Saddled with theft

Pedal power is back, but insuring the bike may prove difficult

LAST week, the Bike '95 exhibition at Olympia in London opened its doors to the estimated 15 million pedal power enthusiasts across Britain.

During the past year, 2 million bikes worth £392m were bought, with prices ranging widely. The average person spends about £200 on a mountain bike, says Halfords, the largest seller. However, many people spend more - which is an attraction for thieves. During 1992 and 1993 (the last years for which records are available), more than 413,000 bikes were stolen in England and Wales alone, compared with fewer than 109,000 in 1988.

It is believed that many more thefts are not even reported because recovery levels can be as low as 2 or 3 per cent. In the early 1990s, all the big insurers withdrew their "stand alone" insurance policies and the cost of cover, either through specialist companies or under household contents policies, rose sharply.

Bikes are generally covered under household contents policies while they are in and around the home - for instance, when they are stored in a garage or shed. But this does not provide protection when the bike is being ridden around or parked away from the home. For that, you need to either add it to the "all risks" section of the policy or buy the special "add on" cover provided by some insurers.

You will be expected to keep the bike locked up no matter where it is stored or parked, and cover will not usually include damage to tyres.

Check out that the policy will provide new-for-old cover or you could find the compensation dwindling to little or nothing after only three or four years. There could also be some hefty excesses - the first part of the claim that you have to pay before the company starts to pay up.

James Duffell, a spokesman for Norwich Union and a keen cyclist, said: "Theft is a real problem, and we have had to put up our charges in recent years to between £8 and £10 for every £100 of bike cover added to our household contents policies with a £25 excess. We have had cases where the main frame has been hacksawed through because thieves are after what is called the `group set'. That's the main mechanical parts. And in one incident a securely locked garage was broken into and a bike in pieces undergoing repair was stolen, while a classic Aston Martin was left untouched."

One of the cheapest insurers is the Co-op, which charges an extra £13 to cover a bike worth up to £1,000 under its household contents policies. There is an automatic £50 excess. David Mott, a spokesman, says there has been a small decrease in cycle claims "reflecting the fall in theft generally". However, the police are still worried and recommend all owners to mark their property. Fewer than one in nine bikes are recovered.

Graham Brown (01483 301 355) offers a policy from Cedar Insurance that costs between £20.50 and £30.75 for a £200 cycle. There is a £15 excess depending where you live. The policy does not cover anyone in central Bristol, Oxford or Cambridge, nor people in the London or Manchester postal area.

Alternatively Endsleigh (0117 929 4871) will add cycle cover to any contents insurance. Cover is on a new-for-old basis but with a maximum insured value of £300, for which the charge is between £52 and £97. The company will not cover anyone living in Sunderland or parts of Newcastle upon Tyne, Teesside, Leeds, Liverpool and Manchester. A better option is a specialist policy such as that from RiderBike (0161 798 8572).

And it is not just the bikes that need insuring - there are more than 24,000 accidents every year involving pedal cycles.

Firms such as Guardian, Norwich Union and Sun Alliance offer family policies for such personal accidents.

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