Fall in cycle claims sparks chain reaction from insurers

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The market for stolen mountain bikes ain't what it used to be, perhaps because of a switch to roller-blading as a more fashionable way to get about. This is one reason suggested for cheaper insurance policies now being offered to cyclists.

Good weather brings out cyclists, it also brings out bicycle thieves. It is said that one in three bikes are bought to replace stolen cycles, and high levels of theft have meant some pricey insurance premiums in recent years and suggestions that the best-value insurance is in fact a decent lock.

But theft claims appear to have peaked, say some insurers, and this is now feeding through into more affordable bike policies, even for relatively low-value bikes costing, say, pounds 200.

The cheapest insurance option is still normally to get an all-risks extension to home contents policies. Contrary to what might be thought, bikes are not generally covered outside your home without this add-on. The extension might cost as little as pounds 5 per pounds 100 of bike, so a pounds 200 bike would cost less than pounds 1 a month to insure rising to perhaps pounds 8 to pounds 10 a year per pounds 100 of bike in higher-risk areas like London. But not all home insurances will cover bikes, and if you make a claim you risk losing any no-claims bonus on the main policy, which could be worth as much as pounds 50 in some cases.

A number of specialist policies are now available that do not necessarily cost a great deal more for what in many cases are better terms, and which do not put at risk a no-claims bonus on a home policy.

The three main cycling lobby groups are all offering policies that are significantly cheaper than previously for many cyclists. The Cyclists' Touring Club now charges pounds 26 a year for someone with a pounds 200 mountain bike in London, compared with pounds 41 last year. Someone outside London would pay pounds 21. The CTC says falling claims for mountain bikes over the past two years have meant that it no longer needs to charge an additional premium for these bikes, and it has also reduced the additional costs for high- value cycles.

The London Cycling Campaign, an affiliated group that represents cyclists' interests in the capital, would charge pounds 26 for the same bike, while the British Cycling Federation now charges 7 per cent of the value of a bike with a minimum of pounds 24.50. That means anyone with a bike worth up to pounds 350 would be charged pounds 24.50, compared with pounds 40-plus for a bike of the same value last year.

All three policies also carry lower excesses than those on many home policies. With both the CTC and LCC you pay the first 10 per cent of any theft claim, with the BCF the excess is pounds 25. Norwich Union and Royal & Sun Alliance, two of the biggest home insurers, have excesses of pounds 50. Furthermore all three specialist policies offer what is in effect new- for-old cover, while many home insurers will make deductions for depreciation.

The catch with the policies sold by the lobby groups is that in each case you have to become a member to buy the insurance, - another pounds 10 or more a year for

the LCC, pounds 21 for the BCF and pounds 25 for the CTC. Membership does, however, bring other benefits. These include free third-party liability insurance if you damage cars or hit pedestrians, discounts in bike shops, and in some cases free legal support to pursue claims against motorists and local councils responsible for pot holes and other road hazards. The CTC says it is involved in 300 to 400 of these civil claims a year.

Whichever policy cyclists choose they should look out for a number of common restrictions and exclusions. These include requirements to lock bikes to immovable objects, not being covered where a bike is left outside overnight, and restricted cover for accessories. Policies normally offer cover for damage to bikes as well as theft, but big excesses will mean in practice that many claims for damage will not be covered.

The relative value of deals can also vary significantly if you have more than more one bike to insure. Many insurers will give discounts for bikes of other family members and at best you will only have to pay one premium based on the value of the most expensive bike.

Insurers have also looked at giving guidance on the type of lock used, or even offering cover dependent on using two locks to secure both wheels, but most policies do not yet specify this.

Contacts: CTC, 01483 417217; LCC, 0171 928 7220; BCF, 0500 525676.

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