Making sense of the insurance coverage issues for cyclists

Making sense of the insurance coverage issues for cyclists


by Kris Thompson  11/03/2011 

Thanks to Megan Hottman, "The Cyclist Lawyer" for providing this article! Hottman Law Office is a litigation and personal injury firm specializing in cyclists and athlete representation.

What cyclists need to know about homeowners, renters, auto and health insurance as it pertains to bicycles, cycling injuries, theft, and damage.
I had a "The Cyclist-Lawyer" booth set up at Veloswap last weekend, and the #1 topic people stopped by to discuss was insurance. Questions like “What happens if I don’t have auto or health insurance and I cause an accident or hit a pedestrian?” or “My bikes are really expensive, what’s the best way to insure them against theft or loss?” came up repeatedly. Two days after Veloswap, Kris at 303cycling sent me a link about “bicycle insurance,” asking my thoughts on it. So it seems, the topic is on your minds . . .

Below are some of the most common coverage issues we face as cyclists. Note: this discussion does not have anything to do with injuries or property damage resulting from a competitive event. This is a discussion about the cyclist out riding on public roads, for recreation or commuting purposes. I discussed these issues with my own insurance agent with regard to my own policies and you’ll see quotes from him below. Of course to be sure about your coverage, you’ll need to request a copy of your policy from your agent and read it carefully, as every insurance company is different in their claims-handling practices…

1. “What if I’m riding my bike and I hit a car, another cyclist, or a pedestrian. When I’m at fault, who covers their injuries and property damage, and who covers mine?”

If you are at fault in an accident involving another car, cyclist, or pedestrian, that person will seek recovery from you. Your auto insurance is not going to cover that person, because their injuries did not arise from your use of a motor vehicle. However your homeowners/renters insurance will cover their damages.

My agent says:

A homeowner or renters policy (review your liability section) will cover the compensatory damages for which any insured is legally liable because of bodily injury or property damage caused by an occurrence covered by the policy. Sporting activities such as riding a bike would be a covered occurrence, and therefore the policy would cover damage to the other party if you were liable.

As far as your own cycling equipment, there is not a covered peril listed on a homeowners policy that this would fall under, therefore your bike would not have coverage in this situation.

Your own personal injuries would not fall under a home or renters policy, but would be covered under your health insurance. A common rule with liability insurance is that you cannot be “liable to yourself.” Therefore, the medical coverage on a homeowner policy will not come into play for the insured –but it will cover the person you injured. So for your own bills, med pay (auto policy) or health insurance or potentially uninsured motorist coverage (auto policy) are the options.
[One other note, if you are riding professionally and getting paid at the time, that might be a sticking point - homeowners insurance would not cover the liability occurrence].

2. “What if my bike is stolen?” Does it matter where it is stolen from?

A homeowner or renters policy will cover it (after you pay your deductible). Note: high deductibles may result in you being better off just replacing the bike instead of filing an insurance claim. Review your deductibles relative to the value of your bikes. And some insurance companies will allow you to add a “rider” to your policy for specific items, like bikes (as you would for expensive jewelry or furs). Some will not.

My agent says:

Personal property coverage is not limited to the location of residents. If the bike is stolen at a different location it would be a covered loss.

3. “What if I drive my car under an awning (with bikes on top) or a deer runs out in front of my car –and my car and bikes are damaged?”

My agent says:

Homeowners or renters insurance will cover the driving under an awning while on top of the car. I also had a claim where the driver hit a deer, dented his car, and then the deer flew into the bikes on the back of the car doing damage to the bikes. The good news is that the damage was a covered peril on both the auto policy and homeowner’s policy; the bad news is the car’s comprehensive deductible was $1000, but the bikes that were damaged were covered under his homeowner’s policy which had a $2500 deductible. The deductible can be a tough pill to swallow in some cases. Generally renters have a smaller deductible than individuals with homeowner’s insurance- $500 instead of $1000 or more.

4. “What if someone hits me with their car while I’m riding my bicycle?” Who will cover my expenses?

Now – if you are hit or injured by someone else, their auto or homeowners/renters insurance will cover your medical expenses and property damage. If the person who hit you is un-insured, under-insured, or flees the scene, you may need to fall back on your own insurance, such as your auto policy’s UM/UIM coverage (stands for uninsured or underinsured coverage). UM/UIM coverage is frequently used when the car flees the scene (“hit and run”) because that ghost car is treated as an “un-insured motorist” by your insurance coverage.

