You may have heard about the recent eBike fires in the news: tales of intensely powerful conflagrations and tragic accidents resulting in loss and destruction. These rare instances represent a common issue in new technology--counterfeit and off-brand manufacturing can sometimes pose safety and performance issues. It's a good question to ask: Why do eBike batteries catch fire, and how can you prevent this?
Let’s start with the basics—eBikes use a type of battery that provides enough power to fuel the pedal assist technology while still being lightweight and rechargeable. This type of battery consists of multiple battery cells made of a combination of minerals, mainly Lithium, and chemicals to create energy in the fuel cell.
These batteries are an important part of our clean energy transition. Lithium battery cells are the backbone of Tesla's and all other electric vehicles, computers and phones among other things. They're also essential to the pedal assist feature on an eBike. By providing lots of power in a small, compact space, they help us go faster and farther!
However, not all lithium batteries are built the same. Some battery cells use low quality metals or electrolyte bath fluid and are susceptible to overheating when charged. Many of the eBikes bought online from no-name and non-reputable brands manage to keep their prices low simply by using very inexpensive battery cells. They are also incentivized to keep their e-bikes priced under $800 so as to avoid tariff charges when shipping to the United States.
OUR BEST ADVICE: When purchasing an e-bike, make certain the battery has either Samsung, LG or Panasonic battery cells – ideally with UL Certification!
At Free-to-Roam eBiking, we only work with Brands who use Samsung, Panasonic or LG battery cells. Two of our brands are already ahead of the pack with their UL Certification! Aventon and Velotric brands have demonstrated rigorous safety measures through the UL certification process and have passed the measures that they use to measure consumer and worker safety.
But some of the fires are a result of non-compatible chargers and/or poor charging practices. Many e-bike owners either lose their charger or use the wrong charger. This becomes a High School Physics issue (volts x amps = watts) when the math doesn't work when charging. Also, because the chargers often look similar to a laptop charge, people may sometimes plug in the wrong charger laying around at home.
OUR BEST ADVICE: Always use the charger provided with the e-bike. If you got a sticker when you purchased the bike, put that on your charger so you don't accidentally use the wrong charger! Do not mix and match chargers with other e-bikes or your laptop computer. If you need a replacement, be certain to get one from the manufacturer of your e-bike.
When I worked at Apple as a computer technician, we would occasionally see people come in with swollen lithium ion batteries—that weren’t Apple certified. These off-brand batteries were a safety issue because they weren’t developed to the rigorous standards Apple Certified batteries were and often they used packaging or materials that posed a fire hazard. Sometimes, these batteries would puncture or rupture due to the manufacturing issues—a safety hazard for employees and consumers alike. That’s why we had a policy to only work on batteries from reputable brands, and Free-to-Roam eBikes does the same thing.
OUR BEST ADVICE: Buy your e-bike from a reputable and local source who will provide at least 1yr warranty and service your e-bike when needed.
At the end of the day, it’s important to be mindful of the quality of our electronic devices and their power sources. When purchasing or repairing your eBike always remember to use parts and products from reputable manufacturers and resellers that hold safety as a top priority.