eBike batteries: are they safe?
The London Fire Brigade has recently launched its #ChargeSafe campaign highlighting eBike battery fires. What are the risks with eBikes?
Buy safe, be safe
The main advice emerging from the London Fire Brigade and Bicycle Association is to buy a reputable, street-legal brand of eBike. The problems with fire appear to be coming from people buying chargers and batteries online, even separately to each other, and/or using modification kits to modify their bicycle not just to be a standard and street legal eBike, but essentially turning them into electric mopeds that aren’t street legal.
According to the Bicycle Association there is a very low risk indeed from un-modified legal Electric Assist Pedal Cycles (EAPCs – street-legal eBikes), if bought complete with their approved batteries and chargers, from reputable brands, sold by reputable High Street retailers, and handled according to the manufacturer’s’ instructions.
So, if you’ve bought your eBike from a reputable brand and a reputable shop, you probably don’t have any worries.
Buying from a reputable source applies to used machines as well. See our guide to buying second hand. Just replacing a worn-out battery can cost £500 and online sellers may not inform you that their eBike is not street legal (any motor over 250 Watts or with power assist over 15mph is not street legal) or that the charger is not the one originally designed for the bike battery or that the battery has deteriorated significantly. So again, be careful buying second-hand and use a reputable dealer.
Key tips to charge safely
These tips come in part from Gazelle, a Dutch company that makes eBikes, and in part from the London Fire Brigade’s #ChargeSafe campaign page.
- Read the ebike manual. The lifespan of an ebike’s battery is mainly influenced by the nature and duration of use. Every lithium-ion battery ages naturally, even if it is not used.
- Store batteries at room temperature. Preferably between 10°C and 20°C. Exposure to temperatures significantly outside those limits can impact battery life, so when cycling regularly in the cold, consider thermal protective covers. Never store an empty or almost empty battery in a cold environment. And don’t leave an ebike in direct sun in the summer.
- Avoid a long-term full or empty battery. Try to keep your battery charged between 30% and 70% and don’t leave it without charging for long periods. Check the charge status of your battery once a month.
- Use the correct charger. This should be the one the battery and bike came with, not a random third party charger off the internet.
- Clean carefully. Always remove the battery from your bike before cleaning it. Prevent the electrical components from getting wet and do not use a water jet on them. Cleaning the plug terminals from time to time with a damp cloth, even greasing them very lightly, is a good idea.
- Remove battery for transport. Always remove your battery from the bike when transporting your electric bicycle.
- Never repair your battery yourself. Never repair your bicycle battery yourself if it is broken or needs maintenance. Always have these checked at the store that supplied the bike – they’ll have the specialist kit to do it.
- Recycle the battery. ebike batteries do not live forever. When the battery is at the end of its life, drop it to your shop or the local recycling depot.
- Charge smart. Avoid charging the battery when you’re asleep or out. Don’t place your charger between you and the nearest fire exit. Make sure you’ve got working smoke alarms. And disconnect the charger and remove the battery once charged. Store your battery and charger, unplugged, in a shed, garage or other area where a fire will be contained and unlikely to break out.
- Be cool. Don’t charge your battery if it’s still hot. If your battery is swollen, hissing, very hot to the touch, smells weird or fails to charge, be very careful – unplug the charger immediately!