My agent says:

Yes, a cyclist's auto UM/UIM coverage should cover them if they are struck by a car that flees (hit and run) even though the cyclist is on his bike, not in his car. If the cyclist has auto insurance, there is potential for the UM/UIM coverage to kick in. When I say potential, I mean it probably would cover the expenses, I just cannot think of a situation where it would not. I recently had an insured sitting on the porch of his apartment when a car lost control, and hit him on his porch. He is going to have coverage through his UM/UIM.

You can also turn to your auto policy “med pay” coverage for help with your medical expenses: Med pay coverage under your auto policy (assuming you did not waive it) covers a cyclist’s medical expenses if they are injured in an accident with another vehicle. But -if the cyclist was injured because of their carelessness or was involved in a “single bike accident”, it would not apply. And usually med pay is only $5000. Your homeowners/renters insurance will not cover your medical expenses, even if you were not at fault.
My agent says:

that is not the intent of the liability coverage. It is for instances where the insured is at fault for bodily injury or property damage to someone else.

A recent example of how the medical coverage on a homeowner’s policy is used was this. My insured had a graduation party with about 100 guests. One of the guests was a 13 year old boy who was horse playing in the front yard. While goofing off, he tripped and fell onto a sharp piece of landscape material that cut his knee deeply. He ended up with 25 stitches, and a $3000 emergency room bill. Since his family did not have medical insurance, they ask the homeowner throwing the party to help. So when they called me, we opened a claim on their homeowners insurance under the medical expense coverage. This coverage will be a quick payout for them up to $5000, for the insured does not have to be found liable for the injury before payment.

5. What if someone tries to hit me or run me off the road with their car, on purpose?

… This can be tricky because insurance does not cover “intentional bad acts.” Insurance covers “accidents.” In such cases, if the police are called, that driver is likely to be cited with criminal charges. Their insurance company will likely deny coverage if it was an intentional act and not an accident –so this is another scenario where your own auto UM/UIM coverage might kick in.

6. Let’s say you hit a cyclist or pedestrian with your car. Or someone gets hurt on your property. These injuries can come with huge medical bills, which may exceed your insurance policy limits. If someone’s damages are not covered by your insurance limits, they can come after you personally –your bank accounts and your assets could be at risk. “What is the best way to protect myself against someone who sues me because I caused them injury (cycling-related or otherwise)?”

Carry homeowners/renters insurance and auto insurance (assuming you own a car) AND consider adding an umbrella policy for additional coverage in the event you are seriously injured or worse, you seriously injure someone else. A $1 Million umbrella usually only costs $200-300/year when added to your policy. This gives you your policy limits on auto/home PLUS an additional $1Million in coverage. Most insurance companies require you have home and auto insurance (with the same company) before they will issue an umbrella.

My agent says:

The renters or homeowners insurance must be in force prior to the issuance of an umbrella. To be eligible you need: Fairly clean driving records, home and auto policies with liability limits of $300k on the home, and $250/$500k on the auto insurance, and generally the issuing company would like to see the underlying coverages with the same company.

*You can also add an Endorsement on the umbrella for UM/UIM – it does cost extra (my insurance adds $28/vehicle/year) which extends UM/UIM to policy limits plus $1Million –a very good thing to have as a cyclist for the reasons discussed above.

A final note: if you are sued by someone that you injured, and it is a case where your auto or homeowners/renter policy will be paying that injured party, your insurer will provide you an attorney and defend you. However if it is a case where your insurance company pays out the policy limits to the person you injured, and the injured party is still seeking more money above and beyond those limits, your insurance company’s attorney will likely withdraw once policy limits are paid, and you will be left defending yourself or hiring your own lawyer to defend your personal assets. This is another reason an umbrella policy can be helpful –it will extend the representation of your insurance company and their defense of you (because rest assured they will fight hard before they pay out a $1M umbrella!).
Kris asked: what’s the difference in renters vs homeowners coverage? Nothing as far as the cycling issues discussed above. The difference is that renters insurance covers the renter’s property inside the residence, but doesn’t insure the residence itself –whereas homeowners covers the property inside AND the structure itself (hence, the reason HO premiums are much higher than renters insurance).

One more thing to note: if your insurer issues a separate policy per vehicle in your household, you can STACK your coverage. So –say you are hit (while riding your bike) by a car and they flee. Say your UM/UIM per vehicle coverage is 100/300k. If you have 3 cars in the household, this will actually give you $300/900k in UM/UIM coverage.
Like I said at the beginning – every policy and insurance company is different, so these answers may not apply to your situation (this article is not legal advice). It is a good idea to review your policies or have a discussion with your agent about your cycling-related questions before something happens, rather than after.

(SA Wheelmen note: as mentioned above, please check with your own insurance company(s) to determine your level of coverage.  Do not assume the information in this article will pertain to you.)

