Last updated: November 2019
Travel insurance is an absolute genius idea for a business. Every time you leave home and go overseas, you buy it in the hope that you will never use it. On the rare occasion you do need to use it, some clause in the small print usually means you can’t. And, if you get past that, it’d often have worked out cheaper to pay the expenses yourself anyway. Brilliant!
Anyway. What I want to talk about in this article is insurance for cycle touring (of which ‘bikepacking’ can be considered a subcategory), 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, there’s likely to be a bias towards those applicable to UK residents, as this is the majority of my readership, and also where I can speak from personal experience and receive the most feedback and recommendations from fellow riders.
The Two Different Things People Mean When They Talk About Cycle Touring & Bikepacking Insurance
Cyclists going cycle touring or bikepacking tend to think first about policies that’ll insure their bicycles while they’re abroad or on the road.
Travellers going cycle touring or bikepacking tend to think first about policies that’ll cover travel and medical expenses while they’re riding a bicycle.
It’s critical to note the difference, because these often point to two totally different insurance products. One is a special type of bicycle insurance. The other is a special type of travel insurance.
There are relatively few bicycle insurance policies that’ll insure a bicycle overseas, and there are relatively few travel insurance policies that’ll insure a traveller riding a bicycle.
And there’s an unfortunate bottom line for people looking for insurance that’ll cover both themselves and their bikes for long-term worldwide bike trips: such policies are extremely hard to find.
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 an annual cycle insurance* policy that covers bikes and accessories for up to 90 days abroad, up to a value of £5,000, including a new-for-old replacement policy and emergency cycle hire, leaving you free to arrange your personal travel insurance separately. In Europe, accident cover is also included (but not liability). A quick quote for a touring bike worth £1,200 came to ~£110 for the year. Read the full details on their website*. Bonus: get 10% off with the voucher code 2111CI10.
2. Cycling UK offers the Cyclecover specialist travel insurance policy for overseas bike trips, covering loss, theft and damage of bicycles, luggage and accessories for up to £3000, in addition to medical cover. Unlike ETA, depreciation and wear and tear is factored into any claims when it comes to replacing a bike. I fetched a similar quote of ~£130 for the same 3‑month European trip. You can get your own quote on the Cyclecover travel insurance page. Cycling UK members get a 10% discount on online quotes and access to long-term policies not available online.
Travel Insurance Covering Cycle Touring & Bikepacking
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 policies that cover cycle touring (and, by extension, bikepacking).
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 and bikepacking — only cycling that is ‘incidental’ to the trip,
- most long-term travel insurance policies that do cover cycle touring and bikepacking still exclude intercontinental trips, and
- even the best and most comprehensive of these are unlikely to cover the loss, theft or damage of an expensive touring bike or bikepacking rig.
Cycle touring and bikepacking 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 and bikepacking bikes are also considered to be extremely steal-able 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 and bikepacking.
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 & Bikepacking 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 (whose definition includes bikepacking) 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 (including valuables cover) 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’ll allow for individual items of equipment up to £600 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 my top 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 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 wonder 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 a healthy attitude to travel, which will have a much greater effect on whether or not you still have your belongings at the end of your trip.
And that, I think, is a topic for a future article.