Fires blamed on e-bike batteries are increasingly common, but there are simple steps to avoid the dangers
Fires caused by e-bike and e-scooter batteries are on the rise, if a recent spate of news stories from across the globe are to be believed. And as more and more stories come out, groups like UK charity Electrical Safety First (ESF) have called for third party certification on batteries. And most recently in the UK, the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) published some steps to consider when buying e-bikes and e-scooters.
But are e-bike batteries dangerous? And what can you do to keep your e-bike running safely?
E-bike battery safety need to know
- NYC landlords are banning e-bikes in apartments, even if they meet international standards
- The news comes after there were 243 battery related fires this year in New York City, according to NYFD
- UK campaigners and charities have called for third-party certification on batteries
New York landlords banning e-bikes
Across the pond, some landlords in New York are taking the extreme measure of banning e-bikes from apartment buildings and bike rooms. This comes off the back of a reported 243 battery related fires and 17 deaths this year alone, compared with 30 fires and zero deaths back in 2019.
There’s no doubt e-bikes have become more popular across the globe over the past few years, but to ban e-bikes with batteries that meet international standards and are properly maintained is an extreme reaction. In the UK, thankfully this isn’t the case just yet – instead, campaign groups are calling for third party certification on batteries, and for a ban on large retailers selling cheap batteries online.
Are e-bikes safe?
The short answer is, yes – if you have bought an e-bike and battery from a reputable retailer and look after it properly. Of course, there are risks with lithium-ion batteries, but if bought from a reputable manufacturer, then the risk is extremely minimal.
Lithium-ion batteries are made up of cells, and the quality of these is of the utmost importance. These, paired with the Battery Management System (BMS) are what sets high-quality batteries apart from the rest. The BMS is what controls the charging and discharging of the battery, and in the event of an error, communicates with your display to send an error code to prevent further use or damage to the unit. Poorly manufactured units may not even have a BMS installed, and can allow over-discharging to happen, which can upset the chemistry of the cells and lead to problems.
There are a few other ways that batteries can fail: overcharging, a faulty BMS (which can lead to overcharging or over-discharging), thermal runaway (which happens as a secondary effect to the previous issues) and mechanical damage.
As mountain bikers and if you’ve bought your e-bike from a reputable brand, then mechanical damage is likely the biggest area you need to pay attention to. We all knock our bikes about, but if the battery pack is dented or hit with force, it could dislodge some of the internal components and lead to issues. We’ve also heard stories of riders using longer bottle boss bolts and accidentally burying them into the battery. If any of this happens, make sure you get your an authorised workshop to have a look at it.
If you’re not sure what electric mountain bike to go for, we’ve got plenty of suggestions in our guide to the best electric mountain bikes.
There are a few things that you can do to make sure you minimise the risk of a fire.
- Buy from a reputable manufacturer and retailer. It’s not just a case of buy cheap, buy twice in this instance – cheap batteries may not offer the same build quality as larger brands, and thus expose you to potential fire risks
- Once the battery is charged, turn it off at the socket
- Only charge the e-bike with the charger it was supplied with or one that the manufacturer states is compatible
- Never leave the battery charging overnight
- Do not block exits with your battery while it is charging
- If the battery does take damage, whether from a knock or you dropping the battery pack, make sure it is inspected by an authorised workshop or dealer