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Motorbike telematics insurance

Can motorbikers and telematics insurance ever be a workable mix? Graham Thomas looks at the development of black box technology for motorcycles.

There's no doubt [telematics for bikes] will come in due course because the technology is moving on all the time
Ian Crowder, the AA

At first glance it might appear that motorcyclists and 'black box' telematics insurance devices are not a match made in heaven.

After all, the notion that a leather-clad biker in shades - easing back the throttle on the Harley-Davidson as they survey the open road - would allow anything as restrictive as an all-seeing computer to cramp their style may seem highly unlikely.

But the reality is that both riders and telematics cannot be fitted into narrow stereotypes. Just as those on two wheels come in a variety of different guises, so - in time - will telematics devices.

Motorbike insurance companies recognise that bikers are a diverse group and, once some of the issues relating to cost and data are resolved, the belief is that telematics will appeal to some customers on two wheels, just as they do to those on four.Motorbike

Attitude of insurers

There are specialist motorbike insurers - such as Bennetts, Bikesure and the AA - but as yet none of them offer policies that operate through telematics.

"Telematics will come to bikes, but it hasn't yet," said AA Insurance spokesman Ian Crowder. "The challenges are to make it cost effective.

"There are many people who use their bikes only occasionally in the summer months.

"Telematics may clearly be a good way to judge an infrequent biker, but the technology cost would be split over fewer days.

"There's no doubt [telematics for bikes] will come in due course because the technology is moving on all the time."

Motorcycles experience a range of movement and dynamics far more diverse than a passenger car
Graeme Hay, British Motorcyclists Federation

Telematics devices for bikes

It's thought that the hardware aspects should be straightforward enough.

Devices that are lightweight and can comfortably fit into the palm of a hand will fit snugly enough onto a motorbike.

The box will plug into the bike's ECU (electronic control unit) and then track things like speed, movement, location, and duration of ride, in a similar way to telematics car insurance.

It could also help in detecting and recovering the bike in the event of it being stolen.

Data capture

One of the major challenges to be overcome centres on the reading of the data captured, since riding a motorbike differs substantially from driving a car.

Raw data that could indicate unsafe driving in a car may have to be adapted to determine the performance of a biker.

Braking and accelerating, as well as the position on the road of the vehicle, is a different experience when sitting behind a wheel to when you're clutching a handlebar.

"According to our figures, the telematics scores for bikers are likely to be substantially worse than for car drivers," said Crowder. "That might put bikers off adopting this technology.

"Some of them have embraced helmet cameras, but the main purpose for the biker there seems to be to show how bad driving from car or lorry drivers is affecting the biker.

"Many bikers are not keen to adopt this technology if they believe the insurer is then able to follow their driving every inch of the way.Scooter

"They may be identified weaving in and out of traffic and sometimes exceeding the speed limit.

"But there will be a market for [telematics bike insurance] and it would be wrong to suggest bikers are all irresponsible.

"There are clearly lots of extremely responsible bikers who enjoy going out for a run on their bikes, without having to see if it will top 180mph, or what it can do round a bend."

Lifestyle choice

A bigger obstacle to overcome for insurers is likely to be the emotional or gut reactions of many motorcyclists.

Riders are likely to be very unwilling to accept such devices onto their bikes under any form of compulsion
Graeme Hay

Bikers often view their riding as a lifestyle choice as much as a mode of transport. The idea of being watched, and even restricted, may not sit easily with potential customers.

This is something that the British Motorcyclists Federation - a group that represents bikers in the UK and sits on some government advisory groups - are mindful of.

Whilst the BMF sees some advantages in telematics - such as for young or inexperienced riders who are quoted high premiums - it has concerns over the interpretation of data.

BMF Government Relations Executive Graeme Hay says: "Motorcycles experience a range of movement and dynamics far more diverse than a passenger car.

"Understanding the cause of any such movements would seem impossible, without being on the bike at the time.

"In the event of a fully developed understanding of the dynamic range experienced on a motorcycle, then the technology may well have a benefit to offer certain individual riders."

But the federation would also strongly oppose any drift towards telematics becoming the standard or default insurance policy.

"Motorcycling is seen by many BMF riders as an experience in personal freedom," said Hay.

"This feeling extends to a far greater degree than that experienced when driving a car.

"It will come as no surprise, then, to learn that riders are likely to be very unwilling to accept such devices onto their bikes under any form of compulsion."

By Graham Thomas