- Flywheel | December 20, 2022
Flywheel | December 20, 2022
Exploring NYC's ebike battery fires and featuring the top 5 vehicles of the week
Welcome to Flywheel, a weekly exploration of the used side of owned micromobility. Each newsletter will highlight an observation of trends emerging in the industry and feature five of the most interesting used vehicles being sold in the secondary market.
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The observation of the week explores NYC’s ebike battery fires. This week’s featured vehicles are two folding ebikes, an etrike, a souped-up utility workhorse, and a commuter.
Observation of the Week
NYC’s ebike battery fires
Battery fires have been a major talking point in NYC this past year. The FDNY recently reported that 200 Li-Ion battery fires occured in NYC in 2022, most of which were fires of ebike batteries. The devastating damages, injuries, and even deaths have caused mass panic and confusion around ebikes.
Fires in Li-Ion batteries are caused by thermal runaway. Although Li-Ion batteries are also used in most household electronics (i.e. laptops, smartphones), thermal runaway is not nearly as much of a concern for these devices as it is for ebikes. This is because batteries on ebikes go through a much harsher use than virtually all other consumer electronics. Due to rough roads, inclement weather, and intense usage, ebike batteries suffer significant mechanical damage, water ingress, and overheating that can cause thermal runaway. Modifying or improperly fixing a battery also leads to a greater likelihood of failure. Ultimately, fires caused by thermal runaway are extremely difficult to manage, and way harder to put out than normal fires.
Given these significant safety risks, NYC has been considering heavy restrictions on ebikes, and many apartments and insurance companies have already begun banning ebikes.
While these restrictions are well-intentioned, they’re unnecessarily aggressive, throwing the baby out with the bathwater type actions.
First of all, it’s difficult to make sense of the FDNY data because it doesn’t clearly segment what types of ebikes are most commonly catching fire. Many experts suggest that most of these fires are from emopeds with questionable legality or uncertified cheap "“Alibaba” ebikes. While it’s unclear how many of the ebikes in NYC fall under these categories, Flywheel data shows that 32.8% of the NYC secondary market in 2022 consists of uncertified ebikes from non-reputable brands or emopeds masquerading as ebikes.
Many of the ebikes that are catching fire are those used by NYC’s 65K+ delivery workers, and there’s a few key reasons why their batteries are more prone to failure. Most of these ebikes tend to be cheap, uncertified vehicles given the limited budgets of delivery workers, and they go through tremendous usage (200+ miles/week) that well exceeds the casual riding they were originally designed for. Since delivery riders also want vehicles that make them as time efficient as possible, delivery ebikes are often frankensteined with custom parts and upgrades that allow them to hit class-3 speeds with a throttle. Lastly, the maintenance/servicing network for these bikes largely consists of underground shops with improperly trained technicians and faulty replacement parts, and charging often happens for 50+ batteries at a time in the backrooms of bodegas and parking garages via dangerous webs of daisy chained power strips and extension cords.
Banning or restricting ebikes would disproportionately affect the livelihoods of these delivery workers and the transportation accessibility of low income residents. Some have argued that better education around charging behaviors and battery maintenance would solve the issue, but these efforts are still impractical and too expensive for many power users like delivery riders.
A better way to move forward is to hold OEMs and distributors to stricter certification standards. The leading certification for ebike electronics fire safety is UL 2849. It not only does a great job setting safety requirements for the battery and BMS, but also incorporates risks for the motor, cables/connectors, charging system, and display. In fact, just this past Monday on December 19 2022, the “Consumer Product Safety Commission urged manufacturers and importers of e-bikes and other micromobility devices to comply with relevant safety standards, including UL's 2849 standard.” Director of CPSC’s Office of Compliance and Field Operations Robert Kaye also wrote that “Failure to do so puts U.S. consumers at risk of serious harm and may result in enforcement action.”
While enforcement of UL 2849 is a great start, it isn’t necessarily a perfect solution. As Zitara CEO Shyam Srinivasan pointed out in a previous edition of Flywheel, UL 2849, amongst other standards, is a bit “general and not [fully] comprehensive. Because there’s such a wide variety of cells and pack architectures out there, the standards organizations leave it up to the manufacturers to do a lot of the lifting in terms of figuring out how to ensure reliability in their particular application.”
Furthermore, certification requirements will also increase the price of ebikes, which will once again disproportionately affect delivery workers and low-income residents. Some ways to counteract this include incentives to help people afford certified bikes (unclear whether this comes from cities or delivery companies) or better financing and subscription options (à la Zoomo).
A few other things that I believe can help reduce battery fires:
Designing more ebikes specifically designed for high-utility applications like delivery that can withstand extreme usage with high uptime.
Building out better outdoor parking and charging infrastructure (likely battery swapping or fast charging).
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Top 5 Vehicles of the Week
Tern’s Vektron D8 is a premium class-1 folding ebike. It’s designed for light-duty cargo applications (i.e. carrying children), and is equipped with a powerful 80Nm Bafang M400 mid-drive motor, a 400Wh battery pack, and a built in rear rack that can be upgraded with a vast ecosystem of Tern-compatible accessories. The Vektron D8 has a longer frame than most folding bikes, which gives it handling similar to that of a non-folding commuter/road ebike. Newer Vektron models use Bosch powertrains instead of Bafang systems, but Bafang motors are still reliable options with similar performance. Tern is a brand that is reputed to be extremely reliable and has a large network for maintenance and repairs, so you can expect the D8 to be easy to maintain. This listing is virtually brand new with only 29 miles of usage, but is selling for ~$1.9K less than MSRP and ~$1.2K less than its Flywheel Vehicle Value. Listing can be found here.
