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Should you wear a mask while cycling?

The benefits and downsides of covering your face for rides

Face masks have become increasingly popular for trips outside the house. The Canadian government cautions that: “Wearing a facial covering/non-medical mask in the community has not been proven to protect the person wearing it and is not a substitute for physical distancing and hand washing.” However, “it can be an additional measure you can take to protect others around you, even if you have no symptoms.”

As a cyclist, you have likely seen or been sent that Medium article demonstrating the dispersal of exhaled droplets during running and cycling. The article was widely criticized for reporting on a non-peer-reviewed unpublished white paper, but the fear of biking through a cloud of infectious particles has still permeated the minds of cyclists.

RELATED: The complete guide to cycling during COVID-19

Wearing a mask could be a courteous solution for biking on local paths where you might come within too close of a range to other cyclists. Experts say it’s probably not necessary if you’re taking the proper precautions and keeping your distance from others, but you can never be too safe. Additionally, Americans have been advised to wear face masks whenever leaving home—a measure that is not yet in place in Canada, but that may change in the coming weeks as restrictions begin to be lifted.

Issues with masks and cycling

Wearing a mask while cycling may come with a number of drawbacks. Depending on how thick the mask is, it could affect your air intake and, in turn, have negative performance outcomes.

Even in cooler spring weather, covering your face with a properly-fitting mask will result in a very warm mouth/nose area. Speaking with the New York Times, Dr. Grant Lipman, a clinical professor of emergency medicine at Stanford University who studies extreme athletes and wilderness medicine says, “the mask turns the bottom half of your face into a ‘mini-sauna,’, leading to a buildup of sweat under the mask and a related rise in nasal secretions.”

So you’re looking at a potentially soggy and snotty face situation if you wear a mask while you ride, but not wearing a mask might feel like a risky decision. You have a few options for how to proceed.

Experiment with different designs

There are a wide variety of mask designs available as patterns or for sale online. If you intend to wear one for cycling, go for something with more structure around the nose to reduce fogging your glasses. If you’re buying a mask or looking through your fabrics, go for something moisture wicking or with microfibers.These won’t be the most effective masks, but they’ll be more tolerable than a cotton or disposable mask. Make sure the fit is good, and it will stay on without drooping down throughout your ride.

Wear a buff ** UPDATED **

image: Buff

A buff is a tube-shaped face covering, like a thinner neck warmer. The fabric is made to be worn during exercise, it breathes well and won’t get as warm. Unfortunately, because buffs are so breathable, they’re also less effective as face masks. That being said, they’re better than nothing.

Update **According to a new Duke University study, wearing a neck gaiter – or buff, neck sleeve, neck warmers and even bandanas – could actually be worse than nothing. The study showed thin, stretchable materials like buff neck warmers may actually be counterproductive.**

Wear a mask, reduce the intensity

If you’re cycling purely as an excuse to get outside, and you don’t feel comfortable without a mask, turn down the intensity of your ride. Shift into the little ring and cut down your route while paying attention to your heart rate and breathing.

Ride inside

If you don’t feel comfortable riding without a mask, but riding with a mask feels uncomfortable, taking a break from outdoor bikes may be your only option for now. Get on the trainer, move your rides indoor and log some virtual kilometres. If you don’t have a trainer, focus on at home strength training and improving your core strength.

RELATED: ‘If you have the equipment, consider training inside’ says Cycling Canada

Cycling Canada has recommended cyclists ride inside if possible for the time being, so this option is undoubtedly your safest and most responsible bet.