Are you worried about the risk of fire with your electric unicycle (EUC)? Most of us are not electrical engineers, or even technologically inclined to think about the possibility of our beloved EUCs catching on fire. However, with recent reports in the news about battery fires in ebikes, scooters, and other electric vehicles, it’s important to be informed about the potential risks associated with these types of devices.
In this article, I explore a few reasons why an EUC may catch fire , as well as some possible solutions to prevent or mitigate this hazard.
Real Examples of Electric Unicycle Fires
It’s important to note that across the huge number of EUCs sold Worldwide, there are very few reported cases of EUC fires. The vast majority of users operate their vehicles without incident. However, there have been a handful of reports from the EUC community of fires occurring.
One user reported that their vehicle caught fire while charging. The user smelled something burning, and upon investigating , found that the unicycle had started smoking. The user quickly unplugged the charger and moved the unicycle away from any flammable materials. The fire extinguished itself and there was no damage to property or persons.
Another user reported a fire that occurred while riding. The user noticed that the motor of the EUC (a Kingsong S20/S22 pre-production) was making an unusual noise, and then saw smoke coming from the wheel (source). The user quickly dismounted and the EUC caught fire and essentially exploded. Again, there was no damage to property or persons as the wheel burned furiously in the middle of a street, but the device was totaled.
Of course, of all the brands of EUCs on the market to have a reputation for catching fire, or having the highest risk of combustion, that would be Begode (formerly known as Gotway).
Their electric unicycles are known for their high performance specifications, and lack of safety features. In the past year, there have been at multiple reports (that I am aware of) of Begode EUCs catching fire while being ridden, spontaneously after a hard riding session while at home, or even a quick ride through light rain.
In fact, here is a list of reported Gotway or Begode EUC fire incidents in the past few years:
- First Gotway fire at eWheels in January 2021
- Gotway Wheel fire at the eWheels warehouse
- Fire with Gotway battery
- Gotway MSP EUC fire on June 8th, 2020
- Gotway MSP fire on June 9th, 2020
- Gotway MSP fire on June 11th, 2020
- Gotway Monster V3 fire on the same day as another fire
- Gotway MSP fire in a home garage in November 2020
- Gotway MSP fire on Janurary 9th, 2021
- Gotway Mten3 fire on May 19th, 2021
- Gotway MSP fire on September 14th, 2021
- Gotway MSP December 13th, 2021
And, the list goes on. Of course, this is a sampling of reported fires, and does not include all of the EUC fires that have occurred in recent years. And, while I pull Begode incident reports as an example, all brands of EUCs, e.g., Inmotion, KingSong, have reported fires due to mishandling, poor manufacturing, or user abuse of the wheel.
In defense of these devices, I would also remark that even the electric cars, e.g., Tesla, out in the market today have reported similar fires due to catastrophic electrical failure.
So, what is causing these electric unicycles to catch fire? There are a few possible explanations.
Here are 9 Possible Reasons for an Electric Unicycle Catching Fire
1. Possible physical damage?
An EUC is a one-wheeled electrical device, and as such everyone who rides one will drop it at some point. This could lead to physical damage. The electric unicycle has a battery, motor, and many wires all within the shell. If any of these parts are damaged it could lead to a fire. A damaged battery pack could lead to a short circuit, for example, which could create a fire.
2. Manufacturing defects in the electric unicycle
This is a likely culprit in an electric unicycle fire. There could be issues with how the main control board components are assembled or produced at the factory in China. There are numerous parts that must work together in an EUC to properly deliver electrical power throughout the system.
Things like capacitors and mosfets need to be secure and not have any sharp metal objects touching each other. A capacitor is an electrical component that can store energy in the form of an electric field. A mosfet is a transistor used to control the flow of electrical current. If these parts are not put together correctly they could cause a short circuit which could lead to a fire.
In all, if there is a manufacturing issue with the electric unicycle it could easily lead to a fire as parts start to fail and overheat. In recent times, there have been issues with Chinese factories operating in high-pressure, stressful conditions due to the pandemic.
Many of them, especially those with a limited staff, now operate on a modest crew, and it’s conceivable that welding or soldering problems might induce a short circuit. Vendors and EUC enthusiasts who inspect EUCs have reported issues over the past few years.
Defects in component assembly could be plausible fire risk because there isn’t any protection between the motherboard and battery when it comes to safety. It’s possible that a brief burst of high current can damage battery packs, leading them to overheat, fail and eventually catch fire.
3. Hard, abusive riding style
As EUCs become more powerful and capable, riders likewise become more aggressive with how they ride. Often you’ll see people doing stunts, going off-road, or just riding in a way that’s pushing the limits of what the EUC was designed to do.
