E-bike safety struggling to keep up with popularity surge

Today, the e-bike – or electric bike – is the most popular bike on the market,[1] but their surge in popularity has been accompanied by incidents of fire and explosions. With UK regulations failing to meet increasing safety concerns, it is up to individual users and businesses to ensure they follow the proper precautions to minimise risk and prevent tragedy.

Convenience at a cost

Just like their e-scooter counterpart, e-bikes use lithium-ion batteries to run. Lithium-ion batteries can be found in almost every rechargeable device, from cars to vapes to mobile phones, and more.

But while these batteries power our modern-day conveniences, this convenience can come at a great cost.

In defective lithium-ion batteries, a process called thermal runway can take place, whereby the battery rapidly self-heats, leading to dangerously high temperatures. This process can result in fire, explosions, and even death.

Incidents of e-bike fires have risen in recent years, with the London Fire Brigade revealing that they were called out to an e-bike or e-scooter fire an average of once every two days in 2023.[2]

One of the issues with the fire generated by an overheating lithium-ion battery is that it does not behave like other fires. On top of the risk of an explosion sending out flying shards, ‘lithium batteries burn hotter and faster than most other fires.’ [3]

One individual who witnessed an e-scooter battery-generated fire said that he heard spitting before the battery started behaving ‘like a rocket.’ The fire was unable to be extinguished by water or fire blankets. [4]

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The price of going cheap

E-bikes are expensive pieces of equipment. If you’re buying one brand new, you can easily expect to spend a few thousand pounds, with refurbished models still several hundreds of pounds more expensive than a standard new bike.

Even replacing a worn e-bike battery can cost several hundreds of pounds.

It’s therefore hardly a surprise that consumers are increasingly seeking out illegal markets, where vendors sell e-bikes and e-bike batteries at a fraction of the cost.

Unlike buying a counterfeit handbag or watch, an e-bike or e-bike battery procured from unauthorised vendors could have serious ramifications, as there’s no telling whether safety regulations have been followed. It doesn’t help that the UK lacks legislation on all things e-bikes, meaning that unauthorised vendors aren’t necessarily doing anything illegal, and consumers may feel that all they’re doing is getting a good deal.

But when it comes to buying an e-bike, it is of crucial importance to do the proper research and buy from an authorised vendor. Equally, when buying a replacement battery, “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,” says Melinda Hanson, co-founder of the Equitable Commute Project.[5]

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The signs of a defective lithium-ion battery

According to an Aviva study, over 70% of adults were unaware of the signs of a failing lithium-ion battery.[6]

While the following are almost always indicative of a defective battery, remember that lithium-ion batteries can be defective without exhibiting any signs.

  • Bulging. If your battery appears swollen, this indicates internal damage caused by gas or electrolyte buildup.
  • Leaking. A damaged battery can result in leaking electrolytes.
  • Unusual odours. If you’re smelling acid or a strong chemical smell, the chances are the battery is damaged.
  • Some degree of warmth is normal in any battery, but excessively high temperatures are extremely dangerous and can act as a warning.
  • Pay attention if the battery isn’t behaving as you’d expect.[7]


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E-bike safety

While there are risks associated with electric bikes, provided the proper safety protocols are followed, e-bikes are a safe, economical and eco-friendly way of getting from A to B. So, make sure to:

  • Charge e-bikes outside if possible, but never charge them in high heat or sunlight
  • Keep e-bikes outside, if possible, especially when charging
  • Try to prevent any damage to the battery area as they are susceptible to impacts
  • Try to reduce exposure to prolonged humidity and definitely water, even if the battery is totally sealed
  • Regularly check the e-bike battery for signs of wear or being defective
  • Only use the charger and cable specifically supplied for the e-bike as using another battery and cable could deliver the incorrect charge, damage the battery, and result in a fire or explosion
  • Charge your e-bike away from entrance hallways, as this could obstruct or block your exit route in case of fire, particularly if you live in a flat
  • Never charge your e-bike battery overnight and never leave it unattended while it is charging.

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E-bike safety with Towergate

If you want to know how you can keep your business premises safe amidst the e-bike boom, contact our business premises insurance team.

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[1] How The Electric Bike Is Changing Travel - BikeHike Adventures

[2] Charge Safe. Keeping your home safe when you charge your electric bike or electric scooter | London Fire Brigade

[3] Why lithium battery fires are far harder to fight than ordinary fires (avsax.com)

[4] E-bike and e-scooter fires have injured at least 190 people in UK, data shows | Cycling | The Guardian

[5] Why the e-bike boom is raising fire fears - BBC News

[6] Aviva issues warning about unsafe charging habits - Aviva plc

[7] What to do with damaged lithium batteries - Biffa