Travel insurance is an absolute genius idea for a business. Every time we leave home and go overseas, we buy it in the hope what we will never use it. On the rare occasion we do need to use it, some clause in the small print usually means we can’t. And, if we get past that, it’d often have worked out cheaper to pay our expenses ourselves anyway. Brilliant!
Anyway. What I want to talk about in this article is insurance for cycle touring, both short-term and long-term. I get no end of questions on the topic, and so this article will attempt to answer all of them in one big juicy dose of financial-services-related goodness, if such a thing is possible.
When it comes to specific options for insurers and policies, I’ll be concentrating on those applicable to UK residents, as its the domain in which I can speak from personal experience and for which I have received the most recent recommendations from fellow long-distance cycle tourists.
The Two Things People Mean When They Talk About Cycle Touring & Bikepacking Insurance
Cyclists going touring or bikepacking tend to think about bicycle insurance policies that’ll cover their bicycles while they’re travelling.
Travellers going cycle touring or bikepacking tend to think about travel insurance policies that’ll cover them themselves while they’re travelling by bicycle.
It’s critical to note the difference, because these are two totally different products. One is a special type of bicycle insurance. The other is a special type of travel insurance.
There are very few bicycle insurance policies that’ll insure the bicycle when touring overseas, and there are very few travel insurance policies that’ll insure a traveller on a bicycle tour.
And there’s a slightly unfortunate bottom line for the growing number of people looking for a travel insurance policy that’ll cover both them and their equipment for long-term global bicycle travel: such a policy does not, to my knowledge, exist – with one exception, which I’ll come to later.
Bicycle Insurance Covering Overseas Travel
If you’re looking to get your bicycle itself insured against theft or damage abroad, what you will quickly find is that some such policies do exist – but that:
- they are limited to trips of a couple of months at most,
- they depend upon you using the same kind of security precautions as you would at home (namely locking the bike with a certified lock to an immovable object), and
- they’re expensive.
Given that, if you are looking for bicycle insurance for overseas tours of up to two or three months in duration, there are a couple of such options available to UK residents.
1. ETA offer a 31-day cycle travel insurance* policy that covers bikes for up to £5,000. Also of interest is their annual cycle insurance* policy, which covers any bicycle for up to 90 days abroad, again up to a value of £5,000, including a new-for-old replacement policy and emergency cycle hire, leaving you free to arrange your travel insurance separately. A quick quote for travel insurance for a 3-month European trip plus annual cycle insurance came to ~£130. More information on both can be found on their cycle touring insurance* page. (Bonus: get 10% off cycle insurance with the voucher code 2111CI10.)
2. The CTC (a.k.a the Cycle Touring Club of Great Britain) offers specialist travel insurance for overseas cycle tours of up to 100 days. The ‘Premier’ option covers loss, theft and damage of the bicycle for up to £3000, in addition to all the usual travel insurance cover types. Unlike ETA, however, depreciation and wear and tear is factored into any claims when it comes to replacing a vanished bike, so the payout is less. I fetched a similar quote of ~£130 for the same 3-month European trip. You can get your own quote from CTC on their cycle touring insurance page.
Travel Insurance Covering Cycle Touring
If you’re looking to travel for longer than a couple of months, you’re willing to rely on your wits to keep your expensive bike safe, or your bike is worthless and not worth insuring anyway, you’ll be looking primarily at travel insurance. At which point you must understand that (in insurance-policy-style bullet points):
- most so-called ‘annual’ travel insurance policies actually only cover individual trips of up to 90 days within that year,
- most long-term travel insurance policies (a.k.a. ‘backpacker’ policies) do not cover cycle touring – only cycling that is ‘incidental’ to the trip,
- most long-term travel insurance policies that do cover cycle touring still exclude intercontinental cycle touring, and
- even the best and most comprehensive of these are unlikely to cover the loss, theft or damage of an expensive touring bike.
Cycle touring is generally considered by insurers to be a ‘hazardous activity’ or ‘extreme sport’, involving increased risk and thus either incurring an additional premium or being excluded from the list of activities covered. Posh touring bicycles are also considered to be extremely nickable things. Which they are.
