With pollution levels skyrocketing, cyclists and commuters are more than ever exposed to high levels of toxic pollutants in the air.
Cycling is picking up in a big way, is a fun way to stay fit and also a fantastic tool to commute in busy Indian cities. However, pollution is a serious health hazard in most Indian cities these days and investing in a good Anti-Pollution mask is an absolute necessity. This simple low-cost accessory can cut down air pollutants by almost 99% and let you continue enjoying your bike. These masks are also available in multiple sizes, colors, and designs to accessorize your ride.
Interestingly, most assume cyclists require pollution masks more than motorists because of the heavier / faster breathing because of physical effort. Studies have consistently proven that motorists actually end up inhaling a lot more pollution because they are stuck in traffic jams where pollution from idling engines is at the highest. Typically, a cyclist doesn’t end up being stuck in traffic jams and keep moving, which keeps the impact of pollutants far lesser than motorists.
ANTI POLLUTION TERMINOLOGY
Some important aspects of pollution that we need to be aware of while shopping for a pollution mask.
1. PARTICLE POLLUTION
Particle Pollution, also called Particulate Matter (PM), is all the solid and liquid particles suspended in the air. It can potentially be a serious health hazard for people especially when levels are dangerously high. These levels are always higher in cities and even more so when there is less wind movement.
Particles come in a wide range of sizes. Particles less than or equal to 10 micrometers in diameter are so small that they can get into the lungs, potentially causing serious health problems. Ten micrometers is less than the width of a single human hair.
- COARSE DUST PARTICLES (PM10) are 2.5 to 10 micrometers in diameter. Sources include crushing or grinding operations and dust stirred up by vehicles on roads.
- FINE PARTICLES (PM2.5) are 2.5 micrometers in diameter or smaller, and can only be seen with an electron microscope. Fine particles are produced from all types of combustion, including motor vehicles, power plants, residential wood burning, forest fires, agricultural burning, and some industrial processes.
Most Anti-Pollution masks these days provide ample protection against PM 2.5 particles.
2. ACTIVATED CARBON CLOTH
Activated Carbon plays an important part in most good anti-pollution masks and it’s good to understand why.
Activated Carbon (Charcoal) Fiber Cloth was originally invented by the British Ministry of Defense for inclusion in chemical warfare suits. Today odor control situations in industrial, medical, and domestic applications are it’s biggest use cases. Activated Carbon Fiber Cloth has an extremely large surface area as it’s highly microporous. Along with the strong electrostatic forces within the cloth, enables it to be highly efficient at adsorbing (note – that’s not absorbing) vapors and solvents.
The surface area for activated carbons is HUGE. To give you an idea, if you unfold the microscopic surfaces in one teaspoon of activated carbon it could add up to the size of a football field. Which is one of the main reasons it is highly absorbent and adsorbs a wide range of impurities and contaminants, including chlorine, odors, and pigments. Adsorption works by chemically binding the impurities to the carbon and the active sites overtime become filled. Activated carbon filters become less effective with use and have to be recharged or replaced.
Apart from this Activated Carbon is also lightweight, highly heat resistant, and has fast desorption characteristics.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR IN AN ANTI POLLUTION MASK
- Minimum PM2.5 resistance
- An activated Carbon Filter layer
- Washable / Dri-fit material for higher comfort
- Changeable filters
- Replaceable one-way valves
- Comfortable mask material that will not irritate your skin
- Adjustable nose clip for a better fit and for preventing fogging of eyewear
- Multiple size options to ensure a correct fit
- Designs and color options to match your ride
It’s essential that your mask fits you comfortably yet forms an air-tight seal to prevent pollutants from entering. A good balance of comfort vs fit is critical to ensure its effectiveness.
Most good masks have good sizing charts that account for your face volume to ensure you have a mask that fits. Please make sure you take the time to understand fit.
Masks have multiple ways to attach to your face – a head strap or an ear loop is the most common (and most comfortable). A majority of the masks available in the market also have adjustable nose clamps that can be molded to contour your nose shape. This is important to ensure there is no gap and to also prevent fogging of eyewear.
If your mask uses activated carbon, it gets coated with pollutants over time and slowly loses the ability to filter them. it can, however, be reactivated and restored by boiling the carbon filter in water for about 5 minutes, which either evaporates or burns off the pollutants.
If the mask does not come with a removable filter, its advisable to regularly wash the mask in cold filtered water and rinse off the grime & sweat which it is constantly in touch with on daily usage.
