Get on your bike – but try to stay one step ahead of the thieves

Warm weather and high fuel prices mean more cyclists on the road, as well as a rise in bike theft. Make sure you're covered, say Chiara Cavaglieri and Julian Knight

With the price of petrol exceeding 120p a litre, thousands of Brits will be leaving their cars at home in favour of two wheels. But bike theft is one of the fastest growing areas of crime. Statistics from the latest British Crime Survey show that in 2008/09 there were an estimated 540,000 bikes stolen, up 22 per cent on the previous survey.

One of the UK's biggest insurance providers, Halifax, says that bike theft rose by 65 per cent last summer. With economic times still tough, there is little reason to think that this summer won't bring a similar deluge of thefts. "We anticipate that this year bike theft may be on the up as high fuel prices mean people look for ways to economise, and warm sunny weather makes cycling a more appealing option. Many bikes that are stolen are locked up, but often some types of locks such as cables can be cut and are not enough of a deterrent," said Martyn Foulds from Halifax Home Insurance.

The average value of a bike is now about £150, according to the Association of Cycle Traders, but this doesn't reflect the true cost of replacing a stolen two-wheeler. The average claim on Halifax's bike insurance following a theft is £388. But if you're a keen rider who bought carbon-fibre frames and super-light wheels, costs can soar into the thousands. It is vital that all cyclists have adequate insurance cover.

"All bike riders should do four things before they start riding: invest in a good bike lock, store their bike in a safe place and make sure they have bike insurance and legal protection against accidents. With these things in place, cyclists can enjoy riding their bikes with a piece of mind that they are fully covered," says Terry Greenwood, membership manager at British Cycling, the national governing body for cycle sport.

There are two options for bicycle insurance: it can be added on to a home contents policy for an additional premium, or it can be taken out as a stand-alone product. Generally speaking, the most cost-effective option is to add it on to your home insurance which can often add just a few pounds to annual premiums. It may not affect premiums at all, as with both Swinton and Kwik Fit, according to research by Confused.com, based on a bike worth £300 wit the policyholder living in Coventry.

Always check your policy to ensure that you have an appropriate level of cover. Many cyclists make the mistake of thinking they are automatically covered for theft outside of the home, but this may not always be the case – best check the small print. In addition, be aware if you have an expensive bike as many insurers apply a single item limit.

"Most home contents will automatically cover bikes up to £500 but will ask people to specify bikes over £500. So it's a mistake for people to assume that the full value will be covered, particularly if they've bought a posh new one," says Adrian Webb from esure.

If you want to ensure that your bike is completely protected, you'll need to add "personal possessions cover away from the home" to your policy, and if you're bike is expensive it may need to be classified as a specified item. There will also be certain conditions to the cover; for example, most insurers will require you to keep your bike in a locked garden shed or garage and cycles left unsecured will not be covered at all. Mr Foulds also advises taking extra steps to ensure that you can prove ownership to the insurer should you need to claim. "It's a good idea to take photographs of the bike, and keep any receipts to prove purchase of the bike itself and also any modifications that have been added, for example mudguards, lights and tyres," he said.

You may also need to buy and use a lock or risk invalidating your policy, so find out which locks are approved by your insurer. D-locks are often seen as the most difficult to break and thereby find themselves on insurers' approved lists. Some companies may even refuse to pay out if your bike is stolen between certain hours (usually late at night), so always read through the list of policy exclusions carefully.

As with any insurance policy, you also need to check if there is an excess payable when making a claim. If your bike is pricey you may not be able to claim the full price on your policy. Another sticking point could be the issue of wear and tear, so check to see if your insurer offers new-for-old cover or if it will replace your bike only at a depreciated value.

"The main things to look out for in the terms and condition are the amount of bikes you can cover on one policy and the maximum amount that will be paid out per bike," says Darren Black, head of home insurance at Confused.com. With Swinton, five bikes can be covered per policy with a maximum payout of £500 per bike. Swinton also levies some strict conditions with no payout if the bike is used for racing and rallies, or if it is damaged by any mechanical breakdown or failure and no cover for accessories, tyres or quick-release features.

If you have a valuable bike and want the security of more comprehensive cover, it may be better to got for a stand-alone policy from companies such as Cycleguard, E&LI and Insureyoubicycle.co.uk which will cover a bike up to £4,000.

Stand-alone policies are more expensive, starting at around £25 a year for a basic policy, but they do typically include personal liability to protect against any damage to other vehicles if you cause an accident, personal injury and third-party cover. Some will also provide cover if you want to take your bike abroad.

Specialist providers may also offer a wider variety of policies if you need a more flexible arrangement. For example, at Cycleguard there are five policies to choose from including one for children, one for triathletes and others which provide stand-alone roadside recovery or public liability cover.

How to keep your bike safe

1. Make use of bicycle racks and always lock your bike, even if leaving it for only a few minutes.

2. Park your bike in well-lit busy areas.

3. Keep bicycles indoors and locked when not in use.

4. Invest in a good lock. Use a hardened D-shape lock as cable locks can be easily cut.

5. Have your bike marked and registered with a police security initiative such as bikeregister.com.

6. Keep photos of your bike and write down the name, model and serial number in case you need to report this to the police.

7. Check your home insurance policy and consider extra cover for contents outside the home.

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