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E-bike battery malfunction in North Vancouver prompts warning for consumers

Click to play video: 'E-bike battery issue causing fires' E-bike battery issue causing fires
As E-bikes become increasingly more popular in B.C., there are concerns about the risks of fires, associated with charging their batteries. Kamil Karamali has more on the warning from industry experts – Apr 20, 2022

A close call for residents of a North Shore home this week turned out to be a first of its kind for District of North Vancouver firefighters, and a potential warning for electric bike owners.

Fire crews were called to the home in the Blueridge neighbourhood around midday Tuesday, where a charging e-bike battery malfunctioned.

Read more: E-bike battery explodes just after being removed from Cobourg house

Assistant DNV Fire Chief Scott Ferguson said the device produced plenty of smoke, but that crews were able to take care of it before created a dangerous fire.

“Any kind of electrical device, we say it could have spread further than it did,” he told Global News. “We were lucky in this case that there was minor damage to the house itself.”

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Click to play video: 'E-bike battery explodes outside Cobourg home' E-bike battery explodes outside Cobourg home
E-bike battery explodes outside Cobourg home – Apr 11, 2022

While it was the first time DNV fire rescue was called to a potential e-bike fire, the number of fires linked to the devices around the world has been climbing.

In October, Consumer Reports found there had been 75 e-bike fires in New York City in 2021 alone, resulting in 72 injuries and three deaths, while the U.K.’s Evening Standard reports there were at least 130 similar battery fires in London last year.

James Wilson, president of Obsession Bikes in Vancouver, said its difficult to assess what might have caused an e-bike to catch fire without seeing the specific components.

Read more: Saanich, B.C. pilots e-bike incentive program to encourage active transit

But he believes lower-quality equipment from non-reputable manufacturers or bikes using a mishmash of components are likely culprits.

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“What I’m very concerned about is when a bike comes into this shop for repairs and we can’t ID whose wires they are, whose battery it is, whose motor it is or any of that stuff, and there’s some component on the bike that’s running hot,” he said.

“You see wires getting raw and just a lot of real problems with them. We’ve actually gotten to a point with some bikes where we’ve just refused services, like that’s not staying in the shop overnight.”

Click to play video: 'Portable battery explodes on Ryanair flight' Portable battery explodes on Ryanair flight
Portable battery explodes on Ryanair flight – Aug 1, 2018

Wilson said products from major electronics manufacturers, such as Bosch, or bike component manufacturers like Shimano, can be counted on for safety and reliability.

One thing consumers may wish to look for before purchasing an e-bike is an Underwriters Laboratory (UL) certification.

In 2020 the international safety science organization launched its UL2840 standard for electrical systems for e-bikes, the gold standard safety certification which is recognized but not mandatory in Canada and the United States.

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While Ferguson couldn’t say if the battery involved in the North Vancouver incident was UL certified, he said the designation is a reliable indicator of product safety and rigorous testing.

Read more: ‘We cannot keep up’: Port Moody firefighters call for more training after electric vehicle fire

With the e-bike business booming, so many products now making it to market and demand only growing, Wilson said it may be time for provincial and federal officials to step in with firmer safety regulations.

In the meantime, he suggested that consumers do their research and make sure they’re buying a quality product.

“I would be very cautious moving into bicycles which seem too good to be true,” he said, adding that the value of a battery-electric system itself is around $2,500, before the cost of a bike.

He said if a consumer sees an electric bike being marketed for under $3,000 to $4,000, they should do their homework to make sure it’s safe.

“There is a cost of entry which is a little higher than a lot of people want to pay, which I totally understand, they’re expensive machines,” he said.

“But they are being used in the roadways, so the brakes have to be excellent, the gearing has to be excellent, the motor has to be predictable and safe.”

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Ferguson said e-bike owners can also take steps at home to ensure safety when charging their devices.

“Always charge it until it’s full and then unplug it when it’s done, don’t ever charge it on an extension cord, make sure it’s plugged right into the wall, and don’t have things piled up on top of it or multiple batteries on top of each other,” he said.

“It’s always a good idea to monitor them. If you feel it getting too hot or misshapen or anything, make sure you unplug it and get it looked at.”

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