After reading some unpleasant findings about the state of the air pollution in London I decided to investigate cycling in a mask. I spend around an hour each day cycling and the prospect of breathing such noxious air was worrying me. Some time spent browsing the Internet later and I had a new Respro City mask in my hands.
The verdict seemed to be out on just how effective they were and so I decided to trial the mask myself, performing a qualitative study of sorts, to determine whether it was worth the money and the hassle.
Please note that am no way affiliated with Respro and they do not know that I am writing this article.
To perform my study I decided to wear the mask for a month and to record my feelings and experiences. I also decided to take as many photographs of the filter as possible; my aim was to track the colour change, if any, due to any collected soot or particulates. I attempted to keep the photographic conditions constant but inevitably some variation in the light level and positioning occurred.
Day 1: I find the mask uncomfortable and restrictive. It feels impossible to breathe through my nose, which is being pinched by the mask. I also have a cold and the entire mask feels clammy.
Day 3: after many adjustments I am now used to wearing the mask. I’m still unable to breathe through my nose but the pinching is no longer an issue and it feels more comfortable. The mask provides some welcome warmth on cold mornings.
Day 6: I decided to make a short journey without the mask (actually, I forgot it until I was halfway out of the door…) to see how different I felt. Less than 5 minutes into my journey I could smell the traffic and was aware of a cloying, slightly-choked sensation when riding behind lorries or busses. These smells are not entirely absent when wearing the mask but they lose some of the intensity and, without it, I was unhappy to be reminded of just how polluted the surrounding air was!
Day 10: wearing the mask now feels like the norm. I still catch my reflection from time-to-time and feel that I look a bit strange (the mask-helmet-jacket combination is a serious one!), but this is a fair price to pay for feeling happier about my ingestion of bus fumes.
Day 15: I find that the mask begins to fill with moisture after about 10 minutes of cycling. This doesn’t make it any harder to breathe but it does occasionally drip onto my face! When I get home there are visible droplets on the inside of the mask – the one-way ventilation system doesn’t seem to work as well as advertised.
Day 18: I forgot my mask yesterday and the difference was immediately apparent: I felt acutely aware of the traffic fumes surrounding me and strangely vulnerable and exposed.
Day 20: the mask remains comfortable and, in cold weather, I am grateful for it covering my face. There is a slightly unpleasant smell, however, despite my best efforts to allow any condensation to dry thoroughly and promptly after use.
Day 24: I’ve read reviews that claim cycling using the mask makes it difficult to breathe and that, when cycling at speed, getting enough oxygen can be tough. I’ve not found this and I’ve not been short of breath.
Day 30: after a month I find I am comfortable cycling in a mask. The filter is slightly discoloured (and more than a little unpleasant to look at) and I am convinced that wearing it has saved me some of the pollution. I think I will continue to use the mask in the future.
In all, I feel that using a cycling mask provides more benefits than it does hinderances.There are several notable demerits: the appearance can be sinister, the condensation that builds up a little gross and, most notable, the loss of the ability to breathe through your nose. However, as I’ve mentioned, I find that I am far more aware of the fumes and smells of the traffic when cycling without the mask and, whilst this is far from rigorous in it’s scientific method, that is an indication to me that the mask is preventing some of the pollution from reaching me.
The photographs below were taken over 30 days. The final shots show a comparison between the filter I had been using an an identical, new Respro City filter. The filter comparison shots show some wear and tear and some unpleasant discolouration.