This type of hard riding can put a lot of stress on the electrical system and can lead to parts failing. When this happens it could easily create a fire. Specifically, it’s conceivable that the mainboard switching on when you push the wheel forward and backward might pop the capacitors or even burn the mosfets, resulting in a short. If there is a fuse, it won’t return to the battery to stop the flow of electricity, and the fire could start from there.
4. Battery management system (BMS) failure
The BMS for the battery packs of EUCs regulate and report the status of the battery. This includes things like overcharging, over-discharging, and over-temperature conditions.
The BMS is a vital component to prevent fires as it protects the battery from being damaged by too much current or heat. If the BMS fails it could allow too much current to flow into the battery which could damage it and cause a fire.
In some electric unicycles, such as the Kingsong S22, or the new Inmotion electric unicycles, a “smart” BMS system can indicate a voltage issue and should send a signal to the mainboard to basically slowly power off the machine.
A smart BMS along with other safety features, like fuses, should keep batteries operational without issues even if there is a fault in a single battery cell (which can propogate an issue throughout the entire battery pack like dominoes falling). So, even if one pack or cell (out of a series of batteries or cells) fails, voltage can still flow reliably through the other components of the electrical system, e.g., battery, control board, motor without essentially destroying neighboring parts.
However, if the BMS fails without the user noticing, a single fault or issue would lead to a runaway electrical, eventually leading to a fire or even an explosion.
5. Bad batteries
Many of the lithium batteries you’ll find on today’s market have a certain configuration, which I won’t go into in this post. You can learn more about different configurations of lithium batteries, e.g., 4P vs 6P, in electric vehicles in this helpful battery design article. However, it is essential to understand that battery configuration affects part of a battery pack’s stability.
In my understanding, the 4P configuration you find in high torque wheels is bottle neck of all the fires we have seen riding. There aren’t many fires that I’ve heard of that use the 6P or 8P configuration, except for a Monster Pro fire that occurred in Poland. In some cases, battery fires in EUC have happened because users tinkered or tried to modify their battery packs.
Some of these non-standard, DIY battery packs may have increased volatility and prone to failure. In other cases, people have put batteries together in a way that doesn’t allow for proper ventilation, which can cause the battery to overheat and eventually catch fire.
Additionally, some companies use lower quality or counterfeit batteries in their products. These batteries may not have the same safety features or build quality as the batteries from more reputable brands. As a result, they may be more likely to catch fire.
6. Software bug?
A software issue leading to a fire is unlikely in most cases with electric unicycles. Though it should be noted, too, that great software can’t fix bad hardware design.
Software is used to regulate electrical power to keep the EUC balanced or moving forward to keep the rider upright. As such, software is limited by the ability of the hardware to handle the amount of power required to do what it’s supposed to do.
Of course, if the software in the EUC demands higher voltage, but the battery can’t provide it, safely, then in all likelihood, hardware will be damaged. I would venture that software engineers would already know this and build-in limits to avoid such a preventable occurrence. The firmware (or software) should not request more from the hardware than what it is capable of handling at any one moment.
7. Higher voltage electric unicycles
I write about the benefits of high voltage electric unicycles, and why you might want one. Long story short, higher voltage electric unicycles generally have better top speed and torque. They also require less current to achieve the same amount of power as a lower voltage EUC.
The tradeoff is that they require more safety features to be built into the design to ensure that they don’t overheat or catch fire. In the new EUCs with higher voltage electrical designs, there is a greater chance that arcing could occur within the system.
This may be due to the fact that electrical power that is gated or blocked will try to take the path of least resistance through the EUC. This “jump” or electrical arcing could lead to a short circuit. Without good design experience in engineering an EUC that uses high voltage current, manufacturer’s could be inadvertently creating a potential fire hazard.
Overall, this relates to the need for good electrical design and an understanding of how the different parts of the system will interact with each other.
8. Improperly used chargers
It is essential to use the charger that comes with your EUC or one that is specified by the manufacturer. Some people think that they can save money by using a generic charger, but this could lead to fires.
The reason for this is that different types of chargers have different voltages and currents. If you use a charger with the wrong voltage or current, it could damage the battery, overheat it, and cause a fire.
It is also important to read the instructions that come with your charger. Some chargers have different settings for different types of batteries. Make sure you are using the right setting for your battery.
Additionally, it is important to never leave your EUC charging unattended. If you must leave it charging, make sure it is in a safe place where it cannot fall over or be damaged.
9. Stunt riding, jumps, or hard bumps
Electric unicycles have become more capable than ever. With the rise in popularity of off-road electric unicycling, we are seeing EUCs that can take more punishment. Of course, this is a touchy subject because we see many influencers on social media performing insane stunts on their EUCs.
But, realistically, the EUC is still a product that designer’s never intended to endure the forces that occur during a stunt. Even a curb hop or bonk is punishment on electronic hardware. Would you take an Apple Macbook pro and bang it against a desk or tabletop repeatedly and expect it to work flawlessly?
