Electric bikes and scooters are a newly popular way to travel through urban environments. However, the nifty devices come with a fire risk that could be deadly. In London, firefighters have responded to more than 25 fires, involving e-bikes or e-scooters in recent months, some of them significant incidents with serious injuries.
Lithium-ion batteries pose fire risks
The fire hazards of e-bikes and e-scooters stem from their use of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that can erupt into flames. Complicating the problem is use of unauthorized or third-party batteries that may not be safe.
E-bike conversion kits are available to convert standard bikes into e-bikes, but they include only the motors and control gears. Batteries must be sourced separately, often over the internet and by cost-conscious buyers, who may not consider safety issues. Cheaper batteries may be faulty.
Using trusted batteries and proper storage
Firefighters urge residents to use only trusted batteries and to store them correctly
Damaged batteries are also problematic. Spare batteries should not be knocked around, which can increase the likelihood of damage to the cells. Firefighters urge residents to use only trusted batteries and to store them correctly.
In one recent incident, a first floor flat in Brixton in south London was badly damaged, after a fire was caused by a fault in the lithium-ion battery pack of a mountain bike that had been converted into an e-bike. In another incident, five people were taken to hospital, after a fire at a flat in Southwark in Central London, caused by the failure of a battery in an electric scooter on charge.
In the United Kingdom, anyone over 14 years old can ride an ‘electrically assisted pedal cycle’ (EAPC) without a license and with no need to register, pay tax or ensure the bike.
Parameters for e-bikes in the UK
The bike must meet certain requirements, such as displaying the power output and motor manufacturer, showing either the battery voltage or the maximum speed of the bike, and having a maximum power output of 250 watts. The electric motor should not be able to propel the bike, when it’s traveling more than 15.5 mph.
Assuming a bike (or vehicle with more than two wheels, such as a tricycle), meets the requirements, it is classified as a normal pedal bike and can be ridden on cycle paths, and anywhere else where pedal bikes are allowed.
E-scooters for emission-free transport
E-scooters are stand-up, electrically powered scooters that are becoming more popular in urban environments
E-scooters are stand-up, electrically powered scooters that are becoming more popular in urban environments, providing individual and emission-free transport.
In a city like London, e-bikes are a familiar sight. Riders may store and charge their e-bikes in communal areas or hallways, when they are home. This practice heightens the fire danger, because any fire that erupts is likely to block an escape route and trap occupants within the building.
Avoiding unsafe mixing of batteries and chargers
The London Fire Brigade’s Fire Investigation team has seen incidents involving multiple batteries and chargers for a number of bikes at one property, which has resulted in the unsafe mixing of batteries and chargers. Lithium-ion batteries are susceptible to failure, if charged incorrectly, which may be a contributing factor in some incidents.
Batteries can get warm during use and should be allowed to cool down, before attempting to re-charge. They should also be charged on hard, flat surfaces, in order to allow heat to dissipate. Chargers and batteries should not be left unattended or while residents are asleep. Installation of smoke alarms is advisable in areas where e-bikes or e-scooters are being charged.