Lyft has cancelled their recently-launched e-bike program in San Francisco after the batteries on multiple machines unexpectedly caught fire. Multiple users have posted photos on social media featuring damaged e-bikes, with burned and melted components. A spokeswoman representing Lyft stated, “Out of an abundance of caution, we are temporarily making the e-bike fleet unavailable to riders while we investigate and update our battery technology.” The company also told the media that users had taken more than 100,000 rides on the vehicles since the program began in June and no injuries have been reported.
This hasn’t been the first issue related to Lyft’s e-bikes. Citi Bike, an e-bike company owned by Lyft, pulled 3,000 electric bikes from the streets of New York, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., after customers reported serious issues with the brake systems. Customers reported that the braking systems were stronger than expected, especially on the front wheel of the e-bike. This caused some users to be propelled over the handlebars of the bikes onto the street, causing injury to the face. The company stated that, “Out of an abundance of caution, we are proactively removing the pedal-assist bikes from service for the time being.” As of the time of this writing, the company has yet to re-start the NYC e-bike program.
This also hasn’t been the first issue we’ve seen related to battery-powered small vehicles. In late 2018, Lime, a company that operates rental e-scooters in several US cities, announced that a manufacturing defect, in “several isolated instances,” could cause batteries on its vehicles to smolder or even catch flames. Lime recalled about 2,000 scooters but found that only a very small portion of those scooters presented any real threat of smoldering or catching fire.
Over the past five years, we have seen fires and explosions in a wide variety of lithium-battery operated electronics, including e-cigarettes, hoverboards, and, in perhaps maybe the highest-profile case of battery fires, the Samsung Galaxy Note 7. Early reports about the lithium-ion battery in this model of smartphone included burns, small fires, and even a report out of Florida that a man’s SUV caught on fire from a Galaxy Note left charging inside. Major airlines began to implement rules targeting the Note, and eventually, the company was forced to recall millions of the phones.
As technology continues to evolve, with a heavy reliance on lithium-ion batteries, we likely have not seen the last of fire risks associated with these battery-powered devices.