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Motorcycle riding tips from a veteran rider

Motorcycle insurance wisdom dispensed from a longtime cyclist and State Farm® agent.

Motorcycle rider's-eye view of the road

Matt Martin is a State Farm agent from Mukilteo, Washington. An agent for 15 years, Matt is also an avid motorcyclist — and the proud owner of a 2012 Harley-Davidson Street Glide. He's been riding motorcycles since age 12, and has never (knock on wood) had a crash. All of this makes him the perfect resource to share the following motorcycle insurance knowledge and advice for riders of all ages and experience levels.

Why don't you start by telling me a little about yourself?

I've been with State Farm for 25 years. I spent 10 of those in auto claims. In 2000, I opened my own agency in Mukilteo, Washington, and have been loving it ever since. State Farm is a great company.

What percentage of the insurance policies you write are for motorcycles versus cars?

I live in a pretty small town. We jokingly say that it's a suburb of Seattle. It's only got about 20,000 residents. I would say about 5%. And that's grown over the years. Motorcycling has really taken off.

How does motorcycle insurance coverage differ from private passenger auto insurance coverage? Is it based on how many miles you drive?

No, and that's one key way it's different. It's not based on the number of miles you drive.

There are some other subtle differences, but for the most part, you will be covered up to your limit. If you wreck or damage the bike or if it's stolen, you have coverage for it. It's a market value type policy. Auto policies and motorcycle policies are not replacement policies, like your homeowner's policy. In other words, if you had a used Harley-Davidson Street Glide and it got stolen, insurance companies will not buy you a new Street Glide. They'll pay you the market value. And the market value is whatever someone is willing to pay for it. That's no different from auto insurance.

Medical payments availability varies by state. It isn't currently available in Washington. If you get into a crash and require medical care, it could be covered under your health insurance. Or, if someone hits you and they have liability insurance, that could extend to you.

What are some of the rating factors for motorcycle insurance? Does age of the rider play a part?

Yes, like with auto insurance, that's factored in. A 16-year-old rider is going to pay more than a middle-aged person. Also, the coverages you carry and where you live impact rates.

What about the person's experience in riding a motorcycle?

That's not a factor yet, at least not in this state. There is no question "How long have you been riding?" on our policy application.

So age does play a factor, but experience riding does not. What else plays a part in cost?

One of the primary rating factors is the size of the engine. A 250cc bike is going to be cheaper to insure because it's a 250. Say you're talking about a 250cc motorcycle that's worth $30,000, or a 1600cc motorcycle that's worth the same. The 250cc is going to cost less to insure because of the size of the motor.

That is similar to cars. It's like the difference between a Volkswagen and a Ferrari. If they both cost the same, but the Ferrari has a big engine and the VW has a 4-cylinder, the exposure to risk is much higher on the Ferrari. Not just because of the value but because it goes 200 mph. Same thing with motorcycles. The rest of the policy looks similar to an automobile policy: liability, collision, comprehensive, uninsured motorist.

So you're saying one of the primary rating factors is the size of the engine.

Yes, the size of the engine, the value of the motorcycle. We haven't even gotten into driving record—that has a lot to do with it. If you came to me as a new client, I would say "Hey, have you had any tickets or crashes in the last 3 - 5 years?" If you said "No, I'm clean," then your rate is going to be less than someone who's had those things. That's just a basic insurance principle.

When someone tells you that they want to purchase a motorcycle insurance policy, what are your first thoughts?

My first reaction is "That's awesome — what'd you get?" And then I evaluate their experience level, and size up the risk associated with that person buying a bike. Because part of my job as a State Farm agent is to be a field underwriter.

Interestingly enough, you do not have to carry liability insurance on a motorcycle in this state. You know how when you get pulled over in a car, you have to show proof of insurance? For a motorcycle, insurance is not mandatory.


Yes, and it's silly, if you ask me. I understand in part why it may not be mandatory. If you are driving a Suburban and I'm driving a motorcycle and we both hit someone, the damage is obviously going to be far greater with the Suburban. But at the same time, if I'm riding a motorcycle and I cut someone off and it causes a crash—that's the stuff that bothers me. So I always applaud people for calling me and I tell them it's not mandatory, but you should have it.

