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Should I ride in the smoke?

Many towns and cities in Australia's east are currently blanketed in a haze of smoke from our devastating bushfires and as many of us get back on the bike after the festive season we wonder, is it OK to ride a bike in the smoke?

The smoke from bushfires burning in NSW and Victoria is affecting the air quality and visibility, making it potentially dangerous, however it's not always easy to tell how high or low the air quality is.

Air quality is measured by the amount of fine particles less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter there are in the air, or PM2.5. Higher rates of PM2.5 mean lower air quality, and the lower the air quality the more cautious you should be.

A good way to help make a decision about riding during times of questionable air quality is to check the World Air Quality Index.

The World Air Quality Index project publishes real-time air quality information, including PM2.5 levels, in individual locations. It also gives an air quality rating and description of how cautious you should be and if you should exercise outside.

The World Air Quality Index project scale says that most people can exercise outside when PM2.5 is between 0 and 150, unless you have a sensitivity or condition such as asthma or are in a high risk group (people over 65, children 14 years and younger, pregnant women and those with existing heart or lung conditions). 

The impact of bushfire smoke can vary significantly based on current health and medical conditions. The fine smoke particles can cause sore eyes, nose and throat for many people, and irritate the respiratory system in more serious cases.

When PM2.5 is more than 151 you should be more cautious. It may still be OK to exercise outside, but you should limit the amount of time and intensity.

Air quality is rated as hazardous when the PM2.5 is above 300. When the air quality is rated as hazardous it is recommended that all people avoid exercising outside.

At times when the air looks hazy it can be good to check its quality before deciding if you are going to jump on the bike.

As well as the World Air Quality Index project website you can also check the air quality with the Environment Protection Authority in your state.

Visit the World Air Quality Index project website

Click here to read more about riding during the fire season

What about a mask?

Wearing a mask is not a bad idea, but there is no guarantee that it will stop you taking in poor quality air. 

The only face masks that can filter out PM2.5 are known as P2 masks, which are different to more typical surgical-style masks.

The P2 masks have a special built-in filter, however to work effectively they need to form a seal on your face. That means the size around your mouth and nose needs to be perfect and you will need to get rid of any stubble or beard you may have.

Because the masks need to fit tightly they can be stuffy or uncomfortable and may make breathing feel difficult. They also only work for a limited amount of time.

You can read more about P2 masks in The Guardian

If you live in or a riding through an area affected by smoke haze or bushfires, please be vigilant and take necessary precautions to protect your health and safety.