Why Cycling Shorts Become See-Through (And How to Avoid It!)

Recently I was passed on the road by another cyclist. I smiled and waved and watched him fly by, only to notice the very unfortunate state of his cycling shorts. They were so see-through in the rear that they left nothing to the imagination. He was gone in a flash with no chance for me to warn him of his own inadvertent ‘flash.’

So, what is it that makes cycling shorts see-through? And what can you do to avoid it?

Why Are Cycling Shorts See-Through (Summary)

Cycling shorts can become see-through when they are old, too small, or made of fabric that is too thin. You should regularly check your shorts to make sure they aren’t wearing out in revealing places. If you notice your shorts are see-through, you should replace them to avoid an embarrassing situation.

In this article, we’ll discuss a few reasons why your cycling shorts might be showing more of you than you realize. Then, we’ll give you a few quick fixes you can use in a pinch and talk about how to prevent this from happening in the future. Lastly, we’ll talk about whether it’s appropriate to wear cycling shorts in public, whether they’re see-through or not.  

3 Reasons Cycling Shorts Become See-Through

While it’s unfortunate to see a riding pal with a pair of see-through shorts, it isn’t as uncommon as you might think. This problem occurs for a number of reasons: 

Your Cycling Shorts Are Too Small

If your cycling shorts are too small, they will have to stretch out more than they should, making the fabric too thin to cover your backside effectively. Even dark colors can become see-through if they are pulled too tight. 

Your Cycling Shorts Are Made Out of Low-Quality Fabric

If the material isn’t good quality, you might be able to see through it when it’s stretched taught because it’s too thin. Cheap shorts simply might not be as thick or durable as higher-quality cycling shorts. Buying cheaper shorts saves you money, but it can’t save you from an embarrassing unintentional reveal. 

Your Cycling Shorts Are Worn Out

Even the best cycling shorts have a ‘shelf life’. Over time, the stretchy fibers in your bike shorts will break down. Repeated wearing and washing puts a lot of stress and strain on the fabric, and eventually, it could break down to the point that you can actually see through it, especially in bright light. 

Are Cycling Shorts Supposed to Be See-Through?

Cycling shorts are not supposed to be see-through. They are designed to be worn without underwear, so the shorts themselves are made to keep you covered up. Cycling shorts are put under a lot of stress from repeated movements when you pedal, so these fibers have to be tough and thick enough that you can’t see through them. 

Cycling shorts also have a built-in chamois. This chamois is like a thick pad that protects your skin from heat, humidity and discomfort by reducing friction on the bike. You should never be able to see through a chamois: it’s just too thick. If a chamois were see-through, it wouldn’t be durable enough to protect you. 

A good pair of cycling shorts that are made to withstand the rigors of cycling and the strain of washing will naturally be thick enough that they won’t be see-through.

How to Check if Your Cycling Shorts are See-Through

A simple way to see if your cycling shorts have become see-through is to ask a very trusted (and brutally honest) friend to take a look for you. Make sure to get on your bike in a normal riding position and stand in bright light. Keep in mind that if your shorts are wet from the weather or sweat, they might be even more see-through than when they are dry. 

If you need to see for yourself, though, you can try this little trick. 

Put on a very bright pair of underwear underneath your cycling shorts. Stand in front of a mirror and bend forward like you are riding a bike. If you can see your underwear…other people can too! 

The best thing to do is to avoid wearing see-through cycling shorts in the first place. Here’s how. 

How to Avoid See-Through Cycling Shorts

Multiple pairs of cycling shorts

Purchase High-Quality Cycling Shorts

A reputable cycling company does not want you to end up feeling embarrassed in their cycling shorts. Buying high-quality shorts means the fabric will be thicker (which is less see-through), the shorts will be sturdier, and they will last longer.

They’ll also be more comfortable than cheaply made shorts. It’s worth the investment to feel confident in your shorts.

Wash Your Cycling Shorts Correctly 

On the other hand, if you already have cycling shorts, you want to protect your investment so they don’t get ruined and become see-through, especially when it comes to laundering them. Always wash according to the manufacturer’s directions to help them last longer and avoid wearing out. You could also hand wash and air dry them for even more gentle treatment.

Choose Dark-Colored Shorts

Black and other dark-colored shorts are the least likely to become see-through, while light colors are more apt to become see-through. Light colors become even more see-through when they’re wet, so you may want to keep this in mind when shopping for your next pair of cycling shorts.

Only Wear ‘At-Risk’ Shorts In the Evening 

The less light hitting your shorts, the less see-through they will be. So if you have a pair that are starting to get a little ‘iffy,’ you may want to save them for evening rides.

Wear Underwear Under Your Shorts

Keep in mind this is only a stop-gap effort. Cycling shorts were not meant to be worn with underwear, and they can actually increase friction and cause saddle sores. But if you are desperate and have no other shorts to wear, it might be worth a try, especially for a short easy ride.

Wear Cycling Tights Over Your Shorts

If it’s cold, you can easily get away with see-through shorts by layering a pair of cycling tights over them. You’ll be warm and comfortable while avoiding embarrassment.

Wear Mountain Bike Shorts Over Your Cycling Shorts

If you are desperate to ride, but your shorts are too thin, why not throw a pair of mountain bike shorts or loose-fitting shorts over the top? Wearing loose shorts over your cycling shorts will give you an extra dose of modesty right where you need it without interfering with the chamois in your cycling shorts. 

Are Cycling Shorts Inappropriate to Wear in Public?

Wearing athletic apparel in public has become much more common (and accepted) over the past few years. Cycling shorts are no exception. If you’re on a ride in a very bike friendly city or community and need to stop, it’s probably ok to wear cycling shorts into most places. 

However, if you’re not specifically on a ride, it’s probably not a good idea to just wear your cycling shorts to a restaurant, store, professional function, religious service, or any other event that you wouldn’t wear your sweaty gym clothes to. So if you need to ride your bike to one of these events, you may want to pack a change of clothes in your saddlebag. 


JJ here - I've spent a lot of time on a bike, including completing the 3,000+ mile Southern Tier Route (CA to FL). I started Cycling Beast to "demystify" cycling topics, and to help people overcome roadblocks and level-up their skills.

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