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Like any other electrical item, e-bikes can be a fire hazard if used incorrectly. 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. Five important warning signs include heating, leaking, swelling, and unusual smells and noises.
The latest data shows that the e-bike industry is experiencing exponential growth.
According to a report by Fortune Business Insights, the 2020 pandemic lit the fuse for the inevitable boom in electric bicycles. When public transport shut down due to fears of spreading the coronavirus, there was a significant increase in the use of e-bikes.
The Light Electric Vehicle Association (LEVA) supports these claims, reporting that e-bike imports increased by 76% and 80% in 2020 and 2021, respectively.
LEVA estimates that the global electric bike market will grow from $43.32 billion in 2023 to an impressive $119.72 billion by 2030, with a healthy compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15.6%.
Increase in E-Bike Fires
With the growth of e-bikes inevitably comes an increase in electric bike fires caused by faulty batteries that don’t meet safety standards. Given that the electric bike market is relatively new, it’s unsurprising to find various companies selling e-bikes that don’t meet safety criteria, especially on major online shopping platforms.
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 highly unpredictable.
During an e-bike fire, harmful products like hydrofluoric acid are also released. Plus, fires involving lithium-ion batteries are made worse by the oxygen released during combustion. This natural gas fuels the fire, making it difficult to put out.
According to the BBC, the British insurance company Aviva reports that most customer claims are related “to fires which started due to rechargeable e-bikes exploding during charging.” These claims often involve “ailed e-bike batteries and e-bikes purchased second-hand.”
How to Avoid E-Bike Fires
“Aviva reports that 71% of adults surveyed in the UK didn’t know the signs that a lithium-ion battery, the type found in e-bikes and e-scooters, is on the verge of failure. These warning signs include heating, leaking, swelling, and unusual smells and noises,” the BBC revealed.
Cyclists are encouraged to ensure the bike, battery, and charger they buy meet safety standards. Buying cheaper or aftermarket chargers for e-bikes is highly discouraged. E-bike users should also be unplugged from the socket once charged sufficiently.
Like any other electrical item, e-bikes can be a fire hazard if used incorrectly. However, as e-bike statistics have shown, most (safety-certified) electric bikes will not catch fire should they be stored, used, and charged correctly. Cyclists should never tamper with or alter an electric bike battery, charger, or system.