Saddle up for a healthier you and a greener world: Andrew Bibby on the many benefits to the community of biking to work

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The Independent Online
THE organisers of National Bike Week, the Cyclists' Touring Club, were jubilant that a Bike to Work Day promotion last Wednesday coincided with the first rail strike.

Colin Graham, of the CTC, says bicycles should be used more for work: 'It would cut congestion, improve public health and benefit employers, too.'

Colin Harris, an insurance broker who runs his own business from Baildon near Bradford, agrees, claiming to be the first person in Britain to have obtained tax relief on a mountain bike.

'I owned a three-litre car, and thought then that this was what insurance brokers ought to have.'

But after becoming active in the Green Party he changed his mind and he now uses his bike, backed up by public transport, to reach clients or attend business meetings. 'I have to tuck the suit in, and hope that the weather is all right,' he says.

Mr Harris contacted his local tax office, which eventually agreed that the bicycle could count as capital equipment for his firm, with the usual annual 25 per cent depreciation allowance available. Running expenses also go through the business accounts, though the sums are small.

Mr Harris has the advantage of being his own boss. Employees provided with bikes by their firms may find they have acquired a taxable perk if they use them for anything other than business.

'We treat bikes in the same way as, say, computers that staff are allowed to use at home,' said an Inland Revenue spokeswoman. 'We take 20 per cent of the market value when first purchased, then apportion this between business and private use. Suppose a bike cost pounds 1,000 and had 10 per cent private use, this would mean pounds 20 was added to the person's salary and taxed at their marginal rate.'

Private use may be higher than many people imagine if bicycles are used for commuting to work. 'Something which confuses people is that you can't claim tax relief for journeys to and from work,' says Mr Graham.

More and more employers are arranging to pay mileage allowances to staff who use their own bikes on work business. One pioneering local authority, the Lib- Dem-controlled London borough of Sutton, has agreed to pay the full car mileage rates to its essential and casual car users who venture out instead on bikes. For an authorised casual-use employee with a typical small car, this amounts to 42.1p a mile.

'This is a bit of an encouragement to people to use bicycles. We also offer loans for people to buy bikes in the same way as we offer car loans,' says Bob Read, corporate services officer for Sutton. The authority admits, however, that take-up has been less than dramatic. 'It is obviously more popular in the summer months than in winter,' Mr Read says.

Sutton's employees who do claim their bike mileage allowances will find the money is subject to normal PAYE. What constitutes a fair mileage rate for tax purposes is subject to local interpretation. 'There are no nationally set rates similar to motor car rates,' says the Revenue. 'This is left to the discretion of local tax offices in individual cases.' Tax inspectors may be influenced by the fact that the civil service bicycle rate is 6p a mile.

However, the CTC has worked out its own assessment of the running costs of using a bike, taking into account insurance, maintenance, tool costs and replacement parts and even wear and tear on clothing. Not surprisingly perhaps, the CTC has come up with a rather higher figure than the civil service - 14.9p a mile.

'We are pressing the Inland Revenue for this to be the centrally agreed rate,' says Mr Graham.

A cost cyclists may want to add in to the calculation is the bike roadside rescue service operated by the Environmental Transport Association. The ETA includes breakdown cover automatically when arranging bicycle insurance but also offers it separately (at pounds 20 a year plus ETA membership, usually a further pounds 20).

Richard Evans, of ETA, says the service is used. 'Someone broke down in Essex when a bolt from the pannier rack came loose. The breakdown van probably won't carry spare cycle parts, but it will take you to the nearest cycle shop or station.'

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