E-bike: how to find one, how to maintain it, and not have it catch on fire

E-bikes have gained popularity, but that’s come with a myriad of e-bike-related accidents. What is causing these problems, and what can be done?

E-bikes may not be the latest discovery, but over time, many have learned how convenient this particular means of transportation is. However, there has also been some controversy around the use of e-bikes, leading to users getting injured, their e-bike batteries catching on fire, and other accidents. So, what should e-bike riders or those considering purchasing one keep in mind?

Like regular bikes, e-bikes have different categories tailored to users' needs. Folding or hybrid e-bikes are mainly used for everyday trips. Mountain e-bikes work perfectly for those who want to save time and energy going up a mountain, while road or gravel e-bikes are suitable for longer trips. In this article, we'll refer to e-bikes used for everyday commute.

Quick take on e-bikes
Image by Cybernews

What to look for in an e-bike?

As with many electronic devices, e-bikes have several equally important components, so it can be quite a complex task to determine what to prioritize when buying one. Here are a few pointers that can help during your shopping trip.

E-bike power and capabilities

Having a powerful vehicle might sound like the start of a fun adventure, but if not handled properly, it may end tragically.

"When purchasing an e-bike, the most important consideration is understanding its power and capabilities," notes William Cooper, Esq., a New York lawyer who specializes in e-bike accidents.

While some e-bikes are built to ease the strain while riding, others can reach speeds close to a motorcycle's, which in the US ranges between 70 and 80 mph (between 112 km/h and 128 km/h), depending on the state. "Even though a special license is not required, understanding the power of the e-bike is imperative to safely ride and control it," concludes Cooper.

Knowing what kind of motor comes with an e-bike helps to assess how it will tackle different types of terrain.

"Hub motors are very popular for city, commuter or cargo type bikes. This type of motor is great for smoother type of terrain that you will have in urban areas, and they are generally more cost-effective. Mid-drive motors, positioned at the bike's center near the crank, offer better balance and are superb for rough off-road terrain, such as your typical singletrack mountain bike trails," explains Kris Bruington, the founder of The Cyclist Choice.

E-bike capabilities depend on its motor type, frame, and weight. It's best to go with a sturdy and light aluminum or carbon fiber frame. "E-bikes are heavier than traditional bikes, so a frame that's durable yet lightweight is pretty important," adds Bruington.

Giant ebike
Example of road e-bike. Image by Giant

Attention to e-bike breaks

When it comes to e-bikes, many are keen to check their top speed rather than checking how reliable their brakes are, especially considering that e-bikes are capable of much higher speeds than regular bikes.

For this reason, "hydraulic disc brakes really should be the minimum you want on your bike. Different brands use different fluid types, but that's not as critical as the brake system itself. Again the higher end eMTB's with generally have lighter type components here, and the commuter and cargo bikes will be a little more robust and heavier duty," explains Bruington.

"Higher speeds call for stronger brakes, so it's important that you familiarize yourself with basic maintenance such as brake adjustment and brake pad replacement," shares Rasmus Barslund, plug-in electric vehicle (PEV) tester, and micro-mobility expert at ERideHero.

Specialized ebike
Example of road e-bike. Image by Specialized

E-bike aftercare

An essential part of using an e-bike is its maintenance. It's best to "stick with brands that offer extensive warranties and have accessible service centers," shares Bruington, revealing that brands such as Trek, Giant, and Specialized are already known for their reliable customer support and warranty, covering e-bike components such as motor and battery.

The universal rule of "you get what you pay for" also applies when purchasing an e-bike. "The best way to ensure that you buy a safe and robust e-bike is to select from a mid or premium brand," – a tip that the CEO of Bo (Bomobility), an e-scooter company, Oscar Morgan, shares. Those include the aforementioned Trek, Giant, and Specialized, together with Scott, Canyon, and Electra.

For Europeans, he recommends looking for "CE marking," which indicates that the manufacturer complies with high safety and quality standards. Morgan also recommends checking for "high quality branded components" and choosing a manufacturer that "has a physical presence which allows for routine servicing and repairs."

