Insurance adviceLife on bikes

Don’t read this if you work in the motorcycle insurance industry

Sometimes you come across a story so woeful it beggars belief. This is what happened when one of our own came into contact first with a lorry, then the motorcycle insurance industry. The latter experience was the more painful one…

One of the best ways to have an accident is to make sure you’re either not looking or can’t see where you’re going.

In my case, I was heading off to work on my new bike, on a lovely sunny morning in May, looking forward to taking the pretty route through lush green country lanes.

I turned a sharp corner and caught blinding sunlight straight in the face. I couldn’t see a thing so throttled off but not quickly enough. A lorry coming out of a side entrance on the right pulled out, also blinded by the sunlight.

We saw each other at the last moment; he hit the brakes, I hit the brakes and I swung the CBR round to the left to try to avoid his truck.

It was a low-speed impact but with seven and a half tons of inertia behind it the lorry hit me on my right side and I went over.

If you’ve ever broken a rib you’ll understand the pain and inability to breathe. I was rolling around on the ground moaning as a little crowd formed. Eventually, I sat up, took my helmet off and tried to get my rucksack off. That was when I noticed a grating sensation and that my arm was a bit, er, disconnected. 

For maybe the first time in my life, I decided to take the advice I was given and just stayed put. Then there were sirens, police, ambulance, the whole damn carnival.

Reduce your motorcycle insurance premiums

In the ambulance I was disappointed that the gas and air didn’t have the effect I’d heard about. No giggling from me at all. And I was a bit surprised at the smiling good mood of the police and ambulance guys.

“Normally when we get called out to a bike vs lorry incident it’s a lot worse than this,” one of them told me. I can’t begin to imagine what those guys have to see on a regular basis.

Conversation flowed around me as the morphene kicked in.

Apparently, there was a big annoyed-looking Marc-shaped dent in the front of the lorry. Good. I was told the damage to the bike didn’t look serious.

The lorry driver was explaining to the police how he often saw people driving like lunatics on that stretch of road, but the biker hadn’t even been going fast.

One of the police dudes was on the radio talking about the angle of the sun being a bastard. The driver of the car that arrived behind me was telling the police that if the bike hadn’t hit the lorry then he certainly would have.

I felt exonerated. And kind of woozy. I wasn’t badly injured, just one broken forearm and soft tissue damage to my shoulder and ribs. It doesn’t sound spectacular.

The police picked up my bike and stashed it at a nearby residence. They tucked a card in my pocket with some details and headed off to their next call. They’re always busy.

Next stop: pain

I was numb by then and was starting to feel like a right twit being wheeled around on a bed.

My local hospital has had its ups and downs over the years, but I have to say the treatment I received was second to none. I was X-Rayed and plastered then had plates put in my arm the following morning.

By the time the drugs wore off I was starting to realise how hurt I actually was. The fractured forearm was no problem; it was my ribs and shoulder that really hurt. I couldn’t sit up in bed without help and there was nothing to do except wait for it to heal. 

It’s odd how other people react. Every step of the way there was someone who wanted to tell me about a bike accident they had once or tell me what bike they rode. Even as I was coming to in the recovery room some bloke was telling me he’d had a bike when he was a lad.

Things could certainly have been a lot worse. I wasn’t dead, I hadn’t lost any limbs and didn’t have any injuries that I couldn’t get over.

Living in a civilised country, I’m grateful for free medical treatment.

Ambulance, drugs, surgery. Free. Need a CT scan at ten oclock at night? Boom! Sorted. It didn’t cost me a penny. Follow up appointments, physio, MRI scans. Free. If I lived in a different country, I’d be paying for this little adventure for the rest of my life.

I got home and spent the next week in bed. I could barely move because of the pain in my ribs. You don’t realise how much you take for granted until something happens. I couldn’t use a tin opener. I threw a pizza in the oven and then realised I didn’t have a pizza cutter and couldn’t cut it up with just one arm. I had to gnaw around the edge.

Getting in and out of the bath became an extreme sport.


Insurance claim: rhymes with pain

I knew it was going to be a marathon so waited a week then took a deep breath and started the process of making an insurance claim.

