Cycling masks and the shocking results

A few months ago London Cyclist reader, Claire, approached me for advice on wearing masks whilst cycling to block fumes. Fortunately, at the same time, Francis from http://totobobo.com/ got in touch with me, asking if I wanted to review their cycling mask.

Putting two and two together, I thought it would be an interesting experiment to get Claire’s reactions. I’ll warn you, her results are a little bit disgusting..

At the beginning of April I was suffering with a sore throat that was worse in the morning and evening – a trip to see my GP confirmed that it was a reaction to London pollution that I was sucking in during my 12 mile commute twice a day.

I had previously and sporadically used a Respro mask which is the only anti-pollution mask that I’ve found in the UK – but I used it sporadically because it has several big drawbacks for me:

  1. The mask itself is pretty big on a girl’s face and can chafe my skin. It’s like wearing a muzzle and covers most of my face, plus the velcro is very strong and keeps getting caught in my hair.
  2. Even using the ‘sports’ filter makes it exceptionally difficult to breathe in sufficient amounts of air when going at speed, leaving me heaving like a fish out of water.
  3. The amount of condensation produced inside the mask is incredible – after a couple of miles at a decent pace, my nose felt as though it was submerged, and when breathing hard, condensation was projected out of the mask – when going fast it occasionally splattered all over my shades!

So, in desperation, I emailed the London Cyclist blog and asked Andreas if anyone had any ideas about alternatives – then he put me in touch with Totobobo.

Testing the Classic and SuperCool Totobobo Masks

Totobobo sent me 2 different masks, the Classic and the SuperCool – both made of very lightweight soft rubber with 2 small round white filters that sit on either side of the face.  The masks come with instructions on how to cut the rubber to suit your face – initially I was a little concerned about cutting too much of my Classic away, but eventually after much cautious trimming I fashioned a mask that covered my mouth and nose and felt comfortable.

Riding home with it on was interesting – people in London are generally used to seeing cyclists wearing Respro masks and resembling Darth Vader, but here I was looking as though I had forgotten to take off my surgical mask.  I got loads of odd looks and questions about how good it was.

The answer is that I highly recommend Totobobo (apart from the name, which is impossible to make anyone understand whilst actually wearing it!).  When I got home I checked the filters and was amazed to see that even in 30 minutes the pristine white had turned to sludgy grey.

totobobo filter

I am quite horrified by this amount of pollution in London – I only wear each pair of filters for 2 or 3 days, by which time they are nearly black. With the Respro mask, until you’ve worn it for a couple of months you just don’t see any change of colour and probably don’t replace the filter when you should.

There is a little condensation produced by both the Classic and SuperCool, but the SuperCool doesn’t cover your nose, so there’s even less with that one.  The thin straps fit behind your ears and afford a surprisingly secure fit and there’s a alternative strap that fits both masks but is a little more complicated than just fitting around your ears.

There are also different filters – a matrix filter and 2 different grades of particulate filter – 94% and 96% – both are easy to breathe through and the 96% gives a slightly higher grade protection from particulates.

totobobo reviewSo, in summary, buy a Totobobo and breathe easy – I’ve discovered just how horrifying London pollution is, and I value my lungs.  Since I have been using my Totobobo my sore throat has disappeared – that makes me happy!

Thanks to Francis for the masks that were supplied for review and Claire for putting together her thoughts.

Does anyone else wear a cycling mask? What sort of results are you getting?

Edit: A couple of people are pointing out you may get similar results just sat in a car in traffic or on the underground. A valid point and I didn’t mean this post to be a scientific experiment. Just one users thoughts.

