HOW TO MANAGE TECHNOLOGY IN BIKE SHOPS, PART 2

In Part 1 of this series (read here), there was a discussion leading to a better understanding of the systems used in your business, how they function, how they are administered, and who should have what kind of systems access. The last article also talked about the data each system generated, captured, saved and analyzed.

In this installment, we’re going to explore what kind of data you have and how that data could be managed. Some of the systems used in your business may be managing the data automatically. Maybe that is the case, but more than likely the management of your data is a manual process.

As before, this topic and the things we’ll discuss won’t guarantee you’ll never have a systems or data problem, breech or loss of data. But hopefully this will provide tips that will minimize the chances of that happening.

The first and very significant question you need to answer is how much data do you have. That should be a simple question to answer yet, more often than not, the answer is, “I don’t know.” The business owner will say their computer or server has X number of gigabytes and since there is still empty space there can’t be more data than that. The short answer is that’s correct, but may not be accurate.

Computers and servers host all types of software. That takes up a lot of space on the hard drive. In some hardware configurations there may be multiple hard drives, some that host the software and some that host the data. Which brings up the issue of where do you store your data? In house? In the cloud, with a managed service provider (MSP)?

Where data gets stored may seem like a simple issue but has a number of facets to consider. How often will you need access to the data? For example, data from a point-of-sale (POS) system will, hopefully, see many inputs during the business day. As I mentioned in the first article, how each of your business systems interface is crucial.

A sale processed through your POS system will have data points needed for your accounting system and inventory system at a minimum. Your business may also wish to capture data points on the customer, the date of purchase, the reason for the purchase, whether a promotion of some kind brought the customer to your business, if this sale was to a new or repeat customer, whether the customer was local, and other relevant data points. Not all of this data needs to be stored on your business computers or servers. It could be but would it truly be necessary? There are options to consider.

Another example is e-mail correspondence. When an e-mail is written and transmitted, every person keeps a copy. It can be saved or deleted at your convenience. If the e-mail is written and sent to a single person there are two copies, one for the sender and one for the recipient. What happens if the e-mail is copied to a couple of people in your business to keep them informed? Each person now has their own copy saved somewhere on your company’s computer or server. This is something almost no one thinks about. Over time it can consume a LOT of disk space, especially if there are attachments.

If all your data is kept on your computers and servers, are you also running some data protection or data management software? If you aren’t, you probably should. There are numerous companies that offer this kind of software, your systems administrator, the company that oversees your hardware and/or industry organizations should be able to make recommendations.

One feature to look for when considering data management software is deduplication. This is a feature that eliminates the kind of duplication I described with the previous e-mail example. Typically, a record that is deduped will still retain a “stub” that, when called upon, will allow recall of the original record for display.

Another feature to look for is the data metering. Most data management software will use “upfront” metering, meaning data is measured when it is first input through the software. This is important as most data management software products are priced by the amount of data it protects. With upfront metering, any backups or subsequent internal copies are not counted against the purchased capacity.

So, where is your data stored? Earlier I asked this question. Now I’ll talk about the alternatives.

I spoke recently with a business owner and asked him that question and was slightly stunned by his response. He told me “All the data in my business is stored on a couple of one terabyte thumb drives.” That may work, but certainly would make any retrieval or analysis of that data problematic. The question I was really asking him was where is his data stored, on-site, off-site or in the cloud. There are pluses and minuses to each, so you need to understand them to make the best decision for your business. There is no right or wrong answer, but how your business intends to use the data will have an impact on where it’s kept.

Having all your data stored on-site is fine when you have a handle on how much data you have, how often you need access to that data (some or all), and how you intend to analyze the data to help run your business. However, keeping all the data on-site may cause problems with actual storage and disaster recovery, something I will talk about in subsequent articles.

Having all the data off-site also is workable when you understand how much and what kind of data you are managing. It makes disaster recovery less of an issue through it really just pushes the issue downstream. Is the facility that is storing the data able to recover and restore if they suffer a disaster? If so, how long will they take to restore the data so your business can get up and running?

Storing off-site also may make it more difficult to retrieve data in a timely manner, requiring advance planning to make sure data is available and accessible.
Another consideration is cost. Most data storage facilities, commonly called managed service providers (MSP), charge storage by the gigabyte per month. The question your business should investigate is whether the storage fee is more or less expensive than the cost of having your own storage and maintenance of that storage. And note, some MSPs will offer a hybrid solution where they manage the data both on-site on your infrastructure, and off-site on their infrastructure.

