Biking to work can be frustrating — going up hills, maneuvering around car traffic and pedestrians, getting sweaty under work clothes.
For people in Beijing, the prospect of biking to work is considerably more daunting than it is for people in other cities. That’s because Beijing has extremely polluted air, often forcing cyclists to wear face masks on their commutes.
In fact, only 55.3% of days in Beijing have had air that’s safe to breathe so far in 2017. And the other days still feature air that’s much more polluted than the global average.
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But a new initiative by the Dutch innovation firm Studio Roosegaarde and bike share company ofo is aiming to end this problem one pedal at a time.
By the end of the year, they’re introducing “Future Bikes” that filter the smog and provide cyclists with clean air.
The bikes work in a surprisingly simple way.
A screen between the handlebars pulls in air from below and then delivers purified air up into the face of the cyclist.
The filter is powered by pedaling.
For cyclists traveling in a line, the bikes can create a band of purified air, with each cyclist giving clean air to the person behind them.
Ofo currently has 6.5 million bikes in China and 3 million daily users. If all of the company’s Beijing-based bikes get equipped with this air purifier, then coping with pollution could become easier.
It’s not like this design is coming out of thin air, either.
Studio Roosegaarde introduced a smog-filtering building in China last year that purifies 1 million cubic feet of air every air.
The building has reduced air pollution within 60 feet of its diameter by 45% in its first year.
Air pollution in Beijing is sometimes dealt with sardonically. Residents refer to the pervasive smog as Airmageddon, the Airpocalypse, or Beige-jing.
It’s to cut through the caustic reality of everyday life — having to wear face masks to go to the store, buy fresh oxygen so your children can breathe, and install multiple air purifiers at home.
But it’s also to put pressure on the government to take action. In fact, complaints over air pollution have partly driven China’s escalating investments in renewable energy.
Plus, if these bikes get people to drive cars less, then air quality will improve on two fronts.
“We’re ambitious. This is not meant as a one-off, artistic project,” Daan Roosegaarde told Quartz. “Thinking about millions and millions of these bikes, we can really have an impact on the air quality index of a city.”