Consumer Reports warns of potentially deadly fires from popular electric bikes

Maybe you’ve seen one of those new battery-powered bikes around town or even on an off-road trail. Electric bikes have grown in popularity, and with that popularity Consumer Reports warns there’s a growing number of battery fires—some of them fatal.

For example, in December 2021, the New York City Fire Department said a battery from an electric bike was the cause of a fatal apartment fire in the East Village neighborhood of Manhattan. One man died, and two children had to cling to an exterior pipe to escape.

A year later, the FDNY attributed an astonishing 202 fires, 142 injuries and six deaths to electric bike or electric scooter batteries. Similar incidents can be found across the country, all linked to the same problem.

“When the lithium-ion batteries used in e-bikes are poorly made, overused, overcharged or used with the wrong charger, they can cause fires -- and those fires can be very violent and difficult to put out,” said Consumer Reports Automotive Reporter Ben Preston.

CONSUMER REPORTS: Prevent an electric-bike fire

Consumer Reports says with very little oversight, some companies that make low-quality e-bikes and batteries are finding loopholes to sell their products on e-commerce sites like Amazon. A quick Amazon search shows dozens of e-bikes under $800, which Preston says is not a coincidence.

“Thanks to a trade law unofficially known as the ‘Amazon loophole,’ which allows items under $800 to sort of dodge taxes and regulations that other products might have to go through,” Preston said.

Amazon tells Consumer Reports, “We continuously monitor the products sold in our store for product safety concerns and, when appropriate, remove a product from the store.”

“Because there’s a lack of oversight it’s really up to the consumer to look after your own interest,” Preston warned.

If you’re shopping for an e-bike, Preston said to look for an e-bike with a battery that has a “UL Certified” label.

Once you have the e-bike, Consumer Reports suggests you do the following to keep you and your family safe:

  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for charging and storage.
  • Always use the power adapter and cord supplied by the manufacturer.
  • Don’t ever leave the battery charging overnight or while you’re not home.
  • If you need a new battery, buy it from the same manufacturer as your e-bike.
  • If at any time the battery starts doing anything unusual, like making a hissing sound, or smells odd, you should unplug it immediately.
  • Always keep batteries away from heat sources such as heaters and direct sunlight when you’re charging them, and make sure there’s no flammable material nearby.