Be wary of cheaper e-bikes

The issue of whether electric bicycles and personal mobility devices (PMDs) are potential fire hazards was much talked about recently, when two e-scooters caught fire a day apart.

In the first incident on Nov 7, a 23-year-old deliveryman suffered burns on 45 per cent of his body after his e-scooter went up in flames in his Yishun flat. No one was injured, however, in the following day's fire in Pasir Ris. But last month, an e-bike fire outside a Bukit Batok flat forced a family to flee via their bedroom window with a five-day-old child.

These fiery incidents, which are causing alarm bells to ring, are on the rise.

In the first nine months of this year, Singapore Civil Defence Force figures show these devices were involved in 31 fires, a sharp rise from 19 in the same period last year. Though no specific cause has been pinpointed, one possibility is the cheap, lower-quality batteries used in some of the devices.

Some observers interviewed by The Straits Times said battery cost is the chief reason for the big price difference among PMDs. Some cost more than $1,000, while cheaper models on e-commerce sites can cost $300 or less. As for batteries, those from reputable manufacturers cost between $200 and $300, while the cheaper ones are a fraction of that.

It is not the first time that lousy batteries are being fingered. In recent years, a spate of fires involving hoverboards - a form of self-balancing PMDs - in Britain and the United States were blamed on the overheating of substandard batteries. This led the US Consumer Product Safety Commission to recall thousands of hoverboards last year .

PMDs seem to have taken their place in recent years. The passing of the Active Mobility Bill in January, which lets these devices be used on public paths, will no doubt further fuel their growth. Their popularity, however, could see unscrupulous manufacturers cutting corners to maximise profits.

For their own safety, people intending to buy PMDs should do their homework and be wary of deals that seem too good to be true.

They often are.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 15, 2017, with the headline 'Be wary of cheaper e-bikes'. Print Edition | Subscribe