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Hello! I'm a final year design student at university, for my final year project I'm investigating city air pollution and designing a protective solution for commuters. It would be great if you could spare a bit of time, your knowledge and experiences with your commute and opinions on current wearables and pollution masks available.

If you wouldn't mind filling out a very quick questionnaire it would help my degree massively: https://goo.gl/forms/1Alm2ZDTY5gnz1RD2

Thank you and kind regards.

20 comments

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Canyon48 [940 posts] 7 months ago
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Hi James,

I'm also a final year student and I study in Bristol. I cycle straight across Bristol (South to North via the city centre) and back again at least every other day.

I know the pollution is pretty horrific and I often feel sick when arriving at uni (diesel fumes are the worst!). 

I've struggled to find much research that conclusively proves or disproves the effectiveness of masks for commuters.

I tend to cycle for about one hour through Bristol at least every other day, would a mask be beneficial?

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Uni_student [2 posts] 7 months ago
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Hi, thanks for your response, I think masks are a dubious topic there are definate health concerns with air pollution in UK cities (a lot worse than people think). The royal college of physicians have explored what the health effects of air pollution is (https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/projects/outputs/every-breath-we-take-lifelo...) and have found that exposure over your lifetime is detrimental to brain, lung and heart health. While this study carried out in the netherlands (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2898854/) found that cyclists tend to breathe in more polluted air due to their higher rates of breathing.

The problem with masks from what I've gathered from my research so far is some dont protect against finer particulates in the air and the harmful gases. The seals on masks in the marketplace at the moment mean that polluted air is just breathed in through gaps around the side and masks ultimately make the ride harder as they restrict breathing. 

This is what I have found very roughly at this stage...

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oldstrath [968 posts] 7 months ago
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I know you're expressly interested in city commuters, but diesel particulates and fumes are also an issue for rural commuters as well. The exposure levels are probably lower, but followi g some of these vehicles is still unpleasant.

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Welsh boy [518 posts] 7 months ago
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Without knowing the particle size which these mask filter out (I would want at least PM2.5 filtration) most of the masks appear to be a waste of money (Respro's website says that their cycling mask is only for filtering out non-toxic particles) and are just an example of marketing BS.

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Canyon48 [940 posts] 7 months ago
2 likes
Uni_student wrote:

Hi, thanks for your response, I think masks are a dubious topic there are definate health concerns with air pollution in UK cities (a lot worse than people think). The royal college of physicians have explored what the health effects of air pollution is (https://www.rcplondon.ac.uk/projects/outputs/every-breath-we-take-lifelo...) and have found that exposure over your lifetime is detrimental to brain, lung and heart health. While this study carried out in the netherlands (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2898854/) found that cyclists tend to breathe in more polluted air due to their higher rates of breathing.

The problem with masks from what I've gathered from my research so far is some dont protect against finer particulates in the air and the harmful gases. The seals on masks in the marketplace at the moment mean that polluted air is just breathed in through gaps around the side and masks ultimately make the ride harder as they restrict breathing. 

This is what I have found very roughly at this stage...

Welsh boy wrote:

Without knowing the particle size which these mask filter out (I would want at least PM2.5 filtration) most of the masks appear to be a waste of money (Respro's website says that their cycling mask is only for filtering out non-toxic particles) and are just an example of marketing BS.

I thought that would be the case. Total marketing BS. Won't bother with one then.

 

The bike industry is mostly driven my total marketing BS. For my third year dissertation, I've been looking at reducing the aerodynamic drag of disc brakes. Turns out that, when directly compared to rim brakes, disc brakes cause no more significant drag. Opening the top of your jersey slightly causes vastly more drag than disc brakes do!

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alansmurphy [1803 posts] 7 months ago
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Hmmm, not everything is marketing BS and it really depends on the way you conduct the study (compared to say Team Sky in a wind tunnel).

 

You could argur that theres little size differential between the mechanisms but a rotor may be an issue in cross winds, the rim brake is in front of the head tube (which the air would hit anyway), the different wheels the discs allow may more than account for resistance and on and on and on. Joe Public may not need or feel these differences particularly, that's not to say there aren't differences. Is a 16 stone bloke buying a carbon bike marketing bs or individual choice?

 

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Duncann [1320 posts] 7 months ago
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alansmurphy wrote:

 Is a 16 stone bloke buying a carbon bike marketing bs or individual choice?

The answer is c. - both of the above  1

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Canyon48 [940 posts] 7 months ago
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Duncann wrote:
alansmurphy wrote:

 Is a 16 stone bloke buying a carbon bike marketing bs or individual choice?

The answer is c. - both of the above  1

Yeah  10

It's when said bloke starts bragging about how lightweight and aero his new wheels are that things need context!

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BrokenBootneck [259 posts] 7 months ago
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Buy a military grade respirator and a box of filters. Exercising in them is horrible as the seal is so good. A bonus as it will feel like altitude training. 