Finally, understanding how much and what kind of data you have is also important when considering a cloud solution. Most cloud solutions closely resemble what is described above as an MSP with one big difference. Cloud data is always off-site storage and usually can be accessed from almost anywhere from almost any computer with the right credentials. (If you didn’t read the first installment about systems access in the February Micromobility Reporter, now might be good time if you’re considering a cloud solution.)

Now that the business is thinking about how much data it has and where it should be stored, you also should be thinking about how you curate your data. The primary consideration is the legal requirement for data retention in your jurisdiction. Of course, not all business data will be subject to legal requirements, so seek counsel on what needs to be legally retained and for how long. And as important as it is to retain certain data for a specified period of time, it is just as important to delete data that is no longer legally required. Why? Should the business ever get audited, it will only be required to produce data within the legal retention requirements. If the business has been inconsistent with when/what data is deleted, it could be deemed suspicious and lead to a prolonged audit.

If the business is paying for off-site storage, you will want to properly manage the amount of data being stored since that will be the basis of your monthly bill.
In my first article I discussed the importance of who has access to the systems in your business and the interfaces. The same care needs to be applied to the curation of the data the business creates. Likely this isn’t something you’ve spent a lot of time considering. Who has the ability to delete or retain data could have a huge impact to your business.

Managing your data and where it is stored can help your business run more smoothly and provide timely information. The next article will discuss system and password security.

Questions? Comments? Contact Steve Bina, steve@humanpoweredsolutions.com

UPDATE: SAFE CHARGING AND STORAGE OF LITHIUM-ION BATTERIES IN THE E-BIKE RETAIL ENVIRONMENT

The growth of the electric bicycle segment of the bicycle industry has been nothing short of remarkable. The pandemic, the environmental crisis, and soaring energy costs have all combined to highlight and magnify the importance of light electric vehicles in the transportation infrastructure.
 
Lithium-ion batteries represent the most significant technology breakthrough that has enabled the development and manufacture of practical electric vehicles, including e-bikes.  The high gravimetric and volumetric energy density of lithium-ion batteries make them most suitable for use in transportation applications. These batteries store sufficient energy to power electric vehicles over meaningful distances.   They can deliver the significant power required to accelerate heavy loads to useful speeds.
 
These batteries are the first viable alternative to gasoline as the energy supply of choice for practical, day-to-day electric transportation.
 
However, as is the case with gasoline, the storage of energy required by electric vehicles carries significant risk. The uncontrolled release of stored energy is dangerous and can have catastrophic consequences. One can imagine the unpleasant scenario resulting from tossing a lit match into a bucket of gasoline. There is a comparable analogy with lithium-ion batteries as it relates to the uncontrolled release of energy.
 
Certain attributes of lithium-ion batteries make them susceptible to catastrophic failure under certain predictable circumstances.  Manufacturing defects, inadequate or improperly programmed battery management systems, service requirements that exceed battery design tolerances, improper charging protocols, physical damage, etc., lead to battery failures that can precipitate a fire.  Due to the chemical composition of the liquid electrolyte used in a lithium-ion battery, such fires burn extremely hot, generate great quantities of toxic gasses and are very difficult to extinguish.
 
To date, incidents of catastrophic lithium-ion battery fires are relatively rare.  But given the explosive growth of the e-bike market in the U.S. and elsewhere, and the proliferation of low cost e-bikes likely equipped with substandard, uncertified battery packs, there is great concern that the frequency of these unfortunate events is going to increase.  The potential for property damage, and the risks of personal injury and death, will also rise.
 
As advocates for the growth and commercial success of electric bicycles, we offer the following guidelines to e-bike dealers to ensure proper storage and charging of e-bike lithium-ion battery packs in their retail environments.  These guidelines are intended to minimize the possibility of a battery pack failure, and to mitigate the danger and resulting damage that will occur in the event a failure does occur. 

  • Procure a fire-resistant cabinet.  Appropriate cabinets are available at many industrial supply outlets (like McMaster-Carr, Grainger, etc.) or Amazon.com.
  • Position the cabinet away from flammable materials (cardboard, boxed inventory, lubricants and/or chemicals) in your shop.  Mount a smoke detector (preferably a networked smoke detector connected to the store’s security system) in proximity to the cabinet.  Mount a Class A, B, C fire extinguisher in proximity to the cabinet.
  • Store all lithium-ion e-bike battery packs in the fire-resistant cabinet. 
  • Store new e-bike battery packs in their original cartons in the fire-resistant cabinet.  DO NOT pre-charge battery packs.  Only charge a new pack just prior to delivering a new e-bike to a customer.
  • Store the battery pack from an e-bike brought in for service in the cabinet until such time as it’s needed for testing the serviced e-bike, or the e-bike is being returned to the customer.
  • Ensure all lithium-ion e-bike battery packs are stored in the cabinet whenever the store is closed or otherwise unattended.

