means of securing your belongings like flaps. Still others are completely open, but the tension on the elastic fabric should keep your energy bars in place.
- The size of the pocket is self-explanatory, but we like storing our keys in a small, separate, and preferably closable pocket, and it’s nice to have at least one large pocket for your rain jacket. So, you don’t necessarily just want large pockets.
You may be interested in where the pants are produced, whether they’re made from recycled or otherwise sustainable materials and how easy they are to care for. Don’t worry, all the bibs are machine washable; it’s in the details where you’ll find the differences here. Some of the models on test are partially made of recycled plastic, some are produced in Europe, and others in China. It is important to note that the production location alone doesn’t say anything about the working conditions. We would like to offer you a lot more comprehensive guidance here, but the available information is often lacking, and transparency isn’t always given. Nonetheless, social and environmental sustainability are very important to us, so we do our best to keep you informed and pass on all the information we can find. If you’re interested in topics surrounding sustainability, check out our article on the sustainability megatrend, the Design & Innovation Award, the recently launched Cycling Innovation Accelerator (C.I.A), and read our reviews of sustainable products (clothing, etc.).
Which is the right cargo bib for me?
To find out which is the right cargo bib for you, we must dig a little deeper. By now we know what the market has to offer. We know what makes a good bib short, we know what’s down to personal preferences, and we’re aware of the differences of the pockets and their positioning. What we don’t know yet is what you need. Do you want to store your keys, snacks, and wallet? Do you want to keep your phone within easy reach but still know that it’s safely stowed away when you don’t need it? Do you use your phone to take pictures and recordings for your secret influencer account while riding, like our good friend Anke, who likes to think of herself as an outdoor Kardashian? Or do you prefer to leave your fans and followers at home and enjoy your rides without interruptions from your smartphone? Do you want the cargo bibs to replace the pockets of a jersey or saddle bag? Or both?
So, before you even decide to buy a pair of cargo bibs, you should be clear about your needs and intended uses. Sure, we love the possibilities that cargo bibs offer, though it all depends on your setup and needs. Cargo bibs are generally well suited to long trips because you can carry more. But does your bike have a storage compartment in the down tube (e.g. Specialized SWAT or Trek Hidden Storage), a small top tube bag, or have you got a handlebar bag, such as the Route Werks Handlebar Bag? In that case, you’ve already got plenty of storage space. Even a hip bag, such as the EVOC HIP PACK RACE 3l tested by our sister magazine ENDURO, can relieve your storage constraints for the time being. Before you take on a long ride with a hip bag, however, you should make sure that it doesn’t bother you when you’re in an aero position. Cargo bibs are ideal for those who want to carry more without having to resort to additional bags, or if you simply want the flexibility that bibs like these can offer. In short: before deciding what to buy, you should know what you want to carry and whether you want to carry it on your body.
When do we get to the part where we tell you which cargo bibs feel like a luxurious Chesterfield couch, allowing you to pedal 500 kilometres at a time without a hint of fatigue? We don’t. Sorry, not sorry. First of all, we set out to compare the respective bibs’ cargo carrying capabilities. Secondly, we can’t tell you which bibs are best for your behind, because we all have different bodies and we don’t know what saddle you’re using, let alone your preferred riding position. As already mentioned above, comfort isn’t something to be considered in isolation. That said, even if there were differences, all the chamois on test performed convincingly.
How aerodynamic are cargo bibs?
The gravel event calendar keeps growing, including some races. The UCI has even launched the Gravel World Series, crowning Gianni Vermeersch the world champion. As such, you’ll find corresponding bikes on the market for all the different gravel disciplines, including gravel race bikes. According to the sport’s origin, gravel races are designed entirely for endurance, and distances of around 300 km aren’t uncommon. Therefore, riders must carry tools and food. Since it’s racing, every watt you can save counts, too, and we asked ourselves whether cargo bibs are aerodynamic. Even without having been in a wind tunnel, we are confident that, in certain conditions, cargo bibs can be more aerodynamic than other solutions. Transporting the necessary items tightly and securely on your body causes less wind resistance than a handlebar bag, which is much more exposed to the wind. Of course, a pair of cargo bibs with its pockets stuffed is less aerodynamic than a time trial suit and the side pockets cause more turbulence than goods stowed in the back, for example. Another aspect to consider is whether you decide to wear a tight-fitting jersey or a fluttering T-shirt, which you could thanks to the pockets of your cargo bibs. Doing so might be comfy and feel liberating, but it’s noticeably less aero. In race mode, it can be beneficial to stow essential items in the side pockets where they are faster and safer to reach, despite being less aero. But let’s be honest: aero isn’t everything. Most of us normal folks have a better time on the bike when we’re not obsessed with marginal gains, making rides a lot more relaxed and fun. The good news for all connoisseurs: the slower you ride, the less of a difference aerodynamics make 😉
The cargo bibs in comparison
We rode in all corners of the earth and in a wide variety of conditions, putting the bibs through the wringer. From a Californian heat wave to a rainy Black Forest, the Tuscan hinterlands and late summer in the Dolomites, including an overnight stay in a hut, we covered thousands of kilometres for this test. All so that we can tell you which cargo bibs are best!