Jesus tap-dancing Christ. The nightmare had truly begun. That first day I spent six hours on the phone. Six. 

The first issue was that I didn’t have the registration number of the lorry that hit me. I had some details written down from the police who attended the scene, but not the reg number.

The insurance company refused to start a claim without that registration number. They said I should speak to the police. The police said they couldn’t give out the reg number because of GDPR. They said they’d speak directly to the insurance company, and only the insurance company. The insurance company refused point-blank to call the police to get the information ‘because the police might charge us for that information’. I’m ashamed to say there was some shouting.

I did some detective work and contacted the company that owned the lorry. Luckily, given what happened later, they gave me the registration number and I went back to the insurance company. I honestly don’t know how I could have broken that deadlock otherwise.

Word of advice. If you have an accident, get the reg number of the other vehicle if possible. Take photos if you can.

Once the claim was underway, the insurance company asked if I wanted to use a local bike shop for repairs or their agent. I opted for the insurer’s repair service thinking I’d get a better service from a proper repair place.

motorcycle insurance industry
© Marc Ryan | The damage overall was bitty, not any significant. But at one point there was talk of writing the bike off

The last time I had to make a claim was in 1983. People used to use paper and pens back in those days. You filled out a form and sent it to the insurers and they shafted you. These days it’s not nearly that simple and easy to get fucked over (for fucked over you are likely to be). There’s the added torture of dealing with call centres.

It gradually emerged over the following weeks and months that I was, in fact, dealing with not one but EIGHT different companies. And they weren’t talking to each other.

The company I had bought my insurance from handed me over to a claims handling company, then washed their hands of me. 

The claims handling company lost me in their system. 

The repair agent examined the bike, which wasn’t that badly damaged. But then the company who operated the lorry that hit me denied all responsibility. That meant either fighting a court case to prove their responsibility and force them to pay for repairs, or claim from my own insurance.

I was forced to actually read through all my insurance documents. I congratulated myself for ticking all those boxes. I had fully comprehensive insurance, no-claims bonus protection and helmet and leathers insurance. I was covered up to the nuts, or so I thought.

There were no witnesses or video evidence so it would be my word against the lorry driver. A court case might drag on for years. I opted to claim on my own insurance because I thought it would resolve the situation more quickly. 

The repair agent that now had my bike only dealt with ‘no-fault’ claims.

Claiming on your own insurance is treated as admitting the accident was your fault. I hadn’t known that.

That, in turn, meant that my claim needed to be switched to a different claims company and the bike had to be moved to a different repair centre. FUCK. MY. LIFE.

I started phoning the new claims company every day, asking difficult questions. I became one of those nightmare callers that call centre staff laugh about at lunchtime.

They didn’t have any information, they lost my details, the work experience kid who was dealing with my claim was on holiday, the dog ate their homework.

On one occasion, I spoke to a guy who denied all knowledge of my claim. I got a letter of apology over him. 

Another time I was told my bike had been inspected and declared a write-off. That was before the company had even collected my bike…

Competence. They lacked it.

motorcycle insurance industry
© Marc Ryan | Every dink and dent had to be accounted for. With the amounts the repairers receive for this and other jobs, you’d think they’d get a better camera
motorcycle insurance industry
© Marc Ryan | 

In the meantime, I was also trying to claim for a new helmet, which naturally was dealt with by another company. Just as naturally, the company that took my money for the insurance policy had forgotten to pass on the fact to the helmet and leathers insurance company. Cos that’s too much like hard work.

Just to keep myself busy, I started a personal injury claim as well. With a different company.

At one point, I asked one of the call handlers what she thought my customer experience was like. “Not great is it,” she said.

I still cannot believe the amount of running around I had to do. I’ve usually got my shit together and I’m pretty organised. I wonder how people who maybe aren’t so capable, so bloody-minded, maybe older people or people who are more injured than I was, cope with this level of bullshit incompetence? I concluded that the companies benefit from being shit because some people just abandon their claims rather than fight to the bloody end. I’ve added each company to my ever-growing personal shitlist and will do a lot more research when my next renewal rolls around.