MASKS AVAILABLE IN INDIA
1. NEOMASK ANTI-POLLUTION FACE MASK
The NeoMask is available with an Activated Carbon Cloth (ACC) Filter. The NeoMask is washable and durable hence allowing it to be used on a regular basis. The durable design of this particular mask is perfect for cyclists as usage is typically rugged with constant sweating and grime are thrown at it. The unique one-way valves allow for easy and unrestricted breathing while keeping your lungs safe. You can replace filters on your Mask as needed to ensure continued efficiency. It is recommended to replace the filter every 3 to 4 months based on the daily usage of 2 to 3 hours. The NeoMask is fitted with 2 one-way breathable valves and incorporates the unique Zorflex Filtration System to maximize the airflow whilst providing maximum protection.
2. APTONIA SPORT MASK
The Aptonia Sport Mask is designed to protect you from pollutants during your commutes and is specially designed for polluted urban environments. The mask with its highly breathable material has good ventilation for easier breathing. The mask itself is washable and also facilitates interchangeable filters for when the filter is clogged or dirty. From experience, we find that the inner filter sometimes rubs against your skin but it’s not a massive issue and this is still a relatively good mask.
3. TOTOBOBO SUPERCOOL MASK
Touted as a bike-specific model that has sub-micron filters which come in three different strengths: 92%, 94%, and 96%. This mask weighs a mere 20 grams and promises not to fog up your glasses. The fact that it is transparent makes for a more reliable seal check as you can actually see what you’re doing. The lifespan of the mask depends on how you care for it, but lasts a while!
Unfortunately not available in India at this point in time.
4. AIRE SPORTS MASK
This is a unisex Air Pollution Mask with multiple filtration systems – PM2.5, FFP2 filter, and activated carbon. It’s a high filtration particulate respirator mask with best breath-ability, fitted with an active carbon layer and hypoallergenic technical textiles.
AIRE masks are ideal for daily use, especially in hot areas. Since the masks are available in different sizes, the masks provide an effective control measure against air pollution across your family and your kids too.
Because of its compact size, we find this a good pollution mask to stash in our pocket or handbag and use when required. Colorful designs definitely give it a good aesthetic.
The mask is not as durable as the Neomask and does not form a tight seal either.
Vogmasks look a lot more flashy and fashionable (solid colors available too) whilst still coming across as a really effective and durable mask. Like the other masks on this list, the Vogmask provides superior PM2.5 and PM10 resistance along with a Carbon filter. According to the company, these masks can last you anywhere from 3 months up to 2 years depending on usage. The filter cannot be replaced. When the mask gets dirty you just rinse it in clean water.
What sets these masks apart are that they are available in 5 different sizes- S, M, M+, L, and XL and come in MANY different designs and color options. The Carbon filter is sewn into the mask itself making it comfortable on your face from the inside.
6. 3M N95
This is by far one of the cheapest masks available in the Indian market that features Activated Carbon Cloth.
The 3M N90 is a basic pollution mask that isn’t specifically designed for cycling, as it does not form an airtight seal around your mouth. This means that you will also be inhaling a fair amount of polluted air. You can be assured that the quality of the filter is really good as 3M has been in this industry for a really long time.
The mask has been specifically designed keeping in mind the pollution or Particulate levels like PM2.5 and PM10. This mask also filters the Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and other unpleasant odors. One setback with this product would be the inability to wash it after it gets dirty. The filters are however replaceable but hard to source. Given the low price point, you’re better off just replacing the mask.
Wearing a mask during your commute or any ride is important to ensure you keep your respiratory system clear of impurities and pollutants usually found in the city and still enjoy riding your bike safely. Investing in a high-quality mask will go a long way in keeping you healthy.
Although a mask may be uncomfortable, especially if worn for long periods, the benefits of wearing a mask far outweigh the cons and is an essential accessory for everyone riding in Indian cities.
While wearing a mask is important, ensuring the mask is effective is critical to be of any benefit. It’s important to look out for brands claiming to filter out 100% of all pollutants which is impossible. You can easily zero in on efficient anti-pollution masks available in the Indian market by keeping in mind all the points we’ve explained in the article and making sure the basic necessary features are present. Fit, comfort and the ability to replace filters are critical to making sure the masks remain effective over time and usage.
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WHAT I LOVE ABOUT CYCLING
I’m an avid mountain biker and I like riding fast and flowy singletrack. As I keep riding, I continuously work on honing my riding skills. I like to ride whenever possible, especially with friends. I also like to influence folk into getting to ride more often.
Working on bicycles has also been a keen interest of mine for quite some time.
DISCIPLINE: Mountain biking and Road biking
CURRENT BIKE: RockRider 5.3 & Specialized Allez Elite DSW
DREAM BIKE: Santa Cruz 5010