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Tech review - January 21, 2005
On test: Chariot Cougar SX Child Trailer
Take the kids
Kid trailers aren't in the forefront of every cyclist's mind, but for those of us with young kids, a good trailer can make or break our riding experience, or even the opportunity to get out for a ride. New dad Rob Karman put the Mercedes of kid trailers through its paces and then some.
As I'm sure any new parent can relate, my riding time has diminished considerably since the birth of my son last summer. Seeking a way to get back on the bike more without shirking my parental duties, I began looking at kid trailers. After extensive research I came across Chariot Child Carriers out of Canada whose only focus is child trailers/carriers. They also happen to make trailers for some of the big bike brands in the industry as well. This focus and expertise in child transportation is evident in the well thought out features of their designs. I debated for some time over which model to get since I wanted the extra cargo space of a two-child trailer as I planned to use it to transport my camera gear around for work as well, but a one child trailer is more compact allowing it to fit on smaller road shoulders and takes up less space in my garage. In the end I decided on the one child Cougar SX due to its extra features despite the slightly smaller cargo space of their 2 kid trailers. The good news for others in the same dilemma is that for 2005, the features of the Cougar SX are available in a 2 kid carrier called the Cougar CX.
Out of the box my first reaction was how well built it was. A perfect match to my 10 speed Dura Ace equipped carbon fiber Look. The frame is made from anodized aluminum and features an adjustable leaf spring suspension system. The wheel bearings roll just as smoothly as any high quality wheelset I would race on and my son sits comfortably in a padded 5-point harness made from wicking fabric. This is covered with water resistant denier polyester fabric and has tinted windows with vent zips and a weather cover which we tested successfully in some downpours that were so heavy I could hardly see.
It took more time to break down the box for recycling than it did to put the trailer together and get out on the road. About 15 minutes total with adjusting the harness to fit my son. The trailers' design requires no tools for set up and it folds down to fit in your car trunk for transport or stow out of the way when not in use. Another nice feature is that it uses standard 20" BMX sized wheels which mean spare tubes and tires are easy to find, something not common to all trailers.
The most unique thing about the Chariot is what they call the CTS, or Child Transport System. This consists of kits to convert the trailer for other activities. Most kid trailers these days convert into a jogging stroller, but the Chariot also converts for other activities like Cross Country Skiing. The real beauty of the kits is that you can make the switch without any tools and without getting your child out. Though I honestly thought it was a silly idea at first, the kit I found most useful was the strolling kit. Instead of one big wheel out front to make it a jogging stroller, this consists of two small wheels that turn (similar to the front wheel of a grocery cart) and allow you to navigate the carrier inside of a store or other tight quarters quite easily. What's great about the strolling wheels isn't just how easy they turn, but that they store on the trailer so easily that they are always ready to be used. I would stop by the grocery store on the way home from a ride and convert the carrier from a bike trailer to a stroller, lock up my bike and be picking out produce in under two minutes without tools. I could even do it while my son was sleeping without waking him up. Bonus!
Chariot also offers a plethora of other accessories like a handlebar bag that converts to a child sized backpack, a bunting bag for cold weather, 2nd bike mounts, storage covers, travel bags, a baby supporter and the new baby bivy which allows you to move a sleeping infant in and out of the carrier without waking them. NOTE: the baby bivy and baby supporter do not allow you to take you infant riding. Kids need to be at least a year old or have strong enough neck muscles to safely use the Chariot as a bike trailer.
And regarding safety, they thought a lot about that too. The trailer frame is essentially a roll cage for your kid who is strapped into a 5-point harness. We tested this too, though not intentionally. My son was freightened, but unharmed as he hung in his harness with the trailer on it's side after I clipped a curb with the right trailer wheel at about 20 mph. I'd rather not test that again, but I'm glad it worked! They also use 3M Scotchlite™ reflective tape in abundance for low light visibility.
That's nice, but how does it ride?
All these fancy features don't mean a thing if either of 2 things are happening; 1) your kid isn't comfortable or 2) pulling the trailer diminishes your enjoyment of riding.
To expand on the first point, if junior isn't happy then you won't get a very long ride in as crying usually puts a stop to most activities (and what parent wants to torture their kid anyway?). I'll let my son testify to the comfort of the Chariot by pointing out that he fell asleep on our first ride and we have taken several 2 hour plus rides, a few 3 hour rides, and one monster 4 hour ride (we got out and had ice cream at the half way point). This comfort comes from the wicking mesh fabric on his padded seat and harness, lots of temperature control venting, and a unique leaf spring suspension that is adjustable for varying child weights. I recently went riding with a friend who was pulling his child in another brand of trailer and his son was bouncing all over on a bumpy road while my son cruised along smoothly.
I thoroughly enjoy riding with my son in the trailer though I must point out that you need to adjust your expectations a bit when trailering. You won't ride in groups (unless you sit on the back), you won't go quite as fast or as far and you will definitely feel anything over a two percent grade. The easiest way to get over all of this is to monitor your heart rate, your power, or both. One look at one of those readouts and you'll realize that you are getting just as good of a workout in as when you ride without a trailer.
All that being said, I put a compact crank on my bike and my son and I almost made it to the top of Mt Evans (highest paved road in North America at over 14,000 feet) with it, but had to turn back within sight of the top at about 13,500 feet when we saw a storm coming. The last place you want to be in a storm is above tree line! We had planned to try again so that we could get photos at the top for the review but they closed the road for the winter the next week after a snow storm.
If you need to do pack specific skill riding or practice race tactics, you'll obviously need to leave junior at home, but for most training and just plain riding, the trailer rocks! I'm so happy with it I'm thinking of trying to organize a race open only to people pulling kids in trailers. Anyone interested? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Overall I am quite impressed with the Chariot and found that riding with a kid trailer is not half as bad as I was expecting it to be. In fact it feels kind of weird to ride without it now. Now if only I had gotten the 2 kid size though... we have a little girl due in March.
Price: CX1 with Cycling CTS kit $590 (Cougar SX as tested is no longer
available. It consisted of the CX1 chassis, Cycling, Jogging and Strolling CTS
kits, cargo rack, handlebar bag and heavy duty travel bag to store or transport
it all in. These accessories are available separately for 2005).