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Rad Power Commits To Using Only UL Approved E-Bike Batteries & Components

Rad Power Bikes has voluntarily embraced the latest UL standards for e-bike powertrains and batteries to combat fire risks.

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New York City has experienced a rash of fires caused by e-bike batteries. Not only have they caused millions of dollars in property damage, several people have lost their lives as a result as well. The city has responded by passing an ordinance that goes into effect later this month.

It requires all new e-bikes sold in the city to comply with two testing protocols adopted by UL Standards and Engagement, previously known as Underwriter’s Laboratory. It is a nonprofit organization that develops safety standards for a range of consumer products, including e-bikes and e-scooters. Its for-profit equivalent, UL Solutions, tests and certifies e-bikes.

According to Bicycle Retailer magazine, UL 2849 is a safety standard to test and certify the complete system — including the charger and battery — for electrical, fire, and mechanical hazards in addition to evaluating the software monitoring and maintaining safety functions. E-bike lithium ion battery packs sold individually in the city must meet the separate UL 2271 standard.

Until now, these safety standards were entirely voluntary but as pressure to address the onslaught of e-bike fires increases, more cities are considering new regulations and there are calls for a federal standard as well. The federal E-BIKE Act, introduced in Congress earlier this year, would require UL certification for e-bikes in order to be eligible for a 30% federal tax credit up to $1500.

Rad Power Embraces UL Standards

Rad Power RadWagon 4

Rad Power RadWagon 4 — Image courtesy Kirstina Motamedi | CleanTechnica

Rad Power Bikes, the largest e-bike manufacturer in North America, said this week that, going forward, it will only produce bikes that comply with those UL safety standards. CEO Phil Molyneux tells The Verge his company wants to set the tone going forward.

“We’re very passionate about safety of our riders and the quality of our bikes and pushing the industry forward.  That’s coming from the mantle that we are America’s largest e-bike brand, and so we have a responsibility to drive the e-bike momentum forward in terms of the safety agenda.”

Specifically, Rad Power Bikes’ will comply with UL 2849, which applies to e-bikes, and UL 2271, for e-bike batteries. Molyneux says the company plans on releasing “multiple new models in 2024” that comply with the UL standards.

UL 2271 covers the entire electrical system of an e-bike. In particular, it puts the lithium-ion battery through a series of stress tests to see how it reacts when it is overcharged, shaken, dropped, pierced, or crushed, as well as exposed to water or extreme temperatures. Quarterly audits are also required in order to maintain UL certification.

Only a small number of e-bike manufacturers currently comply with the UL standards, partly because they are voluntary, but also because they can be quite expensive. UL testing can cost anywhere between $30,000 to $100,000 per model, according to the New York Times, citing industry experts. But Molyneux said that Rad Power Bikes has no intention of passing that cost along to its customers. “We’ve budgeted the cost out,” he said, “without increasing prices.”

Cheap E-Bike = Cheap Battery

The gig economy is partly to blame for 92 e-bike fires that have injured 64 people and killed 9 in New York City so far this year. The city is now flooded with cheap e-bikes — many of them manufactured in China — that are used to deliver everything from meals to office supplies throughout the city. Often, those bikes are used by multiple riders who keep them in service 12 hours a day or more, charging them whenever and wherever the opportunity arises.

That means often the chargers used are not designed to work with the batteries, which leads to overheating while charging. The next step is what is known as “thermal runaway,” a polite euphemism for a battery fire. When a lithium-ion battery catches fire, it burns at around 500º C (932º F). It’s a scary, scary thing, in other words, and one that can quickly cause damage, injury, or death.

The gig economy may sound romantic to the casual observers — no boss telling you what to do, you get to set your own hours — but it’s a grind and there are few gig workers living in luxury townhouses on the Upper West Side. They tend to buy the cheapest e-bike they can find, use it till it wears out, then throw it away.

If the charger that came with the e-bike fails, they use whatever charger is handy. We can only imagine the number of used batteries and chargers available on Craig’s List, none of which are intended to work together. It’s the Wild West in e-bike land these days. It’s little wonder there are fatalities.

No Rad Power bikes have been implicated in any fires, but Molyneux said the company has a responsibility to push the rest of the industry to use higher quality components. “I think where that becomes challenging is smaller companies may be electing cheaper cell technology, cheaper pack manufacturers, and then the rigor of the quality control and the safety element isn’t making it into those products and so they’re brought to market [and] they are substandard,” he said.

Molyneux admits that lithium-ion batteries can be unpredictable and the e-bike industry can’t account for how they might be misused after they are sold to customers. But he says the e-bike industry can learn a lot from automakers when it comes to addressing battery safety concerns going forward. Much of that starts with adopting a common framework for safety. “We’re still a young industry,” he said, “and there’s a lot of learning still to come.”

Refocusing On North America

Seattle-based Rad Power Bikes expanded into Europe recently, but in June it decided to focus exclusively on North America. “This change really allows us to continue to set the standard for the e-bike revolution in North America, which as you know, that was our starting place,” Molyneux told The Verge in June. “And to continue to have a real laser focus on safety, reliability, continued innovation, going into the future and the aspiration of delivering the highest quality products at affordable prices for our customers. So kind of back to our roots.”

The Takeaway

CleanTechnica has reviewed a number of e-bikes over the years, and the inimitable Jo Borrás has put together a giant database about many of the brands and models available, especially in North America. E-bikes have a big role to play in decarbonizing transportation, especially in congested urban areas where driving a car is about as much fun is poking yourself in the eye with a barbecue fork.

Several years ago, Tesla had some issues with battery fires, particularly with the Model S, and Chevrolet has had a similar experience with the Bolt. Those sorts of issues threaten to set back the EV revolution as condo associations and other well-intentioned but misguided people seek to ban electric cars from their properties.

E-bikes could become pariahs if the spate of battery fires continues. Kudos to Rad Power Bikes for taking the lead in complying with the UL standards. If the e-bike you are considering doesn’t come with a UL seal of approval, you might want to look for one that does.


Late Wednesday afternoon, the New York Times reported the New York City Council will move to create the first New York City-run trade-in program for electric bikes and lithium-ion batteries. It would begin this year, run for two years, and provide e-bikes and batteries that have been certified to industry standards for free, or at a low cost. The trade-in program would be subsidized by the city and run in coordination with the Fire Department and other city agencies. There would be a limit of one swap per person.

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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."


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