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There is a simple way to protect yourself (besides wearing a mask, which could help you too) from the worst effects of automobile exhaust. And you should take this seriously.

This is meant for all you brave urban bicycle commuters, who expose yourself to the hazards of city traffic at the worst times of the day. But it also applies to anyone who rides their bike in an urban environment.

bicycling reduces air pollution
Reduce pollution by ensuring your vehicle is smog compliant

There is a simple way to protect yourself (besides wearing a mask, which could help you too) from the worst effects of automobile exhaust. And you should take this seriously.

According to the American Lung Association, exposure to air pollution is one of the major risk factors for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), secondary only to smoking cigarettes.

COPD may not kill you for years, but it will sap your strength, crush your ability to work and play, and basically suck all the joy out of your life.

It's ironic (and sad) that by making a noble effort to improve the overall air quality, you expose yourself to the worst air pollution. But you can help minimize the problem by using a simple math formula to your advantage.

We're talking about the inverse square law, for you math people. What this means is that if you can double your distance from the tailpipe of an automobile, you're only exposed to one fourth of the pollutants. If you triple the distance, you're only exposed to one ninth. Get four times as far, and only a feeble sixteenth of those toxic fumes will ever have a chance of reaching your lungs.

There's an easy way to ride your bike far enough from commuting cars that you can cut out 50%, 90% or even more of the pollutants you would have been exposed to. Every city or town has busy streets that are jammed during rush hour traffic. These are usually the most direct routes, but you don't need to ride your bike on them.

Just find a parallel residential street (or if you're downtown, try to pick a route that runs through parks and alleys), and only ride on the main streets when you need to.

This could add a little bit of time to your commute, but the benefits of biking this way will add to your lifespan.

Disclaimer: I am not trained in medicine, and this information is not intended to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease. Always consult with a physician before participation in any physical activity.

This blog is not in any way affiliated with the American Lung Association. All opinions stated here are my own, and do not reflect the views of the American Lung Association.


I spent some time yesterday coaching a newbie on how he could start riding his bike to work at least once a week, avoiding a stressfull drive through the heavy morning traffic of downtown Los Angeles.

I lot of things came up that I thought were obvious-and if you're already a bike commuter, they'll probably seem that way to you, too. But he kept saying, "I never would have thought of that" so I guess it's time to post some tips in case you're just starting out at bike commuting.

Side Streets

The best streets to ride your bike aren't usually the same streets where you drive. Plan a route that goes on bike trails, bike lanes, and residential streets. Wherever major transportation corridor you drive through probably has a road or two that runs parallel to it. These side streets are usually almost as fast, with far less traffic. Residential streets are great for this. Drivers avoid anything with a 25 MPH speed limit, but on a bike that's a very good pace. You'll save your lungs, and possibly your life.

Trial Run

Test your bike commute route on a weekend. Make sure it's doable, safe, fun and scenic. You also want to get a good idea of how long it will take you to ride your bike to work, and how you'll feel when you get there.

Don't Sweat It

You're going to get to work a little bit sweaty, and you need to plan for this. Deodorant, baby wipes, and possibly a change of clothes may be merited. If you can stash some of these on-site, you're in luck. In the summer I ride in shorts and a t-shirt, and change into business clothes when I get to my destination. Garment bags work great for this.

Rainy Weather

There are really three schools of thought on riding your bike to work in the rain. You can be a bike commuter warrior who always makes the trip, rain or shine. You can opt to ride only when the weather is good (and be proud that at least you're doing something). Finally there are the loonies who don't feel like they have to ride in the rain, but they do it anyway for fun.

Make sure you've got the right gear (which could simply mean a change of clothes when you arrive, and a place to hang up your dripping biker garments), cover yourself and you bicycle with lots of blinking red lights, and keep your sense of humor (or sense of honor?)