The Eunorau New-Trike is a class-2/class-3 hybrid folding etrike. Overall, it’s a comfortable and utility-oriented bike with a number of thoughtful design choices. The powertrain consists of an 80Nm front hub motor and a 600Wh battery pack, there’s disc brakes on all three wheels (instead of just on one or two wheels like most other etrikes), and there’s a large rear cargo box and front rack directly integrated into the frame. Given that the vehicle has a whopping 440lb payload capacity, this powerful drive system and useful cargo accessories make the Eunorau a practical, high-utility vehicle. The New-Trike is extremely comfortable given its high-volume tires, cushioned seat, and other generally ergonomic features. Perhaps most interestingly, its frame and stem actually fold to make storage easier. Frankly, the folding really only reconfigures the geometry and doesn’t necessarily reduce the footprint of the vehicle, but it’s scores better than the folding capabilities of any other trike in the market. The closest competitor to the New-Trike is the Rad Power RadTrike, the new kid on the etrike block. They both sell for the same MSRP and have a similar powertrain, payload capacity, and low center-of-gravity. The New-Trike is more compact when folded, but the RadTrike has a few smaller features that make it a bit safer and more convenient to ride. Because etrikes tend to tip when ridden above 15mph, the RadTrike is capped at 14mph while the New-Trike can go up to 24mph. This is not a huge safety concern, but it does require some level of cautiousness from the rider. The RadTrike also has a parking brake and a reverse mode on its throttle. This listing is a brand new, pre-assembled New-Trike sold by local bike shop 562 Ebikes and comes with a local warranty. Listing can be found here.
The Rad Power RadRunner is a class-2 compact utility wbike, and RadPower’s swiss army knife vehicle. Its low-to-the ground frame is equipped with small 20” wheels and is rated at a 300lb payload capacity, making it a great cargo vehicle with agile handling. A standard RadRunner powertrain features an 80Nm rear hub motor and a 672Wh battery pack, which is good for most single-passenger use-cases but can be a bit underpowered when carrying two riders or heavy cargo on longer and/or steeper trips. This listing for a modified RadRunner that has been upfitted to be a heavy duty utility workhorse addresses that issue. The seller upfitted the vehicle with an additional 50Nm front hub motor and a second 672Wh battery pack (both from Rad Power), giving it the additional power necessary to easily transport two riders regardless of the trip type or cargo weight. It also includes all the accessories required to be an ebike optimized for max utility, from a passenger seat and foot boards to front and rear baskets and a center console. Given the number of modifications and upgrades, this listing may come with its fair share of maintenance hurdles. However, it’s a fascinating project vehicle that exemplifies how wonderfully modular and DIY micromobility can be. Listing can be found here.
The EVELO Aurora is a value class-2 commuter equipped with a 90Nm mid-drive Bafang BBS02 motor and 500Wh battery pack. It’s difficult to find a mid-drive ebike at this price range, particularly when considering how much torque the motor provides. The Aurora is well suited for city riding. With a step-through frame that features integrated lights, a rear rack, fenders, and front fork suspension, it’s clear that EVELO designed the Aurora with new urban riders in mind. Surprisingly, the Aurora uses a cadence sensor to determine pedal assistance as opposed to a torque sensor like most other mid-drives. That being said, a responsive throttle combined with a NuVinci N360 continuously variable transmission and a Gates Carbon belt drive more than make up for the cadence sensor and help provide a smooth ride. EVELO is a D2C brand, but offers an excellent warranty that even includes a “pro-rated battery replacement discount” after the warranty expires. If the seller is able to transfer the warranty, this listing for a moderately used Aurora that is priced at its Flywheel Vehicle Value is an excellent option. Listing can be found here.
The Fiido X is a class-1 folding ebike and Fiido’s first production ebike following their successful Indiegogo campaigns. What immediately stands out about the X is its clean design. From the stunningly finished magnesium frame and integrated battery pack to a stealthy hinge and neatly packaged cabling, the X is a lightweight (~37lbs) and sleek ebike that doesn’t even look like it folds. It’s primarily designed for casual riding given its modest powertrain (40Nm hub motor and 418Wh battery pack), but its torque sensor provides a pleasantly intuitive pedal assist and is a rarely found feature for ebikes under the $2K price range. The battery pack is also another particularly interesting feature because it is directly built into the removable seat stem. Most seat stem batteries require you to plug the battery into the motor each time you put the battery into the vehicle. However, the Fiido X has rails in the battery pack and seat stem slot that automatically connect the battery to the motor everytime you lock the seat tube in place. There’s even an on-vehicle digital lock for the battery that cuts the power to the motor so that you don’t have to bring the seat indoors everytime you park the vehicle outside. This listing is a brand new vehicle in its original, unopened box. Listing can be found here.
Hope you enjoyed this edition of Flywheel. Thanks again for joining, see you next week!
- Puneeth Meruva
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