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101 Responses to Cycling masks and the shocking results

  1. Sarah Irving 31/10/2013 at 4:15 pm #

    Hi,
    my issue is that I’m asthmatic, and it’s been getting worse recently. The mixture of cold air in winter (Edinburgh, so already getting pretty nippy) and car fumes gets very painful to breathe in pretty fast, and I was thinking a mask might help to warm the air slightly or filter out the pollution. I’ve used a Respro in the past – the smallest size – but because I’m small and have quite a bony face I can’t seem to get it to fit snugly enough – the out-breaths just seem to come out of the mask along the top of my cheekbones and fog my glasses up, so I end up having to stop because I can’t see anything. Anyone got any advice for these circumstances?!
    Thanks!
    Sarah

    • Francis Chu 01/11/2013 at 2:49 am #

      Hi Sarah, you may consider to get a foam strip with sticky back to enhance the seal along the inside of the Respro mask, only drawback is that the foam strip may get dirty over time and which is not easy to clean.
      Totobobo mask can help to warm the air before breathing in. All our recent models can be “ReShape” to give a very good seal for different face shape and sizes. More here: http://totobobo.com/blog/2013/08/heat-moulding-totobobo-mask-to-optimize-protection-and-comfort/

    • Ruggero 18/12/2013 at 1:59 am #

      get the “M” (smaller size).
      After wearing out an “L” size and I use to have some of your issues, I ordered another one and by mistake ordered the “M” one: voila`, all problems gone! (Only the strap is a bit short but I fixed it). And I`m a 1.76, mid built men , according to Respro indication I should use the larger size….

    • Bil 16/06/2014 at 10:52 pm #

      Hi,

      Block the valves permanently with something. Quite easy, cut out something, put it in so they are pushed and cannot open.

  2. Wey Fun 02/12/2013 at 5:00 am #

    All the above are passive masks and the uzers still need to exert lung pressure to overcome the filtration resistance to air flow. You should try this : http://www.ecbreathe.com which is an active powered adaptor for N95 masks. It uses battery power to overcome the filtration and the user would not feel any discomfort/stuffiness with the use of the mask. It supplies up to 700 litres of flitered air per hour.

  3. Hella Chill 10/12/2013 at 8:04 pm #

    Has anyone here tried cycling with an S10 or a GSR. I know that it may seem like overkill but I’ve tested some so called pollution masks and they fail to keep out PM10s

  4. andrea 14/02/2014 at 1:44 pm #

    Hi, i live in turin italy and i everyday wear a normal 3m mask with ffp2 protection..
    it work spretty well, but it’s absolutely not for sports…
    so ill try what you conseil..

  5. Francis Chu 11/08/2014 at 6:57 pm #

    A new review by Martie, she use a bicycle to travel around in London. Martie customize her mask by adding a second layer of the filter. I feel it may be too restricted for breathing but it seems to work for her just fine. http://totobobo.com/blog/2014/07/3083/

  6. James 19/09/2014 at 9:03 am #

    Hi – this is a useful article, thank you.

    I was about to buy one then I decided to do some more research. And I’m left with a question – it might look impressive but – does the mask actually do any good?

    Looking at the Wikipedia article on particulate matter (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Particulates) it says “airborne particulates a Group 1 carcinogen. Particulates are the deadliest form of air pollution due to their ability to penetrate deep into the lungs and blood streams unfiltered, causing permanent DNA mutations, heart attacks, and premature death”. It also says that “The smaller PM2.5 were particularly deadly, with a 36% increase in lung cancer per 10 μg/m3 as it can penetrate deeper into the lungs” and “The smallest particles, less than 100 nanometers (nanoparticles), may be even more damaging to the cardiovascular system.[45] Nanoparticles can pass through cell membranes and migrate into other organs, including the brain. Particles emitted from modern diesel engines (commonly referred to as Diesel Particulate Matter, or DPM) are typically in the size range of 100 nanometers (0.1 micrometer).”

    According to the image on the maker’s UK distributor (http://www.totobobo.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/totobobo.gif) the mask filters down to 0.3 micrometres (aka microns).

    So, it would seem, that the mask does a pretty good job at producing something that you can look at the think it’s saving your life and filtering out the stuff that your nose and respiratory can deal with unaided. But does it actually filter out the stuff that is dangerous!

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