Safe Charging of E-bike Battery Packs in the E-bike Shop:

  • Procure a wire rack to use as a charging stand for e-bike battery packs.  Suitable racks are available at many industrial supply outlets (like McMaster-Carr, Grainger, etc.) or Amazon.com.  Preferably, procure a wire rack equipped with wheels for easy maneuvering.  Procure a set of extreme heat-protection gloves and store them nearby the battery charging rack.
  • Position the cabinet away from flammable materials (cardboard, boxed inventory, lubricants and/or chemicals), in proximity to the smoke detector and the fire extinguisher.
  • If possible, position the battery charging rack near a door leading outside of the shop.
  • Procure a 32-gallon industrial trash can.  Position it near the charging rack.  Fill it about 3/4 full of water.
  • Procure additional battery chargers for the various battery packs supplied with e-bikes sold through the store.  Fix these extra chargers on the wire rack (with zip ties or other means) and connect them to a switched power strip also attached to the rack.  These extra chargers are to eliminate the need to use the new charger shipped with the e-bike.
  • ONLY USE CHARGERS INTENDED FOR THE SPECIFIC BATTERIES SOLD BY THE SHOP.  Never use a charger not supplied by the e-bike distributor or a DC power supply to charge e-bike batteries.
  • Only charge batteries on the charging rack.  Never charge a battery pack inside the fire- resistant cabinet.
  • Charge e-bike battery packs just prior to the delivery of the new e-bike.
  • NEVER CHARGE A LITHIUM-ION BATTERY PACK UNATTENDED.  Lithium-ion batteries most often fail during charging.  There are noticeable indications from a pack as it starts to fail.  If there is an attendant present, actions can be immediately taken to deal with the pending failure.
  • When the battery charger indicates that a battery pack is fully charged, turn off and then disconnect the charger from the battery pack.  Return the battery pack to the cabinet until just prior to delivery.

IN CASE OF EMERGENCY:

  • If a battery starts smoking, making noise or showing signs of melting plastic:
    • If it can be done safely, using the heat protection gloves, disconnect the failing battery pack from the charger and place it in the water-filled trash can.  Otherwise, move the failing pack outside away from any flammable materials.
    • If the failing battery pack cannot be safely removed from the charging rack, disconnect the power strip from the electrical outlet and push the charging rack outside.
    • If it can be done safely, disconnect any other battery packs that are on the charging rack from their respective chargers, move them off the charging rack away from the failing pack, and return them to the fire-resistant cabinet.
  • Call 911 to summon the fire department.
  • Other than immersing the pack in water or moving it out of the shop to a safe place, do not try to extinguish the burning pack.  You will not be able to do so.  The recommended fire extinguisher is there to extinguish any secondary fires that may be ignited by the burning pack.
  • Evacuate the store and wait for further instructions from the fire department.

Issues and Discussion:

