Sales of e-bikes have taken off in recent years and show no signs of slowing down. If federal legislators take up another push to offer rebates and credits, many more people may adopt this excellent form of green transportation.
However, shipping an electric bike presents a unique set of challenges. Bikes are big and bulky, and an e-bike is even bigger than a standard bike with a heavier frame. Plus, the lithium battery that powers the bicycle creates additional hurdles for shipping. You can remove some batteries easily, while others are inaccessible or contained within the unit. So, you need to know how to move the bike and how to ship e-bike batteries according to federal and local laws.
At Red Stag Fulfillment, we have experience providing eCommerce fulfillment for battery-powered equipment. We turned to sales executive Cole Sweetser for the inside scoop on e-bike 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 ebike battery size and how it’s installed on the bike greatly affect your shipping costs.
While some e-bike companies sell directly to consumers, most bike sales happen in a bike shop. However, the shipping considerations remain the same whether you’re shipping e-bikes to a bike shop or a consumer. You may be able to ship to and from a local e-bike store, allowing you to move your electric bicycle safely. These shops also often have extra boxes and packaging for specific bikes. Plus, they’ll know which carriers — like DHL or UPS — can make a pickup at their store. Ask these partners about how they handle e-bike delivery.
Are you selling the best ebikes online, including parts like pedals and handlebars? You’ll want to work with a 3PL like Red Stag. We can help you with the right bike box, packaging beyond bubble wrap, and finding the right shipper. We’ll even help you determine if you should remove the front wheel or other parts for shipping. Or, we can help you review potentially consolidating packages to reduce costs.
Storing and shipping lithium batteries
Lithium-ion batteries are 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. Some lithium metal and ion batteries have been recalled for short-circuiting risks. Review the recall notes from manufacturers if this is the case because there are additional requirements and regulations for shipping and storing recalled batteries.
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 must ensure 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 over 100wh (watt-hours) capacity 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 a warning sticker on the box. However, you may not incur the full hazardous material charge when you ship a lithium battery within an e-bike. It’s good to check with every company involved in the e-bike delivery process just to be sure.
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.
Under current U.S. government regulations and standards, remember that your e-bike is considered a “vehicle.” So, any regulations about vehicle parts or batteries will apply to your electric bike battery. Double-check these to ensure you use the right shipping label, lithium metal battery designation, shipping boxes, and shipping service.
“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.
Our experts are here to help either way.
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. The shipment probably won’t be hazmat if a lithium battery is contained within the frame or installed on the bike. However, if you ship a battery separately, expect the hazmat classification. “Many e-bike clients will store and ship spare batteries,” Sweetser noted. Discuss the best way to approach spare bike batteries with your order fulfillment warehouse.
A note on air travel
The USDOT regulations work in tandem with the Federal Aviation Administration for things like how to ship e-bike battery and parts. So if you are selling ebikes online or shipping your own, you’ll want to review classifications and documents that help you check against both.
There’s a great primer from the DOT’s hazmat division that looks at the different types of lithium-ion batteries and their classifications. The bike and battery manufacturer should provide classification information for you.
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 will 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, as well as some local and international couriers. DHL is also a top option for many because of its clear policy on shipping electric bike batteries.
FedEx e-bike shipping
FedEx separates dangerous goods from hazardous materials, and lithium batteries fall into the hazardous materials category. If you ship these, FedEx will charge you a $39 hazmat fee and only move your goods via Ground shipping options. FedEx also requires special certification on the label for UN 3171 shipments.
Companies selling e-bikes will want to contact FedEx or other carriers directly because there’s additional information for importing and exporting these goods. FedEx provides this battery shipping guide that applies to e-bikes with batteries contained inside the unit, or batteries that can be removed from the unit. Remember that couriers want to be safe and follow regulations, so they often have guides and support documents to help you ship an electric bike or an e-bike battery.
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 that ranges from $45 to more than $70. Shipping via Ground services will incur a fee starting at $33 per shipment, according to this table UPS shared with us.
The company says, “Air service level shipments of UN3090, lithium metal batteries or cells can be accepted only from approved shippers.” This means UPS requires you to get pre-approval to make these shipments, so you’ll want to work with the courier before showing up at their site. A 3PL can help you meet these requirements and complete the correct paperwork.
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. It’s important to remember that it’s likely the company selling e-bikes used a 3PL to get those beauties into the windows of your local bike shop.
Dimensional weight and shipping electric 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.
DIM weight is important for shipping e-bikes. Companies may avoid DIM weight charges when shipping goods to warehouses like ours because you can send enough volume to reach freight rates, saving you money and potentially lowering the hazmat cost per bike.
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 with oversized-shipping experience, such as Red Stag Fulfillment. That type of fulfillment provider will save you money on shipping electric bikes.
How Red Stag Fulfillment helps our clients ship e-bikes
Many companies are jumping into the e-bike market today. In a few years, some of them will be gone. Supply chain issues — specifically, fulfillment — can make or break a company.
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 optimize their shipping protocols to save money and get orders to customers as efficiently as possible.
Shipping Electric Bikes FAQ
Can I ship an electric bike through UPS, FedEx, or USPS?
You can ship electric bikes / eBikes through UPS and FedEx, as well as some local and international couriers. DHL is also a top option for many because of its clear policy on shipping electric bike batteries. You can’t ship an electric bike through USPS, because USPS will not ship items as large as an e-bike.
Can I ship an electric bike without the lithium battery?
The lithium battery that powers the bicycle creates additional hurdles for shipping, so you can remove some batteries easily, while others are inaccessible or contained within the unit.
Why is it hard to ship lithium batteries?
It is hard to ship lithium batteries because there are so many rules and restrictions around shipping them, and those can vary across carriers, and locations. This is all because lithium batteries have the potential to catch fire during transit if they are damaged or defective, which is what ultimately makes shipping them very hard and complicated.
We treat your business as if it were our business because we know that your success leads to our success. If you want more information about shipping e-bikes — or anything else — give us a call. We love a shipping challenge.
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