Over the past decade, a new breed of baby buggy has evolved with three large fixed wheels, shocks, 5-point safety harnesses and drink holders for the child. Since our last stroller review in 2002, the jogging stroller has continued to develop, and the models available today offer unprecedented ease of use and safety, both for the runner and the rider.
Of course, one person's improvement is another person's scourge. And anyone who has ever tried to find the "regular" kind of toothpaste on the grocery shelves knows that having lots of options just makes decisions that much more complicated. In this guide, we break down choosing a stroller into the major variables that can make a stroller just what you're looking for or the next-best-thing-that-falls-just-short. Then we'll take a look at a selection of strollers that is available today and give you some tips for getting started running with your new stroller.
Stability: Stability, of course, is a good attribute for a baby travel system that will carry your precious bundle for many miles. But a well balanced stroller is not a runner's friend. Turning a stroller when running depends on uneven distribution of weight among the three wheels so that the runner can easily and smoothly lift the front wheel incrementally to turn the stroller around a corner or bend in the road. We observed that many of the strollers that are made for walking as well as running were much more stable, making them more difficult to maneuver when running. Take into consideration how much of your stroller time will be spent running versus walking.
Front Wheel: Many jogging strollers available today offer a front wheel that can be either locked into the straight-ahead position that is best for running, or set free to swivel, which makes steering when walking much nicer. This decision is related to the stability issue above. If you will be using your stroller only for running, then you don't need to spend the extra dollars to get one with a swivel option on the front wheel. Running with the wheel in swivel mode is dangerous because running over even a small pebble with a swivel wheel at running speeds could send the stroller quickly veering in an unplanned direction.
But who uses the stroller only for running? If you live in a city or other area where space is limited, you'll find the swivel wheel of great assistance in maneuvering the stroller around stores, sidewalks and anywhere else you might take your child. However, if you live in an area where there is plenty of room in stores and parking lots and the sidewalks are wide and sparsely populated, you might get along just fine with a wheel that is always facing forward. We found that in rural West Virginia, the swivel wheel was a luxury but certainly not a necessity.
Handle Height: If you are an average-sized man, this is probably not going to be an issue for you. But if, say, you and your (shorter) wife will both be using this stroller for running, you'll want to look for one with an adjustable handle. Few situations are more frustrating than trying to do a decent run with a stroller handle that doesn't fit. Your arm swing is already restricted by pushing the stroller; if you have to hold your hands unusually high as well, you'll be much more tempted to hire a babysitter next time. Many companies offer a stroller with an adjustable height handle and while some accomplish this better than others, all were acceptable to our testers.
Wheel Width: The main reasons to consider wheel width are spacial and aesthetic. Some might feel self conscious pushing around a stroller that takes up more than half the sidewalk. Some of us just don't have space to store such a device when it is not in use. But the wider wheeled strollers tend to offer more space for carrying along supplies or errand material, provide a better fit for larger children and feel more stable than the strollers with more narrowly spaced wheels. The more narrow vehicles feel sleek and slim, and fit through doors more easily.
Hand Brake: When we saw our first strollers, we thought the hand brake was a cute accessory, one of those things they add on so they can have more bullet points in the features box. As soon as we started running with them, though, we realized they are truly a wonderful addition to a jogging stroller, particularly for those of us who live in hilly areas. The hand brake allows the runner to maintain form and pace when running downhill with the stroller, rather than having to sit back and act as the brake to keep from losing control of the stroller. This may not be a big deal on small or shallow hills, but with long steep hills, lacking a hand brake could create a significant break from your normal (and healthy) running form.
Folding: There are two main bullet points to consider for folding: How Small and How Easy. How Small applies to you if you have a small car or storage space. In that case, you'll probably want a stroller that folds twice as these tend to have the smallest profile when folded. How Easy, though, applies to any parent. If the stroller takes 4 hands to break down or set up, then you can bet it will be staying put together 100% of the time. Most strollers take at least two hands to break down, but some can be easily snapped fully into place with one hand. This is invaluable when your other hand is occupied with carrying or comforting a testy child, or holding on to any number of other things.
The biggest change since the last time we reviewed jogging strollers (in 2002) is the swivel-option front wheel. In the past, jogging strollers were for just that: jogging (or running, as we Americans tend to call it). So a family generally had to own a "regular" stroller and one used for running. Most major brands of jogging strollers now provide parents an option to get 2-in-1 with a front wheel that can be locked into place for running or turned loose and allowed to swivel, making the stroller much nicer to use for walking. The result is that while your stroller garage now requires only one parking place, the stroller has gotten more complicated as companies try to satisfy the needs of users in more situations. It is conceivable that parents who don't run at all would purchase one of these strollers since the big wheels and comfortable handles tend to make them much easier to push than the ones with the small plastic wheels.
The other big change since our last review is that the wheels, as a general rule, have gotten much smaller. The largest wheels in 2002 were 24 inches and many measured in around 20". In 2009, however, the largest wheel size, 16" was shared by several of the strollers and many were smaller.
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