Electric bicycles under fire

The sales of electric bicycles (also called electrically power assisted cycles or EPAC’s) are booming in Belgium. There are different reasons for this. First of all a growing number of elderly people don’t want to give up on cycling, even when their physical condition starts to deteriorate. Secondly  a lot of employees prefer to use their bicycle to commute between home and work, provided it takes them little time and effort. An electric bicycle can also be a healthy way of exercising for people with joint problems, or for those who must avoid strenuous physical activity for medical reasons.

Today, because of this success, large numbers of cheap electric bicycles from China and elsewhere, are flooding the European market. These bicycles are very rarely subjected to a quality control, which in turn creates a safety risk for consumers.

There are regular reports about incidents involving electric bicycle batteries that become overheated and catch fire. Recently, the press reported about a house fire caused by the battery of a cheap electric bicycle. That is why inspectors of the Belgian Federal Public Service Economy will start rigorous inspections, in order to ensure that low quality electric bicycles are taken from the market. More particularly, they will examine if these bicycles meet European standards.

European legislation, which makes reference to European standards EN 14764 and EN 15194, lays down the principal criteria for electric bicycles:
- The pedal assistance must be disabled once the bicycle reaches a speed of over 25 km/h, or if the cyclist stops pedalling;
- The nominal motor power shall not exceed 250 W;
- The design of the batteries must prevent any risk of fire or mechanical damage;
- The bicycle must bear the CE marking, indicating the compliance of the product with the essential technical requirements.

It also appears that many of the manuals delivered with the products are badly translated, with the risk of an incorrect use of the bicycle by the consumer. Targeted inspections will start in the autumn; they will apply to producers, distributors as well as sellers of electric bicyles. They will ensure that the consumer can have greater confidence in the quality and safety of the electric bicycles on sale in Belgium.