December 19, 2009

Is Riding your Bike bad for you? (How to avoid Roadside Pollution).

I ride my bike everyday. It’s good for me, of course. It’s free exercise, it’s fun, it gets me out of my work-obsessed mindstream and back to reality. Oftentimes, it’s the only exercise I get—breathing deeply, rhythmically, it’s like a sort of post-meditation.

And yet, sometimes, a bus zooms past and I hold my breath—the stench is toxic, nasty. And yet, always, I’m riding directly to the right of hundreds upon hundreds of tailpipes, breathing nice n’deeply.

So I’ve been wondering…is pollution a real factor, or am I just getting a bit neurotic?

Via Wikipedia:


Cyclists are exposed to direct pollution from motor vehicles. However, with the cardiovascular activity, their immune system effectiveness is increased reducing the impact the pollution causes.[citation needed]. A study conducted in Sydney, Australia shows that cyclists are exposed to less pollution (benzene, toluene, ethyl benzene, xylenes, and NO2) than occupants of a car[10]. This study further reports that “even on the same roadway and taking into account increased respiration”, “cyclists in Amsterdam had 2-3 times lower exposure to pollutants than car drivers”[10]. Environmental groups advocate cycling as a means of reducing pollution.

Still, there was that memorable article in the New York Times about how jogging (and therefore breathing deeply) in The Big Apple was actually bad for you, there was so much pollution.

And so this recent post, via Good Human via Earth Talk couldn’t have come at a better time. I’ve already altered my daily route to get off a busy thoroughfare (obvious, perhaps, but without this info I wasn’t sure if I was just being crazy to be worried at all about pollution). Excerpt.

Dear EarthTalk: I ride my bike to work along busy urban streets. Should I be worried about inhaling pollutants from vehicle emissions and other sources?

The short answer is, yes, probably. Cars, trucks and buses emit considerable amounts of airborne pollution as they make their ways along city streets and highways. The fine particles, nitrogen dioxide and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) spewing out of tailpipes have been linked to a wide range of human health problems, from headaches to respiratory illness to cancer. Though Australian researchers found that exposure to these pollutants is actually higher while riding inside a vehicle than while riding a bike, turning your handlebars in the direction of back roads might still be a good idea, for safety’s sake as well.

…for the rest, and resources and recommendations, go to The Good Human.

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