Why Your Workout Should Be High-Intensity

From a New York Times article:

Many people with chronic health problems resign themselves to lives of modest activity or no activity at all, thinking vigorous exercise is unsafe or that they lack the stamina for it. But recent studies are proving just the opposite.

They are showing that high-intensity exercise may be even better than regular aerobic activities for many patients with conditions like heart disease, diabetes, stroke, pulmonary disease, arthritis and Parkinson’s disease.

The studies strongly suggest that a more demanding but more efficient and often more enjoyable form of exercise known as high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, is not only safe for most patients but more effective at preventing or reversing the deficits associated with many chronic ailments.

Although once reserved for athletes seeking a competitive advantage and for healthy people wanting to burn more body fat,HIIT is now being studied as a treatment that is sometimes as effective as medication for many people with chronic health problems.

Researchers have found that repeatedly pushing the body close to its exercise limits for very brief periods, interspersed with periods of rest, is more effective than continuous moderate activity at improving cardiovascular, respiratory, metabolic and mechanical functions.

Instead of continuous movement for 20 or more minutes, as is typical for exercise walkers, joggers and cyclists, HIIT usually involves 30 to 60 seconds of exercise near the peak of a person’s ability, followed by a comparable recovery period of easy activity, with the sequence repeated for a total of about 20 minutes three times a week.

“We know that exercise is good for people at risk of chronic disease, but people tend not to exercise,” said Jonathan P. Little, a specialist in exercise physiology at the University of British Columbia at Okanagan. Yet he and other researchers report that study participants find interval training more enjoyable than continuous aerobic exercise, making it more likely that people will continue it on their own.

Various activities can be adapted to interval training, including cycling, swimming, walking and jogging, especially on a machine like a stationary bike or treadmill. But HIIT is possible indoors and out, for example by alternating sprints with more moderate exercise.

The intensity is tailored to an individual’s starting ability. “The high-intensity component is set at 80 to 90 percent of the person’s maximum aerobic capacity,” Dr. Little said. Researchers commonly use exercise bikes and treadmills to adjust the pace mechanically.

However, high-intensity exercise, even just half a minute at a time, is not appropriate for everyone. In a recent report in the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health & Fitness Journal, Dr. Little; his wife, Mary E. Jung, also at the University of British Columbia; and Marcus W. Kilpatrick of the University of South Florida wrote that HIIT “is only appropriate for low-risk individuals, moderate-risk individuals who have been cleared for vigorous intensities by a medical professional, and high-risk individuals who are under direct medical supervision during exercise training.”

Among the physiological benefits of HIIT are the body’s increased ability to use oxygen and insulin, as well as arteries that are more elastic than continuous moderate exercise can achieve.

“We’ve seen, for example, that interval training is remarkably effective at lowering glucose levels in people with diabetes,” Dr. Little said in an interview. “Just one session improves a person’s glucose level.”

A 12-week controlled study in Denmark of high-intensity interval walking for patients with Type 2 diabetes showed it helped control blood glucose levels better than continuous moderate exercise, even though the same number of calories was expended by both groups. Interval training also was more effective at enhancing the patients’ physical fitness and reducing body fat relative to lean muscle tissue.

By making blood vessels better able to expand, HIIT can improve the cardiovascular system’s ability to respond to added exertion. Oxygen-carrying blood can flow more smoothly through arteries that are wide open, which also reduces the risk of a vessel-blocking clot.

The body’s ability to use oxygen efficiently improves markedly “after as little as two weeks of training” with HIIT, the researchers wrote. Peak oxygen uptake — the amount of oxygen an individual can use during intense exercise — is considered the best indicator of cardiovascular fitness and an independent predictor of illness and death in cardiac patients.

“Too many people think incorrectly that high-intensity exercise is only for athletes, that it’s a heart attack waiting to happen,” Dr. Little said. On the contrary, the research strongly suggests, it is more likely to reduce the risk of a heart attack.

In a 2012 report reviewing the effects of HIIT in patients with coronary artery disease and heart failure, researchers in Canada, France and Switzerland wrote that “HIIT appears safe and better tolerated by patients than moderate-intensity continuous exercise” and more effective at increasing patients’ peak oxygen uptake, blood vessel flexibility and pumping ability of the heart.

Patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are often unable to exercise long enough to gain needed health benefits. But they can do HIIT for long periods with less shortness of breath and leg discomfort, researchers at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens have reported.

