E-bikes are bursting into flames all over the place, especially when plugged in to charge
· Mar 13, 2023 · NottheBee.com

Let's see, the economy is in shambles, the banks are collapsing, the border is being overrun, earthquakes and other natural disasters are hitting regularly and we are on the brink of World War 3 with a nuclear super power.

What else could go wrong?

Well, now the e-bikes are bursting into flames all over the place.

The electric-bike craze, which took off during Covid-19 lockdowns, now has a dark side: uncontrollable and deadly fires from the lithium-ion batteries that power them. The number of blazes is rising rapidly, triggering warnings from fire officials.

The fires appear to be concentrated in New York City, where the number of blazes more than doubled last year to 216, according to the New York City Fire Department. Fires from e-bikes and other so-called micromobility devices such as electric scooters have injured 40 people and killed two this year, the fire department said.

"These are incredibly dangerous devices if they are unregulated or used improperly," New York Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh said at a press conference in late February.

Yeah, those fun bikes and scooters that tourists rent to zoom around the city? They're really fun. And also they now appear to be total death traps.

The U.S. imported about 1.1 million e-bikes in 2022, up from 880,000 in 2021 and 450,000 the previous year, according to estimates by the Light Electric Vehicle Association, or LEVA, an industry trade group. Consumers, pummeled by high gasoline prices, are also flocking to electric scooters.

Many e-bike fires start when people charge them overnight, allowing them to overheat. Left in hallways or near doors, the malfunctioning batteries cause fast-moving fires that can trap people inside their homes in minutes. Secondhand batteries or those that have been modified are particularly vulnerable. The chemical fires, which release harmful gases, burn so hot and so quickly they are extremely difficult to put out.

Last April, Mauricio Orozco plugged in an e-bike with a refurbished battery at his bike shop in Cutler Bay, Fla. After 1½ hours, it burst into flames, torching the shop. The blaze moved so rapidly that it disabled his security cameras within 20 seconds, Mr. Orozco said. No one was injured. In a survey by the bike-shop industry group, 10% of store owners say they experienced a fire or other battery-overheating incident.

That's an insane fire hazard. And it's true, there's essentially no regulation on these e-bikes and scooters. Big companies just dump them in cities and rake in the cash from rentals.

That lithium battery is a dangerous thing. Electric vehicles aren't necessarily the world savers people think they are.

Scientists in the U.S. and elsewhere are developing cutting-edge batteries they say are resistant to fires, but the technology remains largely experimental when it comes to the large batteries required for EVs.

The fires have a range of causes, including faulty construction, subpar materials and damage caused by sudden impacts. A common cause comes from cracks that form between the two electrodes of the battery, the cathode and anode, which make it short-circuit and rapidly heat up, a dangerous chain reaction known as thermal runaway.

I'm not an expert, but my two cents: It's fun to rent these things, but if you wanna be the one to charge them, you're literally playing with fire.

Ready to join the conversation? Subscribe today.

Access comments and our fully-featured social platform.

Sign up Now
App screenshot

You must signup or login to view or post comments on this article.