The Faux 2021 Bicycle-Tax Plan
Red tape is the new bar tape
Outside's long reads email newsletter features our strongest writing, most ambitious reporting, and award-winning storytelling about the outdoors. Sign up today.
The Biden administration’s infrastructure bill, currently being haggled over in Washington, has its share of proponents and detractors on both sides of the aisle. However, one of its most striking components is a complex system of tax credits and incentives for Americans who travel by bicycle. Heard of the Electric Bicycle Incentive Kickstart for the Environment (E-Bike) Bill? Of course you have! This goes way beyond that. Alas, understanding the implications of the new bicycle-tax policy requires an intimate understanding of cycling culture, which is why you won’t find an analysis in mainstream financial-media outlets such as The Wall Street Journal and MSNBC—to be fair, you also won’t find it there because what you’re currently reading is satire and completely made up.
Conversely, while we outdoorsy types know bikes, we aren’t so great with money, so what follows is a bicycle-tax-policy primer—though should the bill pass the House, you’d be well-advised to consult your tax preparer and/or local bike shop before filing your next return.
Electric vehicles are generally more expensive than their fossil-fuel-burning counterparts, and the federal government has allowed consumers to take advantage of EV tax credits designed to make these cleaner vehicles more attainable. Meanwhile, cycling advocates have long argued that tax credits should also be available for e-bikes, which can easily exceed the price of a used Hyundai. This is important, since Americans tend to balk at any form of transportation that costs as much as a car, unless it’s a boat or a Harley-Davidson.
However, while some e-bikes do serve as automobile alternatives, others are purely recreational in nature and not likely to replace car trips in a meaningful way, and so the new e-bike tax credit would apply thusly:
E-assist commuter bikes: Up to $500
E-assist cargo bikes: Up to $750
Those cheap electric fat bikes on Amazon: Up to $50, or $75 with a 30-day free trial of Amazon Prime
That’s not fair! you may be thinking. My regular bike also replaces car trips, plus it doesn’t require all that lithium mining. So where’s my tax credit? Well, good news, retro grouches! You, too, could qualify for a tax credit, though you’d have to complete the following worksheet to find out for sure.
- Enter total number of qualifying bicycles:
- Enter number of bicycles with a handlebar drop greater than zero:
- Enter number of bicycles with full fenders:
- Enter number of bicycles with racks, panniers, bags, or baskets:
- Enter number of bicycles with mismatched tires, wheels, or group sets:
- Add lines 3, 4, and 5.
- Subtract line 2 from line 6.
- Subtract line 7 from line 1.
Is the amount on line eight greater than the amount on line one?
Yes: Congratulations! Multiply line eight by $500 to find the amount of your tax credit.
No: Stop! You cannot take the credit, as you may be a roadie, mountain biker, triathlete, or other form of self-indulgent weenie.
Note: Bicycles with carbon-fiber frames, front and rear suspension, or wheels with fewer than 32 spokes do not qualify for the credit and should not be listed on line one. If you ride a tall bike, recumbent bike, unicycle, or penny-farthing, please see IRS Publication 665: Tax Credit for Uncommon Velocipedes, and complete Form 1080-BENT.
Whether electrically assisted or fully dependent on human power, cargo bikes can be transformative in their sheer ability to transport everything from children to Tesla-trunk-size loads of organic groceries. And yet in today’s consumer culture, even the most virtuous bicycle can become a status symbol. Is the self-satisfied urban denizen using a $9,000 Riesse and Muller to carry a single bunch of sustainably harvested beets really all that different from the suburbanite in the pristine limited-edition crew cab that’s never transported more than a SuperSonic breakfast-burrito combo and a bag of golf clubs? Sure, they may vote differently, but whether they’re all helmet and no cargo or all hat and no cattle, the underlying “Look at me, I’m better than you” ethos is fundamentally the same.
In order to promote utility over smugness, and in addition to the aforementioned e-cargo bike-tax credit, the IRS would allow all cargo-bike owners a $1,000 deduction based not on retail price alone but rather on the rider’s overall smugness quotient (SQ). To arrive at your SQ, simply divide the price of the bicycle by the weight of the cargo (or P/W=SQ). Using this formula, the hypothetical beet hauler above ($9,000 bike, one pound of cargo) would have a SQ of 9,000 (extremely smug), whereas someone carrying a five-year-old child and a bag of groceries on a Mongoose Envoy ($900 bike, 60 pounds of cargo) would yield a SQ of only 15 (negligibly smug). Cargo-bike riders with a SQ of 1 (smugness stasis) would be entitled to the full deduction, with the amount diminishing thereafter on a sliding scale and phasing out entirely once a rider returns an SQ of 10,000 (irredeemably smug).
In order to claim the credit, cargo-bike riders must perform quarterly weigh-ins at their nearest DOT weigh station and append full documentation to their return.
Here are the proposed optional standard mileage rates used to calculate the deductible costs of operating a bicycle for business, charitable, medical, or moving purposes.
- Miles ridden to work: $0.25 per mile
- Miles ridden for work: $0.50 per mile
- Miles ridden to raise funds for charitable organization: $0.20 per mile
- Miles ridden purely for the furtherance of physical and/or mental health and well-being: $0.10 per mile
- Moving by bike because you just graduated college and still have that kind of time: $0.05 per mile
Note: If you drove your bike to a ride, you must subtract ten bicycle miles for each mile driven, and if the bike you rode has a “One Less Car” sticker on it, you are not eligible for the deduction. You also cannot claim the moving-by-bike mileage deduction if you are already claiming the smugness-quotient deduction or if your parents are still claiming you as a dependent, which, if you’re moving by bike, they almost certainly are.
So there you have it—unless the next administration turns out to be comprised of singlespeed enthusiasts, in which case you can expect them to push for a flat tax.
*Legal disclaimer: this is satire. The author asserts here that Fabian Cancellara did not cheat with a motor, and that there is no evidence whatsoever that he did, apart from his suspicious hand movements and preternatural speed, which are purely circumstantial.