Although you can go on about the benefits of biking to work for hours on end, there is one potential wrinkle: air pollution can be offsetting some of the value you get by using your own "human power" to get to your destination.
Air Pollution and Cyclists
When you take a bicycle instead of a car, you're getting several benefits. You're not paying for the gas you would've spent to get around. You're getting great cardio exercise and muscle work for your lower body. You're seeing your community up close, and you're contributing to a better environment for all of us in the future.
The problem comes in when you think about where you may be taking that bicycle. If you're cycling on rural roads, air quality may not seem like much of an issue, and it may not really affect your ride. But in cities, it's a whole other story. The air pollution caused by a large volume of passing traffic can have a serious effect on cyclists and other athletes or those involved in intensive physical workouts. Medical studies show that those who are exercising hard near traffic can breathe in up to 10 times as much particulate matter, or even more, than those who are simply at rest in the same environment. To make problems worse, even where traffic is not immediately present, the collective air pollution of all of our home and transportation systems can cause temporary bad air quality in a particular location, according to several factors. Local governments are now posting air quality information for residents to help them evaluate whether or not they should be outside at all.
Bad Air Effects
For cyclists who are biking right along with traffic, the emissions and other particulates from the exhaust can bypass the nasal lining and go deep into the lungs. This can cause some serious conditions over time.
For other cyclists, the effects are more immediate. Some, especially those who suffer from asthma related conditions, report itchiness, sore throats and other ailments related to braving the traffic on a bicycle.
Some Common Solutions
What do cyclists do to minimize this potential problem? Some find alternate routes, and some rely on manufactured gear to help filter out dangerous elements in the air. Different kinds of filtration masks are now on the market worldwide to help avid cyclists deal with air pollution. Not all of them are rated or provide credible proof of filtration, but in the cycling community, you may be able to find a consensus on which types of masks give the best protection at the cheapest price.
The prominent issue of how air pollution and bad air quality affects cyclists and pedestrians is one component of a greater debate about how to use resources, and how to implement public policy. In these kinds of situations, the personal often blends with the political as individuals seek to protect themselves from environmental hazards while encouraging better policy to alleviate the overall problem. Cyclists and others can take a look at the website of national government agencies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to see what their governments are doing about the worsening of air quality in their communities.