Cycling in Polluted Cities Isn't as Bad as Your Nose Would Have You Believe

Cyclist commuter wearing mask 1 photo
Photo: ProfDEH via
How many times have you held your breath while cycling or walking on a crowded street full of cars waiting at a red light? Or when a large truck or a bus suddenly accelerated while your face was right next to its tailpipe? That's a natural reaction, but it's also something you don't really have to worry about when you're driving, as the recirculation button is right there, waiting to be pressed.
Don't worry, this isn't going to be a plea for more cars in city centers. The issue of cycling in the middle of the traffic has probably put a lot of people off the idea of commuting to work on a bike, and even though the safety aspect is cited more often, some were probably just as turned off by all the exhaust gasses they had to inhale. Wearing a filter mask over your face isn't an option - it impedes breathing, besides looking funny - so what else is there to do?

According to a new study, the answer is simple: nothing. You should just keep on pedaling and not worry about the quality of the air going into your lungs. It sounds like suicide, like the kind of thing the pharma-conspiracists would immediately call out to be nothing more than a way of growing the ranks of people suffering from cancer. It may very well be the case, but the University of Cambridge thinks otherwise.

Their research found out that despite the fact that increased physical activity (like cycling or walking) does raise the quantity of air going inside the lungs, the negative impact it has is a lot less severe than the actual benefits of the active lifestyle.

For instance, they concluded that it would take five hours of cycling per week through a highly polluted city like India's New Delhi before the pollution risks would outweigh the benefits. That's just about the average commute time for a working man, but unless you live in Delhi, then you've got nothing to worry about. The air in most western cities (even large capitals like London or the much-talked-about Paris) is a lot cleaner than in the Indian city.

The conclusion is that if you gave up cycling as a means of transportation fearing it did more harm than good, nobody who ever had a mouthful of diesel fumes blames you, but you were wrong. Cycling is still the best way of moving through a city if it's your health (and that of the others) you're worried about.
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About the author: Vlad Mitrache
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"Boy meets car, boy loves car, boy gets journalism degree and starts job writing and editing at a car magazine" - 5/5. (Vlad Mitrache if he was a movie)
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