In 2012, we tested Respro’s Sportsta breath mask previously in MotoBuyer, which featured proprietary filters that help commuters breathe easy in the city. Since then, the UK-based safety equipment company has improved its line-up and begun to offer more products.
New features in Respro’s product line-up including the availability of more sizes, as well as the announcement of a new, more fashionable line-up of masks (dubbed ‘Skinz’) although these are not on sale just yet.
The reasons for wearing a breath mask in Singapore are mounting: diesel fumes, huge swathes of burning forest and claustrophobic tunnels with bad ventilation (see box). The benefits of wearing one are beginning to far outweigh the drawbacks.
But one newer product in the Respro catalogue caught our eye: the Nitesight mask. Respro also makes high-visibility products, and the new mask combines two safety technologies into one – a high-viz, filtration mask for urban wear. What more could a paranoid biker want?
The Nitesight mask is Respro’s classic City mask with a twist: While it’s still constructed of stretchy Neoprene, the outer surface now has a coating of Scotchlite reflective material. You’ll know this as the stuff that’s on the back of your running shoes and some backpacks too. Scotchlite is made up of thousands of tiny reflective beads which shoot back light pointed at it, providing for a highly visible surface when lit up at night.
It’s a particularly clever move, especially since your head is often the most visible part of your body on a bike. Even with high-visibility clothing, it does become difficult to see motorcyclists at night. Like pedestrians, they can become obscured when hiding ‘between’ points of illumination, such as the headlights of other cars. Studies also show that one of the best things you can do is wear a white or hi-viz helmet – so wearing a hi-viz breathing mask should add to your notice-ability from the front.
As mentioned, Respro masks now come in two different sizes, medium and large. According to the company, medium size fits a normal sized woman and large fits a normal sized man. We opted to try a medium size this time round (our Sportsta is large sized) and it fits well, although it’s right at the limit of adjustability, so we would choose a large next time. The adjustable Velcro backing and stretchy nature of the mask makes it comfortable to wear once you get used to it.
The Nitesight mask comes with the City filter as standard. The two valves on the mask allow you to breathe out freely, unlike a standard disposable N95 mask which does a ‘suction cup’ movement when you breathe out too quickly, caused by air trying to escape and enter the mask simultaneously.
One of the key draws of the Respro mask system is that the filters and valves are interchangeable. The City filter, as the name suggests, is more for urban commutes. It uses activated charcoal to screen out dust, some pollution and odours. Activated charcoal, as you may know, adsorbs chemicals and pollutants by locking them into its microscopic pore structure. Adsorbtion is different from absorbtion, the former is where particles are held by weak molecular forces to the material, the latter is where the substance permeates or is dissolved by a solvent.
The Sportsta filter has a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) sub-micron filter, so it can screen out most particulate pollution (PM10 and PM2.5) although it does allow some fumes and chemicals in.
Respro’s Techno filter is the top-line offering, and combines the best of the two filters into one, which is why it’s our choice for all round commuting and travel. According to Respro “the Activated charcoal layer within the Techno filter has excellent adsorption properties when it comes to SO2 and NO2 uptakes. With this capability and its capability of filtering VOC’s it is the best filter available in our range for dealing with the broad spectrum of pollutants commonly found in major cities across the globe.”
As you can see from the photos, the mask has the happy effect of making you look like a storm trooper from Star Wars, especially when combined with a white helmet. When viewed at night, the Scotchlite really does the job from the front.
One example is, I imagine you’d be very visible to oncoming traffic at night while waiting to turn right at junctions– right turning vehicles, by the way, are a cause of more dangerous accidents due to high and low speed differential.
Wearing the mask for long periods is not a bother, although the harder nature of the City filter (if you use it) makes our nose bridge chafe a little after long rides. In our opinion, the only big drawback of the mask is that it won’t fit under most full-face helmets, hence the half-face helmet you see in the photos. It might possibly fit under the enduro-styled helmets with longer chin-guards, but we have yet to test that sort of helmet and in any case chin-bar size varies amongst all kinds of full-face helmets.
All in all, we think the Nitesight mask is another strong product from Respro and money well spent – it helps you to breathe easier on urban commutes and will even help you stick out more on the road.
Respro Nitesight mask
GBP32.99 / SGD70.52
Respro Techno filter (2 pack)
GBP17.99 / SGD38.46
Respro masks can be purchased directly from the company at www.respro.com or you can order them from online bicycle retailers based in the UK. Singapore’s retailers for Respro products are Hodaka Motoworld, www.motoworld.com.sg.
Why You Should Wear A Pollution Mask
Even without the haze, Singapore’s air really isn’t as clean as you think it is
Last year when the haze hit Singapore hard, I was prepared: I simply wore my Respro Sportsta mask everywhere I went – as opposed to just on the bike. After all engine ‘smoke’ and burning plant smog is more or less the same thing, the products of incomplete combustion.
To be honest, the vast majority of Singapore’s motorcyclists are behind the curve when it comes to safety gear – regular clothing and flip-flops are still the common outfit for an urban commute here in the Lion City.
Savvy bikers know it’s not a matter of if, but when you’re going to fall off, and one wears a breath mask for the same reason you wear a riding jacket or boots: as a proactive safety measure.
You may not know it, but Singapore’s roads are really quite bad for your lungs. It’s estimated that almost a fifth of Singapore’s emissions come from vehicles – but we guess the vast majority doesn’t come from passenger cars.
Vehicle emissions aren’t healthy, we all know. Various pollutants, chemicals and compounds result from internal combustion engines: these include particulate matter called PM10s and PM2.5s – which mean small pollutants that are less than 10 microns and 2.5 microns in size respectively. These include the soot plumes you see coming from older diesel engines and other kinds of respirable dusts that you can’t see. The latter are very bad for you, as they can enter the lungs and be lodged inside.
Other hazards include gaseous pollutant such as sulphur dioxide, volatile organic compounds (those with hydrogen molecules, which is almost everything) or even heavy metals are thrown into the atmosphere.
While modern passenger car and diesel engines are very efficient and pollute much less, this is not the case with many older diesel vehicles – vans, lorries, some buses and most taxis running on the road. Coincidentally, these vehicles also spend a lot of ‘dwell time’ on the road too, which means they pollute considerably more than a normal passenger car, which typically spend most of their time parked.
According to the UN Economic Council for Europe’s report on diesel engines (UNECE Diesel Engines Exhausts: Myths and Realities, 2014): “In June 2012, the World Health Organization’s International Agency on Research on Cancer (IARC) concluded that diesel engine exhaust is carcinogenic to humans (IARC, 2012). It is noteworthy that the IARC decision was unanimous and….it urged a worldwide reduction of exposure to diesel fumes as much as possible.”
The LTA has announced it has ‘projected’ an improvement to diesel standards to begin by 2014, which will help the situation. But unlike other countries, there has been no diesel retrofit scheme for older vehicles to improve their particulate emissions. So until this is fixed, and we don’t think it will be for at least a few years, your best bet is to commute with some sort of breathing protection. And that’s not even counting the haze!