  • Concern:  In a large store with many e-bikes in inventory, it may be deemed impractical to remove every battery from every bike box and store them in the fire-proof cabinet.  Or there may be too many batteries in inventory to store in a single cabinet.
    • We understand.  It’s an inventory logistics problem.   While it’s highly unlikely, new lithium-ion batteries can fail spontaneously.  It’s always preferable to store all e-bike batteries in the fire-resistant cabinet.  If necessary, procure additional cabinets to store as many batteries as possible.
    • Mitigating factors are that batteries packed with new e-bikes in their shipping cartons are obviously not being charged and are in a partially discharged condition.  The likelihood of one failing under those conditions is low.  However, new batteries in a partially charged condition have failed in transit, so there’s no guaranty.
  • Concern:  What about e-bikes equipped with the battery housed in the down tube that is difficult and/or time consuming to remove?
    • Remember the Cardinal Rule:  NEVER charge batteries unattended.  Batteries usually fail while being charged.  Charge those e-bikes with an attendant present in an open area away from flammable materials in the shop.  If the pack sends signals that it’s failing, wheel the e-bike out of the store to a place away from flammable materials and call the fire department.
    • When storing e-bikes with integrated batteries while the shop is closed, position those e-bikes DISCONNECTED FROM THE CHARGER in an open area away from flammable materials.  This is when a networked smoke detector pays for itself.
  • Why the water filled trash cans?
    • E-bike lithium-ion battery packs are comprised of a quantity of small (approximately AA-battery size) cells, wired in a configuration to yield the voltage and capacity requirements of the e-bike they are design to power.  Depending on the voltage rating and capacity of the battery pack, there may be as many as 84 of these cells contained in the pack.
    • When an e-bike battery fails, it starts with a single cell.  The cell enters a condition called thermal runaway resulting in boiling of the cell’s liquid electrolyte which over-pressures the cell casing causing a relief valve to open.  When the relief valve opens, the hot gas that results from the boiling electrolyte vents at high pressure and velocity.
    • This gas is very flammable and invariably catches fire as it’s vented from the cell.  The cell in effect becomes a mini-blow torch.
    • The failing cell then causes adjacent cells to overheat, resulting in a chain reaction as one cell after another overheats and vents the flammable gas.
    • The net result is an extremely hot fire that generates significant quantities of toxic smoke.  The fire is virtually impossible to extinguish. 
    • The reason we recommend submersing a failing pack in a trash can filled with water is to attempt to interrupt fire propagation by cooling the remaining cells in the pack thus preventing further propagation.  A fire involving a few failed cells is significantly less dangerous than a fire involving 84 cells.
  • The water immersion strategy to interrupt fire propagation has been called into question as an effective e-bike battery fire mitigation strategy.  However, this method has been adopted by several European fire departments to control electric car battery fires.  The fire department positions a car-size container of water near a burning car, and then uses a forklift or crane to immerse the car in the water.  We are confident that this method will be effective in mitigating e-bike battery fires.  Nevertheless, Human Powered Solutions is working with a battery pack manufacturer and an accredited testing laboratory to validate this method.  We will advise the industry of our test results when available.
  • This issue will not be with our industry forever.  Solid state lithium-ion batteries are in development that will eliminate the potential for lithium-ion battery fires.  It is expected that solid state lithium-ion batteries will be commercially available for use in electric bikes in the next three to five years.  Solid state batteries offer the added benefit of higher energy density resulting in greater e-bike range and utility.
  • Additional methods to reduce the possibility of e-bike battery fires rest with each e-bike retailer.  Be proactive with your suppliers.  Only buy electric bicycles from vendors that have (a) sourced high quality battery packs from reputable pack suppliers, and (b) supply copies of certification documentation proving that the packs supplied with the bikes you sell have been tested and comply with requirements promulgated by safety and regulatory agencies such as Underwriters Laboratories, the United Nations and various European safety agencies.
  • Train your store personnel to familiarize them with these procedures.
  • Do not offer to service cheap e-bikes purchased from unscrupulous Internet distributors.  Substandard lithium-ion e-bike battery packs are much more likely to fail than those supplied by quality vendors.
  • Do not buy no-name battery packs to replace packs that have reached the end of their service life.  Given the high cost of replacement packs, it’s tempting to buy a cheaper pack to make your customer happy.  But there is a reason quality replacement packs are expensive. They are safer.  Procure replacement packs from the distributor that sold you the e-bike in the first place.
  • Follow the safety guidelines offered by the lithium-ion battery pack recycling firms that are opening.  Companies like Call2Recycle will offer guidance and materials to ensure that you safely store and transport used battery packs at the end of their useful service life to an accredited recycling facility.

In closing, please know that the chances of a lithium-ion battery fire in an e-bike shop are miniscule. But the consequences of a battery fire are so significant that the relatively simple steps outlined in this advisory are more than justified.

About us: Human Powered Solutions, LLC, (HPS) exists to support individuals and businesses in the bicycle industry wanting to participate in the micromobility revolution currently underway in the world. We strive to offer advice and counsel related to commercial opportunities, product development, sourcing, distribution, and retail activities in the micromobility space. Our skill set entails expertise and experience in both the commercial and the technology sides of these industries. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions regarding the recommendations outlined above.

Mike Fritz
Chief Technology Officer
mike@humanpoweredsolutions.com

Disclaimer:  You assume all responsibility and risk for the use of the safety resources available on or through these guidelines. Human Powered Solutions, LLC (HPS) does not assume any liability for the materials, information and opinions provided on, or available through these guidelines. No advice or information given by HPS shall create any warranty. Reliance on such advice, information or the content of these guidelines is solely at your own risk, including without limitation any safety guidelines, resources or precautions related to the development or installation of battery storage and charging stations, battery storage and battery charging protocols, or emergency procedures, or any other information related to safety that may be available on or through these guidelines. HPS disclaims any liability for injury, death or damages resulting from the use thereof.

WHAT IS THE DEFINITION OF A BICYCLE?
WHY DOES IT MATTER?

What is the definition of a bicycle? As it turns out, it depends on who you ask.

