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Bike Insurance 101: Have Bike, Will Travel

You’re in great shape. Your bike is ready. Your itinerary is sorted. But without the right travel insurance, the two-wheeled adventure of your dreams could quickly turn into a nightmare, as Peter Maniaty (no stranger to overseas bike accidents himself) explores.

It was Day One on the riding trip of a lifetime. Acclimatising in the Catalan hills near Girona in northern Spain, in preparation for later tackling the most revered cols of the Pyrenees as part of the Haute Route 2018. But in the blink of an eye – or, more precisely, the pop of a tyre – everything changed for accomplished Sydney rider and racer, Matt Wells, from Dulwich Hill Cycle Club.

“We’d been out for our very first ride in Girona, up through the mountains, and were about 20km from home,” Matt recalls. “We were descending back towards town, taking things pretty easy, when one of the guys we were with from Israel Cycling Academy had a tyre blow out. Without warning he cut straight in front of me and took out my front wheel. I went into the air at about 50kmh and ended up unconscious on the roadside. They thought I was dead.”

Matt Wells with Davin Harding, in South Australia prior to the overseas trip.

Thankfully, Matt wasn’t dead. But he was left with a frightening catalogue of injuries including severe concussion, six broken ribs, broken clavicle, fractured hip and fractured pelvis. It was the beginning of an exhausting journey through the Spanish health system that, by the time he arrived back home more than a month later, had included lengthy stays at two separate Girona hospitals, major orthopaedic surgery on his clavicle, and business class repatriation to Sydney accompanied by his own personal nurse.

Conservatively, his medical expenses from the accident were in the vicinity of $40,000 – not to mention the additional costs of his ill-fated assault on the Haute Route.

The one ray of light was that Matt had made the very wise decision, as he always does, to arrange personal travel insurance through his travel agent before leaving home. The policy itself cost $250, but as he reflects today it saved him so much more, both literally and figuratively.

“After I regained consciousness I was put in a neck brace and taken by ambulance transport to one of the hospitals in Girona. But when I arrived the first thing they did was ask for my credit card,” Matt recalls. “They said, ‘before we treat you we need you credit card because we have no surety from your travel insurance.’ Fortunately we were able to urgently contact my insurer and they sorted it out with the hospital, in fact, I had my credit card back in just a few minutes. Without their help, I would probably have been kicked out, back on the street. That’s the reality in many parts of the world, if you don’t have insurance they won’t touch you.”

As for his bike? “It came back with me in the ambulance too, but it was fine,” Matt laughs. “In fact, I’m still riding it today. Just a small paint chip and a scrape on the tyre, that was it. It wouldn’t have been covered by my travel insurance, but I have another policy for my bike here in Australia (providing international coverage) so it would have been alright.”

Matt Wells in hospital after his shocking crash.

These days Matt is back on his bike and, until Covid-19 at least, had been racing again at all the usual haunts in and around Sydney including Heffron Park. Looking back, he has nothing but praise for his insurer and the way their team helped him through the ordeal. “Everything they did for me was amazing, from the moment I arrived in hospital in Girona to landing back home. There were four contacts helping me, two during the day and two at night, and they were all across my incident. They were just brilliant. Seriously, cyclists who baulk at getting decent travel insurance are crazy.”

We can only agree with you, Matt. Well said.

The Expert View

Like most things relating to insurance, the devil is very much in the detail when it comes to choosing the right travel insurance. Experience shows different riders can require vastly different types of coverage for many different reasons. To better understand some of the key watch-outs, we spoke with certified insurance broker, Scott Saunders of Adelaide. In addition to being an insurance industry veteran of almost 40 years, Scott also brings a keen knowledge of road cycling through his company’s sponsorship of the Butterfields-Insurance Advisernet p/b Van D’am Racing Team in the National Road Series, for whom his son, Tristan, currently rides.

BICYCLING AUSTRALIA: When should cyclists be considering travel insurance?

