SANTA FE – Pedro Murga of the Mellow Velo bike shop in Santa Fe effortlessly rode an electric bike up a downtown hill here recently as light snow started to fall.
The Spanish-made Orbea Rise bike he pedaled to propel it with electric power is close to the top of the line and sells for about $8,800, but other e-bike models can start as low as $1,500.
Mellow Velo owner David Bell said he has sold all 47 Orbea e-bikes he ordered this year and he and other area e-bike dealers are waiting to see if proposed legislation giving new buyers tax credits will pass and affect sales.
Tony Farrar, owner of Bike N Sport, has been selling e-bikes from his Santa Fe store for seven or eight years and has seen interest in the bikes increase.
“Oh yes, incredibly. It makes sense though because you can extend the amount of fun that you have,” said Farrar.
“You can go out and ride for four or five hours if you want to and explore out in the hills … it’s really cool, it just kind of extends your ability to go out in nature and have fun,” he said.
Bell has owned Santa Fe’s Mellow Velo bike shop for 16 years and has seen the perception of the motorized vehicles change since he started selling them about four years ago.
“In the early days the conventional conversation was, ‘I don’t want one of those, it’s like cheating, it’s not really exercise,’” Bell said.
“Little by little as the general public has gotten educated and when people discuss this technology over dinner it’s coming to (think) the e-bikes actually do offer a fantastic amount of exercise,” said Bell.
The powered bikes have gone beyond being machines for the fitness-minded and moved into mainstream use, the bike shop owners believe.
“People are using them for commuting, grocery shopping … they are using them for all different reasons,” said Farrar.
Tax credits in motion
Tax credits for buyers of e-bikes are in the works through two legislative possibilities. The Electric Bicycle Incentive Kickstart for the Environment Act is co-sponsored by Rep. Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif., and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and credits are part of President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” bill.
Blumenauer helped found the Bike Caucus in 1996, a bipartisan group of over 130 members from 39 states and Washington, D.C., which “has helped move legislation like the Bike to Work Act, which created a tax benefit for bike commuters,” the Bike Caucus website said. Panetta is a member.
The E-bike Act was introduced in February and called for a 30% tax credit of up to $900 of a bike purchase prior to 2026. That bill is still active, but reduced credits of 15% of $750 per bike would be applied over 10 years instead of four are now included in the roughly $2.2 trillion “Build Back Better” legislation, which passed the House in November and awaits Senate approval.
Income eligibility caps of $75,000 per person or $150,000 for a married couple are part of the BBB legislation, Panetta said, in a recent phone interview.
“We were able to counter some of the attacks from our friends across the aisle,” said Panetta, “saying they are toys for the rich. No, this is not for the rich, this is basically to make sure that everyone has access to e-bikes by putting that cap on income.”
Negotiations are ongoing in the Senate and Panetta said he is “not hearing too many members speak negatively of (the tax credit) aspect.”
The bike shop owners are uncertain on the tax credit proposals.
“I’m not sure how that’s actually going to affect us … I just don’t even know yet,” said Farrar.
Bell was familiar with the credit initiatives and compared them to those for electric cars.
“Anyone will take any tax credit they can get, but I don’t think it’s the reason someone will make the decision to come and buy one,” Bell said.
Panetta said he would have preferred to see the 30% credit for bikes costing up to $8,000 remain but acknowledged the need for compromise. “Seeing that we do have this vehicle, the BBB for the E-bike Act to get into, albeit pared down, it’s still a good start,” he said.
“Getting more butts on bikes” will reduce the carbon output, said Panetta. “I think (legislators) are starting to realize … that e-bikes are pretty popular these days and it not only makes it convenient to ride a bike it kind of changes the attitudes of sort of looking at bikes not just as recreation but now as actual transportation.”
Both transportation and fun
Farrar’s shop carries four brands in four categories: road bikes, gravel, hybrid and mountain. This year he sold “probably around 100.”
Some lower-priced bikes have a hand-operated throttle and some don’t consider those true e-bikes but more of a scooter.
“Pretty much most of them, they don’t have a throttle so you have to pedal,” said Farrar.
The pedal assist bikes have three to five different levels of assist that are selected via a handlebar switch. “If you put them in the maximum assist you don’t have to pedal very hard. And it’s really going to kick in and feel like you have a whole team marching behind you pushing you up a hill,” Farrar said.
The selectiveness of the pedal assist “allows riders of dissimilar ability to ride together,” said Bell.
E-bikes have rechargeable batteries that are plugged into a wall socket and the bikes have a display indicating when recharge is needed.
Becoming another household transportation option for the commuter or grocery shopper are reasons Bell hears from e-bike buyers for their choice, but those seem to be overridden by something else.
“The most compelling, definitive reason is it’s fun,” said Bell.
“While you are getting the same amount of exercise you are going farther faster and so the pleasure principle goes way up,” he said. While a 30-mile ride might take about two hours on a conventional bike, an e-bike could cut that to one hour, 25 minutes, according to Bell.
“There is some psychology, when you feel the wind in your face – going faster it’s more fun.”
Rep. Panetta doesn’t own an e-bike and is waiting for the legislation to pass. “I’m going to celebrate by buying an e-bike,” he said.