Thoughts on the Chariot Cougar 1

OK, we’ve had the Chariot Cougar 1 since Mother’s Day. My fantasy for my first (and every) Mother’s Day was a family bike ride, a long one, maybe to Walden Pond to swim, with ice cream afterwards.

Let’s not worry about how all that worked out. We have the Chariot, and we did take a short-ish ride that day, during which we all got used to riding with (or riding in) a bike trailer. Scary, then; we rode sidewalks most of the way to the bike path (2 miles away by side streets) and rode very slowly to avoid bumps.

I’ve been using the trailer more and more, with today’s 5-hour outing being the record. I put that thing through its paces (2 of its paces, to be exact; I didn’t bring the ski attachment, seeing as it was in the high 80s today and there is no snow). I biked to meet a friend for a run. Then I parked the bike, quickly and efficiently (I hoped) converted the trailer to a jogger, and off we went. Partway through the run, I stopped (thanks to mild overheating and a fussy toddler), and aforementioned toddler and I enjoyed snacks I’d stashed in the cargo bin, plus some cold lemonade (purchased en route). Then I ran to the playground, played, converted the jogger to bike trailer, biked across town on busy streets to run errands, parked bike + trailer in not-great neighborhood, biked on to another busy part of town, parked bike again, and eventually biked home with our various stuff and purchases filling the cargo bin.

I’ve run with the Chariot. I’ve biked short distances with the Chariot. Today was the first day I used it for both, plus got a sense of its general usability (in traffic and on the bike path; in a coffee shop; at the playground; filled with cargo like bike/running shoes, snacks, toddler’s change of clothing and extra diapers, water, wallet, etc.). Here is my review.

My vote: I want to swap it for a Burley. [SEE NEW ENDING.]

Pros:

* The Chariot is nicely designed, light, and easy to run and bike with. It rolls like a dream. It has a built-in sunshade, rain cover, and bug/debris screen. It has two interior pockets, plus a cargo bin, quick-access (sort of!) pocket in back, and little Velcro’ed pocket for keys or whatever.

* The marvelous VersaWings allow me to stash the jogger attachment to the frame (or the bike trailer attachment, if I stop along my bike ride to run). Basically, I can bike to meet someone for a run and have the parts I need when I get there. Then I can quickly attach the bike trailer part to the frame for storage while I run. Brilliant.

* It folds up pretty well, and the handlebars adjust for height (OK, I’m not terribly impressed with the fold-up job, and I don’t need to adjust the handlebars for height. I’m just saying).

* It looks pretty darn cozy, and my son seems very comfortable in it. He rarely fusses. Usually he looks around, reads books, eats snacks, and sometimes dozes off. He’s had a long nap in the Chariot, in fact. (This is the most important “Pro,” in my book. There’s no point in owning a bike trailer that the child hates.)

* It stays dry inside in the rain.

* It looks like it would be great for skiing with. The plastic sides, plus the built-in rain cover, would keep the baby fairly warm.

Cons:

* The cargo bin. It’s kind of stupid. It can be down, or it can be in the “up” position (as in, it can be up). I don’t know what the difference is. Why would you want it to be up? When you fold up the Chariot for transport? The cargo bin, when down, does not get in the way when I run. I have no idea why I’d want it up [well, read on]. Also, there are 2 quick-release levers to move the bin up and down (although it moves easily without touching the levers, and in fact it doesn’t really stay up that well…and there’s no way to tighten the quick-releases. What, pray tell, is the point of these?). I don’t want to have to use two hands to put the bin up or down.

* The brake. The Chariot Cougar has a nice, firm foot-brake in the back, in the center. This is the only brake. When the cargo bin is full of stuff (and thus down), there is no way to get to the brake. When the cargo bin is full of stuff, it doesn’t fold up and out of the way. Thus, when one is using the Cougar for normal life (having stuff in the cargo bin, like running/bike shoes and such, or else groceries) one cannot get to the brake. This is a full pain in the ass.

* The color. The color, the color, the color. I don’t mean “the color” as in, “Ohmygod, it doesn’t match my running shoes.” I mean “the color” as in, why would someone make a bike trailer in dark colors, like red and black?? Those aren’t exactly high-visibility colors. I’ve seen someone ride by at dusk pulling a Cougar and you can barely see the thing. I don’t care if they put a little reflective thing on it and provide a little red reflector. Red, black, and gray are NOT good colors for something one rides with in traffic. Nope. Not at all. Someone wasn’t thinking straight on that one. Burley, on the other hand, comes in a bright, bright yellow. You can spot a Burley from a half-mile away in the dark, practically. Burley kicks the Chariot’s ass in terms of basic visibility, which translates to safety.

* You really need two hands–at the same time–to pull the cover (bug/debris screen) down. You can do it with one hand, but often the first side pops off as you pull the second little attachment down. Then you have to fix both sides higher up because they need to be pulled outside the frame. This is a complete pain in the ass when one removes a toddler from the trailer and then wants to “close up” the trailer to park it outside a shop or whatever. I’m certainly not going to let go of my child next to a street or parking lot to pull the cover down, but I really don’t want to spend time pulling one side, then the second, then the first again, then fixing the top, while toddler would prefer to toddle away and not watch Mommy muck about with the trailer.

So. The color thing has been bothering me for a while, but I wasn’t sure that was enough reason to get rid of the Cougar. After all, it’s not entirely invisible, and I ride defensively, and I don’t ride at dusk or at night. But still.

The brake and cargo thing were pretty big turn-offs today, especially the brake.

We did get the Chariot on sale, and I doubt we’ll find a Burley on sale. I know we can return the Chariot (yay, REI). I keep looking for a used Burley, but we’d be willing to spring for a new one. Now that I know what problem areas to look out for, it will make it easier to evaluate the Burley.

Unfortunately, only 2007 and newer Burleys have a ski attachment, but we’ll figure something out by the time winter arrives, if we buy a used Burley.

** IT is now 2011, two years since we got the Chariot. I LOVE it. I cannot live without this thing. We upgraded to a double, after we had baby #2. I have run miles and miles and miles with this thing. I have biked miles and miles and miles with it. We have skiied with the double Chariot, with our toddler and his friend in it (yes, all told the load weighed about 90 pounds…skiing uphill, no less. Fun!)

My firstborn loves it. All last summer he’d put on his helmet and go sit in the trailer and wait for me to get ready and set up so we could ride or run (helmet not needed for running, of course). He really loves it. Baby Ben? Our double came with an infant sling (we got it secondhand), so I was able to run with him early on. Now he’s old enough to bike with, so we just borrowed a helmet for him and later today we’ll be biking.

I still have complaints about the cargo bin (especially on our double Chariot–it is impossible to use. Granted, this is an older model–maybe they redesigned it), but otherwise, this bike trailer is the best thing since sliced bread. It’s durable, smooth-rolling, easy to run with, great to bike with (even pregnant, pulling a toddler), fun to ski with…basically, if you have an active lifestyle, you need a Chariot Cougar.

I am in no way being compensated for this review. I don’t think Chariot even knows that I wrote it.

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