“How to choose a cycling mask?” and “Which one to pick-up?” are questions we receive too many times these days. That’s why we have chosen to answer to one of our cycling friends – Anna.
Hi my name is Anna. I am a 25-year-old cyclist and looking to buy a mask. Can you give me a few tips on how to choose the right one? What should I look for when I am choosing a pollution mask in general?
~Anna reached us with her question. You can do the same here
We can understand because air quality in most big cities is filthy enough to send cyclists such as yourself spluttering into their handkerchiefs. Fortunately, there are ways to reduce your exposure to damaging pollutants. And you’re absolutely right to look for a cycling mask. Of course, we know you don’t want to look like Darth Vader every time you go out. But, on the other hand, you don’t want to end up sounding like Chubakkah either!
The good news is that state-of-the-art cycling masks are now available. Ones that will not give a comfortable ride but offer you full protection as well as connection to your Smartphone.
Avoiding the worst smoke
By the way, you may be interested in a few other tips to avoid air pollution. Fortunately, if you’re enjoying a gentle pedal in the countryside, or just skirting the seaside promenade, you need not fret. In such cases you can certainly breathe more easily – literally! And, of course, some cyclists (usually older ones) just use their bicycle for leisure purposes. But we’re guessing that you, being younger, are a regular two-wheeling commuter.
For those in the big smoke, however – and, again, we assume you are, otherwise you wouldn’t be asking about masks – the picture is dire. You probably know that pollution is two or three times worse on busy urban roads than on back routes. That’s because, in addition to smoke-emitting vehicles, you also have tall buildings that trap pollution. Sadly, that’s a double whammy! Fortunately, research indicates that, apart from wearing a cycling mask, bikers can reduce their exposure to black carbon and carbon monoxide by using alternative side roads.
The only downside from such a detour is that your journey is longer. So you may end up inhaling as many harmful particles on an hour-long journey through back streets as over 30 minutes on a polluted main road – as a recent scientific health study concluded. If, on the other hand, you have no means of avoiding a busy main road, then be savvy. Your greatest health risk comes when you’re trapped behind a long line of traffic. So try to get to the front of the queue.
Why is a cycling mask a must in the big city?
Yet switching to more environmentally-friendly areas, while commendable, is not sufficient. We’d guess that you already wear a helmet and high visibility jacket. That will ensure you have a safer trip but you will also need a cycling mask for the sake of your health. By the way, have you noticed that more and more pedestrians are wearing a cycling mask too? Of course, no one is pretending that all cycling masks are sexy fashion accessories. Some do look better than others. And anything that conceals your face is a bit of a pain. But, then again, are you really going to try to get a date during your cycling commute?
We should stress again – just in case any of your cycling friends are still skeptical – that experts agree that a cycling mask wards off pollutants in the big city. Dr Gary Fuller from King’s College London says a cycling mask should be of benefit as long as it uses “sub-micron filters to filter out the small particles”. He adds that “a snug fit on the face is also critical”. Alison Gowers from Public Health England agrees. “The use of a face mask may be an effective way of reducing exposure, however it is dependent on ensuring that the mask fit correctly.”
Perhaps the biggest proof comes from Beijing, one of the world’s most polluted cities. A survey by a leading health institute recently checked the effect on cardiovascular performance of wearing a cycling mask during a two-hour city walk. They concluded that wearing a mask did indeed reduce the health risks of air pollution.
And it seems that residents of Beijing have caught on that a cycling mask is the best way to tackle the appalling air quality. A survey by Mintel (a market research firm) showed that 83 per cent of Chinese consumers were more likely to have bought a mask rather than other products which have supposed anti-pollutant credentials – such as air purifiers (57 per cent) or skin care products (28 per cent) and hair care products (just 24 per cent).
The lesson here – one that residents of China’s capital have apparently taken on board – is that finding a mask that acts by preventing harmful pollutants invading the body is better than just buying products to deal with the fallout from the problem.
Masks vary in efficiency
Perhaps you have experimented with basic masks in the past, including surgical-type models. Frankly, these are of limited use. You need to find a super-efficient cycling mask that will prevent harmful dust particles (PM 2.5) passing through your nostrils, and ensure a comfortable ride.
Not all masks allow you to breathe easily. Instead they can make you hot and stuffy. And, as we noted, they can also look strange. That’s why some bikers still shun them. Some badly designed cycling masks, if worn with a helmet, reduce your overall vision. One writer recently complained of visibility being “at the level of a paper bag with eyeholes cut out” while wearing one. But you are making a mistake if you don’t get a cycling mask just because you had a bad experience. Instead, you need to shop around for the right kind.
Anna, we truly believe that you and your cycling friends will appreciate our answer.