Last updated in June 2020.
Travel insurance is a genius idea for a business. You buy it hoping you will never use it. When you do need to claim, something in the small print often means you can’t. Then you find out it would be cheaper to pay the costs yourself anyway. Brilliant!
Anyway – enough of my cynicism. What I want to talk about in this article is insurance for cycle touring and bikepacking, both short-term and long-term. I get lots of questions on the topic, and so this article will attempt to answer all of them in one up-to-date, thoroughly researched blast of insurance-related advice and recommendations.
I will also make specific recommendations for the best insurers for cycle touring and bikepacking. There’s a slight bias towards UK based companies, as this is where many of my readers are based, but many of them will insure residents of any country, so keep reading.
The Two Different Things People Mean When They Talk About Cycle Touring & Bikepacking Insurance
Cyclists going cycle touring or bikepacking tend to think about policies that’ll insure their bicycles while they’re on the road.
Travellers going cycle touring or bikepacking tend to think about policies that’ll cover travel and medical expenses while they’re riding a bike.
These are two totally different insurance products.
One is a special type of bicycle insurance. The other is a special type of travel insurance.
There are few bicycle insurance policies that’ll insure a rider for overseas medical expenses, and there are few travel insurance policies that’ll insure an expensive bicycle being damaged or stolen.
But in general, if you want to be covered for accidents and emergencies and your expensive bike covered for damage or theft at the same time, you’ll likely end up taking out two separate policies.
And for riders looking for this kind of insurance cover for long-term, multi-year worldwide bike trips, the unfortunate truth is that such policies are extremely hard to find.
Hard, but not impossible. Read on…
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, personal accident cover is also included (but not liability). A quick quote for a touring bike worth £1,500 came to ~£137 for the year. Read the full details on their website.
2. Cycling UK offers the Cyclecover specialist travel insurance policy for overseas bike trips of up to 100 days, 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 quote of ~£191 for a 3‑month Europe 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 (aka: 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 (aka: ‘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 considered by many 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. Expensive 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 do cover cycle touring and bikepacking.
Recommended Cycle Touring & Bikepacking Insurance Providers
The following insurance providers I’ve either used myself or been 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 UK resident going on a 3‑month trip in Europe and a 12-month trip around the world, then listed them in ascending order of price. You should of course request your own quotes 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 hurt or hurting someone else while on your bike. Cover is basic, but aspects (including valuables cover) can be upgraded. 3 months in Europe was £63, and 12 months worldwide was £342. Visit insureandgo.com.
2. Adventures Insurance specialise in — you’ve guessed it — bespoke insurance for more adventurous pursuits, and cycle touring can be specified as an activity. They’ll allow for individual items of equipment up to £600 in value to be covered. 3 months in Europe was £163, 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’s available to residents of 130+ countries, 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 activities. You’ll need to add Level 2 activities cover for independent cycle touring, for which personal liability cover is excluded. ‘Intercontinental’ touring is also not covered, but it does make WorldNomads a good choice for a tour of any length that’ll be taking place on a single continent. 3 months in Europe was £133, and 12 months worldwide was £714. Visit worldnomads.com*.
4. Campbell Irvine are often recommended for professional expeditions. 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 in a leisure capacity. 3 months in Europe was £213, and 12 months worldwide £747. Visit campbellirvinedirect.com*.
5. SafetyWing, based in the US but available worldwide, specialises in travel and medical insurance for full-time travellers. You can buy and renew your policy while already travelling, and – unusually – you can visit your home country without your trip being considered ‘finished’. All forms of cycle touring and bikepacking are covered in a non-professional or non-competitive capacity. Due to US sanctions, they can’t insure you in Iran, Cuba or North Korea. For the Nomad Insurance policy I was quoted a reasonable USD$119 for 3 months in Europe and USD$881 for 12 months worldwide. Their Remote Health policy also covers treatment in your home country and does not exclude pandemics such as COVID-19. Visit safetywing.com*.
6. 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 £228, and 12 months worldwide came to £2,372. Visit thebmc.com.
Don’t Forget These Key Things About Buying 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. If you’re not incapacitated, the best strategy to achieve this is often to deliver your immediately to your home country in economy class on a scheduled airline, at which point your insurance cover is terminated as you’ve ‘gone home’ and it’s up to the local health service to look after you.
Finally, whether or not you insure your trip, it’s common sense to ensure your 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 body and belongings intact at the end of your trip.
And that, I think, is a topic for a future article.