Oh, là là – the French folks from Café du Cycliste have perfected the Lolita style with the Chloe, giving their cargo bibs a unique look. The 2 pockets of the Chloe are located on the bib and low down on the back. The Helene is the second product from Café du Cycliste and another unconventional concept, making it the only base layer bib in the test field. It features 3 pockets on the back and a small pocket on the left leg, and since it’s designed for you to wear shorts over it, you’re completely flexible in your style.
Rapha are the most popular cycling brand amongst our readers and couldn’t be left out of the test field. The UK brand fought for the title of the best cargo bib with 2 women’s and 2 men’s models each. The flagship Rapha Women’s Cargo Bib Shorts and the men’s equivalent Rapha Cargo Bib Shorts have the same number of pockets. They’re also positioned on the same spots – 2 pockets on the legs, and 2 pockets on the back. They’re both water-repellent, too. However, the Rapha Women’s Core Cargo Shorts and Rapha Core Cargo Bib Shorts of the more affordable Core range are fundamentally different. While the men’s model can be bought with or without straps – we tested it with straps – the women’s model is strapless only and, therefore, it has to make do with just 2 leg pockets instead of the 2 additional back pockets of the men’s version.
Isadore have gone all-out with the tech on their Women’s Gravel Bib Shorts and the men’s counterpart, the Gravel Bib Shorts. With 3 different layers and plenty of compression, these bibs are all about performance. Thanks to the large back pocket, they’re in the running for the title of the best cargo bibs.
Along with Canyon, ROSE also took part in our test field. Canyon’s Signature Pro Cargo Bibshorts have 6 pockets and 5 loops, but they must make do without added features such as reflectors. The ROSE UNPAVED bib W II women’s gravel bib shorts are the most affordable model in the women’s test field. They feature 2 leg pockets, 1 back pocket and a small pocket on the strap.
The MAAP Alt_Road Cargo Bib delivers 2 leg pockets, 2 back pockets, beautiful details, and protective materials in case you crash. Unfortunately, they’ve got some minor right-left issues. Not so with the Specialized/Fjällräven Adventure Bib Shorts SWAT, offering a staggering 7 pockets in total, making them the pack mule of the men’s test field. Finally, there are the POC Rove Cargo VPDS Bib Shorts. They come with the usual 2 leg pockets and 2 back pockets. The so-called envelope mesh openings on the leg pockets are a smart detail!
- wide range of specific women’s models
- lots of very different concepts (1-7 pockets)
- good visibility (mostly)
- pockets for keys (ROSE, Café du Cycliste, Canyon, Specialized, MAAP)
- safety (MAAP, Isadore)
- visibility (partially)
- farting (MAAP)
- strapless options (easier pee break for women)
- shipping (a lot of effort to try on some bib shorts)
- reversed leg pockets (MAAP)
Best in test
The Rapha Women’s Core Cargo Shorts are the only strapless shorts on test and performed convincingly in the women’s field. Thanks to a good fit, large leg pockets, a high level of comfort, and the possibility of an easy pee break, they’re a well-rounded option.
The Specialized/Fjällräven Adventure Bib Shorts SWAT are our best in test thanks to 7 pockets, comfort, style, and finally, large reflectors! At € 180, they sit midfield in terms of price and we’re sure you’ll have just as much fun in them as we did!
Women & men:
Hands down, the Isadore Gravel Bib Shorts are the best racing option in our test field. With just one pocket, these cargo bib shorts can also be used as pure road bike bibs thanks to their compression fit and high-tech coatings.
With a wealth of generously sized pockets, the Specialized/Fjällräven Adventure Bib Shorts SWAT are the ultimate pack mule amongst the men’s models. That’s just one of the reasons why they came out as the test winner.
The four large pockets on the Rapha Women’s Cargo Bib Shorts can accommodate pretty much everything you need on a long ride.
Value for money
Women & Men:
Even if the women’s and men’s models differ fundamentally, the Rapha Core Cargo models are our value for money winners. For € 105 and € 120 respectively, they make for a coherent and good-looking package.
Women & Men:
The Rapha Cargo Bib Shorts provide long distance comfort and a water-repellent coating. Their fast drying ability is perfect for washing the shorts in the evening on multi-day tours and being able to use them again the next day.
There are huge differences amongst the concepts and functionality of cargo bibs, and there is lots of room for improvement left for both the entry-level and high-end models. While cargo bibs started out as a niche, they’ve become a staple of drop bar wardrobes. Unless, of course, you want to achieve maximum aerodynamics in a time trial. For everyone else, your next bibs could most likely be cargo bibs. They’re not just more practical, but also give you more freedom in terms of clothing and style!
All cargo bib shorts in review: Café du Cycliste Chloe | Isadore Women’s Gravel Bib Shorts | Rapha Women’s Core Cargo Shorts | Rapha Women’s Cargo Bib Shorts | ROSE ROSE UNPAVED bib W II women’s gravel bib shorts | Café du Cycliste Helene | Café du Cycliste Virginie | Canyon Signature Pro Cargo Bibshort | Isadore Gravel Bib Shorts | MAAP Alt_Road Cargo Bib | POC Rove Cargo Bib Shorts | Rapha Core Cargo Bib Shorts | Rapha Cargo Bib Shorts | Specialized Adventure Bib Shorts SWAT
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Words: Christoph Staudinger Photos: Peter Walker