Due to the volatility of the lithium-ion batteries used on some e-bikes, they are fast becoming a safety risk for the public.

As the popularity of electric bikes (e-bikes) continues to surge, so does the concern over fire risks associated with their lithium-ion batteries. While e-bikes offer a convenient and eco-friendly mode of transportation, it is crucial you understand the risks associated with this mode of transportation, especially as the Department for Transport plans to double the maximum legal power of e-bikes1.

Understanding the fire risk

Lithium-ion batteries, commonly used in e-bikes, are rechargeable, powerful and have a high energy density, making them prone to overheating and potential fire incidents. Many factors can contribute to the risk of fire, including:

  • Manufacturing defects
  • Improper charging
  • Physical damage to the battery
  • Extreme weather conditions

Did you know?

A total of 149 fires caused by exploding e-bike batteries were recorded by the London Fire Brigade (LFB) in 20232.

In some cases, the fire can spread rapidly, causing significant property damage, personal injuries, and even fatalities. For instance, last year, Sofia Duarte, aged 21, passed away on New Year's Day 2023 following a fire outbreak, suspected to be triggered by an unbranded battery pack, which occurred in the hallway of a property she was residing in Bermondsey, southeast London3.

Two months later, Mizanur Rahman, aged 41, succumbed to a fire in an east London flat caused by an e-bike modified with a battery cage and motor. In the same year, Bobby Lee, aged 74, lost his life due to burns and smoke inhalation in north London when a lithium battery on a mountain bike converted into an e-bike exploded4.

Tragically, Gemma Germeney, aged 31, along with her children Lilly, aged 8, and Oliver, aged 4, also perished in a fire at their Cambridgeshire residence last summer. Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service indicated that the most likely cause of the blaze was an e-bike charging5.

Reducing your risk

To help you combat the potential risk of an e-bike fire, consider these tips below6:

  • Utilise the original battery for the device or a manufacturer-recommended battery if a replacement is required. Employing non-compatible batteries can lead to battery failure and pose a fire risk.
  • Monitor the battery or device's condition. Inspect for any damage such as bulging, dents, or indications of overheating. If any damage is detected, cease using the device immediately and replace the battery.
  • Familiarise yourself with the indications that a lithium-ion battery is nearing failure. These signs include excessive heat, unusual odours, bulging batteries, leaks, uncommon noises like cracking or hissing, and diminished device performance.
  • Safely store batteries and devices. When not in use, keep devices in a cool, dry location, away from direct sunlight and flammable materials.
  • Make sure your property is equipped with smoke alarms. Early warning systems like smoke alarms and heat detectors can notify you of fires before they escalate into a significant danger to life.

Charging lithium-ion batteries and devices safely:

  • Always utilise chargers approved by the manufacturer and specifically designed for the device. Inexpensive or counterfeit chargers can be hazardous due to potential lack of safety features, leading to overcharging and overheating.
  • Avoid leaving the battery overcharging. Disconnect your device once it's fully charged and unplug the charger. Continuous charging, such as overnight while sleeping, poses a significant fire risk.
  • Keep an eye on batteries and devices during charging and never leave them unattended. Incidents of fires starting while charging devices unattended in different rooms, during sleep, or when the house is empty are well-documented. Detecting an overheating battery early can mitigate the risk of a serious fire or injury.
  • Charge batteries and devices in a secure location. Opt for a flat, non-flammable surface and steer clear of soft surfaces like beds, as well as flammable materials and hazardous substances. Overheating lithium-ion batteries can ignite flammable materials, leading to a fire.
  • Never charge batteries or devices in hallways, near doors, or blocking escape routes. It's crucial to ensure safe escape routes in case of a fire.
  • Regularly inspect cables and connectors for signs of damage or wear. Replace any frayed or damaged components to prevent short-circuiting.
  • Avoid charging lithium-ion batteries in high temperatures or direct sunlight, as this can lead to overheating and increase the risk of fire.
  • Charge and store batteries in a fire-retardant container. Such a container can provide some protection in the event of overheating or a fire, containing the explosion and helping to minimise serious fire damage.
  • Educate children on the safe use and charging of lithium-ion batteries and devices. Parental supervision during device use and charging can prevent unsafe practices, and it's advisable to charge items outside of bedrooms.
  • If you suspect a substandard or faulty e-bike, cease usage immediately and notify the manufacturer or retailer. You can also seek assistance from the Citizens Advice helpline at 03454 04 05 06 or visit www.gov.uk/electric-bike-rules7.

Next steps

To speak with a member of our friendly risk management team about any of the content in this article or how we can help you with any of your risk management requirements, call 0800 138 7538.

Sources from dictionary

1 Espiner, Tom et al. Plan to double power of e-bikes sparks fire fears, BBC News, 1 March 2024.
2 Oliver, Matt. Fire chiefs warn of growing risk of e-bike ‘explosions’, The Telegraph, 5 May 2024.
3 Warren, Jess and Sanchia Berg. E-bike: Woman killed in e-bike fire accident inquest finds, BBC News, 26 February 2024.
4 Mizanur Rahman death: Coroner calls for e-bike battery standards, BBC News, 11 September 2023.
5 Doyle, Liam. Mum and two kids killed in tragic house fire 'started by e-bike charger, Express.co.uk, 3 July 2023.
6 Aviva issues warning about unsafe charging habits, Aviva plc, 10 Jan 2024.
7 Electric bikes: licensing, tax and insurance, GOV.UK, accessed 10 June 2024.

Disclaimer from dictionary

The sole purpose of this article is to provide guidance on the issues covered. This article is not intended to give legal advice, and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon. It should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and/or market practice in this area. We make no claims as to the completeness or accuracy of the information contained herein or in the links which were live at the date of publication. You should not act upon (or should refrain from acting upon) information in this publication without first seeking specific legal and/or specialist advice. Arthur J. Gallagher Insurance Brokers Limited accepts no liability for any inaccuracy, omission or mistake in this publication, nor will we be responsible for any loss which may be suffered as a result of any person relying on the information contained herein.