Public vs. private motorcycle insurance: Who’s paying more?

If there’s one issue that unites Canadian motorcyclists, it’s a frustration over insurance.

But the insurance scene is a mish-mash, with some provinces offering public insurance, some requiring private insurance, and one requiring both (if you guessed “Quebec” on that one, you’re right).

So who’s paying more? We heard conflicting reports on the cost effectiveness of public insurance so made some calls, crunched some numbers, and here are the  surprising results.

The survey

For nine provinces, I researched the lowest-cost motorcycle insurance. For PEI, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Ontario, and Alberta, I used TD Insurance’s online calculator to get the quotes.

I used the online calculators for Manitoba Public Insurance and Saskatchewan Government Insurance to get my numbers for those two provinces, and I called ICBC to get the numbers for British Columbia. For Quebec, I combined a number from TD Insurance’s calculator with a number from its provincial website.

I was unable to use the TD Insurance online calculator for New Brunswick, due to an error message on their website; from personal experience, I can attest their numbers are similar to the rest of Atlantic Canada, but they are not included here.

I researched the prices for three different hypothetical motorcycles: A 2003 Kawasaki KLR650, valued at $2,500, a 2010 Harley-Davidson Fat Boy, valued at $10,000, and a 2013 Kawasaki ZX6R, also valued at $10,000. For simplicity’s sake, I included no value for accessories or modifications.

I also researched the price for someone in my position in life: A mid-30s married man, living in a rural area, with a clean driving record. Obviously, pricing would be different for, say, an 18-year-old kid living in an urban centre, but we needed some sort of controls on the data.

If I could lower the quote by raising my deductible, I did.

You can see the results of the survey below. Click on the chart for a closer look at the costs by province.

 

The findings

First off, it seems British Columbia is a bargain for insurance costs (although not the cheapest – we’ll get to that).

True, the quote I got was for a bare bones insurance package, and add-ons like comprehensive collision coverage and theft replacement would drive the costs higher, but that’s the case for every province. The agent I talked to on the phone said the $284 price he gave me for each motorcycle was only a ballpark number, as ICBC does not sell insurance over the phone. However, assuming the numbers he provided were roughly correct, then BC is a great deal, especially considering the length of the riding season (other province’s insurance costs are often based on the assumption of a six-month riding season, so if they had BC’s weather, the pricing would theoretically be higher).

While BC’s public insurance is a good price, that’s not the case in any other jurisdiction requiring public insurance. Manitoba and Saskatchewan have scary-high rates from insurers MPI and SGI respectively. According to MPI’s online calculator, it would cost me $1,000 to insure a 2003 Kawasaki KLR650 for a year, and SGI was close behind, at $952.74. Those prices are crazy, but the ZX6-R quotes of $2,049 and $1,816.64 given by Manitoba and Saskatchewan respectively are far worse. With fees like that, a modern sporting motorcycle is a very expensive toy.

Not only is BC beautiful, it's also got great rates on motorcycle insurance -- making it an outlier, because the rest of the country's public insurance offerings are mucho expensive.
Not only is BC beautiful, it’s also got great rates on motorcycle insurance — making it an outlier, because the rest of the country’s public insurance offerings are mucho expensive.

Quebec, with its half-and-half system that requires both public and private insurance, is a pretty expensive place to do business as well, although not necessarily as bad as Ontario. Quebecois riders have to worry about their province’s registry of high-risk motorcycles; if your bike shows up there, you’re going to pay a massive premium, as evidenced by the $1,461.52 quote I got for a ZX-6R. (Inclusion on the list is a strange process, in which Quebec officials determine whether your bike has such aggravating features as a lack of a centrestand, dual front disc brakes, or a chain-driven rear wheel).

The whole mix of public and private insurance is typical of what motorists in general have come to expect from the province’s bureaucracy, and it’s amazing that Quebec has arguably the most devoted motorcyclists in Canada, on the basis of bikes sold per population numbers.

Ontario‘s in a weird position: although it has private insurance now, the provincial government flirted with public insurance in the past, and it seems the idea of higher premiums never left. At $690, Ontario had the highest KLR insurance of any province with private insurance. The $1,341 price tag for Fat Boy insurance is actually higher than what a rider would pay in Manitoba. The ZX-6R would cost $1,395 to insure in Ontario, more than double any other province with private insurance.

