My bike blew up: NYC fatalities highlight the potential peril of charging your electric bicycle

Emergency agency is not overly concerned, stressing that Danish quality control is better than in the States, but does concede that lithium-ion batteries self-ignited 21 times in Denmark in 2021

Ruining the office hygge by complaining about the strength of the wind on your daily commute is no longer permitted now it’s a problem you can easily fix.

Accordingly the number of electric bicycles in Denmark has exploded in recent years. As of 2021, there were 350,000 on the country’s roads and paths – a 149 percent increase since 2018.

But now concerns are increasing they might pose a serious threat – and no, we’re not talking about being rammed off a cycle lane by a cargo bike going like the clappers.

Already burning down buildings
In 2021, there were 21 fires in Denmark caused by an electric bike’s lithium-ion batteries suddenly igniting.

In the case of an incident in Als in southern Denmark in 2020, an ignited battery was the cause of two buildings burning down.

In 2022, another such incident caused a large fire at a recycling site outside Roskilde.

Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are not just used by electric bikes – they are found in electric scooters and automobiles too.

Worrying signs in NYC
Just this week, an ignited battery caused a fire in New York City that claimed the lives of four people – taking the total number of fires this year to 108 and fatality numbers to 13, along with 66 badly injured.

Beredskabsstyrelsen, the National Emergency Management Agency in Denmark, notes the recent incidents in NYC, but has ruled out throwing more resources at the matter.

“It is strikingly few times that these products catch fire and the fire service has to be called,” Beredskabsstyrelsen’s head of analysis, Frederik Prytz Grønfeldt, told DR yesterday.

“Here at home, the number of electric bicycles has increased exponentially in recent years, and we can see that the number of fires is in no way keeping up. So I am reasonably confident that it is not an area where we will need far many more resources in the future.”

Advice for electric bike owners
Nevertheless, Beredskabsstyrelsen advises electric bike owners that it is necessary to take precautions – particularly in regard to charging the batteries.

Beredskabsstyrelsen recommends supervision when charging your bike, as well as ensuring all your equipment is undamaged, working well and from authenticated distributors. 

It also advises against overcharging, as well as leaving the batteries next to inflammable materials or a primary exit.

Overall, Danish quality control is much better than in the US, reasons Grønfeldt, although he does concede that the official number of fires is probably higher, as the public won’t necessarily report every incident.