Every year I read the reports in our very own NOW pages that question the performance of the various air filter masks sold for cyclists. For me though, these masks have saved my throat and they've had an even greater, unforeseen effect.
Last summer I spent about 4 weeks with a very irritated throat. I finally realized that it was aggravated when I was riding to and from work. I picked up a mask and began working on convincing myself to wear it despite it being incredibly uncomfortable to wear in the summer heat. It's also very hard to adjust to breathing with these things on.
The effort paid off though as within 2 weeks my throat was feeling better and I was feeling better. The mask also seemed more bearable after routinely using it.
What I didn't see initially though is that the mask is actually a very powerful statement. I've found it's more effective at making people aware of environmental problems than any words I could have said to them. Getting stares as I ride by is common. Almost as regular are the people who ask me, "Is the air really that bad?"
Though it saddens me that so many people still don't see the problem that sits so clearly in front of them (or should that be hazily in front of them), I'm encouraged that people are at least willing have a dialogue about it. Now if only I could convince people to wear helmets whenever they get on a bike...I'll save that for another post.