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Cycle industry trade bodies issue joint statement on e-bike fire safety

13 November 2023

THE ASSOCIATION of Cycle Traders and The Bicycle Association, the two major trade bodies representing the UK’s cycle industry, have issued a joint response to the initiative of the Electrical Safety First charity on e-bike fire safety, in parallel using the opportunity to comment in order to launch two new guidance notes for the cycling sector.

As reported by Fire Safety Matters, the Electrical Safety First proposal is for legislation, which would require immediate mandatory third party approval of e-bikes and battery packs in addition to several other aspects.

Jonathan Harrison from the Association of Cycle Traders explained: “There’s a perception that has been allowed to develop that e-bikes are dangerous. That’s not only inherently untrue, but also has the potential to do great damage to the sector. There is clearly an issue around e-scooter and e-bike fires that needs to be addressed and, together with our colleagues at The Bicycle Association, we are keen for this situation to be tackled as swiftly as possible.”

Stricter enforcement

While sharing Electrical Safety First’s urgent focus on public safety, the two bodies believe that the current draft Private Members’ Bill – entitled The Safety of Electric-Powered Micromobility Vehicles and Lithium Batteries Bill – designed to combat the rise in devastating fires caused by e-bike and e-scooter batteries “misses the mark” in some respects.

First, while introducing mandatory third party testing could be part of the solution, it must run alongside much stricter enforcement of product safety on products supplied to UK consumers direct from overseas sellers, often via online marketplaces.

This has been identified by the Fire and Rescue Services as a key area of concern around lithium battery fires. It’s notable thatm in New York City, where third party testing has been made mandatory, these mandatory testing measures reportedly exerted little effect on fire incidents because most of the problematic products were sourced online and not from local retailers.

Any regulatory activity aimed at boosting e-bike safety must primarily address these high-risk imports.

App-based food delivery sector

Fire and Rescue Services have also identified the app-based food delivery sector as a key area of concern due to the widespread use of e-bikes either created via kits (often sourced from overseas via online marketplaces) or by modifying existing e-bikes. Both are high-risk factors for fire safety.

The trade bodies feel that any new legislation aiming to meaningfully address fire risk must impose responsibility – and, importantly, liability – on food delivery app operators to ensure that the equipment used by riders is safe.

Together with The Bicycle Association, the Association of Cycle Traders would be happy to work with Electrical Safety First on amendments to the proposed legislation in order to address these aspects and also propose more practical arrangements for the mandatory approvals.

Most responsible suppliers in the industry would have no problem at all in passing this mandatory approval process, in essence due to the fact that they have evidence of extensive product safety testing already in place. However, the legislation as it stands proposes no transition period to build approval capacity and, as written, would “decimate” the UK industry by imposing a sudden months-long halt in sales while even those responsible suppliers in the market waited for approvals to be granted.

Working at pace

Finally, while the duo of trade bodies welcome the public awareness around e-bike fire safety that the Electrical Safety First proposal is generating, The Bicycle Association notes that the Government product safety regulator, the Office for Product Safety and Standards, is also working at pace on this issue to develop official, evidence-based proposals for regulatory actions.

The Bicycle Association is pleased for the responsible e-bike industry to be contributing positively to this work which will, it fervently hopes, address the root causes of the battery fires issue through a comprehensive package of measures which are then swiftly implemented.

The Electrical Safety First proposal coincides with a joint industry initiative devised by the trade bodies to boost industry and consumer awareness of the difference between e-bikes, which are generally very safe, and those which may be at higher risk of fire.

The two cycle industry trade bodies in the UK have issued two guidance sheets for the industry, aiming to counter the often misleading national media headlines. The first guidance note summarises statements from Fire and Rescue Services and industry experts to clarify the distinction between e-bikes from the reputable industry and e-bikes, conversion kits, batteries and chargers which may pose significant fire hazard if certain risk factors are present.

The second clarifies exactly what’s ‘road legal’ as an e-bike and makes clear the actual legal status of vehicles, which are often incorrectly reported as e-bikes, but which are, in fact, unregistered motorbikes.

*Download the new guidance documents online at cycleassociation.uk/e-bikes