Making life easier… (4) The sweeter aspect of the sorrow of parting

This article was published in 1998, in Newsletter 16.

In Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman, the Police Sergeant expounds ‘the atomic theory’ (you have to turn on an Irish accent here):

The gross and net result of it is that people who spent most of their natural lives riding iron bicycles over the rocky roadsteads of this parish get their personalities mixed up with the personalities of their bicycle as a result of the interchanging of the atoms of each of them and you would be surprised at the number of people in these parts who nearly are half people and half bicycles.

Small wonder, then, that it is upsetting to lose one’s faithful steed. But, sadly, it happens all too often: over 7 000 bikes were stolen in Cambridgeshire in 1996. No wonder it is so expensive to insure a bike. This article is about theft insurance.

Swag! (2349bytes) The best insurance of all is not to lose the bike in the first place, but even the best lock is not going to deter a professional thief. Even if your bike is worth, say, under £100, it may still be worth buying a good U-lock simply to avoid the inconvenience of losing the bike – probably a better investment than an insurance premium. For more expensive bikes, I think most of us would say that insurance is desirable.

U-locks sometimes come with an insurance offer. But beware, they are very limited in what they offer. Like all insurance, you so often find out the limitations of a policy only after the event. Another protective device that works in conjunction with insurance is the ‘data-tag’. This device is inserted into the down-tube of a bike and can be read by a scanner held by the police, so that the bike can be identified. The tags are expensive – £25 – and the related insurance is outrageous – nearly £50 under £500 value, £75 to £750 and over £100 for up to £1,000. This must be one of the most expensive methods of insuring a bike. Butterworths (180/183 Garston Old Road, Liverpool L19 1QL, phone 0151 427 9529) organise the insurance, and tags come from NPR (1 Marina Court, Castle Street, Hull HU1 1TJ, phone 01482 222070) and from bike shops.

Some organisations offer insurance, but again this is a very expensive way of arranging your insurance, in my experience. The British Cycle Federation and the Cyclists’ Touring Club both charge around 12% of the value of the bike per year, on top of the membership fee.

The Environmental Transport Association (10 Church Street, Weybridge, Surrey KT13 8RS, phone01932 828882) seems to cover only up to £400, at a whacking premium of £120; even low value bikes at £200 will cost £30 a year. However, there may be other reasons to join the E.T.A. Their cycle recovery scheme is interesting – to get you home in the event of a failure – but you must be more than five miles from home. That costs £18 (you have to join first, which costs £20), but cycle recovery is included free with motor vehicle recovery.

By far the best value is to insure your bike through your house contents policy. But this isn’t without its pitfalls, and does, of course, only work if you are insuring all your possessions, not just the bike. Some policies will cover bikes like any other article. However, this is usually only up to some maximum value, typically £500. Over that you will have to make special arrangements, or they may not want your custom at all.

All cycle insurance, whether separate or under a household policy, has special conditions for bikes. The following list is typical:

  • The bike must be kept in locked premises at home, and locked to something fixed when parked away from home (sometimes even when in a locked garage).
  • Cover is often not given for bikes left parked on the street overnight, even if securely locked (e.g. at the station).
  • You often have to pay the first, say, £50 of any claim – even if you don’t have a similar excess on the rest of the policy.
  • Some policies will not replace old with new, even though most policies offer this for most items (be very careful about this one – it is often hard to get this out of a company, and it makes a huge difference to a claim).
  • Rarely will accessories be covered, unless the whole bike is stolen as well. Insurance companies clearly think you could ride a bike with no saddle or wheels since these will sometimes be regarded as accessories.
  • Some will not cover your bike if you take it abroad, say on holiday. Some require you to tell them.

The cost of insuring your bike under your household policy is hard to put a finger on, because it is so bound up with the cost of the policy as a whole. But having just done a trawl for home insurance, I found the two most competitive overall were Commercial Union (59 St Andrews Street, Cambridge; phone 01223 359701) and Frizzell (phone 0800 272525). Both included new-for-old; both had £500 limits but quoted for more expensive bikes.

I had a phone call a while back from someone who found a bike in their absent neighbour’s front garden. It had been there three weeks, despite phone calls to the police to get them to recover it. Obviously stolen, it could have been taken again. Clearly the police don’t care much about stolen bikes, so you’ll rarely get the bike back. But at least you might recover the money. How unlike O’Brien’s Sergeant, whose first and last words in the book are: ‘is it about a bicycle?’

Dave Earl