Motorcycle Insurance: Breaking Down the Coverage You Need


A licensed insurance agent shares the coverage basics and explains the difference between motorcycle and car insurance

motorcycle insurance

Just like their four-wheeled counterparts, motorcycles are a great way to get from point A to point B. They serve as the main mode of transportation for many folks, are used for sport and joy rides, and have created entire communities who prefer a fresh air-in-the-hair feeling of freedom to the steely confines of a car.

But like cars, motorcycles have their own set of risks. Riders must not only be savvy about the rules of the road and safe riding behaviors, but also to the financial aspects of owning a motorcycle. Motorcycle insurance, which is required in nearly every state, helps to protect the owners’ investments in cases of collisions, theft, injury, and more.

Fortunately for many, motorcycle insurance is very similar to auto insurance. So if you’ve already got the basics of how to find the right car insurance coverage, you’re in good shape to know the basics of motorcycle insurance coverage. But if you don’t happy to know much about insurance for either, not to worry – we’ve got all the answers you need here.

motorcycle gear gloves

What do motorcycle and auto insurance policies have in common?

A good rule of thumb: if specific coverage is required for auto insurance in any particular state, the same will generally be true of motorcycle insurance. Even in states that don’t require motorcycle insurance, coverage options are normally quite similar to those offered on auto policies.

Liability, uninsured motorist, medical payments, and physical damage (read: full) coverage are fairly common coverages to see offered by motorcycle insurance providers. Let’s break ‘em down.

Motorcycle Liability Coverage

As is the case with car insurance, liability coverage is extremely important, as it covers the other driver and the other vehicle and property in the event that you cause a collision. This is the minimum type of motorcycle coverage required by most states.

While motorcycle riders are less likely to cause as much damage as an automobile, strictly considering the weight of the vehicle, riders are still liable for damage and injury that they cause to a third party. Further, lawsuits don’t discriminate based on what sort of vehicle the liable party was driving (or, in this case, riding). If you caused an accident, you expose yourself to a potential lawsuit. Since liability coverage is intended to protect the primary named insured’s assets, carrying as much liability as you can afford is always the best option.

Pro Tip: Increasing liability limits on a motorcycle policy is fairly inexepensive, so maxing out your coverage will generally result in a very small, if any, increase in premium.

Uninsured Motorist and Medical Payments Coverage for Motorcycle Owners

Motorcycles are fun, but it should be a surprise to no one that they’re dangerous. Consider this 2006 statistic from the NHTSA: more than 13 cars out of every 100,000 end up in fatal crashes. The number for motorcycles? More than 72 per 100,000.

Having both medical and uninsured motorist coverage broadens the scope of an insurance policy to cover the rider in a more comprehensive manner.

Uninsured drivers are a big problem for car owners and motorcycle owners alike. Uninsured motorist coverage keeps you (the rider) and your bike protected in the case that you’re hit, injured, or otherwise sustain damage caused by someone who is uninsured (or underinsured).

For motorcyclists especially, this type of coverage is critical. According to a study conducted by the Insurance Research Council (IRC), as of 2012, about one in eight drivers (more than 12%) was uninsured. And going without uninsured motorist coverage would mean your medical bills would not be covered in these all-too-frequent dangerous scenarios.

Where uninsured motorist coverage protects riders from other drivers who may be without insurance at the time of an at fault accident, medical payments coverage is intended to protect the rider when they suffer injury due to an accident that is considered their own fault. And even if you consider yourself a superb and safe driver and you’re more worried about the dangerous behavior of others on the road, you could be on the hook for major medical expenses if you forgo medical payments coverage and cause a collision.

Pro Tip: Uninsured motorist coverage amounts don’t have to match your liability limits if you choose to carry a higher amount of liability.  

motorcycle insurance injury

Motorcycle Full Coverage (for Physical Damage to the Bike)

Physical damage coverage is extremely important to both auto and motorcycle owners as well; especially folks who are financing their cars or cycles. When signing the loan paperwork for that sweet new Harley-Davidson Dyna Glide or Yamaha R1, your salesperson will undoubtedly mention the fact that you will need insurance coverage to take the bike home. What they really mean is that, while you’re making payments on it, the motorcycle will need to be protected against damage and theft — not just liability. Fortunately, motorcycle owners can select deductible options similar to those available to automobile owners.

Pro Tip: Physical damage coverage can be a bit expensive for motorcycles due to the likelihood of damage and theft, so ask your salesperson about the highest deductible your finance company will allow you to carry. The higher the deductible, the lower the premium.

What’s the difference between motorcycle insurance and car insurance?

As you’ve seen above, motorcycle and auto insurance overlap in a number of ways, but here are a few types of insurance coverage unique to those choosing the motorcycle life:

Trip Interruption Coverage

As far as coverage is concerned, most motorcycle insurance providers offer Trip Interruption coverage. This will normally pay for things like hotel, food, and even transportation expenses if your bike breaks down, or you’re involved in an accident, while on a trip. Most companies stipulate that the breakdown must occur more than 100 miles from your home address, but it’s a great thing to have if you like to hit the open road for days on end on your motorcycle.

Pro Tip: Insurance providers can have different stipulations and benefits offered under this coverage type so make sure to ask your agent about the specifics if you choose to carry Trip Interruption coverage.

Coverage for Add-Ons and Customized Parts

Customization is much more common among motorcycle owners than car owners, so the majority of insurance companies providing motorcycle coverage will offer additional protection on custom parts and equipment that weren’t originally installed at the factory. It’s common for riders to have many thousands of dollars worth of add-ons on their bikes, and it’s equally as important to protect those parts as well as the parts that came from the factory. With most standard insurance companies, coverage for custom parts normally extends to $3,000 worth of equipment at no additional charge. The coverage amount can be increased up to the limit set by each company for more heavily customized bikes.

Pro Tip: Keep the receipts of any custom equipment added to your bike to make sure those parts can be accounted for when purchasing your policy and that you are adequately compensated if you have to file a claim.

Coverage for Your Bike’s Trailer

For riders who prefer to haul their motorcycles with them on vacation or other adventures, motorcycle insurance companies also offer coverage for a transport trailer. As trailers used to haul motorcycles can be quite expensive, this can be an invaluable coverage option for riders who want to tow their bikes to their destination.

Pro Tip: Ask the agent quoting your motorcycle coverage how much coverage they offer for a trailer as this can vary by company.

The biggest difference between auto and motorcycle coverage?

Just as car insurance covers vehicles from trucks to vans to sedans, etc., motorcycle insurance can also extend beyond your traditional bike to cover vehicles such as golf carts, ATVs, and side-by-side offroad vehicles. People generally seek to insure these recreational toys for medical and physical damage coverage, but it’s important to clarify that you’ll still be purchasing a motorcycle policy if you want to insure any of these types of motorized vehicles. The benefit here is that covering any of these other vehicle types is generally quite inexpensive.

How do I get the best deal on a motorcycle insurance policy?

We’ve come full-circle in the story of the commonalities between auto and motorcycle insurance coverage. Since each insurance company weighs its rating factors differently (these are things like your age, location, and driving record which influence how much an insurance company charges to cover you), shopping with as many companies as possible is the only way to find the provider offering the lowest rate with the right coverage for your needs.

As always when shopping for a new vehicle, whether car, motorcycle, or ATV, getting insurance quotes before actually purchasing the vehicle will help you determine a budget and result in the best rate available. (And for this, The Zebra is happy to help.)

Happy riding!