Riding in smoke, AQI limits

I’ll own “risk averse.” The thing we’re personally concerned with here is the PM2.5 levels when there are fires or wildfire smoke pollution. That’s just not the stuff I want to breathe in for 5+ hours on a bury-myself Saturday long ride.


They don’t say it’s “fine”.

Athletes gulping air during VO2max intervals are also not the “general public” that gets out of their air conditioned car to go into an air conditioned house or office building.

This link has some info aimed at exercising outdoors:


You typically take about 15 breaths per minute during normal activities. When you exercise, you can take up to 100 breaths per minute.14 More breaths introduce more pollutants in your airways. When pollution is heavy, you can breathe in up to four times more harmful particles into your lungs. PM2.5 particles can build up in your arteries as plaque.

Humans often underestimate long term risk. That’s why people smoke, eat bad food, or drink alcohol. It’s hard to wrap one’s brain around what might give them cancer 10-20-30 years from now.


Last year during the CA fires I originally thought that anything <100 would be okay until I went out and did a 2hr tempo ride at AQI of 75-80. I had a scratchy throat and cough for 2-3 days after that and vowed to never do it again. You can definitely smell smoke at that AQI level even though it may not be visible.


Go out and do intervals when the primary pollutant is PM 2.5 and get back to us, ok?


My understanding is that exercise constitutes ‘increased risk’ due to both an increased rate of respiration and a tendency to lodge particles in the lungs somewhat more effectively by breathing harder. Which would suggest that 100, as the beginning of the ‘unhealthy for sensitive individuals’ bracket is probably a solid general rule/upper limit for most people.

I also don’t think being ‘risk averse’ is necessarily a bad thing. There’s some things in life that are worth taking a risk, but when you’re talking about lasting impacts to not just a person’s health, but also their quality of life I think it’s probably reasonable to forego a couple of bike rides that probably wouldn’t be that enjoyable anyway. (I got caught out on a couple of runs when it was dark out and they felt awful. Longest half hour ever.)

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So this happened…


The problem with this logic is you don’t know what will happen in 5, 10, 15 years time if you continue to ride in AQI 100. We have had a couple week stretch of on and off 50-100 AQI days, and the 100 days definitely are visibly more different.

Hopefully nothing happens @ 100, but you don’t know. I personally have been keeping it to under 50-60, and paying more attention to PM2.5, which are the microscopic particles that I think can really do damage.

I hate to be that guy, but it’s true. If you’re an endurance athlete, of all things you could do, why would you willingly workout in conditions that pose a legitimate risk (I think, anyway) to the most vital organs in your body that determine performance? Makes literally no sense.

Totally agree, when I think of long term fitness, repeated exposure to generally poor air quality seems like it would be a bigger detriment than a handful of missed workouts.


This much is true at least.

This is really annoying. I try to find a station that is affiliated with a school or government agency if possible.

I have been having a real hard time finding a good forecast site for smoke. Does anyone have a good option?

@A_AMAN I don’t think there are any good forecasts for air quality. As @hdas pointed out, it’s tough to even find much consistency in ‘current conditions’ across various sources.

Part of the difficulty in forecasting is the speed with which conditions can change… I started a ride this morning at 45AQI and it increased to 281 by the time I finished 3 hours later. Ugh. Not fun

I don’t know what area you’re in but I’ve been finding this useful.


Tell me this doesn’t read like a horror movie where you know the hero is going to get eaten…

Possibly an obvious one, but if you don’t already it’s worth checking when the site was updated- of the two that I came across, one updates on the hour and the other was still displaying results from around 36 hours or so.
You can also get a fair bit of variation between stations even in smaller towns, so if you can find one with a map that displays multiple stations it can give you a somewhat more accurate overall picture.

Honestly if this is the new normal then I don’t really see a point in continuing to live in the mountain west. I like winter sports to an extent, but not nearly as much as I like summer riding and mounting biking.

If the new normal is we get May-June, July starts to get bad, and August and September are constant smoke then what is the point of living in the mountains for 2 months of good riding conditions a year?

Hate being a pessimist, but it’s hard to see a light at the end of the tunnel. There is no near term solution for the fire seasons we’re seeing.


I wholeheartedly agree. My hubs and I are planning to relocate from Utah elsewhere later this year. Although not the primary reason, the air quality and continuing inability to play outside for several months of the year are getting to be too much. We originally moved here for the winter/mountain sports access, but biking is my main squeeze and I can still travel a few times a year to get some good ski days in, and I can choose locales with better snow (Utah ski seasons seem shorter and dryer every year).