Defining a bicycle may look like a simple issue at first glance, but it is possible that differences between federal and state definitions could pose regulatory problems going forward, as well as create potential issues with insurance that covers bicycle businesses. Is a bicycle importer or retailer covered, for example, if they sell a product that doesn’t meet the federal definition of a bicycle? Could they potentially be subject to enforcement from the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) for selling Class 3 e-bikes that violate the 20 m.p.h. speed limitations of federal regulations? The answers are not clear at this point, but there would appear to be some potential risk here.

The definition of a bicycle has changed over the 65 years since I started working in a bike shop in 1957. I really got interested when the CPSC, created by act of Congress in 1972, announced that its National Injury Surveillance System (NISS) had identified bicycles as being associated with an unusually high frequency of emergency room visits in 1973.

Congress became concerned about protecting the public from hazardous products and introduced the Consumer Safety Act that created the Consumer Product Safety Commission with broad regulatory and legal powers. When CPSC went live in 1972, the agency announced that the first mandatory federal safety regulation it developed and promulgated would cover bicycles.

After innumerable public meetings, and several litigations, the CPSC promulgated Requirements for Bicycles that became effective January 1, 1975. From this date forward, bicycles must meet the mandatory requirements under the Federal Hazardous Substances Act (FHSA) regulation at 16 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 1512. The regulation has multiple performance requirements and specifications, and requires certain instructions and labeling.

I will be one of the first to agree that the CPSC Requirements for Bicycles are mostly out of date and need to be updated very badly. With that said, if you are making or importing a bicycle for sale to consumers in the U.S., it must meet the mandatory requirements of 16 CFR Part 1512.

This leads to my question. What is the definition of a bicycle? 16 CFR Part 1512.2 definitions states:

Bicycle means:

  1. A two-wheeled vehicle having a rear drive wheel that is solely human powered;
  2. A two or three-wheeled vehicle with fully operable pedals and an electric motor of less than 750 watts (1 h.p.), whose maximum speed on a paved level surface, when powered solely by such a motor while ridden by an operator who weighs 170 pounds, is less than 20 mph.

 Part 1512.2 goes on to also define Sidewalk bicycle, Track bicycle, One-of-a-kind bicycle, and Recumbent bicycle.

As was recently pointed out at the PeopleForBikes Bicycle Leadership Conference (BLC) in March, this definition is contained in the Consumer Product Safety Act, which governs the CPSC, and which Congress amended, and was signed into law in 2002 to (according to the legislative history) specifically confer jurisdiction for electric bicycles that can achieve a maximum speed less than 20 mph on the CPSC. There seems no doubt that this means CPSC has jurisdiction over bicycles, including electric bicycles, as defined in 16 CFR 1512.2 definitions, as stated above.

Further, there seems to be no doubt that the CPSC definition of bicycle includes what the U.S. bicycle business has defined as Class 1 and Class 2 electric bicycles.

This also means that what the bicycle business (and jurisdictions that have adopted the industry’s suggested three-tier definition) have defined as Class 3 electric bicycles do not meet the CPSC’s definition. This is due primarily to the higher (28 m.p.h.) top speed, and means that these vehicles are to be either regulated by another federal agency, such as NHTSA,  are subject to state regulation, or are unregulated.

There is a fork in this definitional road, with one fork for importers and makers who enter bicycles into interstate commerce for sale to retailers, and the other for retailers, or direct to consumer (DTC) sellers, who we will consider as retailers for purposes of this article.

The fork in the road for importers and makers of general-use bicycles and children’s bicycles (intended for children 12-years of age and under) involves third party testing by a laboratory approved by CPSC, and either a General Certification of Conformity (GCC) for bicycles as defined or a Children’s Product Certificate, (CPC) for bicycles intended for 12 years of age or younger, both according to CPSC guidelines.

If you are already working with a CPSC approved testing laboratory in Asia or the U.S., you already know about the process and procedure. If not, you should contact CPSC (www.cpsc.gov) and confirm your obligations to third party test and certify.

Most importers and makers already know if their GCC’s and/or CPC’s need to be submitted to or approved by CPSC, or by U.S. Customs. They also know that they must furnish copies to each distributor or retailer either as a hard copy or electronically.

The fork in the road for retailers is to make sure they are receiving GCC’s and or CPC’s from their bicycle suppliers, keeping in mind the CPSC definition of bicycle includes what is now referred to as Class 1 and Class 2 e-bikes (but not Class 3), and making sure they check with their insurance agent or broker to confirm coverage that embraces the CPSC definitions of bicycle, and the products they sell to consumers.

This is just the first of a series of articles on this and related subjects and please contact me if you have any question or feel Human Powered Solutions can be of any assistance to you or your business.

Contact Jay Townley: jay@humanpoweredsolutions.com