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Alongside their growing adoption both for fun and travel, there’s been a steady rise in the number of fires caused by electric bikes.
Most fires have only caused damage to properties, but in some instances, people have sadly lost their lives.
Whilst some mainstream media outlets could be accused of sensationalizing the issue with talk of “explosions” and “fireballs”, plus spreading information about “e-bikes” that shouldn’t be classified as such, it’s a statistical fact that fires caused by e-bikes are on the rise.
In this article, we aim to provide some information on e-bike fires, some general statistics on their occurrence, and perhaps most importantly, how to prevent an e-bike fire in the first place.
Before we get into the details, we should be at pains to stress that fires caused by electric bikes are far more rare than those caused by cooking, heating, or smoking.
Electric Bike Fire Video
Electric bike fires can be particularly severe as they involve a process named “Thermal Runaway”. In short, this is when one damaged cell in a lithium-ion battery catches light; the heat expelled then causes a second battery cell to ignite. With many cells in lithium-ion batteries, the resulting fire can be extremely unpredictable.
During an e-bike fire, harmful products like hydrofluoric acid are also released. Plus, fires that involve lithium-ion batteries are made worse by the oxygen released during the combustion process. This natural gas fuels the fire, making it very difficult to put out.
E-Bike Battery Fire Statistics
Electric Bike Fire Risk
By our rough calculation, around 1 in 15,000 electric bikes may catch fire. Those numbers are based on UK estimates of e-bike ownership and the 200+ fires that were determined to be caused by them in 2022.
Let’s be clear though, electric bikes don’t present a greater risk than any other electric device or those items powered by lithium-ion batteries.
How to Put Out an E-Bike Fire.
If an electric bike, electric bike battery or electric bike charger catches fire you should immediately raise the alarm, leave the affected area, notify the relevant emergency services and stay out of harm’s way. Do not attempt to extinguish the fire yourself.
As we’ve already discussed, Lithium-ion battery fires can be extremely devasting and they should not be tackled by anyone other than trained firefighters. Lithium-ion fires require a special dry chemical extinguisher to put them out.
Preventing E-Bike Fires: 5 Tips
Following national guidance is the proper place to start when you are thinking about preventing an e-bike fire. However, we’ve condensed advice from governing bodies to give you a simple five-step plan to follow when storing, charging, and living with an e-bike.
1. Ensure the e-bike, battery and charger meet safety standards
A basic, but noteworthy tip. Before purchasing an electric bike ensure the bike, battery and charger have met safety standards.
For US cyclists the exact regulation is UL2849 – the top tier of battery standards. This certification “provides fire safety certification by examining the electrical drive train, battery, and charger system combinations in e-bikes.” Brands that have had their systems tested to this standard include the likes of Aventon and Juiced.
Beware, some brands will only certify their battery before making it available for purchase. In this case, the exact UL standard you need to look out for is UL2271 – a standard for batteries for use in light electric vehicle applications
Over in Europe, all electric bikes should meet the EN15194 certification. Post Brexit, this standard still applies in the UK too.
With a dizzying number of electric bike brands available, it can be difficult to discern any particular difference between two very similar bikes, especially if you also throw retrofit electric bike kits into the mix.
Given that the electric bike market is fairly new, it’s unsurprising to find various companies selling e-bikes that don’t meet safety criteria, especially on major online shopping platforms. As such we’d recommend buying from a reputable retailer, either online or in a local bike shop is a simple step to ensure the safety of you and your loved ones.
Before you buy your chosen e-bike (or conversion kit), we recommend checking that it meets the exact e-bike criteria in the country you reside. This is especially important if you intend to ride your electric bike on public roads.
For UK riders, this is the EPAC regulation that states e-bikes should have a maximum motor power of 250W and shouldn’t assist the rider beyond a speed of 15.5mph. Over in the US, there are different rules from state to state, but most follow the Class 1, 2 and 3 ruling.
2. Always use the correct charger for your battery
Whilst it is tempting to buy a cheaper after-market charger, you must stick to the exact charger needed for your electric bike. Slight changes in voltage output from the charger can have disastrous consequences. It’s also worth noting that using a non-manufacturer charger when powering up your e-bike, may invalidate your warranty.
3. Unplug your charger once your battery has charged
Once an electric bike has been charged sufficiently, remove the cord to the battery and unplug the charger from the socket.
This simple step is good practice as it prevents the battery from overheating. In some older electric bikes, especially those without a setting that stops the battery from overcharging, leaving them plugged in can cause a decline in battery performance over time.
4. Check your e-bike battery and charger for damage periodically
Any change to an e-bike battery or charger’s regular circuit could cause a short, which in turn, could lead to a fire.
We recommend looking over your battery and charger from time to time to check for any noticeable breaks, damage or water ingress.
The best electric bike batteries, like those from Bosch for example, are completely sealed to prevent damage from water ingress or heavy impact.
Other warning signs that you should look out for include batteries or chargers giving out extreme heat, bulging or swelling in an e-bike battery, loud noises emanating from the battery or a strong or unusual smell. If you see smoke rising from the charger or battery, a fire has already started.
Assessing your battery would be particularly important should you be involved in a collision or crash whilst riding your electric bike.
5. Store your e-bike at a regular temperature, out of direct sunlight and nowhere near other items that could cause a fire to spread
It’s important to store your electric bike at a regular temperature, away from direct sunlight. The aim of this is to ensure the battery doesn’t overheat.
Whilst doing this reduces potential fire risk, it will also help extend the potential life of an electric bike battery, something we’d heartily recommend considering the cost of a replacement e-bike battery.
Depending on where you store an electric bike, we’d recommend making sure that you can safely exit your home should a fire break out. Whilst there are theft considerations, storing an electric bike in a shed or garage is a good idea.
It’s also worth noting that some large building owners have started to legislate against the storage of electric bikes on their premises. Some insurance companies have also started to take note of this too. If you think this could apply to your home or workplace, we’d advise checking directly with your landlord.
Are Electric Bikes a Fire Hazard?
Like any other electrical item, e-bikes can be a fire hazard if not used in the correct manner. However, as our e-bike statistics have shown the vast majority of (safety-certified) electric bikes will not catch fire should they be stored, used and charged correctly.
In the first instance, buying a safety-certified electric bike that meets the standards of your country is the best step to protect yourself against the possibility of dealing with an e-bike fire. You should also never tamper with or alter an electric bike battery, charger or system.
Unfortunately, regulation and control of the sale of electric bikes, especially in the UK, hasn’t kept pace with their rapid uptake which has enabled some unscrupulous companies to sell potentially dangerous products to unwitting customers.