Depending on where you live, e-bikes might be a common sight or an unusual find on the street. But they are definitely a faster alternative to traditional bicycles. Whether you pedal them or sit back and let the motor do the job, this is an eco-friendly and comfortable ride for many reasons.
In fact, electric bikes are becoming so popular world over that a lot of people are considering taking this little thing along when they go on vacations.
It’s a great choice especially if you are going to Spain or France or pretty much anywhere in Europe because they have such wonderful and scenic routes meant for bicycles and e-bikes.
That brings us to the question at hand—can you take an electric bike on a plane?
Unfortunately, taking an electric bike on a plane is not that easy. In fact, in all likelihood, you might not be able to do it comfortably because most airlines don’t allow it. But that is not because of the bike itself but the battery.
Any lithium battery that is rechargeable and is larger than 100 watt-hours (Wh) cannot be carried on a plane. Certain airlines make an exception, but even they allow batteries that are up to 160 watt-hours and you need to get certain clearances to be able to do that.
The battery of any e-bike is likely to be at least 300 Wh which automatically disqualifies it. So is that the end of the story? Not at all.
How to Calculate Your Battery’s Watt-Hours
For starters, let’s try to figure out the Watt-hours of your electric bike’s battery because you will need that information to try out any of the alternatives we will go into a little later in this piece.
Every battery comes with a watt-hour rating which is usually printed on its surface. Watts, volts and amp-hours are the energy parameters that you should be familiar with if you have an e-bike.
If the Watt-hours of your battery is not printed on it, you will still see volts or amp-hours. You just need to know how to calculate Wh from those values. And it’s actually pretty easy to do that.
All you need to do is multiply the amp-hours with the volts and you have the watt-hours. For example, if you have a 48-volt battery and a rating of 10 amp-hours, the watt-hour rating is 480.
So, Why the Restriction?
The key to solving any problem is to understand the hiccups on the way, unless you’re in a self-help class where the answer is to admit that there is a problem.
Airplanes don’t allow you to carry lithium batteries with more than 100 Wh because they are adhering to fire safety regulations. How so?
All airplanes allow you to take two types of baggage—carry-on baggage which you can take with you on the plane and check-in baggage which goes into the cargo space on the airplane.
You are not allowed to carry electric bike batteries in either of these because they are a fire hazard. What about the batteries in other electronics? Well, that’s why they have the 100 Wh rule.
The batteries in your cell phones, laptops and cameras are small and don’t need as much power. So, even if something goes wrong, there is very little risk.
That’s why you are typically not allowed to carry spare batteries that are not already in a gadget either.
But batteries for certain medical equipment require a little extra which is why they have the exception for 160 Wh batteries. This is the case with the US FAA.
Unfortunately, that just does not cut it with the batteries required to run an electric bike. How are they a fire hazard? Well, all these batteries have a shell.
And if it gets overheated or damaged (which is likely when your luggage is being thrown around, as it often is) there is a very good chance that the battery might short circuit.
This creates a spark and might even lead to a small-sized explosion. Now, which responsible airline wants to take that chance, huh?
The batteries that are used to run electric bikes are made of lithium which is extremely flammable. So, the smallest of sparks is good enough for it to light up like fireworks on the 4th of July.
Now, you might wonder how it is safe for you to be sitting on one of these. Well, luckily, lithium-ion batteries are well designed with the intention of preventing such incidents.
That’s why you are fine riding the electric bike on the streets. But travel is a whole other thing.
If something goes wrong and it turns out that the airline was culpable in any way, you might not, but there will be quite a few of your fellow passengers who will be eager to sue the airline.
And it’s not just about your batteries. If someone else has something flammable in their luggage, the little explosion could turn into a huge disaster pretty quickly. And even if not, there are aerosols and the plane’s fuel which is a constant danger.
According to some data, there have been 268 such incidents from January 2006 to January 2020 on airplanes, all thanks to lithium batteries. So, if you are taking a commercial plane, there is no way you can carry your electric bike’s battery along.
But that’s not to say you should dump the idea altogether. There are other ways to make your dream of e-biking in Europe come true. Here are some ideas.
What Are Your Alternatives?
Here are at least three ways in which you can take your e-bike with you on your vacation even if you are flying commercial.
- Rent a Battery at Your Destination
This is the least cumbersome solution to the problem. You will have to do some research on your options at the destination.
Now, buying a battery is not an option because you won’t be able to bring it back with you for the same reason you could not take one along. So, you might want to find a place that rents e-bikes and check to see if they also rent batteries.
Then you must also find out the battery that works for your e-bike and the terrain you will be riding it on. Make sure you ask them if those batteries are available.
This means you will need to know your e-bike’s capacity in Wh and voltage. While you are at it, you might also benefit from finding out if they have the adaptor for your charger. If you’re going to a remote destination, this can be quite the task.
So, why not just rent the e-bike? Well, this can be an expensive affair if you want to keep it for days or worse, weeks. So, renting a battery is much cheaper and a wiser choice too.
You will also have the comfort of driving your own e-bike. The unfamiliarity of the place is bad enough. And if you’re going from the US to Europe, there will be enough traffic rules for you to adjust to anyway.
And it’s hard to say how easy or difficult this is because while quite a few places give you a break on battery prices, some won’t even give you the option of renting the battery separately.
- Use a Different Mode of Transport
This is not always an option, but that is up to you. If you don’t have to take a commercial plane, see if you can charter other modes of transportation. But make sure taking your bike along does not become a burden.
For instance, there are lots of places where you can take e-bikes on a ferry. So, if you can get the battery to mainland Europe, you can take it along with you for the rest of the journey, like Belgium or France, by car.
What do we mean by getting the battery to mainland Europe? Well, that’s the third solution.
- Get the Battery Separately
There are a few options when it comes to shipping lithium batteries to long-distance destinations. It is classified under ‘Dangerous Goods’ and if it is packaged and labeled the right way, you can get it to your destination with relative ease.
You will have to pay a little extra, obviously, but it might just work. The extra is likely to be 80-100 US dollars, sometimes more, which is over and above the regular charges for shipping.
You also need to have a battery that is not DIY and has gone through tests for manufacturing and performance quality. And you must be able to provide these records if asked.
The Bottom Line
If you want to go with the third option, the packaging isn’t impossibly hard. You need to provide enough cushioning to make sure it does not ding against its surroundings to cause a short circuit.
So it needs both inner and outer packaging. It must also be labeled as a dangerous good. There are a few other rules to check out.
If you think you can pull it off, well, you can take your e-bike with you no matter where you’re going.