To escape air pollution, many Beijing cyclists don the kind of white face mask you see nurses wearing in hospital wards. The city’s cars, factories, and coal power create smog so thick the airport is occasionally forced to shut down. Just breathing Beijing air for one day can have the equivalent effect of smoking anywhere between one-sixth and 21 cigarettes, depending on whom you ask.
But artist Matt Hope has a better—or least, more dramatic—solution than a flimsy mask. His "Breathing Bike" is a mobile sculpture that, with each turn of the pedal, powers a personal air purifier, tucked away in a mesh Ikea dustbin on the bike’s rear. Clean air exits the purifier through the tube of a "Chinese fighter pilot breathing thingy" (in Hope’s words) where it makes its way directly to the cyclists face and lungs.
"It seems to make more sense to give you clean air rather than to try to filter it, because when you filter it [with a mask] you can’t breathe," Hope explains in a YouTube video. "So I thought I could use my basic knowledge of electrical, mechanical stuff and put it to some use and make this kind of weird, provocative object."
Perhaps it’ll provoke people to stick with their bikes as opposed to buying a new car. China’s quickly abandoning its long tradition of urban cycling, and forecasters expect China will add 20 million new vehicles to the road this year.
But there’s just one hitch to getting around on the cycle: It’s packing a deadly 5,000 volts of electricity. According to Hope, "if you ride this in the rain, you could potentially kill yourself. So I’m a little bit hesitant to use it."