Yes. This sucks. But at least it narrows the field when it comes to choosing from the few travel insurance policies that explicitly cover cycle touring.
It helps to distinguish between trips that are smaller in scale in terms of duration and geography from indefinitely-long, world-ranging affairs, as there are specific recommendations for each.
Recommended Cycle Touring Insurance Providers
The following insurance providers I’ve either used myself or been personally recommended by veteran cyclists on all manner of global bicycle journeys. Each cover cycle touring as an activity or will do so on request, but won’t insure the bicycle itself unless I’ve mentioned otherwise.
For each provider, at the time of writing I retrieved the lowest possible quote for a 3-month trip in Europe and a 12-month trip around the world in order to demonstrate relative prices, then listed them in ascending order of price. You should consider the actual quotes themselves obsolete and retrieve your own before making a decision.
1. Insure And Go have grown into one of the UK’s biggest ‘basic’ travel insurance providers, and all of their policies (including backpacker policies) explicitly cover cycle touring, though it’s worth mentioning that personal accident and personal liability are excluded. Which, in simple English, means that there’s no financial compensation for getting maimed or maiming someone else while on your bike. Cover is basic, but aspects can be upgraded. 3 months in Europe was £52, and 12 months worldwide was £283. Visit insureandgo.com.
2. Adventures Insurance (as currently used by Tim & Laura) specialise in – you’ve guessed it – bespoke insurance for more adventurous pursuits, and cycle touring can be specified. They are unusual in that they’ll allow for individual items of equipment up to £1,500 in value to be covered. 3 months in Europe was £110, and 12 months worldwide (requiring a phone call for the quote) was a very reasonable £479. Visit adventuresinsurance.co.uk*.
3. WorldNomads‘ flexible, backpacker-oriented policy offers many advantages. It can be taken out when you’re already abroad, it can be extended online indefinitely, and it covers casual work and a vast range of adventurous activities. You’ll need to add Level 2 activities cover for cycle touring. It’s a shame that ‘intercontinental’ touring is excluded, but it does make them a good bet for a tour that’ll be taking place on a single continent – longer tours included. 3 months in Europe was £91, and 12 months worldwide was £699. Visit worldnomads.com*.
4. Campbell Irvine are another provider I often hear recommended, and again they specialise in adventure travel, covering a vast range of activities, with the ability to extend a long-term single trip policy over the phone. It covers volunteering but not employment. While ‘cycling’ is covered, the policy wording is not explicit about cycle touring; however a quick phone call confirmed that it is indeed covered. 3 months in Europe was £151, and 12 months worldwide £589. Visit campbellirvinedirect.com*.
5. The BMC (British Mountaineering Council), who I used for some of my first trips, offer cycle touring cover for up to 12 months at a time. You’ll need the ‘Trek’ policy for cycle touring to be covered as an activity, and while you get plenty of mountain activities and BMC membership benefits thrown in, the cover isn’t cheap. 3 months in Europe came back at £183, and 12 months worldwide came to £1,076. Visit thebmc.com.
General Points To Remember About Cycle Touring Insurance
Remember that these companies are operating in a highly competitive and lucrative field, and that negotiation over what’s covered and for how much is perfectly possible over the phone. That’s just a tip to make sure you get what you need at a decent price.
It’s also worth mentioning that in the event of a medical emergency abroad the claims agent’s job is to minimise the cost to the insurer, the solution to which is usually to deliver you as soon as possible to your home country (preferably in economy on a scheduled airline), at which point your insurance cover is terminated and it’s up to the NHS to look after you.
This is harsh but true, and something to take into consideration when deciding whether or not you actually need travel insurance at all. If the likely bills are cheaper than the premium – as they are in vast swathes of the world – it’s little surprise that a surprising number of people choose to travel long-term without insurance and simply accept that in travel, as in life, bad things happen sometimes. They pack an emergency credit card in case they suddenly need to fly home, which is all the insurance they feel they need.
Finally, whether or not you can afford to insure your actual bike, it’s common sense to ensure your bike’s safety in the first place by cultivating the right attitude to travel, which will have a much greater effect on whether or not you remain united with your belongings for the duration of your trip than the small print of the insurance policy you’ve taken out.
And that, I think, is a topic for a future article.