If you don't know already, I love to cycle. Our post on Bicycle Power Output is actually one of our most popular. I love this time of the year because the Tour de France is currently going on and bike racing at home is in high gear (pun intended). If you've ever watched the Tour, you notice that there are a ton of motorcycles filming the race and support cars for each team. Often these vehicles mix in with the riders and a motorcycle actually caused a rider to crash yesterday (the motorcycle driver was suspended). But there is another danger that the motorized vehicles pose to the cyclists: dirty air. I believe in a few years they'll require the support vehicles to be electric vehicles, or some form of electric hybrid (depending on how they can perform in the mountain stages).
Scientific American just posted a great article titled, "Air Pollution Triggers Heart Risk for Cyclists". From the article:
Now, for the first time, cycling in heavy traffic has been linked to a heart health risk, Canadian researchers reported last month. A new study found cyclists in Ottawa, Ontario, had heart irregularities in the hours after their exposure to a variety of air pollutants on busy roads.
"Our findings suggest that short-term exposure to traffic may have a significant impact on cardiac autonomic function in healthy adults," the scientists from Health Canada, Environment Canada and the University of Ottawa wrote in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
The study does not suggest that bikers would be better off driving, experts say. Rather, the findings intensify the scrutiny on cyclists' pollution exposure, and point to simple solutions for a cleaner ride, such as avoiding busy roads like 8th Avenue whenever possible.
"It's something that actually concerns a lot of people that do cycle," said Michael Brauer , a cyclist and atmospheric scientist at the University of British Columbia who was not involved in the new study. "People want to understand their risk. They're just thinking all the time, 'Is this good for me? Is this bad for me? I'm doing my part, but there's this car that's throwing this exhaust in my face.'
I actually read this article right after I got home from an intense late afternoon bike ride around my town. I left the house at about 5:45 PM (a.k.a. the height of rush hour) in 95° F weather and for the first part of my ride I had to go through some traffic. I'm always cognizant of the pollution coming from cars, especially during rush hour, but as you may know, the smog in Atlanta can be pretty bad in the summer. Today's air quality in Atlanta was just below moderate, so it wasn't too bad, but at the end of my ride I can see downtown Atlanta (behind the coal plant's smokestack) and it was sure hard to see through the haze. I often notice my throat is scratchy after I ride on certain days in the summer (i.e. non-weekends when there is more traffic), so I know the air quality is having some effect.
Of course, the most dangerous part about riding in traffic isn't the air pollution, it's the threat of the cars trying to run you over, but air pollution is still a bummer. Will I stop riding in traffic...no, because I love to ride and I'll risk the heart health damage. But this study will just give me another reason to ride on low-traffic roads as much as possible!
Poor air quality is one of my top reasons for supporting energy efficiency and conservation and improved emissions coming out of vehicles. What's yours?