Sales of e-bikes took off during the past year and show no signs of slowing down. If federal legislation for electric bicycle tax credits becomes law, many more people may adopt this excellent form of green transportation.
However, shipping an electric bicycle presents a unique set of challenges. Bikes are big and bulky, and an e-bike may be even bigger than a standard bike with a heavier frame. Plus, the lithium battery that powers the bicycle creates additional hurdles for shipping.
At Red Stag Fulfillment, we have lots of experience providing eCommerce fulfillment for battery-powered equipment. We turned to sales executive Cole Sweetser for the inside scoop on electric bicycle shipping.
Basics of e-bike shipping
Shipping an electric bike is very much like sending a standard bicycle. The difference is the lithium-ion battery. The size of the ebike battery, as well as how it’s installed on the bike, make a big difference in your shipping costs.
While some e-bike companies sell direct to consumer, most bike sales happen in a bike shop. Whether you’re shipping an electric bicycle to a bike shop or a consumer, however, the shipping considerations remain the same.
Storing and shipping lithium batteries
Lithium-ion batteries are the powerful, rechargeable batteries that power everything from laptops to electric cars. On an e-bike, a lithium battery can provide a range of 50 miles or more.
The power of the lithium-ion battery also makes it a hazard. Lithium batteries contain flammable elements that can explode or catch fire if the ebike battery is damaged during storage or shipping.
Class 9 hazardous material
Sweetser noted that lithium-ion batteries are considered a Class 9 hazardous material. Red Stag Fulfillment doesn’t charge extra for storing bike batteries or products that contain them. However, we have to make sure our facilities meet the regulations before taking in bike batteries.
Storage regulations include having appropriate firefighting equipment on hand and observing limits on how much lithium can be stored in one place. Part of your due diligence when you onboard with a new 3PL for e-bikes is to make sure their facilities are up to code for the batteries.
A lithium-ion battery in an electric bike or scooter can cause the carrier to classify the whole package as hazmat. Any lithium-ion battery with a capacity of over 100wh (watt-hours) is classified as UN 3480 by the USDOT. “I have yet to see an e-bike that doesn’t have a 100wh capacity,” Sweetser said.
If you’re shipping a bike battery with a capacity of less than 100wh, it won’t incur a hazmat fee, but you’ll need to have a warning sticker on the box.
There is a way around the hazardous material charge, however, when you ship a lithium battery with an e-bike.
Classification of the electric bike shipment
UN 3171 is the classification for battery-powered vehicle shipments. When lithium batteries are integral to the electric bike, the whole package can ship under the UN 3171 classification.
“It’s rare that a client hasn’t figured out the classification of their products before they reach out to us,” Sweetser said. Still, some international clients may not be familiar with USDOT regulations.
Red Stag Fulfillment reviews the product specs for potential clients and looks for shipping solutions. We have been able to help manufacturers properly reclassify their e-bike shipments. “We want to look at the bike and work our way back from there,” Sweetser said. “If they’re shipping just based on the battery regulations, they could be losing a lot.”
It all comes down to whether the battery is integral to the bike. If a lithium battery is contained within the frame or installed on the bike, the shipment probably won’t be hazmat. However, if you ship a battery separately, expect the hazmat classification. “Many e-bike clients will store and/or ship spare batteries,” Sweetser noted.
Cost to ship an e-bike
The classification of a package can make a big difference in the shipping costs. “Most of the shipping cost is going to come down to the carrier,” Sweetser said.
USPS will not ship items as large as an e-bike. You can ship through UPS and FedEx.
FedEx e-bike shipping
FedEx separates dangerous goods from hazardous materials. Lithium batteries fall into the hazardous materials category. It adds an extra $39 fee for ground shipments that contain hazardous materials.
FedEx will only ship hazmat via ground. FedEx requires special certification on the label for UN 3171 shipments.
UPS e-bike shipping
UPS classifies hazardous materials as dangerous goods. It adds an extra $39 fee for ground shipments that contain hazardous materials.
UPS will ship bike batteries by ground or air. Lithium-ion batteries fall into Class 9, which UPS ships as air inaccessible for a surcharge of $54.50.
Even if your e-bike is classified as UN 3171, UPS places some limits on shipments. The package can’t weigh more than 30kg; the battery must weigh no more than 5kg, and, if the ebike battery is lithium, you need a certification label on the outside of the box.
Spare battery shipping
If the package contains a spare battery that is not installed on the bike, it will probably meet the requirements for UN 3480. That will incur the hazmat surcharge. But a bike with a battery installed might not.
The classification of your bike could make a big difference in your shipping costs. “If it can go unregulated, there’s no additional fee associated with the battery,” Sweetser said.
To ship e-bikes, you need a 3PL that understands the requirements for packing and shipping UN 3171 and UN 3480 products. A fulfillment center with experience shipping bulky and hazardous items, like Red Stag Fulfillment, can save you a lot of headaches.
Dimensional weight and shipping e-bikes
Dimensional weight, or DIM weight, is an extra charge on some oversized packages. UPS, FedEx, and USPS all use a DIM factor to calculate a figure called the DIM weight based on the package dimensions. If the DIM weight is greater than the actual weight, the shipping charge will be based on the DIM weight.
Skilled packing can help you avoid DIM weight charges. If you ship large products, such as e-bikes, it’s a good idea to work with a 3PL that has experience in oversized shipping, such as Red Stag Fulfillment. That’s the type of fulfillment provider that will be able to save you money on shipping e-bikes.
How Red Stag Fulfillment helps our clients ship e-bikes
Many companies are jumping into the electric bicycle market today. In a few years, some of them will be gone. One thing that can make or break a company is supply chain issues—specifically, fulfillment.
Red Stag Fulfillment partners with its clients to handle sensitive products with care. “Our main priority is to make sure that we are educating properly and being a resource,” Sweetser said. We work with clients to ensure their shipping protocols are optimized to save money and get orders to customers as efficiently as possible.