The hardware in an electronic device, even an EUC, is still not as tough as, say, a mountain bike.
The danger here is that if you hit a hard bump while going fast, the sudden stop could damage the battery, resulting in a short circuit and fire. Additionally, if you are performing stunts that involve flipping the EUC or landing hard, you could damage the battery case and cause a fire.
When you crash, even the slow moving ones, there is a chance that something could come loose and create a short. This could result in a fire. The best way to avoid this is to ride within your limits and be aware of the terrain. If you are going to attempt a stunt, make sure you know how to do it safely and have someone there to help you if something goes wrong.
This one is pretty self-explanatory. If you crash your EUC, there is a chance that the battery could be damaged. If the battery is damaged, it could short circuit and cause a fire.
The bottom line is that the wheels are not meant to be jumped. The electronics are intended to be stationary, as are the capacitors. When we ride in a highly variable environment with lots of stress, heat, humidity, and rough road conditions, our motors and vibrations may stress the electric componentry enough to cause failure.
Demonstration or Pre-Production Electric Unicycle Fires
To add the counter-point to the doom-and-gloom about fires, I’ll note that demo wheel fires and those failures we see in pre-production models should not be cause for great alarm. The first reason is that any new product will have some failures as the manufacturer ramps up production.
The second reason is that when a new product is being demonstrated, it is often ridden harder than it would be in real-world use. This is especially true for electric unicycles because people want to see what they can do. The riders are often pushing the limits of what the EUC can do, and this can lead to crashes and hard bumps that could damage the battery and cause a fire.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you should ride your EUC into the ground or try to break it. But, if you see a fire during a demo or pre-production phase, don’t be too alarmed. The manufacturer is likely aware of the issue and is working to fix it.
General Ways to Reduce Fire Risk with Your Electric Unicycle
If you’re buying an electric unicycle with batteries that have a low tolerance for stress and fatigue when you’re demanding power on a regular basis, e.g., Uber delivery riders or off roaders, then you might want to consider the following:
- Get a higher capacity battery. This will help to reduce the number of charge and discharge cycles, which can help to extend the life of the battery.
- Get a battery with a higher discharge rate. This will help to reduce the amount of time that the battery is under stress, which can help to extend its life.
- Consider an EUC with a smart BMS or one with proven battery safety to avoid any fires. The best way to reduce the risk of fire is to ride safely and within your limits.
- Be aware of the terrain and conditions, and don’t attempt stunts that you are not prepared for. If you do crash, make sure to inspect your EUC for damage before riding it again. And, if you have any concerns about the safety of your EUC, contact the manufacturer or your vendor.
Here are other tips for keeping your batteries and EUC operational in the long-term:
- Use your smart BMS (if you have one in your EUC) and the associated app on your smartphone to check the health of your battery. This can give you an early warning if there are any issues with your battery.
- Be mindful of how you store your EUC when it’s not in use. Avoid storing it in extreme heat or cold, and don’t leave it in direct sunlight for long periods of time.
- Make sure to keep your EUC clean and free of dust or contaminants. Some roadside dirt and dust can actually contain electrically conductive material or metallic fragments that increase the risk of a short if it touches sensitive components within your electric unicycle.
- If your EUC can’t charge to full capacity battery, there’s probably a problem. Check it out or request assistance from someone.
- If the range of your electric unicycle suddenly drops lower than expected, there could be a problem. Investigate this carefully, as continuing to ride when this happens could exacerbate the issue and lead to a much bigger problem.
- If you’re riding your EUC up a hill and it starts to overheat, step off and walk it the rest of the way. There’s no shame in that, and it’s better than having to carry your burnt-out EUC home.
- Avoid riding the EUC in extreme cold or heat. Batteries don’t like extreme temperatures, and it can shorten their lifespan.
How to Store Your EUC Properly for Long-Term Operation
If you’re a casual rider, keeping well under the rated top speed of your EUC, you’ll likely never have issues with your e-unicycle. The only thing I would recommend is that you allowing your battery to over-charge or deplete too far.
Don’t keep your EUC on the charger during storage when you’re not riding for long period of time. If you know you’re not going to ride for a few months (3-6 months), monitor your battery charge level and try not to let it fall below 20% or rise above 80% (source).
Electric unicycles are becoming more and more popular, but there are still some risks associated with them. Namely, the battery. But, if you’re aware of the potential risks and take some precautions, you can enjoy your EUC without worry. Just be smart, ride safely, and don’t try to push your EUC beyond its limits.
I hope you found this article helpful. I’m sure I missed some key elements about fire hazards associated with EUCs, or any electrical rideable device, e.g., escooters, Onewheels, ebikes, etc. If you have anything to add, please leave a comment below. I would love to hear from you. 🙂
Thanks for reading!
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