2020 was a game changer for cycling

By Paul Williams, Cycleplan CEO

It’s safe to say that 2020 was a turbulent year. None of us could have predicted the extraordinary upheaval brought about by COVID-19, or the far-reaching effects it continues to have on our daily lives.

Amidst the many tragedies of the pandemic, however, have emerged a few positive outcomes – one being the significant increase in people taking up cycling across the UK. Not least for the benefits that cycling is proven to have on our physical and mental health; both of which have been markedly at stake over the past 12 months.

Indeed, we polled policyholders on the topic in April and two-thirds of the 547 respondents told us that cycling boosts their mood. A further 47% said it helps them to manage anxiety and 51% of respondents stated that it helps them to reduce stress. It’s been more important than ever to maintain resilience during this difficult period – and we know that cycling has been a helpful coping strategy for many.

But cycling does come with a degree of risk. Injury, accident, damage and theft are sadly not uncommon. Which is why specialist cycling insurance is a necessity, not simply a nice-to-have.

It has therefore been encouraging to see that sales of insurance products to new cyclists have grown significantly in line with the spike in bike sales during the initial wave of the pandemic. Our sales are currently up 380% year-on-year and we know from our partners that this picture is mirrored across the wider industry. Moreover, besides sales volumes, coronavirus has impacted cycling insurance in a number of other ways.

Shifting claim types
Firstly, the pandemic – alongside the resulting wholesale changes in consumer behaviour – has created a shift in the types of claim being made. We saw a noticeable shift towards damage claims during the first national lockdown, due to an increase in people using their bikes for exercise and taking longer leisure rides. Less experienced cyclists, who may have discovered or returned to the activity after a long time, are also more likely to cause damage to their bike through scrapes and crashes.

Theft has also been an issue. National statistics from BikeRegister show that bike theft surged by almost 50% year-on-year this summer, with thieves taking advantage of the spike in demand for bikes to supply reseller websites with low-cost cycles.It’s a problem that has sadly affected some of the most vulnerable and hardworking members of society.

Many of us will remember reports of NHS workers’ bikes being stolen from hospitals and medical centres during the early days of lockdown. This led us to introduce a 50% discount for NHS staff which we know benefitted many people. We’ve also been working to educate new cyclists on security best practice, such as locking up to an immovable object and regularly changing your parking spot.

Spreading the safety message
The increase in cyclists on the road, unfortunately, creates a greater opportunity for accidents to occur – especially as many people will not yet be experienced riders. The UK is not up to speed when it comes to developing safe and secure cycling routes, despite efforts by many road safety campaigners to the contrary.

To analyse and help combat safety concerns, we recently launched a national survey of over 1,500  regular cyclists, which found that 35% of respondents have been injured while cycling in the past 12 months. The resulting campaign – Pedal Safe – seeks to highlight the dangers associated with cycling, while arming people with the knowledge and tools they need to ride more safely in future.

Of course, the introduction by the UK Government of a £2 billion investment package to improve cycling infrastructure within towns and cities will also help, but we mustn’t lose momentum.

Looking ahead, we predict that micromobility will be a major trend for 2021. Whitehall is clearly committed to transforming the way we travel around towns and cities, so the shift seems inevitable.

E-bikes, which help to remove the fitness barrier that puts many people off cycling, have seen a threefold sales spike during 2020. And, whereas 18 months ago, we had e-bikes representing around 10% of our policies taken, that tally is now closer to 19%. Already popular with commuters, it seems likely that e-bikes will be a key mode of transport for those returning to the workplace in the future.

What’s more, there are clear signs that the legalisation of e-scooters on roads would be well-received by the public. We’re keeping a close eye on the trials currently taking place across the UK, particularly following the Transport Committee’s report which recommended the devices be fully legalised. We recently launched an e-scooter product so that early adopters of the technology can be covered right now for use on private land; and then on public roads if and when legislation is passed.

With the growing trend of micromobility comes greater awareness of the risks involved so, naturally, there will be opportunities for insurers if it continues to develop. However, insurance isn’t currently mandatory for cyclists and we don’t yet have clarity on the cover that may be required for e-scooters if the current trials are successful. So, time will tell the impact that this has on the industry as a whole.

Mobilising around the opportunity
For obvious reasons, 2020 has been a game changer for cycling. Shifting consumer behaviour in response to the COVID-19 pandemic has presented a clear opportunity – and it’s one that we must seize upon with both speed and momentum.

In many ways, the UK’s approach to cycling is still behind the curve in comparison to many of our global counterparts. So, although it’s true that the Government has backed cycling infrastructure projects and public health campaigns for some time, we now have the chance to capitalise on a pivotal moment and become truly bike-first.

In practice, this will require much more than token gestures. We need radical action to ensure that cycling is prioritised across towns and cities – more parking, a joined-up network of cycle lanes, better security and easy access charging points for e-bikes… that’s just the start. Happily, this all aligns with the ongoing road to carbon-neutral project and soon-to-be restored focus on environmental concerns from the incoming Biden administration.

There is, clearly, still so much to do. But it’s time for the industry to make a bold step change in the way we approach cycling in the UK – watch this space!

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