Does motorcycle insurance cover accessories like your riding gear and the various gadgets you add?

The simplest way to answer the question is: If it's attached to the motorcycle, it's covered as part of the motorcycle. It's kind of like your homeowner's insurance: You have dwelling coverage, and you have "stuff" coverage. Anything that's bolted to your house is part of the dwelling. Same thing on a motorcycle.

Also, we pay up to $3,000 for loss to protective gear in an accident. This includes clothing, helmets, and accessories worn to protect a person from bodily injury.

How can policyholders lower their State Farm motorcycle insurance premium? For example, can they lower their costs if they take motorcycle training courses, or have a membership in a motorcyclist organization like the AMA?

This is going to sound repetitive, but in the state of Washington, no. I am not aware of any discount for motorcyclists. If you're 55 or older and take the 55 Alive driving course, you get a 5% discount on your auto insurance.

So there aren't any features that can lower your insurance premium, like anti-lock brakes or traction control systems?

Not yet. The year I got my Harley was the first year that anti-lock brakes were offered, and they're amazing. Thank goodness, knock on wood, I've never had to test them. But it's so new, there's no correlation yet.

What's the most common type of insurance claim for motorcyclists?

State Farm data shows collision and theft as the most common. When I say collision, and this is going to sound horrible, but collision with a road bed. In other words, you went down, or had a collision with another vehicle. And depending on the bike, theft is a big thing as well.

Are there behaviors that would cause you to cancel someone's policy, raise their rates, or deny coverage?

Yeah. There have been circumstances where I could not write a motorcycle policy because their driving record was horrible. With State Farm, just like other companies, if you have too many infractions, you could be ineligible.

Based on your driving record — if, for instance, we run your motor vehicle report and find that you are a higher risk because of your behavior — we may decide to non-renew your policy or increase your premium.

Is there anything you think riders should know about motorcycle insurance?

Two things. First of all, get it. I tell my clients you may not think that you will ever be in a liability exposure situation on a motorcycle, but you could be. Even if you don't have dependents, you do have income for the next 50 years. Don't think they're not going to get all of it, or most of it. Don't place yourself in a position where you leave your current or future assets exposed.

The second thing is do the best job possible of documenting the changes that you make to the bike. Simply because I can guarantee you that you will never get a dollar for dollar match for the Yakashima exhaust that you put on your motorcycle. If you spent $4,000 on it, it's worth about $800, really. Or whatever the market will bear. It's always smart to document everything you have.

Is there anything that you think someone getting a bike should think about?

Something I do share — and this doesn't have anything to do with insurance. It has to do with preventing the need for insurance. A healthy degree of fear when operating a motorcycle is important. Because it keeps you sharp, and it will sometimes prevent a normal, reasonable person from doing things they shouldn't.

My biggest concern when I'm riding a motorcycle is not me. Because I ride it like a grandpa. So it's not my actions. It's others on the road.

Final question: Why should a motorcyclist consider State Farm?

The rehearsed but true answer is financial strength. You want to be with a company that has the assets to pay your claim when you need it. There's probably a chance that even I could go to another insurance company and save a few bucks a month. Not a lot, but something. But the best insurance company is the company that's in business when you need the claim covered.

The second reason is because of the agency force. You call a local agent and can sit across the desk from him or her. You've got someone to yell at, you've got someone to thank. But it's financial security and having a local person who you can really talk to.

To keep learning, follow these links to additional safety tips for motorcyclists and advice for other vehicles.

This document contains only a general description of coverages and is not a statement of contract. All coverages are subject to all policy provisions and applicable endorsements, and may vary by state. For further information, please see a State Farm® agent.

The information in this article was obtained from various sources not associated with State Farm®. While we believe it to be reliable and accurate, we do not warrant the accuracy or reliability of the information. These suggestions are not a complete list of every loss control measure. The information is not intended to replace manuals or instructions provided by the manufacturer or the advice of a qualified professional. Nor is it intended to effect coverage under our policy. State Farm makes no guarantees of results from use of this information.

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