Mask-up and ride? Avoiding air pollution on London’s filthy streets

With news last week of Sadiq Khan issuing London’s first ever, ‘very-high’ air pollution alert, many cyclists in London will be concerned as to whether their cycling commute is doing them more harm than good. According to a study carried out by King’s College London (KCL), around 9,500 people die in London alone every year due to long-term exposure to air pollution, with most deaths due to nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and fine particulates known as PM2.5s. While these numbers and the situation is startling, we’d like to allay this concern and encourage people to continue cycling to work but, to also take some precautionary measures to minimise pollution inhalation. Here, we offer you some ways you can stay on the bike and stay healthy in London.

Wear an anti-pollution mask

These masks may not be the most comfortable piece of cycling gear you ever buy but, they could potentially provide more protection than your helmet does! The best and only cycling masks you should consider purchasing are ones which have sub micron filters that catch even the smallest of pollution particles. While some may have you looking like the super villain, Bane from Batman, the two most popular models are made by Totobobo and Respro.

Respro’s founder, Henry Cole, is, as you’d imagine, sure of their benefit:

The average bike commuter is breathing huge quantities of air per year. The danger comes from the cumulative effect of all these particles and over-exposure to these particles can lead to respiratory problems.

And he does have a point! Despite some research claiming cyclists are exposed to significantly less pollution than those sitting in motor vehicles, you’ll certainly consider purchasing a mask once you’ve seen just how much dirt you catch in the filters. We realise, however, these masks aren’t for everyone, so read on below for some more tips you could use to negate the effect of air pollution while cycling.

Alter your route and avoid busy roads

While this may not be possible for everyone, there are likely to be certain parts of your route you could alter to avoid the areas most heavily congested with traffic. It could potentially add an extra ten or fifteen minutes to your journey time but, while time is money, money can’t buy health. To find a suitable, lower-pollution route for your commute, check out this helpful journey planner that also updates every hour from pollution measurements gathered across London.

Avoid waiting behind cars and other vehicles

It might seem like a no-brainer but, in our time, we’ve seen plenty of cyclists queueing behind buses, lorries and other vehicles at traffic lights and junctions. We certainly don’t advise risking life and limb to get in front of motor vehicles every time you’re forced to stop, however, a little manoeuvre here and there can usually ensure you’re not inhaling any toxic nasties directly. Dedicated cycle lanes mean cyclists can often skip to the front adjacent to cars yet, there are often roads and situations where you can find yourself trapped behind gas guzzlers if you’re not careful. If possible, where there’s pavement accessible, get off your bike and walk rather than getting lungfuls of car exhaust.

Start work later, finish work later

Again, it might not be possible for everyone, but should your boss be cool, like ours (at the best bike shop in London), they might just allow you to adjust the hours of your working day - slightly. Avoiding the very peak times during rush hour when air pollution is at its highest could still be beneficial. Hell, even if they don’t let you, leaving an extra half an hour after you’re due to clock off could well save your respiratory system from all of that toxic muck. Yuck!

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