Electric bicycles were originally introduced as a modern mode of transportation for convenience, but they have evolved into mobile fire hazards. In regions like Europe and America where electric bicycles are popular, fire incidents caused by electric bicycles have been on the rise. As of August, the UK Fire and Rescue Service has recorded 93 cases of electric bicycle fires and 18 cases of electric scooter fires, occurring roughly every two days. Since 2020, these incidents have resulted in 12 deaths and 200 injuries, indicating a rapid growth trend.
Among these incidents, the occurrence rate in residential buildings remains high. This can be attributed to inadequate facilities for charging and parking electric bicycles. Despite government efforts to accelerate the development of bicycle infrastructure, the pace is unable to keep up with the growth in vehicle numbers. Many residents resort to charging their vehicles indoors, which poses significant safety risks.
Another factor contributing to these incidents is the modification of legally purchased vehicles. The London Fire Brigade states that nearly 40% of electric bicycle fires are caused by modified kits. The pursuit of higher speeds drives the proliferation of non-compliant modification kits into the market.
In most European regions, electric bicycles are limited to a maximum speed of 25 kilometers per hour, at which point the motor cuts off. For consumers seeking greater speed and longer range, a market for modifications has emerged. However, most factory-made electric bicycles come with speed limiters. To achieve higher speeds, these limiters are removed through methods such as disconnecting or decoding them. Buyers also modify electric bikes to enhance their power, for instance by replacing controllers, batteries, or motors. These actions amplify safety risks.
Unsafe modifications also result from exceeding the vehicle components’ capacity, similar to installing a Ferrari engine in a Corolla. As bicycles have a broad user base with varying skill levels, excessive speed or component damage can lead to serious accidents, especially among less experienced riders.
To curb illicit modifications, there have been proposals to increase the speed limit to 32 kilometers per hour. However, this approach was not adopted.
In countries and regions like the UK where eBikes are popular, consumers can purchase hardware for electric bicycle modifications and speed enhancements on platforms like Amazon. Although many countries in Europe and America have strict legal regulations on eBike speed limits, these modifications can bypass those limits. Despite disclaimers warning buyers that modified electric bikes can only be used on non-public roads, platforms do not always refuse sales for commuting purposes. Some platforms have even taken down certain modification products.
Some officials express concerns about readily available illegal conversion kits. While buyers should conduct research, online retailers should also ensure they conduct due diligence and only sell legal equipment, providing all necessary warnings about safe and legal installation.
The lack of oversight on conversion kits exacerbates safety issues. While factory-made electric bicycles are regulated, conversion kits are not. Cheap and poor-quality chargers and batteries have led to explosive fires occurring in London households every two days. Presently, there are no specific regulations for conversion kits. A survey of eBike and eScooter owners in the UK found that 43% use aftermarket chargers, implying these chargers were bought separately after purchasing the vehicle. Some online platforms even sell non-compliant, uninsulated chargers that don’t meet UK safety standards.
Trade department officials state they are consulting on modernizing the product safety framework to hold online markets accountable. They aim to ensure that goods sold online adhere to the same standards as those sold offline. If companies do not comply with product safety regulations, the Product Safety and Standards Office will take appropriate enforcement actions, including removing products from the market.
Cheap and substandard modification products contribute significantly to fires. Many consumers opt for low-quality modification parts, leading to safety risks. Some manufacturers even directly sell these illegal products on cross-border platforms. By increasing safety awareness and strengthening regulation efforts, the downsides of the electric bicycle market can gradually be resolved.