Off-road road insurance? Go compare!

Richard Eastham tackles online bike insurance renewal. Just how difficult can it be?

The insurance company that covers my off-road motorbike wrote to me 8 weeks ago; “We are very sorry sir we are no longer able to cover you, but there are plenty of price-comparison sites on the internet you can use. Thank you.” (I might have paraphrased the letter, but that was the gist of it).
Those curious amongst you will be wondering why I need statutory road insurance for a bike that I ride off-road? Apparently it’s because I use the road to get to the “off-road,” and even on the “off-road” I need road insurance.
So I need off-road, road insurance?

No wonder the insurance company doesn’t want to cover me – their fully automated snapnumpty, A.I., algorithm probably doesn’t understand the concept of riding on the road to go off-road riding. Not least because in the UK an off-road track is legally known as a BOAT (a Byway Open to All Traffic). As it turns out I am infact a seafarer.
“So, sir, you want BOAT insurance for a bike?” You can see the problem…
So, I did what any self-respecting middle-aged biker would do: completely forgot about it. That was until yesterday when I got an email in my spam from said insurance company that my insurance had run out. They had in fact sent this last week and it was only by chance I was looking in my spam for something else, that I happened to find it.

Anyway, this morning, I’m on it. I have every piece of information in my possession to crack the intoxicating world of online motorbike insurance. Ah, perhaps I’d better not use the word “intoxicating”, I want to create a good impression with my potential new insurer. I have heard that insurance companies time an applicant’s response to their on-line questions. Apparently they do this to know if you’re lying (as opposed to being slow, disinterested, or needing two goes at the same question, which is usually my preferred way of tacking online questionnaires).

So I have my best glasses on, the interweb flashed up on my biggest monitor and my dog-eared driving licence to hand. Did I really pass my driving test in 1982? And I never knew I was allowed to drive a bus and trailer combination up to a maximum of 12 tonnes. I had to check that again on the back of the licence because it’s category “D1E” which I thought was die, probably something I would do if I ever got to drive a 12 tonne bus and trailer combination.

So, I make a start. I can’t believe how much information they need. It goes on for ever. My mind wanders. I have a thought. Each question has a little question mark icon at the end of it. I guess it’s ‘click here for further information about the question’. An old school wheeze comes to mind, perhaps if I do the electronic equivalent of putting my hand up, teacher (or in this case fully automated snapnumpty) might actually think I’m paying attention. I press the question icon and… the screen freezes. It’s there but there’s a grey translucent mask over it.

Flippin’ heck. I have two choices, I can wait or press the mouse loads of times right and left handed – that’s the mouse “clicks” not me using the mouse in either hand, I’m not ambidextrous. At least I don’t think they’ve asked that question yet.

Anyway, I have a conference call to attend, fortunately on another computer. I leave it. It’s 40 minutes before I can get back, only to find that the grey mask has gone, to be replaced by a message saying “Session Timed Out”. I’ll have to start again.

I re-start. My answers are much quicker this time as I know the questions. Does this mean they think I’m lying, or a fast reader, (or both). I’m only slowed by a wicked question, “when do you want the insurance to start?” I remember my daughter, who is far cleverer than I am in these things, mentioning that insurance is disproportionately more expensive if you need to be covered on the day you ask for the quote. Apparently it’s pay-back (or in this case pay-up) for duffers like me who leave everything until it’s too late. I don’t actually need the bike as no off-road, road riding is planned, so I opt for next week. That should fool them into thinking that I’m not a last minute merchant. Ooops, perhaps that’s my first lie on the form. I had to consider the question over a hot drink, but was mindful not to be too long otherwise it would time-out again. Stress, I can tell you.
I enter the motorbike registration. Helpfully it comes up with a manufacturer and model, which would have been really helpful if it had been the correct manufacturer and model. I disappear into a sub-loop of trying to change this. I have the bloody V5 registration in front of me mate – I know what bike I’ve owned for the last 2 years. Then I remember that I’m on the interweb and not on the phone – no use talking to the monitor, it’s not monitoring what I’m saying.

At last, the last question. Oddly no questions about off-road riding, which isn’t surprising because in the UK I don’t think you can claim for that portion. I click return and await which insurer would be good enough to allow me to spend some money with them.

