As we get deeper into the 2020s, electric mobility is clearly on the rise. From e-scooters to e-bikes, electric scooters, electric motorcycles, and other two-wheelers that blur the line between two or more of these categories, plenty of people around the world are hopping on board. There are plenty of excellent reasons why—and they’re only getting more popular over time.
When new things start to get popular, though, that’s usually when you learn about the dangers that can sometimes come with those things. In August and September, 2022 alone, we’ve seen multiple reports about e-bike and e-scooter (both stand-on and seated) fires in the U.S., India, and the U.K. In some cases, only property was destroyed—but in others, people have been injured and/or died.
Take a Reuters report from September 13, 2022, which details a deadly electric scooter showroom blaze in Secunderabad, India. The conflagration resulted in eight people dead, as well as at least 11 more who were injured. Meanwhile, a separate ITV report in the U.K. noted that e-bike and e-scooter fire rates in the country have just about doubled year on year since 2020. A total of 40 such fires were reported throughout the country in 2020, jumping to 105 in 2021, and 203 in 2022, as of mid-August.
Over in the U.S., a recent Inside Edition report noted that e-bike and e-scooter-related fires are up 233 percent over the past two years in New York City. In that time, NYC stats include 163 injuries and 10 deaths directly related to those fires. What’s the cause, and what’s the solution?
In just about every case you’ll read, faulty and/or damaged battery cells, modules, and/or chargers are to blame. The ITV report specifically calls out DIY e-bike conversion kits as a common culprit, and cites the possibility of damaged batteries and/or incorrect chargers being used.
Across the pond, the Inside Edition report discusses the dangers of overcharging and overheating batteries. It also shows a hands-on demonstration—with a trained fire team on hand—of just how quickly an unattended and overheating battery and charger combination can light your world on fire if you’re not paying attention.
Additionally, the ITV report goes on to mention that some e-bike and e-scooter batteries and chargers involved in such fires may not meet current safety standards. One e-bike expert who spoke to the ITV crew was particularly careful to point out that as with any product category, there are some high-quality examples, and there are some sketchier entries—and they shouldn’t necessarily be painted with the same brush. Buying an off-brand breakfast cereal to save money is one thing, but buying an off-brand battery charger could turn out to be a much worse decision.
As some readers may note, I’ve been living with some electric two-wheelers recently, myself. Both the UBCO 2x2 ADV and the CAKE Ösa + :work that have sat and charged in my home come with OEM chargers that plug into regular wall sockets.
Crucially, both of these chargers also have automatic shutoffs that stop them from overcharging their respective batteries. I’ll note here that both of these bikes are priced higher than many of the e-bikes and e-scooters in these recent reports. That said, automatic shutoffs like these could make a real difference in electric two-wheeler safety, up and down the category.
In my two test cases, I did not simply trust them and leave them alone the whole time they were charging. Instead, I checked both of them regularly to note their progress, as well as anything strange. In fact, that’s why I noticed that the first charger I had for the CAKE started making a strange sound—not the first or second time I used it, but further down the line.
As soon as I realized where the noise was coming from, I immediately unplugged it and reported it to CAKE. They said that was exactly the right thing to do, and have since sent me a replacement charger that has, so far, performed exactly as it should. It charges the battery, it isn’t making any strange noises, and it routinely shuts itself off once it’s done charging. (If I see that the Full light is lit up, though, I still immediately unplug it.)
You may also recall that this isn’t the first time that we’ve seen battery-related consumer electronics fires. Some Samsung smartphones had quite a time back in 2016, with the Note 7—and other models since then, including one of the more recent Z Fold models. Isolated incidents involving Google Pixel and Apple iPhones have occasionally made the news—though in both those cases, aftermarket phone chargers were involved.
Still, a consumer electronics-related fire scare is a consumer electronics-related fire scare. Does this mean that electric two-wheelers are somehow more dangerous? Not inherently—but as with other electronic devices, you need to be careful and pay attention to the choices you’re making.
Pay attention to your battery and charger, and if anything at all seems off—don't use it until and unless you can have it checked by a qualified professional. If your battery or charger are damaged, don’t use them.
Sources: Reuters, Consumer Reports