Grabbing an E-Bike and hitting the trails is becoming a favorite pastime for many here in the Coachella Valley and beyond. While fun and convenient, the lithium-ion batteries that power some of them have been linked to explosions and deadly fires.
We checked in with Cal Fire Riverside and confirmed no such incidents involving electric bikes have been reported locally. That’s not the case in other parts of the country – like New York City.
“We were unable to get ahead of it. It had spread quickly into the void spaces of the building, and took off from there,” said John Hodgens, Chief of the FDNY.
Massive fires linked to e-bikes are on the rise.
Late last year, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said it had received reports of more than 200 incidents since the start of 2021 in which e-bikes, e-scooters, or hoverboards caught fire or overheated — causing the deaths of 19 people.
It's tough to know exactly how frequently these incidents happen– since there’s no national database keeping track. But the national fire protection association warns they do appear to “happen with some regularity.”
In response to the alarming trend – new york city recently passed new laws that ban the sale of uncertified e-bikes and unregulated lithium-ion batteries.
“They leave it parked for the most part in places that really they should not be parked in,” said New York City Mayor Eric Adams.
Mike Fritz, whose been working to educate bike dealers and shop owners about e-bike safety – says cheaper ones under $500 tend to have more problems.
“It’s a serious situation and it's one that i'm concerned is going to affect our industry in a very negative fashion,” said Mike Fritz, chief technology officer of Human Powered Solutions.
Consumer reports recommend a list of e-bikes with prices ranging from $4,000 to $1,300. More affordable options which tend to have substandard battery packs are sold on websites like Amazon.
Jennifer Franco contacted Amazon and on March 13 they declined to interview but agreed to provide a statement…which up until today we have not received.
“These cheap packs that are coming in certainly need certification – that’s really the bottom line,” Fritz said.
Jennifer started digging deeper into the issue. Bryan Newman owns and operates Pedego Bicycle Shop in La Quinta.
“I’ve heard stories of people, of different brands and often collectively, let's not say it's 100% but most of the ones I’m hearing are bikes that are probably under the $1500 range that are more susceptible to those issues,” Newman said.
He says reputable sellers and quality e-bikes should be UL Certified.
“UL Certifications is a company that basically does certifications on electronics and makes sure that those particular electronics meet the standard for consumer use,” Newman said.
He thinks UL Certification will be required at some point – a hefty expense for companies that comply.
E-bikes can be a fun alternative form of transportation if properly operated and maintained. There are several safety tips consumers should follow to avoid any batteries from overheating or the potential for a fire.
“You want to make sure that you’re getting a bike that you can touch and test ride first,” Newman said.
Other tips to follow if you’re shopping for an e-bike, look for one that’s UL Certified – never leave a battery charging overnight or unattended… and always follow manufacturer recommendations.
"What would you tell somebody who’s looking online and looking for a bargain versus somebody who is really putting in the research and trying to get a quality bike?" Jennifer asked Newman.
“Do your research, don't just buy what’s the best price,” Newman responded.