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E-Bike tax break in Build Back Better Act could push an already growing demand into an extra gear

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Posted at 6:00 AM, Dec 16, 2021

CLEVELAND — Another new year means big purchases and losing COVID weight are front of mind for many Americans right at the time when electric bicycles are becoming more popular than ever before.

They make it easier for cyclists to pedal by providing an electric boost to the pedaling that a rider already does. Some models allow rider to engage a throttle to push the bike along without human power.

The Ride

Antonin Robert’s move to the near West Side, much closer to his office on East 21st Street and Superior Avenue, made him part of two trends at once: the group of Clevelanders moving closer to Downtown Cleveland, and the growing number of cyclists using E-bikes to get around.

“You still get a workout, you still get the pleasure and experience of biking but you have the assist all the way,” said Robert.

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"If you're in Lakewood, you probably shave off some time in the car, no question," said Robert, comparing riding a bike into Downtown Cleveland to taking a car. "But again, how much are you missing that you would experience if you were on a bike."

The extra jolt he gets from his E-bike’s batter allows him to ride a few miles to work in formal clothing without breaking a sweat.

“The device itself allows you to go considerable extra mileage without really the concern of time or effort,” said Robert.

The Demand

Rave reviews from riders like Robert mean bike shop owners like Joy Machine Bike Shop’s Alex Nosse and Century Cycles’ Josh Ronschke have done their best to keep their E-bikes stocked.

“[E-bike companies] do a lot of marketing, friends buy them and they say, ‘Hey, you gotta try this,’ and once you try them, they’re pretty addicting,” said Nosse.

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Nosse shows off Joy Machine Bike Shop's collection of E-bikes, which are kept on the bottom level of the rack because they tend to be a bit heavier than traditional bicycles.

Nosse and Ronschke say earlier generations of E-bikes often were uncomfortable to ride with the electric assist pushing riders more than it helped them. More modern versions have addressed those problems making them a viable option for cyclists at all levels.

“In the most recent generation that we have now, they nailed it,” said Ronschke. “There is not one person who comes back after a test ride without a smile on their face.”

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Ronschke rides an E-bike through the National Park with News 5 this week.

Joy Machines sells E-bikes from their Hingetown store while Century Cycles sells E-bikes but also rents them out at their Penninsula location, right next to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park.

Ronschke says E-bikes were only recently allowed in the National Park when the National Park System updated its rules around the devices at the end of 2020.

The Tax Break

Entry-level E-bikes generally cost around $1,500-$2,000, making it slightly more expensive than the middle of the market for traditional bicycles.

President Biden’s Build Back Better Act could ultimately include a tax break for E-bikes that would help shave a few hundred dollars off the final price depending on a cyclist’s income, the bike they purchase, and negotiations to get to the legislation passed.

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"That tax credit, I don't think is going to hurt anything," said Ronschke. "I think it's going to help a lot."

That extra help could make it even harder to keep E-bikes in stock because it could bring the price tag down, competing with the price of a traditional bike.

“I think it just opens up the opportunity for folks that would not have considered it as a commuter option,” said Robert.

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Entry level E-bikes can start at about $1,500 and quickly go up from there. Models like this one, with extra compartments and attachments to carry cargo can often cost more.

Robert says he has friends and neighbors who cycle for pleasure and exercise on the weekend but haven’t considered using those same machines to get to work, but an easily-purchased E-bike might help change their minds.

“For us, the tax credit is an exciting proposition,” said Nosse. “Anything that makes bikes more affordable for people, in our view, is a good thing.”

The Infrastructure

Robert says he hopes more cyclists on the road, whether they’re on a traditional bike or an E-bike, spurs local leaders to improve bike infrastructure around Greater Cleveland.

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A bike lane on the bridge on Fulton Road is one of the few places in Cleveland where plastic bollards stand between cyclists and vehicles. This bridge has two lanes of traffic with protected lanes in both directions. It used to be four lanes of traffic.

He points out that the Midway Protected Bike Network proposed for Superior Avenue between Public Square and East 55th Street would help him get to work while also connecting much of the east side to the heart of Downtown Cleveland.

A different project proposal along Lorain Avenue could eventually put a protected cycle track on at least part of that busy west side roadway giving cyclists another route through Ohio City.

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Advocates say a cycle track on at least some of Lorain Avenue is their top choice.

News 5 rode along with two cyclists on both sides of Cleveland to see what it’s like to mostly rely on a bicycle to complete their daily tasks, and find out what happens when cycling injuries keep riders off two wheels.

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