Mackinac Island police warn of e-bike dangers after battery explosion causes fire, injuries

Mackinac Island Lilac Festival. (Mackinac Island Lilac Festival)

Electric bikes are already a controversial topic when it comes to Mackinac Island. But after a recent fire caused by an exploding battery, police are urging extra caution to anyone using one.

Mackinac Island Police Chief Doug Topolski said on Thursday that residents, visitors and employers using e-bikes should “take whatever action necessary to ensure that ebikes and ebike batteries are not stored indoors under any circumstances.”

Topolski said a recent residential structure fire was caused by an exploding e-bike battery, causing injuries to firefighters, which required hospitalization.”

“The recent fire had the very real potential to be catastrophic to the residential area occupied by full-time island residents and seasonal employees. It is not an exaggeration to suggest that a fire of this nature could pose an existential threat to many island businesses and historic buildings had it occurred un-noticed in the downtown area,” Topolski said.

The topic of e-bikes on Mackinac Island has been a hot one in recent years with the growth of e-bikes, and the ban on motorized vehicles on the island.

Currently, the e-bike policy on Mackinac Island goes like this: E-bikes are not allowed on Mackinac Island. But there is an exception: Visitors with a qualifying “mobility disability” may operate Class 1 electric bicycles on Mackinac Island.

Mackinac Island city ordinance defines “mobility disability” and spells out the specifications for permitted e-bikes.

  • Under Mackinac Island city code dealing with e-bikes, a mobility disability means “a physical impairment that substantially limits the ability of the individual to pedal a bicycle.” As an example, the ordinance states that a person who can’t walk 200 feet without stopping to rest or who can’t walk without the aid of an assistive device has a mobility disability. Likewise, certain respiratory, cardiac, arthritic, neurological and orthopedic health conditions also are considered mobility disabilities.
  • A Class 1 electric bicycle is a two-wheeled bicycle or three-wheeled tricycle. It has an electric motor of not more than 750 watts. The motor kicks in only when the rider is pedaling and stops once the bike reaches a speed of 20 miles per hour.
  • Class 2 electric bicycles with a motor that operates even when the rider is not pedaling and Class 3 electric bicycles that can exceed 20 miles per hour are not permitted on Mackinac Island. (If you already have a Class 2 or Class 3 electric bicycle, you still may be able to ride that vehicle on Mackinac Island by modifying it to meet Class 1 e-bike standards. You may be able to do that by removing the throttle, for example, or by reprogramming the e-bike’s computer so that it cannot exceed a speed of 20 miles per hour.)

The Grand Hotel has banned e-bikes from hotel buildings and employee housing.

Read more on the Island’s e-bike policy here.

About the Author:

Ken Haddad is the digital content and audience manager for WDIV / He also authors the Morning Report Newsletter and various other newsletters. He's been with WDIV since 2013. He enjoys suffering through Lions games on Sundays in the fall.