Why is Ontario so expensive, with a purely private system? There are several different theories, but the insurance companies themselves blame a combination of urban sprawl and high insurance fraud rates.

Which provinces are affordable? While BC’s basic price tag of approximately $284 is a great deal, private insurance in next-door Alberta is cheaper ($166 for a year on a KLR, $220 for a year on a Fat Boy, $243 for a year on a ZX-6R). It’s the least expensive province by a significant margin.

The Atlantic provinces are all more expensive than Alberta, but are roughly around the same price range with each other: $250-$300ish for the KLR, $450-$500 for the Fat Boy, $550-$650 for the ZX-6R. Those prices are all through private insurance, and they’re significantly cheaper than Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba. I talked to a rep from TD Insurance on the phone who told me Atlantic Canada was basically all very affordable except for a couple of cities – St. Johns, Newfoundland, in particular – and the numbers from the online calculator seem to back that up.

The east coast isn't quite as cheap as BC or Alberta, but the private insurers there offer better prices than anywhere else in the country, no matter the system.
The east coast isn’t quite as cheap as BC or Alberta, but the private insurers there offer better prices than anywhere else in the country, no matter the system.

Conclusions

If your province is forcing you into public insurance, perhaps a pragmatic view is necessary. While public insurance may cost you a load of money as a responsible adult, it may also provide a fairer way for a younger rider to get on the streets, without being automatically handed a high rate before they have any accidents. And sometimes public insurance offers better coverage than a bare-bones private plan, which would leave you bikeless after a crash – you may be getting more for your money.

But if you’re looking at insurance simply as an expensive nuisance necessary to ride legally, then private insurance is far better. With the exception of outlier British Columbia, provinces that have public insurance, or even a history of public insurance, are more expensive and often prohibitively so. If your local politicians are starting to talk about the idea, make them stop. Threaten them with a solid thrashing in the next election, go on hunger strike in their office, burn them in effigy on the front steps of the legislature – do whatever it takes to save those moto-dollars, because if public insurance assumes control, it will probably end up costing you more.

41 thoughts on “Public vs. private motorcycle insurance: Who’s paying more?”

  1. There is a simple solution that already exists in Ontario… insure a plate. The govt and industry did this for auto dealers, why not motorcycles? I’d be happy to pay a higher premium for a plate+insurance the I could move to any of my bikes.

  2. I am SO CONFUSED as to why this article states that BC insurance is cheap. Looking at the comments from BC motorcyclists, this is clearly not the case. Can someone please explain this to me?

  3. The Manitoba insurance rate is primarily based on the look/style of the motorcycle, then if the engine size is under 500cc, 501cc to 1000cc and over 1000cc and lastly if used to travel to work or not. The engine size only marginally effects the overall cost ($100/yr) but if you use the bike to travel to work its substantially more expensive (50% – 60% higher). Actual value of the motorcycle is completely irreverent. Also our insurance is prorated to a 4 month riding season (June 1 – Sept 31)

    So as a Manitoba resident I have learned to check the insurance price before even looking at a bike I’m interested in purchasing. I learnt my lesson after finding a Buell for sale that seemed like a great deal at only $3,500 to later find out the insurance was also $3,500/yr!

    A well used 125cc crotch rocket valued at $500 is still incredibly expensive to insure and a big expensive touring or dual purpose/adventure bike is relatively cheap. Apparently our insurance is based on how fast the motorcycle ‘looks’ not its actually top speed, HP or any other REAL data.

    So now I ride a CB500X, its significantly cheaper then the CB500F and way cheaper then the CBR500R which all have the EXACT same engine and share 95% of the same parts. Then I use 5-day permits ($38) for my dual purpose during the summer and plate it from the end of Sept to June 1st for just pennies!

  4. Interesting Article…… Insurance for motorcycles these days in Canada cost prohibitive at best. What would help is if the industry would address this problem head on, like offer a cheap liability option for insurance or bring pressure of some kind to the providers.

    I have sister who works in the insurance industry and she says the reason that insurance costs so much is that it is such a small segment it’s not worth any time to figure out proper charges so the industry just assigns a cost that will discourage most new policies and make maximum profits. In other words the cost assigned has nothing to do with the usual factors that set rates. When you examine accidents vs. property damage the total cost of a motorcycle accident is minuscule when the same criteria is applied in an automobile accident.

