I had my renewal come up recently, and had the thought – are these assistance plans really worth it, especially with the exceptional reliability of current motorcycles?
Good question, but some things really haven’t changed all that much, if at all. Even if you are touring on a brand-new machine you still have the same risk of running over a sharp object, being in an accident, theft or having the rider become sick or get injured. The yearly fee is only is a fraction of just one tow or call out, so there is good value to be had. Even if you never use it, there’s value in extra peace of mind and convenience of knowing that a wide range of help is one call away. If you travel any distance on a motorcycle (tour) then it’s hard to argue against signing up.
Which is the best plan?
All respectable motorcycle roadside assistance plans offer some basics (if not move on).
- A toll-free number, available for 24/7 service – without exclusions such as holidays
- Wide geographic coverage, on all public roads
- Specialized towing service for motorcycles
To be 100% sure of what’s included – read the entire Membership Terms and Conditions (the contract). Get the complete version – do not reply on brief snippets or simplified table of features from the website. If a complete contract is not available online (red flag), ask for a copy.
Best Plan for You
Almost all plans rely on subcontracted services of local garages and shops. So, it’s not a matter of who has the better fleet and tow equipment other factors come into play. The biggest difference is distance towed, and with some, who gets to decides where to go. It is absolutely better to be in control of the destination, some plans offer only a tow to the nearest “qualified shop”, that can mean a lot of different things.
I would avoid the “we decide where to tow you”, type plans altogether, they are bound to disappoint.
Your next choice is how far does the plan tow, in most case, the farther the better. I have seen some plans that only take you 35 miles (56 km), which may be OK if you are a local rider, inadequate for any touring rider though. In my case, I can choose the destination, up to 120 miles (193 km) away. To get this I need to go to a higher membership level, but well worth it considering the small fee increase and added benefits (in fact I am going to the next level, for the same reasons, although 120 miles is the maximum for the provider…benefits are valuable).
And be aware, you can get towed once per call, meaning that if the dealer/shop you arrived at is not suitable, you can not ask for a tow to another one. That’s why I would recommend getting towed to a dealership for your brand.
It may go without saying, but it should not be assumed – the tow service needs to have equipment suitable for motorcycle towing. This is usually a flatbed tow truck, or sometimes a trailer. Luckily it seems most operators have transitioned to flatbed trucks with hydraulically positioned beds. These allow the entire bed to move into a ramp position for loading. Proper tie-downs are needed too, again most operators have a wide range of these on hand.
The worst case scenario is a tow with the bike-sling arrangement, where the motorcycle is left literally hanging from the back of an old-school sling and hook tow truck. This is almost guaranteed to scratch your paint or cause worse damage. I would never for this unless they were towing off a completely wrecked bike. Also, the operator needs to know how to properly handle and tie-down your machine (see below – Steps Roadside).
Other things to consider
An important detail for the long-distance folks is international coverage. Several plans I looked at offer seamless services (USA & Canada, for example), others require you to pay out of pocket and get reimbursed (definitely less awesome). If not spelled out, ask how the plan works while traveling outside your country.
Do you tow a bike trailer? If so, you will very likely need a premium service, if available. Read the contract. If not explicitly stated, this could be problematic when/if the time comes for a tow (or reimbursement).
Unlimited calls? Sounds great at first, but when I think about it – how many breakdowns do you expect, and are willing to put up with? If you really need unlimited calls, and worse use them a lot, maybe you should focus on better maintenance or a more reliable ride. I just can’t see how your motorcycling experience is a happy one unless you enjoy breaking down and interacting with tow truck drivers.
Important to note also – service is usually limited to public roads – most plans restrict service to “normally traveled” or public roads. Breakdowns off the road, such as on open fields, beaches, parks, construction sites, or locations that cannot be reached safely are not covered. Also, private or toll roads may not be covered.
As expected smartphone apps are often available, and they offer some cool features. Among the features are – the ability to track your tow truck in route to your location, info on nearby gas stations, price deals, ability to book vacation accommodations and travel. While not essential, they have convenience.
Providers often bundle nice-to-have benefits in their top-level plans. You need to balance the cost versus potential value as a package and decide if it’s worth it. Some added benefits I have found;
Trip Accident/ Interruption Benefit – to cover limited incidental costs after an accident or qualifying mechanical breakdown. Some costs covered are – travel, meals, and accommodations to a set limit. Top tier plans may cover incidents due to fire and theft in addition to major mechanical breakdowns.
Vehicle Return – covers shipping of your motorcycle if the operator is injured or becomes sick on the trip. Does not require a breakdown, or loss of use.
Concierge Service – this is a service for booking accommodations on your behalf. Handy if local hotels are hard to find or book up quick, or if you are preoccupied with getting your motorcycle on the road. They may offer you selections based on your criteria, for example – minimum quality rating, a pool/exercise equipment, closet to repair shop.
Brand Name Better?
There are many, many providers offering services. Some are obvious fly-by-night operations, but there are many other ones to choose from. I would simply go with a recognizable brand. After all, they have a reputation to uphold and would likely be able to attract and choose higher rated tow companies.
The big names also tend to offer other services or roadside assistance as an add-on service to their main business. I use a national automotive club, for roadside assistance and my vehicle insurance – it works out well for me. With multiple services you get crossover benefits, usually discounts too.
If you do breakdown
Here are some basic steps to follow if you do ever have a breakdown or problem on the road.
On the first indication of trouble look immediately for a safe “landing zone”, you may not have a lot of time for example – if you have a tire blowout or complete engine failure.
Just stay calm and proceed in a cool & calculated manner.
Make sure you and your bike are in the safest position, well off the traveled roadway. If you end up in an exposed position – move yourself and passenger to a better spot. Take what you may need in one go, don’t linger around an exposed motorcycle near any roadway.
Make an assessment – is this a minor issue, like a non-critical part that has come loose and is vibrating and making an awful noise, or maybe an exhaust gasket let go, etc. Things like this can be temporarily taped or re-tightened or just lived with until driving to a repair facility. Or it may be unidentifiable but feels or sounds bad – this is just not worth risking continuing in my opinion. Then, of course, there is the obvious failure that will require a tow.
Ok, you have determined you need a tow. Next, where are you geographically? If you are not certain, get out the smartphone and check the map. Take note of intersections, highways or landmarks so the tow truck can find you.
Now call your roadside assistance service. Explain that you are on a motorcycle and require specialized service, ask for an estimated time of arrival. While waiting, lookup dealership options (have dealer lookup on your smartphone already – see below for handy reference links).
Do a quality rating review of nearby dealerships, give them a call ahead of time. See if they still exist, if their service department is open (hours of service) and if they can provide the service and parts you expect you may need. If, for example, you are certain you will need a new tire ask if they have a replacement (brand and model) in stock, if not how fast can they get one?
You may also want to start considering accommodations. If you have a premium service, use the concierge, way not! If the repairs will require you to stay over, consider travel time between hotel and shop that is doing the work.
Also, don’t forget to call ahead to friends and family, or make any changes to reservations made up the road. You may need to revise your travel route, a full day or two will certainly change the plan, especially if you have time limits.
Well Before You need it…
Keep your cell phone charged, worst-case scenarios often are a result of a series of failures, not being able to contact help is a really big one. Travel with at least 2 credit cards, in different pockets/locations.
Summing it Up
I am a fan of these services. A good plan, with a decent tow range, is not that expensive and will give you considerable peace of mind. Just using it once it will pay for itself versus paying out of pocket for a tow.