E-Bike Fires Become Serious Problem in New York City

Lithium-ion batteries can be dangerous, but they don't have to be, NYC fire officials say

E-bike battery mounted on frame Photo: iStock

New York City has had a sharp increase in e-bike fires during the pandemic, so fire officials are offering some tips to keep the lithium-ion batteries on the bikes from overheating.

E-bike ownership has skyrocketed in New York since the pandemic began, and with it, e-bike fires, according to the New York City Fire Department (FDNY). There have been 75 e-bike fires so far this year, which is on pace to double last year’s total, officials said. The fires have caused 72 injuries and three deaths.

Results of an e-bike fire

Source: FDNY Source: FDNY

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“This is a very serious problem that keeps increasing,” Daniel Nigro, the FDNY commissioner, said in a press conference Wednesday. “We’ve not had that problem with phones or other devices. The problem has started with the proliferation of battery-operated bikes.”

Of course, electric bicycles are nothing new in America’s most populous city—delivery workers there have been whizzing around on them for years now. But around the rest of the country, the rise in e-bike sales is tantamount to a craze, growing 240 percent nationally over the last year, according to NPD, a firm that tracks the bicycle industry.

“The e-bikes people are buying now are probably a lot newer and better technology than some of the older stuff that delivery riders in the city have been using and abusing for years,” says Adam Vale Da Serra, manager of Cutting Edge bike shop in Berlin, Conn. “I’ve heard nothing locally about e-bike fires among mountain bikes and road bikes.”

Results of an e-bike fire

Source: FDNY Source: FDNY

Fire Prevention Tips

If you own an e-bike or plan on buying one, the FDNY has some tips to keep you safe. And the advice applies to any appliance powered by a lithium-ion battery, whether it’s a phone, tablet, or robotic vacuum cleaner.

  • Purchase and use devices that are certified by a qualified testing laboratory.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for charging and storage.
  • Do not charge a device under your pillow, on your bed, or near a couch.
  • Always use the manufacturer’s cord and power adapter made specifically for the device.
  • Do not use aftermarket batteries.
  • Keep batteries and devices at room temperature. Do not place them in direct sunlight.
  • Store batteries away from anything flammable.
  • If a battery overheats or you notice an odor, a change in shape or color, leaking, or odd noises, stop using it immediately.
  • If the battery reacts in an alarming way, and it is safe to do so, move the device away from anything that can catch fire and call 911.
  • Do not leave e-bikes unattended while they’re charging, and don’t leave them charging overnight.
  • Do not block your primary way into and out of the building with an e-bike.
  • Do not leave an e-bike in a child’s room.

FDNY officials also say that when you need to dispose of a used rechargeable or lithium-ion battery, it’s illegal in many places (including New York City) to throw them out with the regular trash or recycling. Old batteries should be taken to a facility that recycles batteries.

“You can find lithium-ion batteries in all sorts of products today that didn’t have them before,” says William Wallace, CR’s manager of safety policy. “As technologies advance and help people in their daily lives, it’s critically important for all manufacturers—including those that make e-bikes—to comply with battery safety standards and have products tested by a third party.”

If you’re in the market for an e-bike, check Consumer Reports’ expert reviews and advice

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Benjamin Preston

My reporting has taken me everywhere from Baghdad, Iraq, to the Detroit auto show, along the U.S.-Mexico border and everywhere in between. If my travels have taught me anything, it's that stuff—consumer products—is at the center of daily life all over the world. That's why I'm so jazzed to be shining light on what works, what doesn't, and how people can enrich their lives by being smarter consumers. When I'm not reporting, I can usually be found at home with my family, at the beach surfing, or in my driveway, wrenching on my hot rod '74 Olds sedan.