The University of Bristol undertakes world-leading research in several fields, including the field of Physical Activity and Public Health. One of the centres involved in such work is the NIHR Bristol Biomedical Research Centre; a £21M research partnership between the NHS and University of Bristol, funded by the National Institute for Health Research. The centre’s remit is to conduct cutting-edge research to develop new, ground-breaking treatments, diagnostics, prevention and care for patients in a wide range of diseases. http://www.bristol.ac.uk/news/2017/march/biomedical-centre.html
One of the themes of this centre is Nutrition, Diet and Lifestyle. The focus of this theme is to explore, characterise, and ultimately change the lifestyle behaviours that contribute to chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes.
Type 2 diabetes is a major global public health issue. It is now widely understood that sitting too much, not getting enough physical activity and making poor food choices are some of the leading factors contributing to the rise of type 2 diabetes.
For most people, increasing the amount of exercise that they do, reducing the amount of time spent sitting, and eating healthier foods (and less food overall) are important targets for maintaining or improving health. However many people find it challenging to make big enough lifestyle changes to generate health benefits. This is especially true for people with a chronic condition such as type 2 diabetes.
In 2016 an intervention study was conducted within the NIHR Biomedical Research Unit for Nutrition, Diet and Lifestyle with the aim of exploring the feasibility of providing people who have type 2 diabetes with an electrically assisted bicycle (EAB), on loan for 6 months, as an alternate mode of transport. EAB’s provide a graded assistance to the user, and as such they may help to overcome barriers such as hilly routes and the perceived effort required to cycle. EAB’s may therefore offer a novel approach to increasing active travel, and therefore physical activity, that works within people’s daily lives. Twenty people took part in the feasibility trial between May and November.
In searching for potential providers of EAB’s in the South West there were very few vendors who would consider long-term loan of a fleet of bikes that were consistent in their brand/model (for comparability between research subjects) and that were of high enough quality to provide a reliable alternative to the car for our research participants. Sustainable Travel Solutions Ltd (STS) were the only company that we could find across the UK who were willing to discuss our project needs and propose solutions to the logistical challenges inherent in a complicated research project.
Upon discussing the research proposal with Richard (Hatton; Director of Business) and Simon (Biggin; Director of Operations) they expressed a keen interest in supporting the project, offering to create a bespoke loan arrangement for a fleet of 20 EABs that were uniform in make and model, and top of the range. STS provided our research team with a trial bike for user acceptance testing, and accommodated changes in our study timeline as well as last-minute requests for different frame sizes to match our participants. During the 6-month loan period they were on call for our participants to contact if there were any issues with the bikes, and on several occasions responded to repair call-outs the same day, surpassing the expectations of the riders.
From start to finish the STS team provided exemplary support for the research participants and our project team alike.
In terms of the experience of the riders, out of 20 participants 13 went on to negotiate with STS at the end of the loan period and were able to purchase the bike they had been riding, such was the strength of the appeal of the EABs provided by STS. Participants reported being very impressed with the support offered by Richard and Simon, and felt confident that they could call and have any issue dealt with professionally, whether a saddle adjustment, mechanical fix, or query about getting the best out of the bike.
As a University of Bristol research team conducting this project, having the support and guidance of STS throughout the process simplified our job and greatly improved our ability to deliver a consistent and measurable intervention to our research participants; fundamentals of any robust research.
Personally, I would not hesitate to recommend STS to any organisation or team looking to secure high-quality EABs on loan, with fantastic support and clear guidance. Their knowledge of the market and the technology, close working links with manufacturers, and solutions-based approach makes them invaluable in this field.