Rubbing salt into the wounds

It was four weeks before I got back to work. I was still making loud squeaks and groans every time I moved. I had been on statutory sick pay, which isn’t much. A week later, I was told I was being made redundant. Shit company anyway.

I found a temp job and did that instead. I spent my lunchtimes hounding the various insurance companies every day.

Time dragged on; I was getting no information, no action. I learned a lot while looking into making a complaint to the insurance ombudsman.

It’s industry practise for insurers to write off a vehicle if the repairs cost more than 60%-70% of the vehicle’s pre-accident value.

Need to complain about an insurer?

If you feel you have been unfairly treated by a motorcycle insurer you can ask the Financial Ombudsman to look at your case. Click the link below.

The damage to my bike was apparently minor. Dented tank, clutch cover and gear lever, cracked fairing. If it had been one of my old Suzukis with 50 thou on the clock I would have patched it up and just ridden it. But because it’s a new bike and Honda parts are expensive, the repair bill was a fair proportion of the cost of the bike.

I continued my campaign of harassment and, eventually, I got a call to confirm the insurers had decided to carry out the repairs, but they had to wait for parts to arrive. From Japan.

I was told that the repair company had a relationship with Honda who sometimes make contributions to repair costs because it’s good business for them to keep Hondas on the road.

Meanwhile, my temp job came to an end.

The insurance nightmare also came to an end

The end result

Three and a half months after the accident, I finally got my bike back. It’s looking as good as new and ready to go in for its first 600-mile service.

A lot of people have far worse insurance horror stories, but I was genuinely outraged that it took so long to achieve something so simple. And angry at how hard I had to push them for action.

So that’s how my summer went down the toilet. I should have been touring Scotland and Wales but spent my time guzzling painkillers while listening to insurance companies’ shitty on-hold music.

So what could I have done to prevent this aggravation? A tinted visor might have given me an extra second of reaction time, but I was already wearing sunglasses.

A more visible bike? Well the CBR’s already got bright always-on LED headlights. If the lorry driver was blinded by the sun or just not looking then no amount of day-glow POLITE hi-vis vest is going to help.

If I’d been going 5 mph slower then it wouldn’t have happened, but I was already going pretty slowly.

My bike jacket is old style. Maybe if it had been more heavily armoured my injuries would have been lighter. But it was a lorry, there’s a limit to what protective clothing can do.

If I’d been driving a car instead, I would have been trapped, crushed and possibly on fire.


For the future I’ll be looking for a helmet with an additional sunvisor and leathers with better protection. Mostly though I’m going to avoid the insurance company I was with. Cos they really are wankers.

It’s not been a great year. Currently, I’ve been unemployed and getting shafted by the DWP, I’ve got a torn muscle in my shoulder that needs to be surgically reattached followed by physio. Every time I go for a medical appointment, I get: “Oh yeah, bike accident was it?” followed by a condescending look.

Honestly. Thirty-six years without an accident, I get hit by one little lorry and everyone thinks I’m a twat.

But I’m alive! I’ve got some cool new internal body jewellery, got my bike back and as I’m writing this I’ve had a call telling me I’ve got a new job starting on Monday. To top it all the sun’s come out and the roads are drying. I’ve just got time for a quick ride before winter sets in.

What’s the worst that can happen?

Biker & Bike say:

Not every insurer is the same. We have some great relationships with the motorcycle insurance industry and we know many insurers who will be genuinely horrified by the treatment a customer has received.

But the worst aspect of the story, aside from the painful injuries, is that Marc isn’t alone. Many of us have had similar experiences. 

As Marc says in an email to B&B’s Editor on the subject, ‘It feels like there’s a work experience kid – sitting in a rented office somewhere, with a big wheel of fortune – making decisions for people who actually need proper adults running their insurance companies and other organisations.’

Let’s hope the proper adults, working in insurers who actually care about their customers and want to provide them with the best service and experience (which we are paying for, remember), win the day.

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The Author

Marc Ryan

Marc Ryan

A bike nut since he was 17, Marc was forced to lay off the bikes for over 10 years, on doctor's orders. Finally given the nod he thought he'd ease himself back in gently on an XL 250 but promptly bought an SV650 which made him shit his pants for the first month.
He also writes his own random meanderings at his own blog,