Colorado is enduring a devastating, record-setting wildfire season. As I write this in early November, it may seem like we are out of the woods thanks to cooler temperatures and snow, but there are still several fires burning across the state, including:
Cameron Peak Fire
- Location: Arapaho and Roosevelt National Forest near Cameron Pass and Chambers Lake, approximately 50 miles west of Fort Collins
- Size: 208,913 Acres
- Containment: 85%
East Troublesome Fire
- Location: Outside of Granby
- Size: 193,774 Acres
- Contained: 37%
- Location: Boulder County
- Size: 10,106 Acres
- Containment: 76%
Williams Fork Fire
- Location: 15 miles southwest of Fraser in Grand County
- Size: 14,883 acres
- Containment: 75%
Middle Fork Fire
- Location: 11 miles northeast of Steamboat Springs
- Size: 20,433 acres
- Containment: 60%
Grizzly Creek Fire
- Location: Glenwood Canyon
- Size: 32,466 acres
- Containment: 91%
All of these fires have thrown vast plumes of smoke into the air, making it nearly intolerable on some days just to get outside for a walk. But the fall is such a glorious time to ride a motorcycle in Colorado’s mountains! Is it safe to ride a motorcycle during wildfire season?
The answer is yes… if you plan ahead.
Wildfire Smoke: What Are You Breathing?
First, it’s important for you to understand the risk to your health posed by wildfire smoke inhalation. What is in that smoke?
According to the CDC, “Wildfire smoke is a mix of gases and fine particles from burning trees and plants, buildings, and other material.” So basically, whatever that fire has burned, particles of it are in the smoke. If older homes or buildings burn in the fire, you could be breathing asbestos particles and other toxins.
The CDC says breathing smoke can cause:
- Trouble breathing
- Asthma attacks
- Stinging eyes
- Scratchy throat
- Runny Nose
- Irritated sinuses
- Chest pain
- Fast heartbeat
Because motorcycles provide zero protection from this awful air, it’s important to plan ahead so that you don’t suddenly discover yourself in a smoke plume. You wouldn’t want to be climbing a twisty mountain pass with runny, scratchy eyes.
Check Weather and Air Quality Reports
Since the fires started in August 2020, I have found myself checking Colorado’s air quality on a regular basis. I like to bicycle around town, but I don’t want a healthy activity to harm my lungs! Here is the tool I use to check air quality: https://www.airnow.gov/aqi/aqi-basics/
When you go to that site, type your destination zip code into the box at the top right of the screen. You should also check a few of the zip codes you’ll be riding through. For example, if you’re taking a motorcycle trip from Denver to Steamboat Springs, you’ll want to check Steamboat’s zip code and also a couple in between, such as Silverthorne and Kremmling.
If you’re a visual person and you’d like to see a map of Colorado with fire and smoke plumes charted, check out this website. Back in October, our state was blanketed in a giant smoke plume, but today it appears that our air quality is good. Sadly, though, we still have all those fires burning and uncontained, so you should still check every day you plan to ride.
Check Road Conditions and Gear Up
I also recommend that you check CoTrip.org for road conditions and closures. You should do this for every ride all year long, not just during wildfire season in Colorado.
Finally, wear the right gear. You might be tired of hearing this but, wear a mask! Not because of COVID (though you should be doing that, too) but because of the smoke. Rider Justice is giving away gaiters this fall. Click here to complete a short survey for a gaiter. We’d love to keep you safe!
Additionally, many motorcycle commuters wear masks that include air filters to protect themselves from city pollution; the same could be used for smoke. I did a quick search and found this company, but you can find many more online.
Remember: riding a motorcycle always requires more thought than driving a car. If you’re planning a motorcycle trip into the Rocky Mountains, you need to check weather, roads and wildfire reports before you head out!