What does it cost to crash your bike?

The past 18 months have taught me many things. One is that lying on the bitumen, bleeding, as you gaze across the road at a pile of mangled carbon is not the ideal time to consider the cost of crashing your bike. This story was originally written for Bicycling Australia magazine, but as sometimes happens, it never quite made it into print. Never fear, here it is now. Yours, for free. I’m no insurance expert, but these are some of the things I learned from first-hand experience.

Suffering a major cycling injury teaches you many things. Patience. Humility. Mortality. But another thing I realised after breaking my shoulder in three separate places in late 2015 is it can be rather expensive, and not just in the most obvious ways. In the hope of perhaps providing a heads-up to others who find themselves in a similar situation, here’s a quick summary of the eight financial lessons I’ve learned from my crash and the subsequent rehabilitation process.

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1. Your Cycling Australia insurance cover is only so useful

While it’s certainly better than nothing at all, be under no illusion. If you have a serious crash there are plenty of expenses your Cycling Australia insurance won’t cover, even if you’re a fully paid up member of a cycling club. Medicare items such as doctor’s fees are generally not included, nor is any damage caused to your own bike and property. The standard income protection component is also currently capped at a maximum of $500 per week for 52 weeks and it’s void altogether if the injury occurs overseas as mine did. All this means it’s well worth checking the policy summary on the Cycling Australia website so you know what is and isn’t included. The thing I found my Cycling Australia insurance most useful for was the private health insurance ‘gap’ payments on my physio visits, of which there were many.

2. If you ride overseas without insurance you’re running a financial gauntlet

Some places are a lot more expensive to crash than others. My mishap occurred in California and I remember thinking “TFFT” as I was loaded into the ambulance, green whistle firmly in hand, knowing my travel insurance included costs relating to cycling-related injuries. While my shoulder surgery didn’t actually happen until I was back home in Australia, I was still cheerfully advised by the attending MD that the various emergency services, scans and treatment I received would most probably have seen me slugged with a bill approaching $20,000 if not more. Quite simply, it was the best $79 I’ve ever spent.

3. Mind the gap

Even if you have top-level private hospital cover you won’t necessarily be free of any Medicare gap. Depending on what you need done – and who you choose to do it – it can be a significant amount of money, so it’s important to be prepared for this. As I’ve since learned, different health funds have very different relationships with hospitals and doctors and it may come down to who your doctor is, how much they charge above the scheduled fee and where you have any treatment done. In my case the combined fee gap for my surgeon, assistant surgeon and anaesthetist came to more than $4,000. The only bit of good news was my $500 hospital excess was eventually refunded as my injuries were the result of an accident. Again, different funds have different rules on this type of thing, so check the fine print.

4. Don’t blindly go where your surgeon tells you for x-rays and scans

When you’re in considerable pain and fretting about what’s wrong with your mangled body, you understandably tend to do exactly what your doctor says. I certainly did the first time I saw my orthopod – yet it ended up costing me several hundred dollars I didn’t actually have to spend. While the radiology practice I was originally sent to was the most convenient for my surgeon, they didn’t bulk bill for x-rays and CT scans and I was left out of pocket. Prompted by a mate who’d had a similar experience, the second time I went to a local radiologist and paid…nothing. It took slightly longer to get the results to the surgeon, but in the scheme of a major orthopedic injury that was going to take months to heal anyway, it was no big deal.

5. Income protection claims are a pain, but it’s worth persevering

It took more than three months before I was able to get back to normal work. Fortunately I had personal income protection and my policy covered me for accidental injury worldwide. While it was certainly an exhaustive process to have my claim submitted, reviewed and approved – including a stressful 90-minute face-to-face interview/poker match with a nurse whose job it was to ensure I wasn’t trying to rip them off – it eventually happened. The relief it provided, financially and mentally, was immeasurable. When that five-figure lump sum landed in my bank account, I shed a quiet tear. Seriously, I did. How I’d have paid all the bills without it, I have no idea. As an added bonus I was also able to use some of this money to buy a smart trainer that helped get me back into the saddle sooner for some meaningful training. One word of warning, however: make sure you allow for any payout amount in your income estimates for the ATO – or you could be in for a nasty surprise at tax time.

6. Bulk buying your painkillers is the way to go

Lots of pain means lots of drugs, usually of gradually decreasing strength and frequency. While obviously prescription medications can only come from the pharmacy, it’s often significantly cheaper to buy over-the-counter stuff like paracetamol and ibuprofen in bulk at the pharmacy as well – not the supermarket. When you’re popping anything between 8-14 tablets a day, months on end, the savings can add up fast.

7. If you have a decent bike, have decent bicycle insurance

The bike I smashed into the California tarmac was worth well over $10,000. Fortunately for me, it belonged to someone else. But if you’re unlucky enough to crash your own bike and it needs major repairs or even replacement, you’re going to be really glad you have good bicycle insurance. Given Cycling Australia insurance probably won’t cover it, and your home and contents mightn’t either unless you’ve taken prior steps to ensure it does, it’s really important to check. Make sure everything you want covered is included too – race wheels, helmet, shoes, power meter, GPS computer etc. There are a lot of different bike insurance providers nowadays so shop around. It’s also worth asking your mates who they’re with.

8. Will you be able to drive?

Life doesn’t stop just because you’re banged up. Like most people, I needed – and wanted – to get my independence back as quickly as possible. Problem was I was in a sling 24/7 for the first two months. I begged for my surgeon to let me drive and, while far from happy about it, he eventually agreed – but not before making it very clear that under no circumstances could I drive with the sling on. Why? Because even though I felt I could comfortably drive my automatic car with one arm, I almost certainly wouldn’t be insured if I had an accident. In the end I kept the driving to a bare minimum and used internet shopping as much as possible. I ate a lot more home delivery too, as the last thing I felt like doing was cooking dinner most nights. I also spent several hundred dollars on taxi fares in the first couple of months. While a relatively small expense in the grand scheme of things, at a time when I had no money coming in and my income protection claim hadn’t yet been approved, it added up pretty quickly.

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