Cycling has health benefits but a real concern is breathing in lungfuls of polluted air. An anti-pollution mask can protect you from a lot of health risks by keeping the pollutants in the air you inhale at bay.
Concerns Around Anti-Pollution Masks
Many cyclists are concerned that a mask would restrict the air or oxygen they are getting for their aerobic activity. For this it is important to get masks made specifically for sportspeople, that allow steady exchange of air while also filtering it.
Do Cyclists Really Need a Mask?
Once you use an anti-pollution mask and see how much dirt it gathers on a single ride in the cities of India, you may not want to cycle without a mask in high-pollution seasons again.
Masks filter harmful elements such as roadwork dust and diesel fumes from the air you inhale. They stop the permeation of PM10 and PM2.5 (fine particulate matter found in air), that according to a Global Health Observatory report, cause serious problems like asthma, bronchitis or emphysema. Good masks also block small particles of allergens, smoke and bad smells.
Read our article: Best cycling wear
What to Look For in an Anti-pollution Cycling Mask?
In a nutshell
- Certification – Get an N-95 or N-99 certified mask at minimum that blocks PM 2.5.
- Exhalation Valves – Your mask should have one or two valves to prevent dampness and CO2 buildup.
- Filter type – Choose between HEPA and Carbon filtration. Both are good.
- Filter replaceability – Choose between replaceable (washeable) and non-replaceable filters.
- Fit – Measure your face and get one that will fit it, or cut a mask to size.
1. Mask Certification
Based on the type of area you live in or commute to, figure out whether you need an N-certified mask or a P-certified mask. An N-certified mask is recommended at minimum.
- For Urban Areas
An N-95 or N-99 certified anti-pollution mask is best if you stay in cities. These certifications have been devised by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. N95 certification means that it is capable of protecting you from 95% of particles, while N99 guarantees 99.97% protection. These masks have high success rates in protecting people from PM 2.5 particles, which are the smallest, lightest, and most harmful ones floating in the air.
- For Industrial Areas
However, if you reside in or ride daily to an industrial area that has a high oil-based concentration of PM 2.5 in the air, N-95 and N-99 will fail to work. For such situations, it’s advisable to try P-95 or its counterpart, R-95 certified masks; as they are the best in filtering out oil-based pollutants. They are more expensive than N-certified masks and need to be replaced frequently.
- Non-Certified – Cloth Masks (Not for cycling)
A lot of cyclists and people tend to stitch their own masks at home rather than buying one. While cloth masks are a great, cheaper alternative; they only filter 15-57% of the particles, and hardly any of the harmful PM 2.5 particles. They also tend to trap droplets that are released when a person coughs, sneezes, or talks. These are not recommended at all for cycling as the air flow is restricted.
2. Exhalation Valves
Masks for sportspeople come with one of two vents. Vents are also called “breathing vents”, “exhalation valves” or CO2 vents. These help with getting rid of the air you exhale quickly so that your mask does not become damp or accumulate a buildup of CO2.
Exhalation vents are generally made of plastic; durable PVC plastic outside and a soft elastic flap on the inside. While inhaling, this flap closes to prevent the entrance of any large particles. Whereas while exhaling, it opens to quickly let out the moisture and CO2 from your mask. Masks with vents are highly recommended for cyclists. They are particularly beneficial if you are a cyclist who wears glasses while riding as they prevent your glasses from fogging up.
3. Filter Type
You can get masks with two types of filters; HEPA filters and carbon filters.
- HEPA filters (also found in air conditioners) operate by blocking and trapping fine particles in a fine mesh of fibres. These were invented back in the 1940s when scientists were developing the atomic bombs. A HEPA filter can trap particles from 1 micron (a human hair is 50 microns) to bacteria size particles (0.3 – 1 microns) to even smaller particles such as those of gas by straining, interception and diffusion.
For people who love to get into the science of it – A particle gets blocked simply because it is too big to go through the mesh, or because it is heavy and not zippy enough to make its way through the mesh or because it is so small that it is moving randomly (Brownian Motion) and just the fact that it’s zipping about randomly makes it get stuck in the mesh.
- Carbon filters work by adsorption (not absorption); particles and airborne gaseous chemicals stick to the surface of the carbon filter. Activated carbon is typically used in filters as it is treated to have a much higher surface area than non treated carbon. Carbon filters are great at blocking smells as well.
4. Filter Replaceability
Masks come with replaceable or non-replaceable filters. Which one should you get? This depends on your usage.
- Replaceable filters: If you cycle a lot and your mask regularly accumulates dirt, you may want to remove the filters, wash them and replace them for use again. The downside of replaceable filters is that they don’t cover the full area of the mask. However, many scientists argue that the most important part through which germs can enter your body is your nose and mouth, and a replaceable filter covers those parts just fine.
- Non-replaceable filters: The advantage of using a non-replaceable filter is that they cover the whole area of the mask. The major disadvantage of using these filters is that they are not easily washable. The most you can do is wet the surface and try to wipe off the dirt from there, but if you wet the filter more than needed, it might become ineffective.
Getting an anti-pollution mask that fits you right is essential. A mask too tight can cause problems while breathing, while a mask too loose can give way to airborne matter to enter the mask. Whenever you are wearing a mask, stretch the topmost part so that it covers your nose, and then lower it down so that it also covers your mouth and chin. The filter inside the mask should firmly cover at least your nose and mouth, if not the whole lower portion.
Some masks come with ear loops, that help the mask hang onto your face from behind the ear. Others have behind-the-head straps that can be fastened at the back of your head. Some masks like the Totobobo mask also allow you to cut the mask so it fits your face perfectly, molding to the shape of your face.
Take Proper Care of Your Mask
Store your mask in its own cover. Do not stash it in your backpack or purse, as minute particles in there can damage the filter. Replace your mask or its filters frequently if required. Breathe clean and keep your lungs happy when cycling!
Anti-Pollution Mask Recommendations
1. AIRE UNISEX N99 MASK FOR ADULTS
Regular price Rs. 350.00 *(price may vary)
Aire, based in Auroville India, provides masks that pass FFF2 European filtration standards. This mask is light and comfortable, with low breathing resistance. It is equipped with a PM 2.5 filter, which acts as a barrier against chemical and biological impurities, environmental toxins, pollen, atmospheric pollutants and harmful gases.
Watch how to wear the mask correctly for pollution and in Covid-times:
2. AIRE UNISEX OYE N95 MASK FOR ADULTS
Regular price Rs. 475.91
This is an N95 level mask that comes in various bold colours, that you can match with your cycling kit. This is developed with a superior technology of Activated Carbon Fabric (ACF), and filter capacity up to PM 2.5 ultra fine particles. Ideal as a bike mask or cycling.
3. AIRE UNISEX N95 SPORTS POLY MASK FOR ADULTS
Regular price Rs. 350.00
This Aire mask has exhalation valves that keeps the air flow extremely good during activities like cycling.
4. AIRE UNISEX N95 BANDANA FOR ADULTS
Regular priceRs. 300.00
Get these masks that you can take off and put on very easily. They appear to be neck gaiters but include N95/FFP2 filters and act as robust anti-pollution masks when put over the mouth and nose.