Why Your Affordable E-Bikes Is a Huge Fire Risk

By: Alyssa Miller | Published: Feb 14, 2024

Who doesn’t like an affordable option these days when prices are so high? Well, the cheaper option might be a problem when it comes to electric bikes or scooters.

The BBC discovered that the expensive e-bikes come with a lot more safety than the more affordable options. One of these safety features is a battery that won’t catch fire during its routine recharge.

Why Are E-Bikes Exploding?

According to the BBC, bike cities in China and the U.K. are seeing an increase in the number of fires caused by e-bikes and e-scooters. Insurance company Aviva reported a recent spike in customer claims “related to fires which started due to rechargeable e-bikes exploding during charging, including claims involving failed e-bike batteries and e-bikes purchased second-hand.”

Protestors chant in front of a pile of burning ebikes at Hotel de Ville during demonstrations against the decision by the French Constitutional Council to approve President Emmanuel Macron's contentious Pension Reform Law in front of burning on April 14, 2023 in Paris, France. After three months of nationwide strikes and protests against the French Government's plans to raise the minimum pension age from 62 to 64, the ruling by France's highest constitutional court means that the Government can pass the law as early as next week.

Source: Kiran Ridley/Getty Images

The causes of these fires come from the type of battery used to power the e-bikes and e-scooters, and ignoring the warning signs that an explosion is inevitable.


The Rise of E-Bike’s Popularity

E-bikes became popular over the last several years as they promised a climate solution while providing convenience, and accessibility, catering to a wider audience who wanted an alternative transportation solution.

A rental e-bike is seen parked in a pedestrian area outside the National Gallery on August 14, 2023 in London, England. In much of London, rental E-bikes are not required to be parked in designated locations, only parked "responsibly." Now, the city's largest E-bike rental firm, Like, has called for the creation of new parking bays, following countless complaints about the bikes littering pavements.

Source: Leon Neal/Getty Images

The versatility, practicality, and enjoyability of an e-bike or e-scooter made them popular and shaped the future of mobility. However, these alternative transportation options came at a steep price.

The Budget-Friendly E-Bike Comes With a High Risk

On the high end of the spectrum, e-bikes can cost around $4,000 to $8,000. However, most people seem to go for a mid-range e-bike, which is a popular choice since it offers a balanced performance and safety features that promise a long life span. These bikes average between $2,000 and $4,000.

A woman riding a black e-bike down a road next to grass and bushes

Source: Team Evelo/Pexels

Not everyone can afford a bike that expensive. That is why the friendly budget options start around $500. But those budget-friendly options come with a major risk.

The Problem With Lithium-ion Batteries

Lithium-ion batteries are typically used in budget-friendly e-bikes and e-scoots due to how widely available and affordable they are, making them the most cost-effective battery solution for manufacturers. Despite the perks of these batteries, they elevate safety risks since they can pack more energy into a smaller space.

Lidl used battery recycling in store bin on May 12,2023 in London,England.

Source: Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

Internal cell defects, external damages, or improper use–such as overcharging–can cause lithium-ion batteries to overheat and catch fire.

Fires Caused by These Batteries Can Spread Fast

These fires caused by lithium-ion batteries can be intense. “These fires are not so much traditional fires. They’re explosive, and there’s a lot of gas involved,” Robert Slone, the senior vice president and chief scientist for UL Solutions, a safety science company, explains to BBC.

A man rides an e-bike through Times Square on February 21, 2023 in New York City. New York City Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh has called upon the Consumer Product Safety Commission to take action and help prevent what it calls sub-standard lithium-ion batteries after NYC experienced hundreds of e-bike and e-scooter battery fires.

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Fires caused by lithium-ion batteries can spread quickly, which can become a challenge for firefighters who might not be able to respond before the fire gets out of hand.


How To Tell If Your Lithium-ion Battery Has Gone Bad

Aviva reports that 71 percent of adults surveyed in the U.K. didn’t know the tell-tale signs that a lithium-ion battery was on the verge of failure.

A Man Standing Beside a Bicycle Drinking from a Reusable Bottle

Source: Team Evelo/Pexels

Some of the warning signs that the lithium-ion battery in the e-bike or e-scooter is failing include heating, reduced performance, discoloration, leaking, swelling, and unusual smell and noises. If you notice any of these signs, contact the manufacturer or replace the battery as soon as possible.


The Lack of E-Bike Regulations

E-bikes have surged in popularity, leaving regulations scrambling to keep pace. This lack of federal oversight means specific safety standards for e-bike batteries and chargers are currently missing in the United States.

A woman looking out on a mountain while riding an e-bike

Source: G-Force Bike/Pexels

The lack of regulations means that consumers could purchase an e-bike without being aware of the dangers that come with the battery used to power it.


Third-Party Batteries Are Not a Safe Option

In New York City, “one of the main issues with the most popular battery model that’s out there right now is that it’s really flooded with counterfeit batteries,” Melinda Hanson, the co-founder of the Equitable Commute Project, says to the BBC.

A white electric bike with a basket sitting on a patch of grass looking out over the water

Source: Team Evelo/Pexels

These third-party batteries are high risk because “the way to ensure that these bikes are as safe as possible is to make sure that the battery, the motor, and the charger were all designed to work together.”


One Change Could Ruin Your E-Bike

While an e-bike can offer a standard of safety in the box, modifications made to the e-bike later down the road can create incompatibilities.

An orange electric bike on display in an e-bike shop

Source: thisisattero

“It could be a perfectly safe battery pack, but if it’s a mismatched charger that perfectly safe battery pack can become a very significant safety hazard and can go into what’s called thermal runaway,” Slone says to BBC.


California’s New Law to Make E-Bikes Safer 

While some places are banning e-bikes, others are trying to find a way to make this mode of transportation safer. California has passed a new law to allow tenants to store and charge one e-bike or other personal micro-mobility device indoors as long as the e-bike meets certain safety standards.

A white electric bike sitting on a patch of rass next to a white wall

Source: Team Evelo/Pexels

Slone believes this law could be a game changer for those with or looking to purchase e-bikes, saying, “[T]o have standards that cover charging facilities, so that people do not need to bring the battery pack or the bike up to their place where they live.”


Other Ways to Keep Yourself Safe

While the safety might not be available out of the box to those looking at the budget-friendly options, there are steps to take to ensure that the affordable e-bike does not put anyone at risk. Try to charge the e-bike or e-scooter outside whenever possible.

A black electric bike on a sidewalk at night

Source: Bharat Tamang/Pexels

If that is not possible, then charge the bike inside the house, but do not block the exits in case a fire does start. Also, keep e-bikes away from flammable materials.