The real costs of riding a bike

Cyclists - you either love them or hate them. However, few of us realise the hidden costs involved in riding a bike.

Cyclists really tend to polarise opinions - you're either a diehard cyclist or a frustrated motorist or pedestrian, convinced bikes are a danger on the roads.

But whichever camp you fall into, there are hidden costs to cycling you're probably not aware of - theft, vandalism and potential lawsuits. We look at some of the most common and how to avoid them.

Prime targets for thieves

With cycling fanatics spending hundreds, sometimes thousands, of pounds on their bikes and accessories, the threat of theft is a major concern.

Imagine you nip into the local supermarket and leave your bike outside. Unless you take proper precautions, it may well not be there when you get back. If you don't believe me, ask David Cameron, who has twice been the victim of a high profile bike theft.

The British Crime Survey found that 115,147 bikes were reported stolen in 2010, but the actual figure may be as high as 533,000, according to bike specialists Halfords. If this is correct, it would mean that a bike is stolen every minute, with many cyclists not bothering to report the crime to police.

Protect yourself against legal costs

If you're a seasoned cyclist, you've probably had at least one heated exchange with an irate motorist or pedestrian while on your bike. Although these incidents will normally go no further, some accidents could have more serious consequences.

According to data from bike insurer Protectyourbubble.com, 14% of cyclists have damaged vehicles while riding their bikes and 15% have hit pedestrians.

"If you hit a pedestrian who then takes legal action as they cannot work due to their injuries, legal fees and compensation could stretch to hundreds of thousands of pounds, so it really does pay to be covered," said Stephen Ebbett, director of Protectyourbubble.com.

In order to be protected against such claims, you will need to take out an insurance policy containing a third party or liability clause.

Specialist cover versus home insurance

If you do decide to protect your bike, you have two possible options - making sure your cycle is covered on your home insurance or taking out a specialist, separate policy.

With certain home insurance policies, your bikes may be covered under an 'all risks' addition, in which possessions are covered when they are temporarily away from the home.

If you rely on your home insurance, you will need to read the fine print carefully as many home insurance policies specifically exclude bikes.

Should you wish to add your bike to your home insurance, you may need to pay an additional sum on top of your standard premium. Doing so could potentially cover you against loss, damage or theft.

Alternatively, you could opt for separate bike insurance, which may offer a range of protection not available via home insurance, such as roadside assistance and liability cover.

Whichever type of insurance you choose, there is a risk your insurer will not pay out if you have been negligent - i.e left it unlocked or it is damaged through your own carelessness.

As with any insurance policy, make sure you shop around for the best possible deal on your bike cover or you could end up paying over the odds.

[Useful: Compare home insurance deals online]

Top tips to protect your bike

Keep accurate records: Remember to note your bike's make, model and frame number, as well as taking a clear photograph. This way, you will be able to provide the police with an accurate description if you are the victim of theft.

Buy the best lock you can afford: Although any lock is better than none at all (especially from an insurance perspective), an experienced thief will probably have little difficulty in breaking a cheap lock. When budgeting for your bike, it would be wise to factor in the cost of security features - an adequate lock will set you back around £40.

Park it sensibly: It might sound obvious but try to leave your bike in a well-lit, public locations and tied against an immovable object.