Cyclists, Cargo Shorts Will Set You Free
An ode to the sweet, airy joy of riding in a T-shirt, and the shorts that make it possible
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What I wear on the bike has a strong influence on how my ride feels that day. And I’m not the only one with this sentiment: there’s a reason the hashtags #SockDoping or #NewKitDay exist. Slipping on my favorite aero jersey makes me feel sleek and fast. Skipping the chamois guarantees a chill cruise to the coffee shop. One of my favorite items to ride in, though, is a humble T-shirt. Riding in a tee is freeing: goodbye suck-it-in Lycra, hello breeze on my back. Wearing non-cycling clothing on the bike sets the tone for a ride that equally colors outside the lines, like dragging my road bike up four miles of rocky singletrack (a poor choice in retrospect) or taking it on the metro to the edge of town to ride to an alpine lake (a great choice).
This wasn’t my idea. Riders have long worn T-shirts on bikes. But up until recently, it wasn’t accepted or even practical for serious cyclists. (Velominati rules and all that.) Besides, where do you put your phone, wallet, snacks, and any cool rocks you find along the way?
Enter cargo shorts.
I’m not talking about the dorky, khaki-colored knee-length bottoms popular with middle schoolers in the early aughts. I’m talking about the spandex variety you may have seen hugging the chiseled quads of pro gravel racers in recent years. Essentially bib shorts with snug pockets on the hips and/or the lower back, cargo shorts are an extension of a trend started by the all-road and gravel craze. With cyclists riding longer days and pushing further off the grid, accessories for carrying more food, layers, and tools have become popular, as evidenced by the proliferation of handlebar bags, frame bags, and cargo shorts among drop-bar riders.
But you don’t have to ride epic gravel grinders to appreciate these shorts—they were designed with everyday selfie takers in mind. “The original concept was created for easier access to your phone instead of trying to grab it out of your jersey pocket,” says Brian Dunlap, president of Cadence Collection, the cycling clothing company that created one of the first pairs of bib shorts with hip pockets back in 2017. “This also eliminated always having to wear a jersey.” In other words, by shifting pocket space from our jerseys to our stretchy pants, cargo shorts liberated us from that Power Ranger look and, I’d argue, from the performance-oriented mindset attached to it.
We ride bikes to feel free: physical freedom, transportational freedom. Sliding my phone into a hip pocket and slipping into a T-shirt lifts a literal and metaphorical weight off my shoulders, and it feels something like spiritual freedom, too.
My Favorite Cargo Shorts
Pearl Izumi Interval Cargo Bib Shorts ($165)
The Interval’s pockets are minimalist and snug—just a narrow one on either hip—which is nice for stashing a phone and wallet for a short ride. Bonus: the dropper function on the women’s version allows you to pee without that bib-strap shimmy.
7Mesh Cargo Bib Shorts (Women’s, $200; Men’s, $230)
In addition to hip pockets, these sleek bibs offer extra carrying capacity, with two lower-back pockets, essentially replacing the ones on your jersey. It’s best if you don’t use them in tandem with jersey pockets, because then that area gets a little bulky.
Rapha Core Cargo Shorts ($130)
These bib-free options have generous pockets that are big enough to stuff full of snacks for all-day adventures.