Plans to double e-bike power ‘could cause severe fires’

A safety charity and trade body have criticised government proposals for more powerful e-bikes.
Plans to double e-bike power 'could cause severe fires'
A bike damaged by a fireLondon Fire Brigade

A charity has warned that government plans to double the maximum legal power of e-bikes could lead to battery fires.

The Department for Transport is consulting on the proposals which would also allow e-bikes that don’t require pedalling to travel much faster.

There were more fires caused by e-bikes and e-scooters in London in 2023 than in any previous year.

Safety charity Electrical Safety First said the plans could risk “more severe battery fires”.

“We believe the priority should be to ensure the current batteries and accessories for these devices are safe,” it said in a statement.

Currently the motors of e-bikes – or electrically assisted pedal cycles (EAPCs) as they are officially known – must not exceed 250 watts.

The government wants to increase that to 500 watts in England, Scotland and Wales.

There is also a form of EAPC which provides electrical assistance without the use of pedals, which are usually known as “twist and go” e-bikes.

Currently special approval is needed for any twist and go bike with throttle assistance above 3.73mph, but ministers want to increase that to 15.5mph.

In its consultation document, the government says the changes would make e-bikes a “more attractive and viable travel option for more people”, giving the example of people with mobility issues.

Ministers also suggest the changes would be helpful for bikes travelling with large cargo, as they “would better enable delivery riders to transport heavier loads, including on terrain with gradients”.

‘Serious concerns’

The risk of e-bike fires has been in the spotlight in recent weeks, with one delivery rider telling the BBC that, due to the high price of reliable e-bikes, people will buy “cheaper, less reliable and often dangerous batteries”.

And the Bicycle Association, which represents the UK cycle industry, said it also had “serious concerns” about the proposals.

It said it was concerned this could lead to calls for “moped-like” regulations for the sector – such as mandatory insurance, registration and helmets, which which could make e-bikes “significantly less attractive” to people.

And it said the changes could legitimise the process of tampering with e-bikes to boost their power – with a higher potential power leading to “possibly very serious fire safety consequences”.

The government says it will use any feedback it receives through consultation responses to consider how to mitigate risks.

This consultation will end on 25 April 2024.


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