how to stay safe as UK cycle sales soar

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Photograph: DWD-photo/Alamy The coronavirus crisis has resulted in Britons buying bikes in huge numbers, but in tandem with increased sales has come an epidemic of theft. Insurers are warning that claims have leapt by 46% in the past seven weeks compared with last year. In April, at the height of […]

<span>Photograph: DWD-photo/Alamy</span>
Photograph: DWD-photo/Alamy

The coronavirus crisis has resulted in Britons buying bikes in huge numbers, but in tandem with increased sales has come an epidemic of theft. Insurers are warning that claims have leapt by 46% in the past seven weeks compared with last year.

In April, at the height of lockdown, the number of bikes sold rose by 60%. The biggest change was in those valued at £400 to £1,000, sales of which doubled.

So what can you do to protect your bike?

Buy a good lock

The industry’s rule of thumb is to buy a lock for a price equal to 10% to 20% of the bike’s cost. Thieves are lazy and mostly target cheap locks.

In its guide to protecting your bike, the insurer Admiral cites the Kryptonite New York M18 U-lock as being good quality. It costs £82.99 at Wiggle.co.uk. Add a cable for another tenner, so you can loop it through the wheels and secure them, too.

If you have a fancier bike, specialists recommend Abus Granit X Plus locks, £100 on Amazon.

Gleaming new bikes are a magnet to thieves – so rough yours up. Paint distinctive marks – and, better still, your postcode – on the frame with enamel paint, or scratch your postcode in. Masking tape on the frame soon turns grey and an older saddle will help your bike look less lucrative to potential thieves.

When locking your bike, try to choose busy sites with lots of passing people and CCTV. Never, ever, leave it outside overnight.

Register your bike

<span class="element-image__caption">A police community support officer security marks a bicycle frame with a permanent reference number.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: David Gee 4/Alamy</span>
A police community support officer security marks a bicycle frame with a permanent reference number. Photograph: David Gee 4/Alamy

BikeRegister.com is a national database where you enter the frame number, model, colour and so on, and your details. If the police recover a stolen bike they can check and you will get it back.

Consider a tracker

These are generally small GPS tracking devices, hidden from potential thieves when placed in a light or inside a handlebar. You can remotely track your bike’s location if it is stolen. They range from £33.89 on Amazon for the Winnes tracker disguised as a red rear light, through to the £149 Sherlock tracker that fits in handlebars.

Insurance for bikes worth up to £500

Generally, if your bike is valued at up to £500, it should be covered under your home contents policy. But many policies will only pay out if the bike is stolen from your home, or if it is secured to an immovable object in your garden or shed. So check if your policy is “home only”, or “home and away”. If it is “home only”, ask your insurer how much extra it will cost to add “away”.

Insurance for bikes worth £500 to £1,000

If worth more than £500, your insurance company may ask that you separately add it to your home insurance policy. You will be charged extra but this is generally cheaper than buying a standalone policy. Unfortunately, we cannot give guidance on how much extra the cost will be because the insurers we contacted said it is down to individual circumstances.

Home insurance policies have excesses. If you need to make a claim you will be expected to pay the full excess of your home insurance policy – which is typically in the £100-£250 range. If your excess is £200, that means if your stolen bike is worth £500, the insurer will pay out only £300.

Even worse, they will claw back much of the payout by increasing the cost of your home contents policy at your renewal date, plus you will lose any no-claims discount.

<span class="element-image__caption">It’s important to lock your bike to something secure, such as a cycle rack.</span> <span class="element-image__credit">Photograph: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images</span>
It’s important to lock your bike to something secure, such as a cycle rack. Photograph: Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Insurance for bikes worth more than £1,000

Some home insurers have a “single value limit” on bikes of £1,000 and many top out at about £2,000. If it is in this price range, still get a quote for adding it to your existing home insurance policy but also examine the specialist providers.

First, try one of the comparison sites. For example, we asked moneysupermarket.com to obtain quotes for a £1,250 bike in London. The cheapest basic quote, to cover theft only, was £76.48 a year from Cycleplan, while Dynamo Cover asked for £78.75 but that included overseas theft cover, too.

Paul Williams, the chief executive of Cycleplan, says since lockdown, “business has been phenomenal, up about 200%”, with an average bike value of about £1,500. He adds that claims have changed during lockdown, too, with more people making claims for damage and fewer claiming for theft.

Location matters. You will be asked to input your postcode and charged accordingly. “London is inevitably more expensive because of thefts,” Williams says, although a recent report from moneysupermarket.com named Cardiff as Britain’s bike theft capital on a per-head basis.

Standalone policies also allow you to add in public liability cover for £10 to £15 extra, which will pay out if you fly into someone else on your bike and hurt them, or if you damage someone else’s property.

Insurance for e-bikes

Electric bike sales are soaring among commuters as an alternative to using buses and trains during the pandemic. Most e-bikes at Halfords cost more than £950 and many are in the £2,000-plus range, so insurance is pretty essential. For now, the specialist insurers make no distinction between them and a conventional bike. But because e-bikes are most popular among older buyers, who make fewer claims, Williams at Cycleplan says the firm is considering making insurance cheaper on e-bikes than same-priced conventional bikes.

Insurance for e-scooters

Until recently, e-scooters were only legal on private land in Britain. Rental e-scooters have been permitted since early July but privately owned ones remain banned. When e-scooter hire services come into operation, providers will be expected to ensure insurance is in place. Until the law changes, you cannot buy private insurance for the use of e-scooters on public roads.

If it is stolen

Report the theft to the police and keep an eye on local eBay and Gumtree listings (poor quality pics, suspiciously low prices and lack of detail in the ad are usually signs someone is trying to sell a stolen bike). This is when it could pay to have registered your ownership. “Within two days of having my bike stolen, I saw it on an online ad site. Police joined me when I met the seller and thanks to BikeRegister I was able to prove it was mine,” one testimonial says.

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