Plan B

Bikes are sometimes fragile pieces of equipment, and sooner or later you're going to have a flat tire, a broken cable, or other minor nuisance. Take the time to learn some basic bike mechanics. REI does free workshops and classes on this, and so do a lot of community colleges and local non-profit organizations. If you're in Los Angeles, check out the Bicycle Kitchen. Anywhere else, you can find out about stuff in your area by going to the regional section of

Sometimes knowing how to fix your bike on the fly isn't enough to get you to work on time. Get familiar with the buses and trains that run near your bike route. Maybe even put a cab company in your cell phone.

Enjoy Your Treats

Eat up! It's more than just a reward, it's bicycle fuel. When you start riding your bike to work, you're going to burn a lot more calories, and you'll notice that you're feeling hungrier. Go ahead and have that bacon, avocado, and chocolate sandwich. Not only have you earned it, you need it.

Yesterday I made it from the Westside to downtown L.A. half an hour early. In rush hour traffic, the bike is faster than the bus. Faster than driving, too, in a lot of situations.

Not to mention an early morning cruise along the beach, then zipping past quiet homes with lush trees and interesting gardens.

It's good to challenge yourself. It's good to have these happy reminders of why we do it.

This morning I got stuck behind a bus during my bike commute. It felt like I was sucking air right out of the exhaust pipe. But this usually doesn't happen, because I have tactics I use to keep my lungs safe most of the time. If you ride your bike in a polluted urban environment like Los Angeles, there's really a lot you can do to minimize the smog you breathe in.

First, if you have the option, you can cut your exposure to pollution by 10-30% just by riding in off-peak hours. The best time is early in the morning, before rush hour. Next best would be midday, or late at night.

If you're not commuting by bike, and you just like to ride for the fun of it, be a weekend warrior. Ride your bike on the days when there are fewer cars on the road.

If you commute to work, and have to ride your bike during rush hour, you can save your lungs by taking alternate routes.

Almost every busy street has other streets running parallel to it, and the traffic on these other streets can be a lot lower. If you can get just 50 feet away from the heaviest traffic, you can make a dramatic cut in the amount of pollution you breathe in.

In fact, a Danish study found that when you bike on streets with low traffic volume, you can reduce your exposure to pollution by 50% to 60% or even more.

And when you think about it, you'll have a safer, more quiet ride. Also more scenic. You're more likely to pass parks and gardens. You won't have to worry as much about being hit.

If you commute by bike, there might be stretches where you have to be on the busiest roads, but probably not for the entire route. Anything you can do to reduce the time you spend riding in traffic will pay off.

There will be more stop signs, and you might add an extra 10 minutes onto your journey. But you could also add years to your life.


One of the best parts of biking in the rain is the looks you get, and the conversations it inspires. When you're biking in foul weather, especially in a place like LA where foul weather is rare, people take notice. It gives you a chance to change their minds.

riding a bike in the rain

While you're out there pedaling through Valhalla, breathing free air and attacking the most menacing hills, the mortal masses are growing dull and weak behind electronic screens. Entire generations are hyperinsulated from the real world, and we're paying the price:

Last year's economic meltdown was caused by a potent mix of greed and laziness, the mindset that easy money should be a given, the bovine mentality that comfort is the norm and serious effort is unnecessary.

The purely physical aspects of life have become so easy for most of us that it's easy to get lost in this mindset, easy to lose touch with reality, almost impossible to do anything as our resources and freedoms slip away.

At the same time, the few people who stay active and engaged with the world are beating the trend and thriving. The courageous heroes who squarely face the challenges that life throws at them, or who seek out challenges on their own, these are the people who continue to grow and succeed.

If you're a regular bike commuter, I suspect you have a distinct advantage in your social and economic life, in addition to better health. And whenever you ride, you're a beacon to all the wandering souls behind glass panes, a reminder of the independence, resourcefulness, and work ethic that made this country great.

