This summer has brought record-breaking wildfires and stifling, smoky skies with it. Millions of acres are burning in fires across multiple states and thousands of firefighters are working to contain them. It’s neither the first nor last time we’ll experience wildfires, and they aren’t just an issue for warmer western areas – the burden from wildfires extends to people well away from the source.

Avoiding exposure is a matter of planning in advance. Motorcycle safety includes riding away from and around wildfires and smoke that comes with them. While it may sound simple, there are only so many roadways and smoke won’t stop for anyone. It’s up to you to find alternate routes that navigate the safest path when you ride, but there are tools available to help you do so.

What’s in Wildfire Smoke and Where Does it Come From?

The smoke that’s filling skies and surrounding cities is a direct result of everything burned in the fire’s path, from vegetation to buildings and houses. The particles from these burned substances combine with gases in the fire to create smoky air. Due to wind currents, that smoke travels thousands of miles from the source and settles across large patches of the US, polluting the air wherever it goes.

How is the Smoke Harmful?

For healthy adults, long-term effects from exposure to wildfire smoke are a low risk. However, with wildfire smoke becoming increasingly common in urban areas, there’s also more research monitoring its effects. Recent studies have found that thousands of people die from downwind smoke exposure every year, and even more experience smoke-related illnesses. Particles from wildfire smoke can enter your respiratory system and cause symptoms such as stinging eyes, chest pain, irregular heartbeat, wheezing, runny nose, headaches and more.

Is It Safe to Ride My Bike in Wildfire Smoke?

Limiting exposure is the best way to ward off smoke related health risks, and that could mean avoiding a motorcycle ride altogether. If you’re deciding whether or not to ride, or know you’ll be riding in an area where there’s smoke, check the Air Quality Index to evaluate conditions. Make sure you’re geared up for summer, and be careful if you see any haze or smell any smoke when riding. Even if the air around you seems clear, there could be imperceptible particles lingering.

How to Protect Yourself from Smoke When You Ride

When you need to ride in the smoke, utilize the various tools available to help you plan your trip. Protective masks may help keep smoke from entering your respiratory system, however, it’s worth reviewing these mask guidelines to make sure yours isn’t doing more harm than good. Smoke-monitoring apps and sites, like the SmokeSense app developed by the US Environmental Protection Agency, may also be helpful when it comes to checking air quality and learning about wildfires.

It’s A Fine Line is an inclusive community of motorcycle riders advocating one common mission: zero motorcycle deaths by 2030. We want to share videos and stories about motorcycle events, rides, clubs, gear, safety, and training because we believe that together we can save the lives of our friends, our families, and our communities.