Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Cycling in wildfire smoke

I participated in the latest issue of The Spokesmen Cycling Podcast (posted last night), where we talked about fires, Interbike, RAGBRAI bike bans, and bike shop service. If you haven't listened to it yet, you can download the podcast here.

My tip at the end of the podcast was "Don't ride outside in the smoke." A few people in my blogroll (such as Masi Guy, Biking Bis, Cycling Dude, End Pavement) have been impacted by the fire, ash and smoke down in Southern California. I think most people are smart enough to avoid anything too aerobic when the air is full of carbonized manzanita.

Five years ago, I wasn't one of the smart ones. I was living in Boulder County while wildfires raged in Rocky Mountains and in the foothills, but where I lived in eastern Boulder County the air quality seemed fine. A small group of us went on our regular lunch ride in spite of the haziness. I coughed up black stuff for at least a week after that.

It turns out that microscopic particles cause inflammation within my lungs that can cause scarring of the surfaces where oxygen and CO2 are exchanged. Not only that, they can become permanently lodged within the tiny air sacs of my lungs. The result for me as a cyclist: Permanently reduced VO2Max. I haven't had my VO2Max measured in a couple of decades, but in the years since that fire ride I've noticed markedly reduced lung capacity. I can feel the strength in my legs, but I just can't deliver the oxygen to keep them going like I used to.

I mentioned Kiril the Cycling Dude's post on cycling in smoke, where he provides links to the American Lung Association and Centers for Disease Control. Kiril makes note that many SoCal residents have no choice -- if they need to get to work or school or shopping, biking is often their primary means of transportation.

Some of you might be shocked to know that back in the day, it wasn't at all unusual for cyclists to start sucking on a cigarette after a hard race. When I got into cycling in the 80s it was still done, and it always jarred me a little when I saw it. It's conceivable that cyclists perform so much better today not because of doping, but because they're not all taking a drag on cancer sticks.

Listen to the The Spokesman. I have no idea how Tim Jackson sounds so perky at 6 in the a.m. when we recorded this episode.

Untitled photo by Yaniv Golan.


  1. Fritz, You did a great job on the show. It is nice to be able to put a voice with the blog.

  2. I sound perky?

    I spent last week riding pretty hard actually, but riding along the coast and the San Diego Bay, I managed to ride in mostly-clean air.

  3. I have asthma so I probably need to pay attention. When we had those fires a few years ago I did have some trouble breathing.

    Saturday I did a 70 mile ride in western Colorado. There was a noticeable haze from the CA fires but my breathing seemed fine. Monday I rode at lunch here in Colorado Springs and I had trouble breathing. Maybe it was something else but we had a pretty good haze.

  4. Fritz, I second James' comment. You sounded knowledgeable and confident on the show. Note to Dave ("The Fred"): Knowing that Fritz was on got me to subscribe to the podcast. Liked it a lot and look forward to the next one.

  5. You guys are way too kind. I sound asleep and dull. Time for my nap, now!