  5. I can’t see the whole chart, only the left half or less. And I can’t click on it to enlarge it. Using Google Chrome, full screen.

    1. You should be able to click different parts of the chart to zoom in. Admittedly, it isn’t the ideal way to display it, but with all the data, it was hard to fit it in a smaller frame and still be readable.

  6. In Ontario, the cost for collision and comprehensive for my KLR was prohibitive – half the cost of the bike for the year. In BC with a private company, I got collision and comprehensive for replacement value (agreed price plus all my accessories) with $250 deductible, $1000 allowance for riding gear with $100 deductible, road side assistance, towing, keying service and some other stuff with zero deductible for $150 for the year. When I bought the Tiger, I sent the info to the company with pics, stated the value of the bike and asked what the difference would be and I’d send a cheque. No surcharge – Still $150 for the year. Figure out what that coverage for a 2010 Tiger 1050 would be in Ontari-owe. Huge money.

    And with liability in BC, you get the plate as well AND, you can get a three month, six month, 12 month, one month or whatever coverage you want. Amazing that the province with the longest riding season is the most flexible with the terms. In Ontario, you might as well almost double the cost of liability insurance because you’re only riding for seven months.

    1. Collision/comp on my XT is $14.00 per year; $42.00 for the Varadero. I don’t understand why yours would be so much. That’s with $500 deductible.

    2. That’s because they know if you have a KLR you have low self-esteem and a pretty nihilistic outlook on things and may just ride it into a brick wall. 🙂

  7. It’s pretty clear why insurance is so expensive in Ontario. It’s regulated by the Financial Services Commission, which is run by banking and insurance people. They have carefully crafted a system which restricts competition in order to maximize insurance company profits.

    1. Ed, your logic is inescapable… x 3.

      But if you could expand on why more expensive insurance with less coverage is better, I’m all ears.

  8. I live in BC and have motorcycles of every displacement bracket insured. Following are the full year “base cost” rates shown on my policies.

    CRF 250 $431
    KLR 650 $867
    VFR800 $1175
    1200GS $1320

    Above rates are for mandatory basic liability coverage of $200,000, with seniors discount applied. In addition, I get a 42% discount from those rates for being claim free for the past 8 years. Adding collision and comprehensive coverage would double those rates, although private coverage is available more reasonably for those. Increasing the liability limit will add about 10-20% to the base rate depending on amount chosen. The minimum period to insure is 3 months, and the annual cost gets pro-rated to the length of coverage chosen.

    So, your graph is highly misleading. The other factor that makes comparisons among provinces difficult is multi-vehicle discounts and what is actually covered. For example, in Saskatchewan, basic coverage includes collision damage to your own vehicle. Most private insurers will give you discounts for multiple vehicles or even house insurance. ICBC doesn’t care how many vehicle you have, each is insured as a stand alone.

    1. Clarification on a couple of things:
      1. Minimum period to insure is one day.
      2. If one is rich (or stupid) one can buy the comprehensive insurance through ICBC. For those of us who might be neither, private insurance is the way to go. Private optional insurance for one of my bikes valued at $10,000 is $150. Per year. And that’s an “agreed value” meaning that if the bike is a total loss from an accident or being stolen, the insurance company cuts me a cheque for $10,000. None of that “replacement cost” BS.
      3. Increasing liability to $1,000,000 cost me 20 bucks, not “10-20%” more.
      4. To insure one bike (that would surely be black-listed in Ontario) for the riding season cost me $600 plus $150 for comprehensive for the year.
      5. I’m looking forward to one day taking advantage of the senior’s discount!

      And here’s a bonus…If one has a vintage motorcycle (over 25 years old), you can ride it all year long for about $150 including the cost of the plate as long as you don’t ride it to work.

      1. Yes, you can go one day but there are all kinds of surcharges for short term permits. Minimum to get an actual plate instated is 3 months.

        Also, I’m looking at my VFR policy and $2,000,000 liability is $345 non-discount (29%) , and $162 (14%) with discount.