Stroke patients with persistent disabilities can also benefit from HIIT. As rehabilitation specialists at the University of Cincinnati wrote this month in BioPortfolio, stroke patients with residual weakness “enter a vicious cycle of limited activity and deconditioning.” But while regular aerobic exercise can improve their function and cardiovascular health, preliminary studies, including one in Trondheim, Norway, suggest that patients do even better with HIIT. The Norwegian team reported that the improvements persisted for months after the six-week high-intensity exercise program ended.

And Polish researchers demonstrated that HIIT could alleviate the rigidity and excessive muscle tone that makes it difficult for Parkinson’s disease patients to move their arms and legs. The researchers, from the University School of Physical Education in Krakow, Poland, showed in 11 patients with mild to moderate Parkinson’s symptoms that eight weeks of HIIT, three times a week, on a stationary bike had a global benefit, improving both lower and upper body function.

Reductions in rigidity and stiffness correlated with an increase in a substance called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which the researchers suggested could have stimulated the growth and function of nerves normally influenced by dopamine, the neurotransmitter that declines in Parkinson’s disease.

How Exercise Keeps Us Young

From a New York Times article:

Active older people resemble much younger people physiologically, according to a new study of the effects of exercise on aging. The findings suggest that many of our expectations about the inevitability of physical decline with advancing years may be incorrect and that how we age is, to a large degree, up to us.

Aging remains a surprisingly mysterious process. A wealth of past scientific research has shown that many bodily and cellular processes change in undesirable ways as we grow older. But science has not been able to establish definitively whether such changes result primarily from the passage of time — in which case they are inevitable for anyone with birthdays — or result at least in part from lifestyle, meaning that they are mutable.

This conundrum is particularly true in terms of inactivity. Older people tend to be quite sedentary nowadays, and being sedentary affects health, making it difficult to separate the effects of not moving from those of getting older.

In the new study, which was published this week in The Journal of Physiology, scientists at King’s College London and the University of Birmingham in England decided to use a different approach.

They removed inactivity as a factor in their study of aging by looking at the health of older people who move quite a bit.

“We wanted to understand what happens to the functioning of our bodies as we get older if we take the best-case scenario,” said Stephen Harridge, senior author of the study and director of the Centre of Human and Aerospace Physiological Sciences at King’s College London.

To accomplish that goal, the scientists recruited 85 men and 41 women aged between 55 and 79 who bicycle regularly. The volunteers were all serious recreational riders but not competitive athletes. The men had to be able to ride at least 62 miles in six and a half hours and the women 37 miles in five and a half hours, benchmarks typical of a high degree of fitness in older people.

The scientists then ran each volunteer through a large array of physical and cognitive tests. The scientists determined each cyclist’s endurance capacity, muscular mass and strength, pedaling power, metabolic health, balance, memory function, bone density and reflexes. They also had the volunteers complete the so-called Timed Up and Go test, during which someone stands up from a chair without using his or her arms, briskly walks about 10 feet, turns, walks back and sits down again.

The researchers compared the results of cyclists in the study against each other and also against standard benchmarks of supposedly normal aging. If a particular test’s numbers were similar among the cyclists of all ages, the researchers considered, then that measure would seem to be more dependent on activity than on age.

As it turned out, the cyclists did not show their age. On almost all measures, their physical functioning remained fairly stable across the decades and was much closer to that of young adults than of people their age. As a group, even the oldest cyclists had younger people’s levels of balance, reflexes, metabolic health and memory ability.

And their Timed Up and Go results were exemplary. Many older people require at least 7 seconds to complete the task, with those requiring 9 or 10 seconds considered to be on the cusp of frailty, Dr. Harridge said. But even the oldest cyclists in this study averaged barely 5 seconds for the walk, which is “well within the norm reported for healthy young adults,” the study authors write.

Some aspects of aging did, however, prove to be ineluctable. The oldest cyclists had less muscular power and mass than those in their 50s and early 60s and considerably lower overall aerobic capacities. Age does seem to reduce our endurance and strength to some extent, Dr. Harridge said, even if we exercise.

But even so, both of those measures were higher among the oldest cyclists than would be considered average among people aged 70 or above.

All in all, the numbers suggest that aging is simply different in the active.

“If you gave this dataset to a clinician and asked him to predict the age” of one of the cyclists based on his or her test results, Dr. Harridge said, “it would be impossible.” On paper, they all look young.

Of course, this study is based on a single snapshot of an unusual group of older adults, Dr. Harridge said. He and his colleagues plan to retest their volunteers in five and 10 years, which will provide better information about the ongoing effects of exercise on aging.

But even in advance of those results, said Dr. Harridge, himself almost 50 and an avid cyclist, this study shows that “being physically active makes your body function on the inside more like a young person’s.”

