Killer smog – beware of cycling pollution

Fresher air - Cycling memeCough, cough, splutter, splutter. Can’t breathe. Air too thick. Need brown paper bag. Must stay indoors. Excuse not to cycle #274 strikes and it’s a good one. I cannot breathe. Choking, my hands reach for my tightening throat as if a pissed off Darth Vader has just entered the room.

Outside an imaginary thick smog shrouds the streets. I know it’s only a little fog, a good ol’ fashioned London pea-souper, yet my anti-cycling devil voice is in no mood to acquiesce. ‘Killer smog,’ it whispers inside my head, ‘Beware’. ‘Road pollution…’ the voice continues, my lungs tightening, ‘…Prematurely kills 4,000 people in London each year, you do know that don’t you?’. I nod and unstrap my heart rate monitor.

‘Worse than obesity,’ the voices shouts, growing in confidence, ‘Costs the health service more than £20 million a year, yes, that’s you cyclists and your carbon dioxide filled super lungs’. I step out of the Lycra.

Carbons and oxides

I try to reply, to reason, but the voice continues to spit out strings of disturbing words I don’t fully understand. ‘Black carbon, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons…’ the voice fumes. By this time I’m lying naked on the floor, gagging for air, body writhing, mouth dribbling. I pass out.

Awake, my therapist has arrived with a litter of puppies for me to stroke. Fluffy. ‘Medication,’ the doctor says, ‘They’ll keep you calm. No more panic attacks,’ he adds, pointing to the dribble stains on the carpet. I nod and stroke the soft fur of the tiny dogs, my eyes fixed on the window. Outside the killer air howls and slams into the glass, desperate to fill my lungs with a myriad of deathly elements picked randomly from the periodic table. I close the curtains and vow never to open the window again let alone leave the house or god forbid, go for a cycle ride.

Do cycling masks work? Even with beards?

That tube leads into a bag full of jelly beans
That tube leads into a bag full of jelly beans
My mind drifts. The puppies are doing their magic. I recall images of cyclists with some sort of gimp device strapped around their gobs. Is this what I need to help get me back out on the bike? Hmmm. The jury is out as to whether these face filters make much of a difference. Health professionals need more evidence before cycling masks can be recommended here in the UK.

Most cyclists do agree that face masks are uncomfortable, hot, humid and well, ugly. They also make breathing difficult, which pretty much rules out anti-pollution masks for me. I’m a heavy breather at the best of times, as random recipients of my late night telephone calls can attest.

I won’t rehash the facts of whether cycling masks work as the BBC has beaten me to it, although it is worth drawing attention to the excellent double entendre found in the quote below.

“I have a beard anyway, so there is no point [wearing a cycling mask]”
Technical officer from the national cycling charity CTC

No point because masks don’t fit gentlemen or women with wispy face hair? Or no point because facial hair has some sort of superhuman power to protect you from road pollution and hence you don’t need a mask? The latter is certainly the more appealing prospect and would help explain why Bradley Wiggins sports a beard of late (for there can be no other explanation!).

Happy riding boys and girls, think of me stuck indoors stroking my er, puppies (no euphemism intended) whilst searching eBay for Michael Jackson’s infamous oxygen chamber.

Random fact: Michael Jackson did not actually own or sleep in an oxygen chamber. He was photographed joking around and pretending to sleep in a chamber purchased for the hospital thanks to a charitable donation from the King of Pop himself. Don’t believe all you read kids. Particularly on this blog.

More uninspiring cycling memes can be found at #CyclingTruths

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4 thoughts on “Killer smog – beware of cycling pollution

  1. In the North East what where I am They call Teessiders smoggies. There’s a very old joke that says when Boro play away they pipe the exhaust into the coach as the shock of fresh air would cause them to have a funny turn before they got to the ground. It sounds pretty grim down there too; same problem, different source. I understand the unpleasantness of air pollution from riding in rush hour traffic in the past. It isnt nice and it does make you wonder whether all those diesel particulates are diminishing the lifespan of your lungs faster than riding the bike is prolonging it. On the plus side, I can envisage a book coming from all this gloomy output of late, along the lines of ‘The Rules’, a kind of anti-inspirational antidote to all those ‘ride hard! get fit! wear red shorts!’ training manuals and magazine articles we’re all fed on and fed up with.


    1. There’s the cold days when you can taste the fumes and can’t stop coughing. Probably doesn’t help that I’m continually gasping for air as I push hard on the return leg of my commute. Sometimes I return home smelling like a chimney sweep (or so I imagine).


    1. I’ve not been cycling or writing too much of late (the winter wet blues) and it’s of no coincidence the blog posts have changed as a consequence. In this down time I’ve been having a little fun experimenting with different styles and ideas.

      Normal service shall be resumed shortly, so stick with it. ps: Skitter, nice word by the way!


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