Urban Velo

Welcome Back Scott Spitz

IMG_3693 We’re happy to welcome Scott Spitz back into the fold after having to step back for a few months due to life and health. It’s great to have him back on the daily blogroll.

Scott: For those who noticed my absence from contributing blog content, this was due to the stresses of managing the cancer diagnosis I was given approximately one year ago. Although my cancer diagnosis remains, I have now reached a point of emotional and physical stability, allowing me to get back to doing the things I greatly enjoy, such as blogging here! Amidst my fluctuating struggles, I did manage to keep the wheels spinning, whether that was in the basement on my trainer or taking periodic commutes around town. I’m desperately looking forward to the end of this winter, as I’m sure you are too, so I can get back to much longer rides and put some more wear and tear on my gear. in the meantime, I look forward to, again, seeking out all the goods related to urban riding and sharing them with you. Forever tailwinds.

Getting Rad at Shopbike Shootout

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When there is a party in the back alley of One on One Bicycle Studio, it is not to be missed. Over the years 115 N Washington St has become the hub of Minneapolis bike culture and beyond. I first met Gene and his right hand man Hurl as a teenager, and it was an eye opening experience that I look back on as one part of making it all click together for me. An early 2007 visit to One on One is truly what set the wheels in motion to making Urban Velo happen — we owe much of our inspiration to interactions with Gene Oberpriller over the years.

Last weekend was the the first Shopbike Shootout held in the alley behind One on One and Handsome Cycles. Put on by the big brains at Chrome, it was a cold weather party and short track race on the icy pavement. Think barrel fires, sidehack BMX bikes and brakeless freewheel bikes. Rip it over the snow bank and around the short course, winner takes all. The party ran late, the riding was treacherous, and Gene pulled off a wallride as his 53rd birthday approached. Good times as always in the alleyway, with images all that remain.

Week in Biking : Track Bikes, Tax Benefits and Hot Dropouts

We’re not talking about college dropouts, here; this is about that special place where your rear wheel gets to connect with your frame. While there really isn’t much left to reinvent on the bicycle, dropout systems that add ease and versatility are a welcome development, including these new designs:

  • The new All-City Nature Boy Disc dropout, which features a sliding caliper design that with an integrated chain tensioner for perfect caliper to rotor alignment every time.
  • And Surly wants to help you achieve your dream on One Bike to Rule Them All with its new Modular Dropout System.

Now while versatility is cool, some would argue that nothing beats the pure pleasure of riding track bikes–as the market would attest.

  • Among the latest are the Keirin and Keirin Pro frames from Pure Fix. With stainless steel inserts in the drops (drops on drops on drops), and optional integrated headset and seatclamp, these frames pack a lot of potential for a small chunk of change–$199 and $299, respectively. 
  • Something sexy is underway from Stanridge Cycles: A collaboration with artist Ben EINE for the 2014 Red Hook Crit. Get a sneak peak here.

Whatever kind of bike(s) you ride, if you’re riding to work, you could be cashing in on the bicycle commuter reimbursement. Find out more about how you can put pre-tax cash  in your pocket for commuting by bike.

“Riding in Mumbai is a mess.” Find out why Nikhil Miranda loves riding in the city.

Top 10 Steepest Streets in the US

top-10-US-steepest-streets-1Via www.fixr.com

Taking Advantage of the Bike Commuter Benefit

The bicycle commuting reimbursement was added to the tax code five years ago, in 2009, yet its application has been limited. The tax benefit allows for bike commuters to collect a $20 pre-tax payment from their employers, which can be used toward qualified expenses. According to the IRS, “reasonable expenses” include the purchase of a bike, repairs, improvements and storage; clothing is excluded, and “These are considered reasonable expenses as long as the bicycle is regularly used for travel between the employee’s residence and place of employment.”

A company must choose to offer this benefit to their employees just like any other transportation benefit. Employers benefit by getting a tax deduction for the reimbursement and save in employee pay by providing the same value with less money than through normal wages. As pre-tax dollars, the money can go further in paying for commuting costs than $20 out of a paycheck.

“Let’s say your employer gave you $60 extra a month on your salary–a big chunk of that for most people would go to pay taxes, but because it’s an added benefit it’s not included as part of your salary,” says Torre St. Saviour, marketing manager at Commuter Check, a commuter benefit service for businesses. “This way they’re actually able to get the money directly to you without having to change your tax bracket or how much you pay in taxes.”

