Insuring the bike has proved much more of a chore than I expected.
I had imagined that home insurance companies would be falling over themselves to insure your electric bike, given the virtuous appeal and sustainability of this means of transport. In particular, having switched to John Lewis home insurance, I was confident that they would offer me a good deal.
Instead, after more than a week of waiting (having been told that a decision would be made in the next 2-3 days) I was informed that they were not in a position to insure my e-bike.
Early on in the process, they had asked me (mysteriously) how fast my e-bike could go. I said, honestly, that I had no idea. I explained that I hadn’t yet bought the bike, never driven an e-bike and that I could only guess at the maximum velocity possible. They had insisted that I provided a figure for the maximum speed that would be attainable on the bike, once I had bought it.
When I was a child, I used to cycle down a steep hill into a disused quarry with my brothers, and we would often end up in a heap at the bottom with all sorts of cuts and grazes. It was one of those daredevil things that kids get up to at a certain age, and we loved the buzz and the danger, even though in reality (when I visited the quarry many years later as an adult) it was a relatively tame slope and the quarry much smaller than I remembered. I remember we used to talk about how fast you could go on a bike, and we would often drive alongside the Cortina as my father accelerated, asking him to measure how fast we were able to go. For some reason, 25 mph stuck in my head as the maximum speed attainable. With e-assistance, it seemed entirely plausible that I could add at least 5 mph to that giddy velocity.
“I don’t know,” I said. “Maybe 30 mph. If you were on a hill perhaps.”
When my request for insurance cover was rejected by John Lewis, the woman I was dealing with said that the cover had been refused on the grounds that I had told them the bike went 30 mph and they could only cover bikes that could travel at no more than 15 mph. I said that was ridiculous and asked if they would rescind my home insurance cover.
What hope is there for the world? I was astounded that the simple act of insuring a bike had become a minefield of smoke and mirrors. What should I have done? Lied about the speed my e-bike could do? Even when I had taken it out for the first time, I had managed 20 mph on the flat. John Lewis was effectively telling me that they did not want to support a sustainable lifestyle choice. They were happy to take my money to cover me against regular home theft, an easy bet given that we have never made an insurance claim for burglary ever, but as soon as there was a risk that they didn’t like, they were running a mile under the camouflage that the bike was some kind of death machine because of its speed.
I did not, moreover, understand their reasoning. I was asking for insurance against the risk that the bike might be stolen from my house, or perhaps from the shed. Since I had bought it, I had had the bike standing in the centre of my living room (a viable option given that Jenny and the kids were in Dorset). I was not asking for liability cover, but only that John Lewis protect me in the case of theft. So how was it relevant that the bike could travel at 30 mph (even if it could, which I have so far not yet tested, as I have only been travelling to and from the allotment and the highest speed I have reached is 20 mph. But give me time!)
My guess, and I welcome comment from John Lewis if it is not the case, is that the speed was simply an excuse. Any insurer has the right to not insure something that it finds too risky, and it seems to me that John Lewis has decided that e-bikes are something it wants nothing to do with. Fine. Damn the issues around sustainability.
In similar vein, I have decided that I will only shop with John Lewis and related stores such as Waitrose when I have no other options. That’s consumer choice. I shall find myself another insurance company. I will shop elsewhere. I urge anyone else with similar ecological priorities to do likewise. These big firms should be supporting the move to e-mobility, not thwarting it.