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The Ride of Silence leaves the Ped Mall in Iowa City on Wednesday, May 19, 2010. The ride was to recognize the presence and rights of bicyclists share the roads with automobiles and to mourn cyclist injured and killed in traffic accidents as part of Bike to Work Week. Specialized insurance for bicyclists is an option arriving on the insurance market, but cyclists may want to review their existing coverage to see if they need it, experts said. (Cliff Jette/The Gazette)
When Hawkeye Bicycle Association President Dave Turzai of Cedar Rapids travels to France, he always gets bicycle insurance when he rents his wheels.
Bike rental shops in France offer insurance coverage as an extra, and since Turzai likes to rent a really nice bike to tour the French countryside, he'd rather not be on the hook if the bicycle is stolen or damaged.
The homeowner's insurance that might ordinarily cover Turzai's bike if he's traveling at home "doesn't apply over there," Turzai said.
Finding bicycle insurance in the United States is a different matter.
Cyclists with homeowner's policies can typically patch together coverage for costly bikes by adding a floater to their homeowner's policy. But comprehensive bicycle insurance -- that covers everything from personal injury to the rider to losses due to theft and liability for damage -- has never hit the mainstream.
A Portland, Ore.-based motor club hopes to break down that wall by rolling bicycle insurance into its inexpensive bicycle roadside assistance program.
Better World Club announced last week that it has added bicycle insurance to its $39.95-per-year BIKEon roadside assistance service at no additional cost through a partnership with Gales Creek Insurance Services of Portland. Better World Club also offers a program for its auto club members that adds bicycle roadside assistance and insurance for an extra $17 per year.
The program provides coverage up to $100,000 to reimburse cyclists for their bills if they are injured in an accident and up to $1 million in liability coverage for injuries or damage caused by the insured cyclist.
The policy is available for road bikes, mountain bikes and electric bikes, but not BMX bikes.
Better World Club markets itself as "America's only environmentally friendly motor club."
President Mitch Rofsky said the company has had demand for bicycle insurance ever since it began offering bicycle roadside assistance. The product, he said, provides peace of mind to those who choose to move beyond cars for their transportation needs.
The bicycle insurance product was developed by Jeffrey Lang of Gales Creek, a longtime bicycle commuter who has been working to get it ready for market for much of the last decade.
Lang said making bicycle insurance economical was important to reaching the intended market, but also made it hard to get into the traditional distribution channel.
"There were very few insurance companies that would call me back seven or eight years ago when I said this is going to cost only $60 or $70," Lang said.
The insurance companies, Lang said, didn't think they'd be able to make money selling such an inexpensive product.
Gales Creek is getting around the issue by partnering with membership organizations such as Better World Club and by working with groups like the Bicycle Transportation Alliance to offer it as a membership perk. Lang said the company's offerings include physical damage coverage for bicycles on a graduated cost scale that increases with the value of a bike.
The expanding interest in higher-cost road bikes made from exotic materials that reduce weight and wind resistance is one of the reasons bicycle insurance is likely to attract interest from a select clientele.
"Some of the bicycles you see on the side of the trail or the road are $5,000 to $7,000," said Turzai, 58. Just trashing a front wheel on a top-of-the line competition bike could cost $600 to $700, he said.
Insurance specialists in the Cedar Rapids market who weren't familiar with the details of the new bicycle insurance club offering said they think most cyclists who are members of a family with homeowner's insurance have at least some liability coverage and coverage against theft or damage through their homeowner's policy, although any injuries they sustain on a bike would have to fall on their health insurance or a liable party.
"Covering the bicycle relies on the homeowner's policy under personal property and is subject to deductible," said Tara Widdel, personal lines manager at the Millhiser Smith Agency in Cedar Rapids.
Deductibles nowadays can be fairly high, so Widdel said the insured might want to schedule additional coverage under a inland marine floater for bicycle damage or theft.
Widdel said a personal umbrella policy also can be used to ensure adequate personal injury protection. A personal umbrella goes beyond the limits of existing auto and homeowner's policies, she said.
The costs of both kinds of coverage vary, Widdel said, but likely would be economical for many cyclists. A personal umbrella that would add $1 million of coverage might typically cost $115 to $130 per year, Widdel said.
Max Smith, vice president of risk management at TrueNorth Companies in Cedar Rapids, said running into a cyclist or a pedestrian on a bike is typically covered by homeowner's or renter's insurance. He said scheduled coverage against theft or damage to a bike typically costs about $15 per $100 of bike value.
"Not a lot of people do that because it's expensive," he said.
Smith said he could see a potential benefit to bicycle insurance for cyclists with little other insurance, such as college students without homeowner's or renter's coverage.
Smith advised cyclists who buy an expensive bicycle they can't afford to replace to schedule coverage through their insurance agent,and save a sales receipt that would prove the bicycle's original value.
Lang rankled at the suggestion that typical homeowner's, renters or health insurance adequately protects cyclists. He said deductibles and co-payments on employer-sponsored health insurance are so high that a serious bicycle accident can still generate thousands of dollars in uncovered medical bills.
Despite cycling's reputation as a relatively safe sport, Turzai said accidents in the past year have broken one club member's femur and a couple of others broken collarbones.
"We joked with him that he had more titanium in his leg than in his bicycle," Turzai said.
Although he's feeling relatively well-covered after reviewing his own coverage for bicycle events with his insurance agents, Turzai said he wouldn't rule out getting bicycle insurance.
"I'd like to see more on it -- what it really covers," the veteran cyclist said.