Old Favourites: Chariots of Fire

, March 26, 2012

When you have children it is easy to assume that your adventurous days of youth have passed and that your choices are limited to either waiting until your offspring are old enough to accompany you, or finding a babysitter to get out for a quick blast. However, with the right equipment and outdoor clothing even very young children and babies can tag along on a suprising amount of outdoor and urban adventure outings. Don’t despair!

This review concerns Chariot ‘child transportation system’ trailers and as I’ve now owned all three models in their ‘Sport’ range (in ascending order of expense!) over the space of six years I’m not going to limit myself to one model – this entire range is worth a mention. Chariot (part of the Thule group) design and assemble all their products in Calgary, Canada and make extensive use of recycled materials in their products. They also have a sister brand of cheaper children’s trailers entirely made in the Far-East called Croozer. Chariot runs two ranges of trailers: the first is the ‘Touring’ range designed with an emphasis upon urban cycling, the second is the ‘Sport’ range designed for flexibility so you don’t have to buy many different carriers for separate outdoor sports.

For those uninitiated to the world of ‘child transportation systems’, Chariot trailers in the Sport range can be rapidly converted for many outdoor activities. The trailers are usually either pushed by adults as joggers or towed as bike trailers. However, there are also conversion kits for cross-country skiing and if jogging isn’t taking you far enough into the wilderness a hiking harness kit is also available. Other popular accessories include full 360 degree pivot buggy wheels so you can make these trailers less cumbersome (and annoying to fellow shoppers) when you are hunting down groceries or attempting to educate your kids in the library. All trailers in the Chariot range are available with either single or double seats – although be warned that double trailers can get quite heavy if you are towing up big hills! These trailers also have plenty of storage space for camping equipment, spare clothes, food, water…or more normally shopping. In a nutshell they are robust, all-weather pieces of equipment that allow you to venture into the outdoors with your children and some spare kit.

Chariot Cheetah 1
Chariot Cheetah 1

Initially we owned a Cheetah 1 which is the lowest spec trailer in the Chariot Sport range. Despite this it is the lightest trailer at 8.8kgs empty. Our version had very heavy and unforgiving plastic wheels, though the latest version has more conventional wheels with normal spokes, hubs and rims. This has contributed to a big loss in weight and this is the one to go for if you like your equipment light. As with all our subsequent trailers we used this one as our second car, my wife Alex racking up many miles on this commuting around town, shopping, visiting playgroup etc. We also used it quite a lot off road cycling and this is where we discovered its drawback: the Cheetah is unfortunately unsprung and though it is light it gives a punishing ride to the child inside once you get away from smooth tarmac or forest roads. One of my friends was so concerned they encouraged me to slow down when we were cycling near the Caringorms as baby’s head was being rattled so much!

Chariot Cougar 2
Chariot Cougar 2

With baby number two on the way we decided to upgrade to a two-seat Cougar 2 which at 12.7kg was quite a bit heavier but a lot lighter than two trailers! The Cougar trailers have weight adjustable suspension and ours also came with a full (optional extra) raincover. These two items transformed our usage of our trailer and we used it far more for adventuring off road. The raincover was excellent and its main use was in effectively sealing the trailer from airflow which when you’re cycling can really chill children inside. The suspension made it much smoother for the children and bizarrely much easier to tow as the wheels didn’t clatter into and get caught up in potholes and rocks.  A double trailer is undoubtedly more cumbersome when you are using it in an urban setting but it is also more stable. Note that both guilty parents managed to rollover our single-seat Cheetah! My personal recommendation after these experiences is kids should always wear a helmet when you are cycling AND the 5 point harness should be really snug. You are doing them no favours if you leave them loose. In both ‘crashes’ the frame of the buggy proved very strong and we were especially reassured by this once we had stopped crying (and in my case picking gravel from my upper thigh)!

Chariot CX1
Chariot CX1

With one child now cycling independently we have replaced our long-serving Cougar 2 with a CX 1. At 13.5kg it is actually heavier than our old two seat Cougar 2, but this I think is well compensated by two rear drum brakes (hand operated), more space, storage space, padding and better ventilation. Basically this has all the bells and whistles. It has a fantastic 5 position handle for jogging/running which makes a big difference to your comfort when running. Downhill the old trailers used to be frightening when running as they could definitely ‘run away with you’. The CX has a hand brake (same as a bike) which allows you to control the speed brilliantly.

In summary these are expensive equipment purchases, for example a Cx1 with extra raincover, jogging kit and biking kit is nearly £1000. However, if you do a large mileage running and cycling and/or don’t have access to  a car then these are the best trailers money can buy. They are safe, watertight, comfortable and they fold, click and snap into shape with reassuring quality. One of the greatest features is that with their massive wheels they roll so well when compared to the more usual plastic wheeled children’s buggys.  They hold their value extremely well and all our trailers have been purchased second hand and resold for minimum loss. If you buy new you should see 60% of your money again after 3 years use – which isn’t bad considering the depreciation of bikes. Such is the quality of these Canadian trailers that they are the bestselling trailers in Germany and the Netherlands where there is a huge market for bike trailers and no small interest in manufacturing standards! I would recommend these to any parents. They are leagues above poorly made ‘fashion’ offroad buggy’s and often no more expensive. Get one and get out there!

Biking in the Cairngorms

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