As more and more of us look to lead leaner, greener lives, we are increasingly ditching our four-wheeled vehicles in favour of the two-wheeled variety. In recent years, there has been an upsurge in the popularity of cycling right across Britain – including a growing number of commuters who now rely on pedal power as a quicker, easier and more convenient way of getting around.
The cycling boom has been fuelled by the creation of bicycle lanes and investment in cycle routes – which has reached £36m a year in London – as well as a growth in initiatives such as the Government's own "Cycle to Work" scheme.
Events such as National Bike Week which runs until tomorrow (24 June), have also helped to rekindle our love affair with the bike, while the imminent arrival of the Tour de France – set to hit London on 7-8 July – has prompted still more of us to get back in the saddle.
But while green-conscious, health-conscious Brits may spend hours deliberating over which bike to buy, they also need to think about insurance.
This is one bike accessory they can't afford to ignore – with figures from the Department of Transport showing that 2,000 cyclists were involved in serious accidents last year, while findings from Halifax Home Insurance show that a total of 439,000 bikes are stolen each year – equating to one machine being stolen every 71 seconds.
There's no denying that bicycles are an easy target for thieves who are pedalling away with £146m of stolen bicycles each year, according to the Halifax, with London cyclists the most likely bike-theft victims. In 2006, the insurer found that 89 per cent of all bikes were stolen having been left locked up in a public place, 10 per cent were left unlocked in public places and 1 per cent were stolen from within the victim's property.
Richard Mason, from the price comparison service moneysupermarket.com, says that with an increasing number of bikes on the road, it's important to think about bike cover.
"If you're cycling to work as an alternative to using the car or public transport, you need to consider how well insured your bike is – just as you would your car," he says. "Getting bicycle insurance doesn't need to cost the Earth."
There are two basic types of cover. For most bikes, the cheapest way of insuring against theft is through your home-contents policy; most insurers will allow you to add cycle insurance to their standard contents cover – although some will not insure expensive bikes, so you need to check this.
With esure.com or Lloyds TSB, for example, you can add your bike on to your contents insurance for around £20 a year, says Mason (see table).
But if you opt for this route, check the premiums you'll pay when you first purchase contents insurance because costs vary considerably; also check the levels of cover and also examine the excess thresholds.
In addition, check with your insurer if your home insurance policy will cover your bike if it is stolen in a public place, as you may have to pay an additional premium for this.
Also find out if your bike is covered for a replacement or if instead you will just be given a depreciated value.
The alternative is taking out standalone cover from an insurer who has specific policies for cycling – although this can turn out to be very expensive.
Many of the specialist policies include personal liability cover automatically – this is useful if you hit a pedestrian or damage someone else's property while cycling. You should also check if you get personal accident cover, which would cover you for your own injuries.
"For £56.50 a year, with E&L Insurance, you can get insured for every eventuality – including personal liability, personal injury, and third party cover – should the worst happen," says Mason. "AUA offers similar standalone cover from £72 a year" (see table).
But Mason urges cyclists to weigh up whether getting specialist bike insurance is justified – especially as it can be more than double the price.
Some home-contents policies may also provide liability protection if you are responsible for an accident while cycling, but you definitely need to check this with your insurer.
A compromise option is to join a group such as the CTC, a national cycling organisation, or the London Cycling Campaign, which often offer third-party insurance for cyclists as part of the membership.
As a final point, it's worth noting that insurers will almost always expect you to have taken reasonable steps to protect your bike, as if it was unlocked when it was stolen – while you were in a shop, say – your claim is likely to be rejected.
There are a number of basic security measures you can take.
"Cyclists should make use of special bike-parking racks and always lock their bike," says the Halifax's bike spokeswoman, Vicky Emmott.
"If possible, use a rack that is in a well-lit or busy area."
When not in use, keep the bike locked in an outbuilding or inside the house, and always lock the door to the building.
"It may be worth spending a little more money for a high-security lock," she says. "Use a hardened steel U-type lock, as cable locks are easily cut."
Emmott recommends anti-pry devices which cover the gap between your bike and the object it's secured to – preventing a thief from inserting a tool in the void and prying or twisting the bike free.
She also suggests registering your bike at one of the bike-ownership agencies, and using an ultraviolet pen to mark your postcode on the frame.
"Write down the name, model and serial number of the bike, and store it somewhere safe in case you need to pass on details to the police," she says. "Take photographs of the bike, and keep note of extras such as mudguards and high-performance tyres along with any other equipment you have added."