If you have purchased a bicycle in recent years, there’s a high probability that it is an electric bike. Electric bicycles are currently the fastest-growing type of bike in the United States. In fact, in 2021, they surpassed road bikes to become the third largest category of bikes overall. Furthermore, in 2022, e-bike sales exceeded a staggering $800 million. It’s worth noting that e-bikes continue to outsell electric cars, and this is for a good reason. The inclusion of a lightweight electric motor on an e-bike provides a substantial boost for various types of riding, particularly for utility purposes such as commuting and running errands. Additionally, there is a noteworthy tax incentive available for certain e-bike riders.
At the core of this system lies a powerful lithium-based battery. Taking proper care of this battery and understanding how to charge it correctly is crucial for ensuring optimal range and long-term battery life. Let’s delve into what you need to know about charging your e-bike battery.
The triangular icon indicating the play button.
Safe charging basics
According to Kunal Kapoor, the senior manager for quality and compliance at Bosch, a reputable supplier of e-bike motor systems, it is important to charge your battery indoors, using the appropriate charger, and with the motor system turned off. Despite the fact that e-bike motors, batteries, and wiring are designed to withstand weather conditions, it’s worth noting that chargers are not intended for outdoor use.
Using the correct charger primarily ensures safety. With a modern lithium battery, Kapoor explains that when the battery indicates that it is ready for charging, the battery monitoring system in the charger ensures that the internal temperatures of the battery are optimal for receiving the charge. If necessary, the system will automatically shut off. In contrast, an off-brand charger, even if it has the same output rating, lacks all the features of the battery management system. As a result, it can continue to supply current to the battery even if the temperatures rise, posing a potential fire hazard.
While the risk of battery fires is low, Kapoor advises against leaving batteries unattended while charging. You have the option to leave the battery on the bike for charging or remove it, as long as you ensure that it is not placed on or near flammable materials, such as a spare gas can in the garage. If you are considering purchasing lower-priced e-bikes with house-brand or unbranded motor and battery systems, it is essential to verify that the battery and charger have received UL 2849 certification from Underwriters Laboratories. This certification serves as the industry-wide standard for safe electric systems and battery charging for e-bikes. Some bike shops may refuse to work on e-bikes that lack this certification, citing concerns about fire risks when the bikes are left overnight in the store.
# How to Maximize Battery Range and Lifespan
## Understand the Definitions
Let’s begin by clarifying the terms. The **range** of a battery refers to its runtime, indicating how long it will last on a single charge, often measured in miles of riding. Keep in mind that range can vary, even on the same bike. For instance, a flat commute to the office with a light backpack will offer better range compared to a fully loaded uphill ride back from Costco. Depending on various factors, most e-bikes currently provide a range of around 25-75 miles.
On the other hand, **lifespan** pertains to the number of times a battery can be discharged and recharged before it begins to lose significant capacity. As the capacity declines, you won’t necessarily feel a loss of power while riding, but you will observe a decrease in range. Typically, e-bike batteries offer a lifespan benchmark of approximately 500 “full” discharge/recharge cycles. Considering half-cycle usage (using half the battery capacity and recharging), this equates to three to five years of normal use before a noticeable decline in capacity.
## The Interconnection of Range and Lifespan
Although battery range and lifespan are distinct concepts, they are interconnected. Actions that decrease range will also, over time, shorten the lifespan of the battery. According to Kapoor, one of the major contributing factors to this issue is running the motor hard, such as constantly utilizing Boost or Turbo mode. When the motor is pushed to its limits, a ride of a specific distance relies more on motor power compared to lower assist levels. Consequently, the battery goes through charging cycles more rapidly, leading to a shorter lifespan.
Additionally, a less-obvious factor that strains motors and batteries is pedal cadence. Most e-bike motors are optimized for efficiency within a 70-90 rpm pedaling cadence range. Pedaling too quickly can result in reduced efficiency, as certain motor systems, like Bosch motors, have a maximum cadence of 100-120 rpm. Conversely, sub-optimal efficiency arises from pedaling too slowly in a high gear. This mirrors the idea of “lugging the engine” in a car, whether it runs on gas or electricity. To maintain optimal efficiency, Kapoor advises choosing your gears wisely and staying within the 70-90 rpm sweet spot.
## Mistakes to Avoid that Affect Battery Longevity
Here are some crucial mistakes to keep in mind regarding battery usage:
### Mistake 1: Fully Discharging the Battery
Contrary to popular belief, lithium batteries, which are commonly used in e-bikes, do not require full discharge and full recharge cycles to maintain their full capacity. In fact, Kapoor recommends avoiding completely depleting the battery as it may lead to permanent damage and prevent it from recharging to its original capacity. Therefore, when you purchase a new e-bike, ensure that you charge the battery to its full capacity before embarking on your first ride.
### Mistake 2: Improper Storage
If you anticipate not using your e-bike for a few weeks or more, it is essential to store it, or at least the battery, in a dry, room-temperature environment. Kapoor suggests maintaining the battery’s charge level between 30-60 percent, as this is the most stable range for long-term storage. By following this practice, you decrease the likelihood of experiencing a deep discharge that could harm the battery. Additionally, avoid leaving the battery plugged in to the charger for extended periods, as it is unnecessary and can lead to a short discharge/recharge cycle that gradually reduces capacity. If you find yourself going through long periods without using the bike, make it a habit to check the battery charge on a monthly basis and recharge it partially when it drops below 30 percent.