Small businesses and companies with few cyclists on their payroll may be reluctant to do the work required–processing receipts and deductions to employee paychecks–but there a number of ways to simplify its implementation. The benefit may be administered by a benefit administrator (such as Commuter Check), a third party payroll agency, or in-house. Commuter Check issues vouchers to employees, which are redeemable at partner bike shops.

“We partner with hundreds of bike shops throughout the U.S. to accept these vouchers as payment for bike maintenance or bike parts,” says St. Saviour. By offering vouchers, employers can provide their employees with the benefit without having to collect receipts under IRS requirements. The voucher includes security features similar to a check and can only be redeemed for specific expenses, eliminating the need to submit receipts as proof.

“If you go to a shop and they don’t accept the voucher you can give us a call and we will work with the bike shop to make them a partner. Usually if a shop is not a partner yet is because there hasn’t been a need in that area.”

The benefit can be distributed to employees at any time. Although the benefit allows for up to $20 per month, it can also be taken on an annual basis, allowing for a simpler process involving less paperwork and time. Meredith Corporation offers cash reimbursement on an annual basis to employees who submit a claim in the form of receipts for qualified purchases made in months during which they commuted by bike at least 10 times.

“At Chatham interested faculty and staff fill out a form and turn in receipts,” says Michael Boyd. Boyd, who is an assistant professor of music at Chatham University, has taken advantage of the tax credit since 2010. “The original idea was to do reimbursements quarterly, though I seem to get a check within a week or two of turning in receipts. The check is comparable to any other reimbursement type of payment.”

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For businesses that wish to provide the benefit monthly, the League of American Bicyclists provides a set of 12 tax reimbursement cards, to which receipts for qualified expenses can be attached and submitted.

A few limitations to the benefit have hindered its use, but when applied it provides pre-tax dollars that can go directly towards bike parts and maintenance. A significant drawback to the bike commuter benefit is the fact that it cannot be offered in addition to any of the other transportation benefits. In 2014 the transit and vanpool credits max out at $130 per month (reduced from $245 in 2013), while the parking credit tops out at $250 a month. Unlike the parking, carpooling and transit benefits, the bicycle commuter benefit cannot be excluded from wages.

“When they pay as a subsidy or the employees take deductions out of their paycheck, the employer is actually reporting to the government a lower salary to you, so they actually pay a smaller amount in payroll taxes,” says St. Saviour.

Independent contractors are not eligible for the credit, and it applies to the use of non-motorized bikes only. More information on the bicycle commuter and other transportation benefits is available from the IRS.

More resources:

Setting up a pre-tax commute benefits program

National Center for Transit Research

Alamo City Alleycat

tumblr_mz5c9izzmd1sez031o1_500 It turns out that the Alamo in fact has a basement, and alleycats too. Next one up is March 2nd at Crockett Park in San Antonio TX, with more info available at bikebexar.tumblr.com

Budnitz Bicycle Disassembled

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Budnitz Bicycles makes titanium and steel city bikes that eschew flashy logos and NASCAR graphic treatments for a more refined and clean look. I love the curved lines of their bikes, and will admit I’m a total sucker for images like that shown of bikes broken down to their individual parts all laid out to see, even if it appears to be a collage of multiple images.

Protected Bike Lanes Mean Business

PBL_report_coverFrom the Alliance for Biking & Walking:

In a new report from PeopleForBikes and the Alliance for Biking & Walking, 15 entrepreneurs and business leaders from major U.S. cities explain how protected bike lanes — on-street lanes that are physically separated from automobile traffic by curbs, planters, parked cars or posts — has meant big benefits for their companies.

The report combines this original reporting with an overview of the latest academic and technical research to find changes associated with four mega-trends.

Check it out.

1890′s Schwinn Factory Photos

Schwinn 1890's PhotosTake a step back in time with these photos from the Schwinn factory back in 1890. Via Cycle Smithy.

Week in Biking: Hockey, Giraffes and Why Your Bike Mechanic Eats at the Soup Kitchen

What do bikes and giraffes have to do with each other? OK, maybe nothing–except for this music video from And the Giraffe. The Nashville band shot the video with a couple hundred bucks and a handlebar-mounted camera pointed at the rider instead of the road.

While bikes and music are joining forces in the music capital of the country, bikes are making an appearance at the Olympics, where the Finnish Olympic hockey team is riding bikes provided by the Finnish Olympic Committee to get to their matches in Sochi.

Ever wonder why bike mechanics tend to be so svelte? It might not be from putting in miles. Donny Perry’s informative slideshow on bike mechanic saleries inspires us to consider the value of our trusty shop mechanic, who earns on $18,000 less than the national average income.

It’s Valentine’s Day, so make sure you tell your bike how much you love it.

City Reports