Yep – it’s the company that wrote to me 8 weeks ago saying that they will no longer cover me for off-road, road riding. Surely some mistake? But no, they are the cheapest at £82.89 for the year, provided I pay now and don’t want any actual paperwork, (but they will send me an email of the policy).

I should have quit whilst I was ahead. Let them take the money and I could head off thinking about what off-road tracks I would soon bimble around, rather than roads that get me to the off-road tracks. I have no interest in those.

But no. I try to game the system. If it’s £82.89 going through a third party agent, how much would it be if I went direct – a sort of direct line so to speak – but for the avoidance of doubt Direct Line don’t insure motorbikes, so I guess I’d have to take an indirect direct line.

So I go to old insurer/soon to be new insurer’s website. I go through all the same questions, more or less apart from a new one, how many children do I have under the age of 16. I found this curious. Answering “Yes” meant you did, but “No” could mean you either had children but they were over 16, or you had no children at all. What risk factor would specifically increase your off-road, road insurance with children 0 to 16 years old? Are you more or less cavalier regarding road safety with kids in that category? I digress…. I didn’t want the thing to time out again, I’d better get on.

I get to the last question. The browser has a stern warning: ‘Do not touch anything, finding your best deal’. I thought, that’s a laugh, I bet at the end of this they won’t cover me, it’s all been a mistake. But no, I’m wrong, they will cover me, for a premium of £190.06. What? how does that work? That’s more than double. The insurance company are incurring extra cost by paying a commission to a comparison website for the privileged of undercutting themselves with a direct offering by 56.4%. This is bonkers.

I quickly go back to the comparison site, before snapnumpty A.I. realises I’ve been talking to the competition and cans the deal. It’s not timed out. Good. Click ‘buy now’ and I get sent to the insurer’s website. Aaahhh, they just want to clarify a few things first. Oh no I thought, this is where it all goes pear-shaped. A.I. is going to know that I’ve got a bid open on the adjacent tab for more than double the price, direct from the same insurer. (I didn’t even have the forethought to use a different browser before go comparing the insurer with an eponymously named, well-known price comparison site).

Ah, the game’s up, they’re bound to know. It’s just like the time I overstayed my visa by 3 months back in the days of Soviet Ukraine. I thought I’d got away with it, right up to the last checkpoint just before boarding the aeroplane. It’s a long story and in my defence it could have happened to anybody (no? well just me then). Let’s just say, me and the Kalashnikov-toting army guard came to a capitalist arrangement. The sense of relief whilst downing that first G&T on the Swissair flight leaving Kiev was in sharp contrast to the emotions I was presently feeling in my duplicitous dealings with snapnumpty.

I should have quit there. No more messing, pay up, shut up and be done. But Noooo. How much would it be if I opted for £0 voluntary excess, not the standard £200 as suggested. I change the options, sit back expecting the premium to go up to £190.06. It returns a sum of £82.89. What, is that extra on top of the annual premium?
No, it’s total premium for the whole year. But that’s the same as if I’d opted for a voluntary excess of £200. Yes!! I let out an involuntary laugh. The insurance world has gone mad.

I quickly put in the card details. One click and two emails later and I am a fully legal off-road, road riding biker (well I will be next week when the policy actually starts). I have the same cover at half the price, with the same insurer that said 8 weeks ago they wouldn’t be able to cover me.

I now sit here with a hot drink patting myself on the back (metaphorically, not actually, not at my age…) and contemplate life, economics and the world of interweb insurance. How can you get insurance cover at less than half price than that quoted directly by the company that is actually insuring you? And at the same price with zero voluntary excess as with £200 voluntary excess. Clearly motorbike insurance doesn’t follow the same laws of economics I struggled with at University.

I don’t believe it…
But then I realise that regarding the excess, I would only be “up” on the deal if I claimed on the insurance and the company actually paid out. Considering there is more chicanery in a typical off-road, road insurance policy than there is in your average off-road motorcycle chain as it hurtles along a muddy track at 50 miles per hour, maybe it doesn’t matter. For the simple reason, said insurance company are never going to pay out. Now where’s that email with the policy details that you can only read after purchasing?
Safe travels.