    2. Rick, the numbers were given to me by ICBC head office, as I stated before.

      While things like multi-vehicle discounts, group discounts, and other things can all change insurance costs, if you tried to add up every potential discount and every potential situation (young riders, old riders, riders with one ticket, riders with two tickets, riders with a ticket but also with a defensive riding course, bikes with accessories, bikes without accessories etc.), this would need a book, not an article. As stated in the article, I simplified things as much as I could, and got the information from the best sources available. If someone else cares to go down to an ICBC office and sit down in person for the quotes, I’d be happy to update it, but until that happens, the numbers here are what I have to work with.

      It is certainly true that other provinces offer more with their insurance packages. That does not change the fact that the insurance will cost you that much, whether you want it or not.

      1. Those BC numbers seem pretty screwed up.

        I’m 47 and have a 43% discount. For my 2006 CBR 600 RR insurance for one year, based on a value of $5,000 is $720 for BASIC insurance. And that is in a rural area.

    3. Where is @Zac Kurylyk getting his numbers from? I’ve never heard of anyone paying that little for insurance in BC. Rick’s numbers seem far more accurate. $867 for a KLR and that’s WITH a seniors discount AND a 42% discount for being claim free. BC motorcycle insurance is clearly quite high.

      1. Just saw that ICBC is providing the numbers to Zac. I still don’t know anyone who pays anything close to the numbers on the graph for BC insurance.

  9. In BC your insurance rate is not dependent on your age or martial status (by law). So if you are higher risk (young) ICBC is great but if you older and low risk you pay more. To compensate for this ICBC charges more based on the size (CCs) of the bike thinking that folks on bigger bikes are higher risk. There is a big difference in rates between a 250cc ($300) bike and 900cc ($900). There is also discount system for safe driving. In BC the vehicle is insured, not the driver. That means you pay full ticket for every bike.

    1. Wes, you’re giving me different information than I was told personally by ICBC. They told me that it’s based on cost of the motorcycle alone.

    2. Wes, the discount system favours low risk drivers. New drivers start out with no discount, and it builds up to 42% if you stay claim free for 8 years. So yes, it’s the vehicle that’s insured, but the premium also reflects the history of the principal driver.

  10. I live in Ontario and recently switched from TD to Wawanesa because it was about half the price for my ST1300. Then I bought a new 1000 V Strom and they told be they won’t insure it because it is a sport bike over 1000cc. I know you are all laughing right now at how stupid that is but in the end they insured it because I am a long term customer with them. It worked out to about $750 a year for full coverage. No multi bike discount though.

    1. I’m sure there are, Scott, just as individual riders would get cheaper rates based on age, years of riding, whatever. But I think TD has a pretty good rep across the nation for pricing, and they had a very usable quote calculator, NB results notwithstanding.

    1. Private for sure ……… why pay Liability on multiple vehicles when you can only operate one at a time!

      Liability insurance should be on each and every driver ….. it should have nothing to do with vehicles.

      1. I asked this exact question to my insurer.
        Response: The motorcycle is insured, not the driver. If someone else is riding the 2nd bike, it’s insured at same time, therfore we charge full price for both motorcycles.
        Me: What if I’m the only person in the household with a motorcycle license?
        Response: We can’t stop you from lending your bike to someone else.
        Me: I will sign a waiver that I’m the only person who will ride my any of my motorcycles.
        Response: Anarchist!

        1. They do that on the theory that the vehicle, as well as the driver, is actuarially significant in determining risk. If you read the policy, you’ll see some kinds of benefits (income replacement) is only charged once over several policies, because of course you can only lose one income. Extended health benefits as well, at least for my policy. But my basic liability and SAB policy is charged for each bike, more for the bigger bike.

  11. There has never been public auto/motorcycle insurance in Ontario. We had a traditional tort-based, private insurer system; and insurance was optional. There was talk of going to a public system, but instead we went to mandatory private no-fault.

    1. I say bring back the traditional tort-based system, with no “accident benefits” or any of that crap. Just straight PLPD for mandatory required insurance. People aren’t required to have accident benefits (income replacement) insurance if they take part in other activities, or for other reasons that they might not be able to work.

      Look at the rates in NS, which I believe still has a system as described above. About half the rates in Ontario. For effectively less coverage, to be sure (no accident benefits), but I have most of those benefits through my employer, anyway, and no doubt the insurance act allows your auto insurer to force you to make use of any other kind of insurance you have first, before they will pay out.

Join the conversation!