SCOTT SAUNDERS: Well, that depends on several factors. Where you are going is probably the most important consideration. If your travel is within Australia, some domestic building and contents insurance policies provide cover for bikes. So, excluding the other benefits of a travel policy, if your bike is your number one consideration, that may be an option.

These policies may provide cover anywhere in Australia and some even extend to New Zealand. So, if your domestic building and contents insurance policy includes cover for bikes and your travel is purely within Australia, that might be sufficient. Beyond that there are also dedicated insurance policies for cyclists that cover bikes while in use. Some of these will also cover you whilst racing.

However, it’s important to note domestic building and contents insurance policies and dedicated cyclist insurance policies
do not cover many of the benefits provided by a travel insurance policy – things like medical expenses and cancellation or curtailment expenses. So if your travel is overseas, then it’s important to purchase a policy that provides protection for the numerous risks you might face.

You never know when you’ll need insurance – it pays to be covered.

BA: Specifically, what types of things does travel insurance cover for a cyclist?

SS: Travel insurance policies, not just for cyclists, provide benefits for a wide range of risks. These include things like medical expenses and additional costs such as emergency evacuation expenses; death and personal accident benefits including weekly payments as a result of an injury; the loss of any deposits or cancellation, curtailment and delay expenses; and lost or damaged baggage and even your money. The other big one is cover for personal liability, should you cause damage or injury to another person or their property.

BA: There’s no shortage of choices out there. What are some of the things cyclists should be considering when choosing a travel policy?

SS: There are various levels and types of travel insurance protection offered by travel insurance providers. They range from very basic individual cover to a larger limit type policy for families travelling to countries like the USA where, as we know, medical expenses can be significant.

Some policies offer extensions for adventure type activities so if you’re planning on downhill mountain biking for example, this type of extension may provide the cover you need. That’s why you really need to ensure the policy you purchase is appropriate for your needs and not just the cheapest or solely determined by your budget.

BA: What about protecting your bike? In most cases that’s going to be even more expensive to replace than things like cameras and computer equipment?

SS: As a cyclist, whether you’re taking your own bike on holidays or renting one at your destination, it’s important to ask your travel insurance provider if their policy includes cover for loss or damage to bikes? If it does, you also need to check if it includes cover when the bike is being ridden and, if applicable, when racing? It’s fair to say few travel insurers will offer cover for damage to bikes when racing.

BA: What are some of the other travel insurance ‘watch-outs’?

SS: All insurance policies contain terms, conditions and exclusions and they’re normally in the policy wording for good reason. Things like pre-existing medical conditions are often excluded but can be included in the policy subject to declaration by the insured traveller and acceptance by the insurer. We can’t stress enough the importance to read the policy in its entirety!

BA: What about a situation like we saw with Covid-19? Is a typical travel insurance policy likely to cover something like that?

SS: Covid created enormous issues for everyone, including the insurance industry. Insurers include exclusions in policy wordings in respect to certain events, where the results of such events, could be so large in terms of a dollar cost, insurers just can’t charge enough premium to ‘build a bank’ for a potential loss of this nature. Thus, insurers have no choice but to exclude cover for such events. Examples of such events are war, nuclear explosion, asbestos and highly contagious and infectious diseases. Many leisure travel insurance policies contain specific exclusions for epidemics and pandemics, and would therefore exclude cover for the costs associated with the cancellation of travel as a result of Covid-19. But not all travel policies will contain this exclusion. Most travel policies also contain a condition or exclusion that says if, at the time of taking out the policy, the traveller was aware of or could be expected to be aware of something that could bring about a claim, then that claim will be excluded.

So the outcome of some claims will also depend on when the trip was booked and paid for and when the insurance policy was purchased.

FOOTNOTE: The information in this article is of a general nature only. While we absolutely recommend every cyclist has adequate insurance before heading away with their bike, exactly what that is will depend entirely on your personal situation. So, please think about it well before you leave and, if in any doubt, speak with an expert like Scott Saunders. Many thanks also to Lachie Ambrose and the crew at Butterfields-Insurance Advisernet p/b Van D’am Racing Team for their help with this story.


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