Note: This is a guest submission from Mike Peregudov, co-founder and CEO of Whizz, an e-bike subscription platform for last-mile delivery drivers.
In New York alone, approximately 65,000 delivery workers rely on e-bikes to earn a living. However, while these vehicles provide convenience and eco-friendliness, there is growing concern that they pose a potential fire hazard, with New York City having witnessed over 200 incidents of lithium-ion battery explosions in the past year alone.
To empower gig workers to protect themselves, their equipment, and the surrounding environment from harm, we’ve developed a comprehensive guide on e-bike fire safety. Based on recommendations from the New York City Fire Department, this crucial knowledge will reduce the fire risk and offer peace of mind to the city’s essential delivery drivers.
How to prevent e-bike fires:
E-micromobility vehicles can pose a significant fire risk — but only when manufactured poorly or used incorrectly. If manufacturing safety standards are upheld and users follow the manual, they aren’t death traps.
That’s why it’s important to refer to the manufacturer’s guidelines for proper e-bike usage and safe battery charging. The vehicle will have undergone lengthy trials and testing to determine safe use, so by following the recommended practices, the risk of fire is greatly reduced.
With that in mind, here’s what you need to know before charging your e-bike:
- Look out for signs of battery damage. Any damage increases fire risk, so check regularly for cracks or dents. If you notice any visible damage, especially if you dropped or damaged the battery, get a qualified technician to inspect your bike and identify any concerns.
- Choose high-quality batteries. When buying batteries for your bike, opt for reputable brands and models certified by recognized safety organizations, such as UL. Avoid refurbished or second-hand batteries, especially from unreliable sources or online marketplaces.
- Do not modify or tamper with the battery in any manner. This includes opening it or adding cells to enhance battery capacity.
- Choose your charging spot wisely. Opt for a stable surface that provides good ventilation and keeps your battery cool.
How to charge an e-bike safely:
- Always let the battery cool down to room temperature before charging.
- Ensure the battery is securely connected and properly seated in its designated compartment.
- Do not charge your bike overnight. Monitor your device while it’s charging and don’t leave it unattended.
- If you notice any signs that the battery may be about to explode — such as if it starts to balloon, swell, smoke, or get hot — call 911 immediately.
- Always use chargers and charging cables specifically designed for your e-bike model. Using the wrong combination can have serious consequences. For example, charging may not cut off at 100% capacity, causing damage and potential explosion.
- If you spot any signs of damage or wear and tear, buy an official replacement charger from a reputable seller.
- Do not cover chargers or battery packs when in use, as this can lead to overheating, potentially causing a fire.
- Lithium-ion batteries do not require a full charge. In fact, a partial charge is optimal. Check the manufacturer’s guidelines for safe charge duration, and do not allow the battery to overcharge, as this causes faster degradation and increases the fire risk.
- Do not overload socket outlets or use inappropriate extension leads — they should be uncoiled and suitably rated for the appliance you’re plugging in.
How to store and park e-bikes to prevent fire:
- Store your e-bike in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight when not in use. Under direct sunlight, the UV will cause components to degrade faster and drastically increase the risk of overheating. This applies to any hot locations, such as kitchens or the trunk of a parked car. The ideal temperature for battery storage is 40 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Park your e-bike in a designated area away from flammable substances, such as gasoline, paper, or fabric.
- Purchase a fireproof container or bag to store the battery in. Should it catch fire, the bag will contain the blaze and slow its spread.
Follow general fire safety precautions:
- Research the rules of conduct in case of fire in your building — better safe than sorry!
- Schedule regular maintenance checks with a certified technician to ensure that all components, including the battery, wiring, and electrical connections, are in optimal condition.
What to do if your bike is on fire:
- If your e-bike catches fire, do not attempt to extinguish it yourself. Water and fire extinguishers won’t work on lithium-ion battery fires anyway.
- Close the door and leave the building right away. Once you reach a safe place, immediately call 911.
As a delivery driver, learning proper fire safety is as important as understanding the rules of the road. Failing to take fire risk seriously could see your livelihood go up in flames. By following these essential guidelines, you can reduce the risk of an incident occurring — and help to extinguish growing concerns about the safety of e-bikes on our streets.