When it's raining cats and dogs, especially in a place like Los Angeles where it rarely rains very hard for very long, the weather separates the heroes from the common folk. If you ride boldly and blatantly where others fear to tread, you're forcing the world to wake up and take notice.

You have a choice to make. We're on the cusp of human evolution, but it's different this time. We're not going to be naturally selected by a meteor or some other environmental catastrophe. We're going to choose our own fate.

So get on your bike, especially when the storms are raging all around you.

You don't realize it, but your bottom bracket holds the future of America, and maybe of all humanity.


If you're commuting by bike and you live anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere, you're going to ride your bike at night at some point. In my younger days (and even now, truth be told), I used to party with my bike and ride home.*

This is just to say I've bought and used a lot of bike lights over the years. I have my favorites, and I might make some recommendations in a future post. But for now, I'm frustrated by a problem that seems to happen across the board, with every kind of bike light I've ever used.

Usually the mounting wears out or breaks long before the light does. So you end up with a perfect light that you can't attach to your bicycle.

Sure, you can always figure something out with bungi cords, rubber bands and duct tape, but all of those things lead to new problems later on. As a result, I have a drawer full of flashlights that are simply retired bike lights.

My latest solution is the head lamps that you find at camping stores. It's bright, it automatically points wherever I look, but it's uncomfortable and I feel like I'm cheating somehow. Plus, this doesn't fill the need for a flashing rear light device.

I know there has to be a better way, and that's where you come in.

If you like to tinker, and you could patent some kind of universal bike light mount, you may be in a business. If your device is simple, durable, and lightweight, you're going to be a millionaire. If this sounds like you, please get on it! I won't ask for any credit or compensation. I'll be your first customer!

*Yes, I almost killed myself a few times while biking under the influence, but at least I wouldn't have killed anybody else. Don't ever try to drive, ride, or operate any vehicle--bike, motorcycle, steamroller, skateboard, pogo stick, burro, or jet ski--when your cognitive processes are compromised. If you're going to abuse a substance, let it be coffee!

I was biking downtown, and when I stopped at a red light someone rolled down their window and said, "I'll bet you're saving a lot of money riding that thing."

Indeed. Probably tens of thousands of dollars over the last 15 years. Before the motorist took of at the green light, he said he was planning to ride his bike to work soon, because of gas prices and the recession.

But this isn't at all about saving money. That's just icing on the cake. Which got me thinking...

There's a lot of talk in the media about an economic slowdown, recession, depression, end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it. And there may be some truth in what you've been hearing, although the jury's still out on how bad it's going to get.

But spending less money doesn't have to mean lowering your quality of life. I put that in italics so you'll remember it, and burn it into your brain. Most bike commuters probably ride their bikes to work by choice, not necessity. And even if your credit card debt, your salary cut, rising costs or some other economic factor compelled you to ride your bike to work, you'd still get all the benefits that lead to this choice by people who have other options.

You'll pump oxygen into every cell in your body, burn fat and build lean, powerful muscle. You'll get to work relaxed and happy, looking and feeling a lot better than the stressed out commuters who had to hunt for parking. You'll see your town from a new perspective, and make discoveries that motorists miss. Every day is an adventure, because you're using your mind and body and wits to overcome new obstacles that wait for you just around the corner. It's fun!

Not to mention the self-righteous ego-boost you can indulge in, knowing that you're saving energy, reducing pollution, giving your fellow citizens more parking and road space, and generally making the world a little bit better.

And you'll save money. Maybe start getting ahead, paying off your debts and building up your net worth while people all around you are worried about defaults and bailouts and who knows what else. But that's not the point.

Riding a bike is just one example of how downsizing your life, spending less, can actually improve your standard of living. The new economy (and that's what's happening here--not a reduction of total wealth but simply a transfer of wealth) may look scary on the surface if you're stuck in old ways of thinking. But really it's an adventure of new opportunity. Embrace the adventure.

Race you to the top?