David Prosser takes a hard look at how cyclists can deter thieves - or at least be properly insured

If the sudden outbreak of warm weather has persuaded you to dig out your bike from the back of the garage - or even to invest in a new machine - have you thought about security? Incidents of bike theft have increased by almost 10 per cent a year over the past five years, with 131,000 cases of stolen bikes reported to the police last year alone.

There are two ways to protect yourself against the bike thieves. Defence one is to take all practical security precautions within your budget. Then, as a back-up - determined thieves are almost impossible to deter - make sure your bike is properly insured.

The cost of decent security can add up, although cutting corners can be a false economy because most insurers only cover bikes that have been properly secured - insurers say around 14 per cent of claims a year fail for this reason.

Vicky Emmott, of Halifax General Insurance, says: "Given the amount of warnings and the relatively low cost of purchasing a good lock it is surprising that so many people still leave their bicycle unsecured."

The minimum standard should be a hardened steel U-type lock - cable locks are too easily cut - or the motorbike-style chains offered by specialists such as Kryptonite. The former start at around £35 to £40.

When you're locking up your bike, make sure that it is attached to an immoveable object and that any removeable parts of your bike, such as wheels, are within the lock. If necessary, invest in a lock extender so you can secure both front and back wheels.

Remember to lock your bike at home when it's not in use. Halifax says 52 per cent of all bike thefts take place directly outside the home - for example, from a garage or a shed - so absolutely never leave your machine unsecured.

In sheds and garages, it can often be difficult to find something to which a bike can be secured. Companies such as Abus and Kryptonite sell floor or wall-mounted anchor locks, to which you can chain bikes, for around £40 to £60. As an extra precaution, keep the door to the building where you store your bike locked at all times.

Outside of the home, be even more vigilant. Make use of special bicycle parking racks whereever possible and look for a rack that is in a well-lit or well-travelled area.

If your bike is stolen, the police will have more chance of reuniting you with it if you can give the best possible description. Make a note of the make, model and frame number - your bike shop will help you to locate this - and keep details of any extras you may have added over time. This might include a wide range of equipment - mudguards, high-performance tyres and even water bottles.

Police forces also recommend using an ultraviolet pen to mark your postcode on the frame. And even better than a description, take a photo that you can give to the police in the event of a theft.

When it comes to insuring your bike, you have two choices - cover from your home contents policy, or taking out specialist insurance.

Some home-insurance policies automatically cover bikes, while others will let you add your bike for an additional premium of £20 or so.

However, read the small print carefully. For example, is your bike covered whether it is stolen from your home or somewhere else? Are there any limits on the amount you can claim? Will you be covered for the cost of additional equipment you have installed on the bike?

Many insurers routinely limit bike claims to £500, unless you have specifically insured for a higher amount. If your bike is stolen from your home, you may be able to claim under the general contents cover. Elsewhere the limit on claims is likely to be applied more rigidly.

Specialist bike insurance policies cost from around £50 a year and may be particularly suitable for those with more expensive machines. You will certainly need specialist cover, for example, if you intend to do any racing or competitive cycling of another type.

It's worth checking out the policies from cycling organisations such as the CTC, as well as the insurance on offer at specialist bike shops. Evans, for example, now sells cover directly from its stores.

Price comparison service Insuresupermarket.com has done some research into the top specialist insurers for bikes worth more than £500. Cycleguard, for example, charges £52 for a year's cover. E&L Insurance charges £55 a year.

Insurance doesn't only protect you from thieves. According to government figures, some 35,000 cyclists were involved in accidents during 2005, causing damage to their own bikes and often to other people or their property. If you're unlucky enough to suffer this way, you need to make sure you are properly protected.

Insuresupermarket's Richard Mason says personal liability insurance is crucial for cyclists, in case they face potentially expensive legal action. If you cause a crash, for example, drivers may pursue you for thousands of pounds' worth of damage to their cars - and the bill could be far higher if someone is seriously hurt.

"For car drivers, personal liability insurance is a legal requirement but for cyclists it's up to the individual," Mason warns. If you don't have this sort of cover through a home contents policy or via specialist bike insurance - and read the terms of your cover carefully because you may have to pay extra for this protection - consider other options.

Mason adds: "Some cycling clubs will provide this cover as part of their membership, such as the London Cycling Campaign, but others will charge a small premium."

Also consider policies that offer personal accident cover - this will cover you for your own injuries, rather than damage to other people.

This could prove useful even if you are involved in an accident that is not your fault - claiming expenses from an uninsured driver, for example, can be very difficult.

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