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Hell's angels in suits

A change in the image of motorcylists thanks to older riders buying bikes has helped to bring down the price of premiums, writes Nic Cicutti
Suddenly, everyone likes two-wheelers. No longer are they to be feared and disliked, or spoken of in the faintly patronising tone car drivers and those influenced by them often use when discussing someone with some weird mental aberration.

Now, motorbikes and their smaller siblings - scooters - are all the rage. And along with this gradual change in attitude, insurers are suddenly falling over themselves to offer special deals to this segment of the market.

It's hardly surprising insurers should feel this way. Sales of motorbikes and scooters rocketed by more than 25 per cent to almost 60,000 in 1996 and are set to do even better this year. One dealer who has found himself in clover is Kevin Braithwaite, owner of Two Wheeled Engineering, in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire."The last few months have been hectic," he says, "although things appear to have slowed down a bit after the summer. But we are still doing a lot of business in spare parts."

One feature of today's motorbike and scooter scene is the reappearance of an older generation of thirty- and fortysomethings. For insurers, this is the market to tap. Older riders are considered less likely to have accidents, are more likely to be weekend riders than commuters, and more prepared to invest in proper safety measures to protect their investment. Suddenly, after years of high premiums, bike riders are beginning to benefit.

Norwich Union, one of the UK's largest bike insurers, recently added a fifth year to its existing four-year no-claims bonus.

The potential savings mean that a Yamaha FZR600 rider over the age of 30, whose previous best quote from NU would have been pounds 490, can cut the bill to pounds 409 with a 50 per cent no-claims discount. A Piaggio Typhoon rider, whose four-year discount involved premiums of pounds 179, could shave pounds 30 off that with a 50 per cent bonus.

A spokesman says: "Our analysis shows that if people make it to five years without making a claim, the chances of doing so in subsequent years is likely to be even greater. We felt our premiums ought to reflect that fact."

Eagle Star, another well-known bike insurer, is also aiming to attract new policyholders by, for example, offering introductory discounts of up to 20 per cent or more if riders are prepared to take advanced riding exams. Among the services on offer through Eagle Star is the option to take out six-month cover rather than for 12 months.

One new feature of the motorbike insurance market, formerly confined to cars, is the entry of telephone-based firms who are able to either underwrite the risk themselves or find a suitably cheap policy from a panel which includes many different insurers.

Premium Search, an independent broker, began offering cover last month after receiving hundreds of calls every week from bike riders who contacted the company because of its highly competitive motor and home contents cover. Philip da Silva, a director at Premium Search, says: "We felt that we can offer a competitive quote to riders 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. In our case, we not only offer quotations but can also process claims and provide support through our helpline."

However, specialist brokers warn that standard insurers' policies are not always the cheapest. Carole Nash, the specialist motorcycle insurance broker, points out that in many cases, minor modifications to a bike can invalidate cover. Limited mileage or classic bike cover can often be far cheaper than standard versions on offer from most providers.

For scooterists, policies on offer from Scooter Plus are often the cheapest, as is Bennetts, another well-known broker.

Finally, it is worth remembering that many motorcycle manufacturers offer their cheaper insurance policies designed specifically for their own machines. This includes Peugeot, Piaggio, Aprilia, Suzuki, Honda and Yamaha. The chances are they can cut hundreds of pounds off the cost of your covern

Piaggio 16-Plus 0345 697118; Carole Nash 0161-9801305; Bennetts 01203 559669; Scooter Plus (MC Edwards) 01536 510100; Mitchell & Partners 0171- 272 7661; Yamaha 01932 358121; Honda 0181-7469292; Suzuki 01892 535411; Aprilia 01708 768613; Peugeot 01252 336568; Premium Search 0990 134920; Hastings Direct 01424 735735; Norwich Union and Eagle Star policies sold through insurance brokers.