The US Needs to Do Better for Bikes

If you’ve read any of my electric bike reviews here on WIRED (which are almost universally raves) then it will not surprise you to learn that my life changed for the better, seven months ago, when I bought my own electric cargo bike.

My kids go to school a half-mile from our house in Portland, Oregon. Even in the foulest weather, I speed over at pickup time on my Tern GSD, roll past cars slowly looking for parking, grab my kids at the door, and am back home in 10 minutes. The convenience and exercise have helped me maintain my sanity in a time when not much else seemed to be working for me.

I am not alone. Industry experts estimate that in 2020, around a half-million Americans also bought ebikes, outpacing the sales of electric cars at a rate of two to one. At this year’s CES, exhibitors like Totem and Giant showed off brand new bikes, while others like Bosch, Tern, and Carla Cargo showed off new ebike innovations like integrated software and heavy-duty electric trailers small businesses can use to make deliveries.

That makes it only more frustrating that the Build Back Better Act—which was recently passed by the US House of Representatives and is currently awaiting action in the US Senate—puts such weirdly specific restrictions on tax credits for electric bikes. If you want to get a tax credit for your electric bike, you can claim a 30 percent credit over five years for up to $3,000 on a new bike, which is a total credit of $900. This tax credit only applies to bikes that cost $4,000 or less. Of course, many ebikes—especially those built for carrying children and groceries—are far more expensive than that. It also renders ineligible anyone with a modified gross income greater than $75,000, or $150,000 for couples filing jointly.

These stipulations are in stark contrast to the huge rebates for electric cars, which offer a straightforward $7,500 tax credit for a plug-in car, as well as up to $500 if the vehicle’s battery is made in the United States and an additional $4,500 credit if the vehicle is made with union labor. These rebates apply to vans and sport utility vehicles up to $80,000. Sedans that cost up to $55,000 are eligible.

It’s great that the bill has gotten this far. Still, a $900 tax credit for an ebike is a pittance compared to thousands of dollars you get from the government for buying an electric car. As a cyclist, this feels frustrating and short-sighted. In order to fix the climate crisis, we must confront our car addiction rather than feed it. We have to give ebikes, and the bike industry as a whole, the same wholehearted support that we give to cars.

Safe Passage

Under the provisions of the proposed legislation, my own electric bike would not qualify for a tax rebate. My Tern GSD S00 retails for $6,499. I got lucky and was able to find a used demo bike for cheaper, but the price was still above the bill’s $4,000 eligibility cut off.

However, I was willing to pay that much for a bike that meets my specific needs and helps secure my children’s safety. As a small woman, I find it essential to have a small bike that I can lift and maneuver easily. Tern’s bikes are compact enough for me to manage. Also, Tern’s ebikes are powered by Bosch motors, and Bosch’s systems are among the few electric bike drivetrains that are UL-certified for safety and fire hazards. Additionally, Tern’s bikes are EFBE-tested for stress and fatigue. Most ebikes under the $4,000 mark don’t have these safety certifications, but to me, they are essential. They ensure that my pedals won’t break or fall off when I’m going 20 mph, and that my bike won’t arc on me or start a fire in my garage.

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