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Al__S [1290 posts] 7 months ago
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filter masks don't work at all if they're not fitted crrectly. Even a small gap between skin and mask, anywhere around them, destroys the protection. In industrial situations employers have a legal duty to ensure those using masks are trained and tested for fitting- it's not a particularly pleasent test, involving a large hood and a spray of bitrex.

One thing that's an immediate fail on the testing, no need to to proceed, is if you've got any facial hair- they absolutely only work if you're clean shaven.

 

Ones with a single strap, or a strap that only hooks around the ears, etc, are pretty much pointless, they won't stay in place properly.

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janusz0 [99 posts] 7 months ago
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20 years ago, I used to commute from Brick Lane to Soho, via the City of London, in a Respro. Leakage, the effort of breathing through filters and overheating made passive masks unpleasant for cycling.
What could work is a deep, close fitting, face mask with a remote, pumped filter unit. This would provide a curtain of clean air to breathe from. There are industrial respirators that work on this principle. The pump would be powered by battery, dynamo or directly from the drivetrain and I'd hope that the air could also provide cooling inside the helmet.

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hawkinspeter [1868 posts] 7 months ago
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janusz0 wrote:

20 years ago, I used to commute from Brick Lane to Soho, via the City of London, in a Respro. Leakage, the effort of breathing through filters and overheating made passive masks unpleasant for cycling. What could work is a deep, close fitting, face mask with a remote, pumped filter unit. This would provide a curtain of clean air to breathe from. There are industrial respirators that work on this principle. The pump would be powered by battery, dynamo or directly from the drivetrain and I'd hope that the air could also provide cooling inside the helmet.

Passive masks make far more sense for people walking or driving than cycling. It seems the same with helmets - you're far more likely to get a head injury whilst driving or walking than cycling (and the helmet would be more effective) yet they're only marketed at cyclists.

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DrJDog [470 posts] 7 months ago
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I used to wear one but just got revoltingly moist under it.

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hoffbrandm [46 posts] 7 months ago
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I am, but you shut the form...

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tsarouxaz [108 posts] 7 months ago
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I live in the mountains, I don't need a mask, for now...

 

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TypeVertigo [427 posts] 7 months ago
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Been wondering about this myself but I just cannot imagine how this is ever going to work for such a high aerobic activity as cycling.

I live and ride in Manila, which has worse air quality than what you Brits get. One of my hobbies is painting scale models with spray lacquer paints, and I use a respirator with appropriate filter cartridges for that. Breathing through that is cumbersome enough to begin with while standing around a paint booth, what more while riding at speed and/or at oxygen debt.

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cyclisto [391 posts] 7 months ago
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Respro is junk. Poor filter, poor fitting, hot during summer and expensive on the long run.

I sometimes use the reusable FFP3 mask of Moldex brand. The key point is that it has a wrapped filter that when unfolded it has a much larger area than most respirators making therefore easier to breathe under effort. Still it is hard to breath in and out. The seal is also very good but as mentioned before it is fails with facial hair. The strapping system contributes to good sealing but it is a PITA to wear the mask if you use eyeglasses and helmet. Also it doesn't fold that good as a Respro.

So should you design a mask your primary target would have to be easy breathing in and out. To do so, you must maximise the filtering area and add a good, easily activated valve, otherwise it will not really appeal to cyclists. Strapping system must ensure good seal and provide the ability to remove the mask without removing helmet and eyeglasses. And finally a good mask with super expensive filters will not sell well.

Really nice topic though. Good luck!

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Canyon48 [940 posts] 7 months ago
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Seems to me, the best solution is to replace all polluting vehicles with electric vehicles.

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Welsh boy [518 posts] 7 months ago
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wellsprop wrote:

Seems to me, the best solution is to replace all polluting vehicles with electric vehicles.

And where does the energy source for these vehicles come from?  Fossil fuel burning power stations?  Nuclear power stations?  Wind farms which typically produce 24% of their theoretical maximum output?

Until we go for something like pump storage hydro i think we should be encouraging more people to RIDE A BIKE!

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matthewn5 [1190 posts] 7 months ago
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There's some interesting research on this:

Tainio, Marko et al (2016) Can air pollution negate the health benefits of cycling and walking? Preventive Medicine 87, 233–236

Basically the authors conclude that the benefits of exercise outweight the disbenefits of air pollution by an enormous margin. Even on the most polluted day ever recorded in London you would have to cycle for 9 hours and 50 minutes on the most polluted day ever before the harm outweighed the benefit. Maximum benefits are at 2 hours, then harms start to climb but don't cancel out the benefits for a long time.

This research was covered in the FT here:

https://ig.ft.com/sites/urban-cycling/ (may require free registration)

Here's the key diagrams:

//ig.ft.com/sites/urban-cycling/assets/pollution-london-large.png)

 

//ig.ft.com/sites/urban-cycling/assets/pollution-world-large.png)