A number of RiDE readers have written to me in the past few months with the same query after one big motorbike insurer has been rejecting bike renewals for pretty obscure reasons. Ben, for example, replaced the rather tatty fairing on his 20-year-old Honda Blackbird with a pattern fairing, in black and orange Repsol colours, rather than standard black. When he told his Insurers, they declined to insure the “modified” bike. I have heard the same story for stubby brake levers, nose cones and even luggage racks – all coming from the same insurer.

The rule is simple, following a change to all insurers across the European Union. This remedied the extraordinarily hard position taken in English law which had not changed since the Edwardian era.

Some insurers still have not quite got used to the shift in the balance of power. The old rules were that you, as a consumer, proposed your motorcycle insurance and even if a question was not asked, you were obliged to raise any matter which might make the insurer reconsider its premium.

At its harshest, this meant you were supposed to apply the tests that an underwriter would apply, even though you couldn’t fairly be expected to understand what these might be. The worst excesses were mitigated by the Insurance Ombudsman (as was) but the law was extraordinarily unfair and resulted in proper claims being rejected. The most egregious rejection I saw was for a motorcycle with uprated fork damping oil and springs being rejected for a theft claim.

Following the Consumer Insurance Act 2013, the burden reversed. If the Insurer does not ask a question it cannot hide behind “non-disclosure”. It means that if an insurer does not ask the question, it cannot be interested in the answer so it cannot take it into account. If you carelessly, recklessly or dishonestly answer a question incorrectly, then a claim can still be rejected – but not on a whim.

If your proposal form asks “What modifications have been carried out on the motorcycle?” the words bear their ordinary meaning. Modification means a change but English law is interpreted reasonably. So Ben, with his changed fairing, has modified the motorcycle and the insurers, if they ask the question, can decline to reinsure the bike on renewal. However, they can decline to reinsure it even without modification. Unfortunately, Ben now has to answer any question that another insurer might ask him, namely: “Has any insurer declined to insure you?” He will have to say that he has been so rejected. So insurers who have a very rigid policy on modifications are best avoided.

There is no need to panic, though. The law is interpreted reasonably by sensible and pragmatic judges and insurers know this. An Insurer should not refuse to pay out if you replace your OE tyres with stickier rubber, because tyres are consumables and get replaced. Replacing a rotted OE exhaust pipe with a fire breathing Akro or Beowulf is a declarable motorbike modification. Tyres or sidestand extenders are not.

At renewal time, you are governed by the market. Your insurer can choose not to renew your business for any – or no – reason. I suspect when renewals are declined on spurious grounds, the insurer is either running down its bike Insurance presence or moving out of a class of Insurance.

You may be loyal to an insurer but they will not be loyal to you. My Insurer wanted to stick my 18-year-old daughter on a £1300 policy for a Yamaha MT-125 – third party – while another quoted £380 for comprehensive cover. One insurer wanted the business, the other didn’t. If you want loyalty, get a Labrador.

Andrew DaltonRiDE Magazine

August 2018