Trek ebike
Example of road e-bike. Image by Trek

Is it dangerous to ride an e-bike?

While, for many, e-bikes are the perfect answer to their transportation problems, the growing trend of using e-bikes has resulted in an increasing number of e-bike-related injuries and even deaths.

Experience with high-speed

One reason e-bikes have become so popular is that they can reach faster speeds without a rider putting in too much effort. However, if a person isn't used to high speeds and doesn't have the experience to handle it, it becomes dangerous.

Bruington notes that several academic studies have already scrutinized this topic, referring to Haustein and Møller’s research on E-bike safety: Individual-level factors and incident characteristics (2016).

This study shows that "29% of their 685 participants had experienced at least one safety critical incident that they believed would not have happened on a conventional bike. The most frequent explanation offered for these situations was that other road users had underestimated the speed of the e-bike, followed by rider problems regulating e-bike speed."

“DIY” bikes

Another serious problem is uncertified and “DIY-adapted” e-bikes that are altered to exceed imposed speed limits. Morgan notes that such bikes are often used by “next-minute delivery riders,” who then put themselves and others in danger.

In this case, a possible solution is for delivery companies to take the lead in regulating such situations, suggests the CEO of Bo, a company that creates electric vehicles.

Flammable e-bike components

Following the issue of “handmade” vehicles, batteries catching on fire is a problem that’s been strongly associated with e-bikes. Drivers who want their bikes to be faster tend to swap the original batteries with more powerful ones. However, these lithium-ion batteries tend to overheat, leading to a fire or an explosion.

In New York alone, 267 e-bike fires occurred last year, causing 150 injuries and 18 deaths.

No helmets lead to hospitalization

A helmet is one of the oldest and simplest ways to prevent people from getting severe head injuries when going for a ride. However, people don’t use them as often as they should, points out Barslund.

“44% of hospitalized e-bike riders did not wear helmets. The same study also found that e-bike riders who went without a helmet were 1.9x more likely to sustain a head injury,” cites the expert from research by Adrian M. Mefranzed et al. on Electric Bicycle Injuries and Hospitalizations (2024).

E-bikes reach higher speeds, meaning that a crash will also be more severe in case of a collision, often leading to life-threatening injuries.

How to stop reckless e-bike drivers

In Europe and the UK, the e-bike speed limit is 15.5 mph (25 km/h), while in the US, it’s 20 mph (32 km/h) for the first and second classes of e-bikes. However, these limits don’t mean much to some riders.

Some countries have already devised solutions for speeding problems and have started testing them. The Netherlands plans to try Adaptive Speed Governance (ASG) technology, automatically reducing e-bike speeds. This would force e-bike riders to slow down in busy parts of Amsterdam.

However, the question is whether these restraints would solve anything, as this and similar regulations have sparked a debate among e-bike riders and other road participants. Some were concerned about how the new system could pose a risk to riders.

“The people who currently ignore the limit will also circumvent this, so all it does is increase danger for [...] law-abiding riders who are not the problem,” notes Morgan.

In this situation, where either no laws or too strict regulations can have the same impact, Bruington reminds us that “regulating e-bikes is about finding the right balance.”

This balance can be achieved by applying different methods. First, some basic road rules for riders to follow, such as speed limits and certain places where e-bikes can go, should be implemented.

“Requiring licenses, registrations, or other types of restrictions could limit the accessibility of e-bikes to some potential user groups,” says Bruington. Such a measure could also help reduce the number of reckless drivers.

Some vehicle-related safety regulations and standards could also help prevent people from re-inventing e-bikes and replacing them with improper batteries or other parts.

Not all road conditions suit e-bike drivers. Bruington suggests that “expanding bike lanes and improving road conditions can lead to safer travels for everyone.”

While all these regulations would take some time to be considered and materialized, there are some measures that e-bike drivers can take themselves.

Habits like wearing a helmet, using lights, being aware of your surroundings, and keeping a safe distance from other participants on the road could ensure a safer and more pleasant journey on an e-bike.

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