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Rad Power Bikes debuts fire-resistant batteries — and four new e-bike models

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As electric bikes become more popular in the US, the risk of deadly fires stemming from cheaply made batteries has become an unfortunate side effect that risks derailing the momentum of an important climate change fighting tool. That helps explain why Rad Power Bikes, the leading e-bike manufacturer in the US, is releasing new battery technology that it says can help usher in a new era of safety for the industry.

Today, the company is announcing four new models with new state-of-the-art batteries designed to better prevent malfunctions that can cause the types of fires that are becoming increasingly common among cheaper e-bike brands.

The new models include a refreshed RadWagon, the company’s bestselling electric cargo bike, as well as the RadExpand, its folding bike. And there are two brand-new models: the Radster Road and Radster Trail. Each bike will feature the Seattle-based company’s new “Safe Shield”-branded batteries with “thermal resistant technology” designed to prevent battery fires.

The batteries

Rad accomplished this by injecting an epoxy resin into the battery cells, which it claims will prevent a chemical reaction in the battery that can cause it to heat up to the point of exploding, also known as a thermal runaway.

“The reason for that resin is to help thermal propagation,” said Sarah Bruce Courtney, head of product development at Rad Power Bikes, in an interview. “So with an encapsulation, we’re actually helping protect moisture ingress and corrosion. It’s also protecting our cells, so it’s actually helping isolate any thermal activity that can happen within the battery cell itself.”

Poorly made e-bike batteries have been implicated in numerous deadly fires across the US and the UK. In New York City alone, where tens of thousands of delivery workers ride around on e-bikes every day, dozens of people have been killed in fires linked to faulty lithium-ion batteries.

New York City officials are cracking down, requiring e-bikes to be UL-certified and setting up public charging locations to prevent delivery workers from charging their batteries in residential apartment buildings using noncompliant equipment. Other towns are considering more punitive measures, indicating that fire fears could prove to be a major disruption for the e-bike industry.

To date, there has only been one reported incident of a Rad e-bike allegedly catching fire, though the company denies it. (It later reached a settlement with State Farm insurance on behalf of the homeowners who claim their house was damaged.) The company has shipped over 600,000 bikes in its history, mostly to customers in the US. Nonetheless, the company says it’s determined to lead by example in adopting the new fire-resistant battery technology.

Rad Power Bikes has taken other safety steps, including shifting to the 21,700 cells (21mm in diameter and 70mm in length) from the 18,650 cells for its batteries and complying with UL safety certification for both its bikes and batteries. Courtney described the 21,700 cells as “the newer battery cell that a lot of the automotive industry is moving to,” with more efficiency built in. As a result, the company also moved from a 14 amp-hour battery to a 15 amp-hour one to accommodate the change in cell size.

“If we look at the batteries in the cells, they go beyond any industry standard,” Rad Power Bikes CEO Phil Molyneux said in an interview.

The bikes

The new models that are being introduced today as well as the new battery technology are all about “ushering in a new era for Rad,” Molyneux said. With upgraded specs, a bevy of new paint options, and improved performance, the new models are intended to help the company set the stage for a banner year, he said.

The Radster is the newest model to join Rad’s lineup, and hallelujah, it comes with torque sensors. The more natural feel from torque sensors, as opposed to cadence ones, is why most high-end brands include them, so it’s great to see Rad join the fray.

The Radster comes in two variations, Trail and Road, for either off-road fun or daily commutes. It will also have the option to toggle between Class 2 and Class 3 settings, which would allow it to reach speeds of up to 28mph. That might be too fast for some e-bikers, especially those in Europe, where Class 3 is essentially nonexistent, but here in the US, we love our speed.

In addition to the Radster, the company is also releasing updated versions of its popular RadWagon cargo bike and RadExpand folding bike. The original RadWagon helped kick off the electric cargo bike revolution in the US when it was first released in 2015. Now in its fifth generation, the new RadWagon will have better handling, increased payload capacity, and a front suspension (another hallelujah for that) for a smoother ride.

To improve rider control and stability, Rad condensed the frame and lowered the bike’s center of gravity so that it can now accommodate a wider range of rider sizes. The RadWagon’s motor can also draw more energy from the battery to generate more torque for better hill climbing, even while hauling a heavy load. And it will also be able to toggle between Class 2 and 3, depending on speed preferences.

Lastly, the RadExpand 5 Plus is newly improved with more payload capacity and hydraulic front suspension for a smoother ride. And all of Rad’s new models are getting a full-color display with USB-C charging capabilities and rear turn signals.

The RadWagon 5 will retail for $2,199, while the Radster will start at $1,999 and the RadExpand at $1,899. All four models will be available to ship to customers later this spring.

But the new batteries in particular are meant to position the company at the forefront of the industry in terms of safety. Molyneux said the company would extend its current one-year warranty on all of its bikes to two years as a sign of renewed confidence in the product. And the hope is that other companies will follow suit, which should help discourage property owners and towns from passing regulations to ban e-bikes altogether.

“We have to bang the drum and say, ‘Okay, there is better ways to do this,’” Molyneux said.

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