Biking the Distance Minus Nose Troubles

Nasal irritation decreases with alternative bike route farther away from motorized traffic

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Saving on gas and keeping the body active are a couple of benefits to biking to school and work. But riding alongside motorized traffic comes with its risks.

Biking on a route farther away from motor traffic lowered nasal irritation and exposure to pollution, a recently published study found.

Planning alternative bike routes that are equal in distance and duration to routes next to motorized vehicles – minus the cars – can minimize health risks linked with exposure to pollutants, according to researchers.

"Ride bikes away from cars and trucks."

Tom Cole-Hunter, from the Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, Queensland University of Technology, led researchers in investigating whether riding a bike farther away from motorized traffic lowered exposure to ultra-fine air pollutants.

The study included 35 healthy adults who completed two return trips on a bike in Brisbane, Australia. They averaged 39 years of age and 71 percent were male.

The first bike trip was on participants' typical bike route to and from work, which researchers assigned as high exposure to air pollution.

The second trip was done on a pre-determined alternative route based on the original bike path and set farther away from motorized traffic.

Researchers measured the concentration of pollution in the air as the participants made their commutes.

Before commuting and one and three hours after the commute, participants had their lung function and any lung inflammation measured.

Researchers found the average pollution concentration was significantly lower along the alternative low exposure route compared to the regular high exposure route.

In-commute odor and dust and soot levels were also lower in the alternative route. Odor levels in the alternative route were detected in 42 percent of the air compared to 56 percent in the high exposure route.

Soot and dust levels were detected in 33 percent of the air along the alternative route versus 47 percent in the high exposure route.

Only 31 percent of participants had nasal irritation along the alternative route compared to 41 percent along the motorized route.

And there were no significant differences between the commute distance and duration between the two routes, according to researchers.

Researchers said that bicyclists should be educated in air quality and risk management to minimize health risks and exposure to pollutants from motorized vehicles, particularly in creating bicycle commuting routes.

"Exposure to ultra-fine particles, typically associated with combustion emissions of motorized traffic, can be significantly reduced by lowering proximity to motorized traffic without significantly increasing commute distance or duration whilst bicycle commuting," researchers wrote in their report.

The researchers noted that their measurements might have been skewed since participants knew what answers were high versus low. To avoid the bias, researchers did not reveal the importance of air pollution's exposure in the survey.

The study was published online April 8 in the journal Environmental Health. No competing interests were declared.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 12, 2013
Last Updated:
January 22, 2014