If you’re shopping around for an e-bike or looking for a new battery for your trusty two-wheeler, you might have heard about such a thing as “UL certification”. Not all electric bicycles are UL-certified, but the manufacturers that do sell such bikes seem to be making a big deal out of it… Why is that?
A UL certification shows that the battery or e-bike meets the safety standards set for this product. Though in the majority of states, such a certification is not mandatory, more and more e-bike enthusiasts have started realizing the importance of the UL sticker as it guarantees that the product is safe to use.
However, just as always, not everything is that simple. Keep on reading to find out the cons of UL-certified batteries for the e-bike industry and why there are two UL Standards that e-bikes have to comply with in New York City.
Understanding UL Certification
Underwriters Laboratories, or UL, is a third-party certification company and an accredited standards developer in the US and Canada that is mostly known for setting standards in electrical equipment. For example, practically every lamp or light bulb purchased in the United States has a UL symbol on it.
The standards that UL has developed are used to assess various products, evaluate environmentally sustainable products, and test components, systems, materials, and performance. In a lot of cases, the UL Standards can be used as a benchmark that helps consumers and businesses feel confident about the services and products that they’re purchasing.
In the United States, UL is accredited by the American National Standards Institute as an audited designator. In Canada, the company is accredited as a nationally recognized Standards Development Organization that can develop National Standards of Canada.
What Does UL Certification Mean?
The certification verifies that a product meets the standard set by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The commission issues rules regarding practically anything from clothing to TVs.
At the moment, certification for e-bikes is not mandatory if they have been manufactured and then used outside of New York City.
UL 2271 is a standard for batteries for use in light electric vehicle applications that was released in 2013.
Such a certification would mean that all the components that make up the battery of the e-bike have been evaluated by UL. This includes:
- Construction criteria (the enclosure must be resistant to impact, heat and flame, UV light, and water)
- Wiring criteria (the wiring system should be designed in such a way as to prevent inadvertent shorting and excessive strain)
- Batteries criteria (they should be able to withstand over-discharging, over-charging, operation at maximum specified temperature, and short circuit)
- Environmental criteria
If the battery does not explode, leak, catch fire, or present an electric shock hazard during any of the tests conducted, it will receive the certification.
This particular standard has been developed specifically for e-bikes. To acquire such a certification, not only the product’s battery but also the electrical drive train and charger would have to undergo the tests together as a system.
Attention! On March 2, 2023, the New York City Council passed “Initiative 663-A” which mandated e-bike battery packs to be third-party certified. Every company selling electric bikes had only a few months to obtain certification from one of the nationally recognized testing laboratories to both the UL 2271 and the UL 2849 Standards.
All e-bikes that have non-UL-listed batteries are now being banned and fined in New York. For now, the law applies only to The Big Apple.
UL-Certified Batteries for E-Bikes – Pros & Cons
As electric bicycles have become more and more popular, the number of fires associated with the use of such bikes has dramatically increased as well. As of July 2023, there have been over 110 investigations into lithium-ion fires and 13 deaths as a result of the fires and explosions in New York alone.
The majority of the incidents happened because the batteries had not been repaired by an unauthorized dealer or thoroughly tested before hitting the market. Unfortunately, a lot of customers prefer to opt for cheap e-bikes manufactured in China, and sub-$800 e-bikes are the exact bicycles that are more likely to have a poor battery management system or an uncertified battery.
That certainly does not mean that every e-bike with a noncertified battery will catch fire at one point or another. There are amazing e-bike models out there from reputable companies that have managed to conduct quite a few tests themselves. However, an urgent need for a unified certification is quickly rising.
And though none of the reputable manufacturers are arguing against the idea of certification, introducing such practices might not be as easy as it seems.
In a nutshell, there is only one main pro of UL-certified batteries – e-bikes that have the right certification can be considered a lot safer. And that is already a good enough reason to opt for a bicycle with a UL sticker on it.
Do bear in mind, however, that as the majority of fires associated with electric bikes are caused by faulty batteries, you might want to look for a bicycle that complies with either the UL 2271 Standard or both the UL 2271 and UL 2849 Standards.
An e-bike with UL 2849 certification would be safe as well, as long as you know for sure that an aftermarket battery was not installed in your bicycle (pay extra attention to that when buying secondhand, for example).
If you can’t afford to buy a UL-certified electric bicycle at the moment, make sure to have a look at your local e-bike rebates and tax incentives. In some states, you might be able to receive a $500 rebate, for example.
- It will cost an e-bike manufacturer a small fortune to get their creation certified
The UL laboratory that performs all the necessary tests might charge the company anywhere between $15,000 and $20,000. Furthermore, the manufacturer would have to provide over 50 battery packs to the lab.
This might simply be an unaffordable amount for niche brands.
- The lab will need 10-12 weeks to conduct all the tests
2-3 months is a long period, especially if you’re a company that’s trying to deliver your product in time for the selling season. For some brands, the waiting game might simply not be worth it from the financial perspective.
- Two regulations make things even more complicated
To obtain UL 2271 certification, the manufacturer would have to get the e-bike battery certified. However, the UL 2849 regulation would require all of the electronic components in the bicycle to be tested together.
This might not be a problem for companies that manufacture entire systems, but can become an issue for brands that install motors and batteries manufactured by different companies.
Furthermore, UL 2849 does not apply to aftermarket batteries (only complete systems), which means that the cheap batteries installed after the bike has been purchased can escape certification.
Are UL-Certified Batteries Becoming More Popular?
A UL sticker is a worthy indicator that the product is safe. Unfortunately, there have been too many accidents across the United States that have proven that spending more on your e-bike is definitely a must if you do not want to set your house or even yourself on fire.
Lithium-ion battery fires (or even explosions) are particularly dangerous because they happen suddenly and spread aggressively since it’s practically impossible to extinguish the flame.
An e-bike battery that has been UL-certified can withstand practically anything, and that’s why more and more people opt for such bicycles. A UL sticker can certainly make an e-bike more appealing to customers, but that’s not just a marketing trick. That’s a guarantee that you will stay safe, as long as you bear the necessary safety tips and precautions in mind.
Tip: to find out whether an e-bike or its battery is certified or not, enter the model number here.
Battery Safety Considerations
Even UL-certified batteries can become a safety hazard if not looked after correctly.
Here are the main things that every e-bike enthusiast should bear in mind:
- Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for charging and storage.
- Don’t leave the battery charging overnight.
- Use only the power cord and adapter made specifically for the e-bike that you have.
- Immediately stop using the battery, if you notice an odor, a leak, a change in color or shape, or odd noises.
- Keep the battery and e-bike at room temperature and out of direct sunlight.
- Never use aftermarket batteries.
- Store the e-bike and battery away from anything flammable.
Every manufacturer has to ensure consumer safety by adhering to safety standards set by accredited developers. If a company is not willing to obtain a UL certification, then it might be a good enough reason to not buy from them at all.
Though e-bikes that comply with UL Standards are typically more expensive, overpaying a few hundred dollars and not having to worry about your e-bike catching fire is definitely worth it.
Even today, there are still plenty of complexities surrounding certifications and adherence to various standards. But we, as customers, have the deciding vote in this debate. So how about we collectively choose safety?
UL Standards: https://ulstandards.ul.com/about/
City of New York (NYC): https://www.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/195-23/mayor-adams-plan-combat-lithium-ion-battery-fires-promote-safe-electric-micromobility
Juiced Bikes: https://www.juicedbikes.com/blogs/news/state-guide-electric-bike-rebates
UL Product iQ: https://productiq.ulprospector.com/en/search?term=