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California Wildfire Smoke and Bicycle Safety

We want to first say to anyone in the path of a wildfire or to anyone who’s already lost something or someone in the wildfire, you are in our thoughts.  Stay safe.

For bicyclists in the Bay Area it can be a bleak view looking out over the skylines (if you can still see that far) and noticing the devastating effects of wildfires and the thick smoke they spew. The air is so dark, the Golden Gate Bridge can pull a disappearing act at times. The hazy gray soup can make breathing hard for even healthy people. And you might be at your window, checking the horizon and wondering if a bike ride is a good idea.

Smoke Dangers for Bay Area Bicyclists

The first thing you should know is that sniffing smoke is never good for you.  Sounds obvious, but what about those cool nights around the campfire? That pine smell may add to the memories but the vapor is still not ideal for your health.  How much more smoke are you taking into your lungs when you are sucking wind on a bike?

The EPA points out that wildfire smoke is made up of a complex mixture of gases and fine particles from organic material.  It’s the smallest particles that produce the most danger.  These microscopic specks can penetrate deep into the lungs and even enter your bloodstream.  The side effects can be anything from burning eyes and a runny nose to aggravated chronic heart and lung diseases.

Changing Bicycle Habits During Wildfires

There will be dark days that you’ll know immediately you shouldn’t be out cycling and inhaling the unfresh air. On these days you should save yourself for better rides. Other days, you’ll have to test your tolerance. Either way, wildfire smoke and bicycle safety is your top priority when the forest fire season takes off.

The coaches at CTS & Trainright.com help prepare world-class cyclists and runners. They warn that athletes on a bike can breathe in 10 to 20 times more air than a person at rest. They suggest cyclists check air quality indexes every day and begin to note where their comfort levels are. Some lungs can handle more particulate than others. Establishing a baseline will help you deal with future bad air and allergy days.

During the worst days, they definitely recommend reducing exposure, training intensity, and the duration of your outdoor training. Another important tip…let someone know where you are doing your training, especially if you are susceptible to asthma attacks.

Monitor Air Quality and Your Breathing

We all know it’s tough to keep riders off their bikes. They roll out on two wheels in the worst weather imaginable. If you feel you must be out during prime wildfire season it’s important to keep track of every symptom you might experience.

NPR talked to Dr. Ann Thomas, a preventive medicine specialist with the Oregon Health Authority.  Her department published a helpful pamphlet on the health effects of wildfire smoke.

The information included advises bicycle enthusiasts and anyone outdoors on a smoky day to watch out for certain signs that mean you may have taken in enough.

  • Watery or dry eyes.
  • Persistent cough, phlegm, wheeze, scratchy throat, or irritated sinuses.
  • Shortness of breath, asthma attack, or lung irritation.
  • Irregular heartbeat, chest pain, or fatigue.
  • Slight nausea.

Doctors seem to agree that limited exposure to the wildfire smoke for someone without other heart and lung issues won’t have any lasting effects.  The air will clear out eventually and your passageways will return to normal.

Ride Free and Breathe Clear

No ride is worth putting added stress on your heart and lungs. They are vital to your enjoyment of your favorite activity. Biking! There are ways to be mindful of smoke and bicycle safety. If you can manage without a trip on a smoky day you’ll be better off now and on the next clear day when you finally get some saddle time again.