### Mistake 3: Cold Weather Precautions
Compared to other battery types, lithium batteries are less affected by cold weather and typically maintain their range while riding unless the temperatures reach frigid extremes. However, recent research conducted by the Department of Energy found that prolonging the storage of lithium batteries below freezing temperatures can damage a portion of the battery’s cathode, resulting in reduced capacity. Moreover, charging lithium batteries in cold temperatures is not as effective. If you keep your bike outdoors or in an unheated space, particularly in areas with sub-freezing temperatures, Kapoor recommends bringing the battery indoors when it is not in use.
By avoiding these mistakes and taking appropriate measures, you can optimize the range and lifespan of your e-bike battery, ensuring it performs at its best for years to come.
Also, make sure to protect your battery from extreme heat, such as being exposed to direct sunlight or being left inside a hot car. Excessive heat can raise the temperature of the battery and potentially damage its components. In severe cases, it can even lead to what is known as thermal runaway, where the battery enters an unstable and uncontrollable self-heating state that could result in a fire.
It is not necessary to recharge your battery after every ride. While it may seem like a smart idea to top off your battery regularly, doing so over time can actually decrease its capacity more quickly. For example, if you typically ride 10 miles a day and can achieve a range of 50 miles from a single charge, you only need to recharge your battery every three to four days.
Knowing when to replace
Even with proper care, batteries will naturally lose capacity over time. You will notice this decrease in the range estimate displayed on the controller unit of your bike. The capacity of the battery serves as a key indicator of its health. So, if you observe that your range has dropped to 70 percent or less compared to when you first got your bike, it is a sign that you should start planning for a replacement. If your battery is less than two years old and significantly below its original capacity, it might be covered under warranty (terms may vary depending on the manufacturer).
If it is not a warranty issue, the decision of when to replace the battery ultimately depends on personal preference, according to Kapoor. He suggests that if you initially achieved a range of 50 miles, for instance, but now only get 40 miles, it may not necessarily mean the battery has reached the end of its life. If you can still manage with a 40-mile range, the battery with reduced capacity should still be safe to use.
Always opt for a reputable brand when purchasing a replacement battery. Just like batteries and chargers should be compatible with each other, batteries and motors are designed to work together. Kapoor advises against attempting to repair a damaged battery or having someone else do it for you. Contrary to certain guides claiming otherwise, this is not merely a matter of corporate greed or legal protection by manufacturers. E-bike batteries are typically made using standard 18650 cells, which are commonly found in various products, including electric cars. However, these cells vary in terms of chemistry, capacity, and amperage, not to mention the complexities of connecting them and repackaging the battery. The slightest mistake in any of these processes increases the risk of fire. Therefore, if you require a new battery, it is best to purchase one.
Your bike dealer, who sells your specific brand of bike, can order a direct replacement battery for your bike or motor brand. Prices may vary depending on the size and brand of the battery, but expect to spend between $400 and $800 for a new unit.
Additionally, your dealer can help you recycle your old battery. Call 2 Recycle now offers a new program for recycling e-bike batteries (funded by bike and motor brands) through partner shops in major cities and many smaller ones. In the event that there are no participating dealers near you, you can request an easy DIY shipping kit online.
But why recycle? Even spent batteries contain valuable materials that can be reused to make new batteries, with moderate energy consumption and reduced environmental impact compared to producing batteries from virgin materials. Furthermore, spent lithium batteries pose a fire risk in landfills and can release toxic metals and chemicals into the environment.
In the event of a fire
While rare, battery fires can occur. If you notice that your battery is becoming excessively hot while charging, immediately unplug the charger from the wall. If possible, place the battery in a metal container, such as a bucket filled with sand, and keep it away from any flammable objects.
However, if it is unsafe for you to handle the battery, call 911 immediately and inform the dispatcher that you are dealing with a lithium battery fire. These types of fires require specific firefighting methods that differ from conventional fires. Do not pour water on a battery fire, as lithium reacts with water to produce highly flammable hydrogen. A standard fire extinguisher may be helpful, but specialized tools might be required in such situations.
Related Story: How to Safely Use E-Bike Batteries
When it comes to the safety of using e-bike batteries, there are a few important considerations to keep in mind. Fortunately, by following a few simple tips, you can ensure a secure and enjoyable experience with your e-bike.
The Importance of Battery Safety
First and foremost, understanding the importance of battery safety is crucial. E-bike batteries, like any other lithium-ion battery, have the potential to catch fire or overheat if mishandled. Therefore, it’s essential to take the necessary precautions to avoid any potential risks.
Tips for Safe Battery Usage
To safely use e-bike batteries, there are several steps you can take:
- Proper Storage: When not in use, store your e-bike battery in a cool and dry place, away from direct sunlight or extreme temperatures. This will help prevent any potential overheating or damage to the battery.
- Charge Responsibly: Always use the charger provided by the manufacturer and follow the recommended charging instructions. Avoid overcharging or leaving the battery plugged in for an extended period. Charging your e-bike battery in a well-ventilated area is also advisable.
- Regular Inspections: Periodically inspect your e-bike battery for any signs of damage or wear. If you notice any bulging, cracking, or unusual smells, stop using the battery and consult a professional for assistance.
- Proper Disposal: When it’s time to replace your e-bike battery, ensure proper disposal according to local regulations. Contact your local waste management facility or e-waste recycling center for guidance on safe battery disposal methods.
- Follow Manufacturer Guidelines: Lastly, always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines and recommendations for your specific e-bike battery model. They will provide valuable information on usage, maintenance, and any additional safety measures.
By adhering to these simple tips, you can ensure the safe and proper use of your e-bike batteries, allowing you to fully enjoy your rides with peace of mind.