Essential Things to Have with You on a Bike Ride

  • Helmet (approved type and properly fitted)
  • Water bottles and cages or Camelbak-type hydration system
  • Tire pump or CO2 cartridges
  • Detailed map of the area
  • Cycling (padded) gloves, padded bike shorts
  • Spare tubes, patch kit, and tire levers
  • Identification, emergency contact numbers and change for a phone call or a cell phone (do NOT use while riding)
  • Energy bars or similar energy replacement food
  • Sunglasses
  • Sunscreen & lip screen
  • Money
  • Basic tools specific to your bike (if on a long or self-sufficient trip)
  • U-Lock (if you are stopping for long periods other than just a rest stop)
  • Lights & reflectors if you plan any night riding.
  • Compact first-aid kit for long trips.

The Five-minute Bicycle Check

  • Check that your front wheel quick release or axle nuts are tight.
  • Squeeze the front brake lever and check that the brake pads align squarely on the rim. Lock the front brake and pull the bike back, the wheel should skid. Also check the brake cable for cuts or kinks.
  • Pick up the front of the bike and spin the front wheel. Check if the wheel wobbles from side to side. Check the tire wear and brake pad clearance from the rim. If you have fenders or a handlebar bag, make sure these do not rub on the tire.
  • Apply the front brake and try to rock the front wheel back and forth. If you feel any play, your headset might be loose and will need adjustment.
  • Repeat steps 1 through 3 for the rear of the bicycle.
  • Grab the crank arms and try to push them in and out to check the crank arms and bearings for looseness. There should be no lateral play in the crank axle. Also check that the pedals are screwed in all the way, flat against the crank arm.
  • With the rear wheel off the ground, turn the pedals and shift through the gears. Make sure the derailleur can reach all your chainring combinations and does not throw the chain off the front or back sprockets. You may need to make a cable adjustment or adjust the derailleur screws.
  • Try hard to twist the saddle up and down, and left and right. If it does not move, it is secure.
  • Do the same to your handlebars, bracing the front wheel between your knees. Put all your weight on the handlebars when twisting up and down to make certain they will not slip in an emergency stop.
  • Check other attachments, nuts and bolts to make sure nothing is loose or might rub against your tires.
  • Check your tire pressure with a gauge. Keep your tires pumped up to the recommended pressure marked on the tire.


Road Tips for Beginners

  • Avoid busy roads. Use lesser traveled residential streets whenever possible; take some extra time and enjoy the ride!
  • Be very careful when turning left, especially if there is a lot of traffic in either direction. On very busy roads, it is sometimes better to pull over to the right, dismount and walk across when the way is safe.
  • Watch for turning automobiles. A vehicle turning left across your path may not see you. Be prepared to stop.
  • A vehicle slowing to turn right should never be passed on the right. After checking traffic behind you and signaling, you may pass on the left.
  • Never pass a bus on the right as you may collide with passengers getting off the bus.
  • When riding near parked cars, be aware that car doors can suddenly open in front of you. Ride far enough away from parked cars that an open door won't be a problem.
  • When riding on a two-lane road, be aware of traffic backing-up behind you and allow it to pass whenever possible.
  • Be considerate to right-turning motorists when stopped at an intersection by leaving them room to make their turn, especially if it is permitted to make a right turn on red.
  • Let pedestrians and other cyclists know you are passing them with an audible warning before you pass. If a conflict arises, pedestrians have the right-of-way.
  • Try to select your lowest practical gear so that your legs can spin smoothly while maintaining pressure on your pedals. This will reduce strain on your knees.
  • ALWAYS cross railroad tracks at a perpendicular.
  • Never ride through puddles of water as it may be a deep pot hole.
  • On narrow roads without a shoulder, ride 14 to 24 inches from the edge of the pavement to help prevent cars from wanting to pass you without sufficient clearance.
  • Never use your brakes on road sand or silt and always avoid rocks.
  • Do NOT use headphones (iPods, etc.) on the bike.

2015 Easter Hill Country Tour

Bike Austin invites you to the 42nd Annual Easter Hill Country Tour! Experience the charm and hospitality of the Texas Hill Country, plus three days of the best riding Texas has to offer. Quiet, well-paved country roads, challenging terrain, and panoramic scenery have made the EHCT one of the premier bicycle events in Texas. With no mass-starts, you’ll enjoy a relaxed and friendly cycling experience. All rides are fully supported with rest stops and SAG vehicles. Join over 1000 riders and see why the Easter Hill Country Tour is an Easter weekend cycling tradition.
This year's EHCT is from Friday, April 3  through Sunday, April 5.  Any registration received by February 28 will only cost $45. 

Please visit for details.