After vast amounts of surfing the net, data mining news groups, talking with
people who already have them, trying some and researching various related topics I concluded on which bike trailer
to buy; twice. The first one was the Burley d'Lite.
But after trying it a few times I returned it an unsatisfied customer.
I then purchased the Chariot Cougar. My child, wife and I have been fully satisfied with this bike trailer. A good friend
also purchased one, which he is quite happy with as well.
In April, 2003 I began to research information regarding bike trailers. These are the
cart like things that you may see a bicycle pulling behind it. Some people use them for
pulling gear, groceries or other stuff yet others use them to pull their children. It was the
latter which I was interested in.
So I set out to learn more about these things. Spring was here and I wanted to take my
month old out on bike rides during the summer. I started by using the Google search engine. Of
course I tried various different searches; all revolving around the keywords "child", "bike" and
"trailer". To my surprise I was not able to find much.
Next I tried using Google's "Groups" (this is an archive of the usenet; derived from the
old DejaNews.com offerings). Again, to my surprise, there wasn't too much traffic on the
topic. However I was able to narrow down my search to just a few key companies:
What I discovered was that there are no real
answers to find. I was hoping to find some web site that compared each of the
different popular trailers; maybe some chart that compares features.
Unfortunately I failed to find anything of substance. There were some sites that
compared them but only for marketing purposes. Such charts referred to marketing
features such as:
- "Anti-Dive Seat"
- "Recessed Helmet Pocket"
- "Ultra-versatile CTS Ready Chassis"
Now none of these features means much to me
without some sort of description. At the time, regardless of how I searched, I
was unable to learn what these things mean. I thought that the "recessed helmet
pocket" was a pouch or pocket of some sort that you could store a helmet out of
the way when it was not being used (e.g. if you stopped to get ice cream, took
off your child's helmet and wanted to store it somewhere). It wasn't until I saw
the trailer in person that I understood that it was simply an extension to the
child's seat back. When she is wearing her helmet she can keep her head up
straight because extended portion of her seat back was recessed allowing the
bulk of her helmet at the back of her head to protrude behind the actual seat
It took considerable research to understand the
remainder of such feature names. And some (such as the "anti-dive seat") I still
don't understand even though we eventually purchased the product that boasts it.
I accessed Consumer Reports online web site (http://www.consumerreports.org/)
looking for comparisons but was unable to find any. EPinions.com (http://www.epinions.com/)
was helpful but only in as far as some reviews by people whom I do not know and
have no way to know if they are in a position to really recommend a product
(e.g. do these people work for a trailer company? Do they have any real
knowledge of trailers?). So in general there isn't much information available
online and of the lot that is available there is no real way to determine its
For my wife safety was a big concern. She wanted to make sure that whatever we got was
as safe as possible.
Features to look for:
5 point harness
Roll bar: In the event that the trailer does roll over a roll bar to prevent the sides from caving in.
Wide wheel base: helps prevent rollovers
Visibility: Some trailers have reflective materials woven into the trailer directly
Flag: Many trailers come with (or at least have a way of attaching) a flag. This is useful to alert
motorists that there is something trailing behind your bike. This is especially true for drivers of
larger vehicles (SUVs, Trucks, pickups, etc) who are generally sit higher than other cars--they may see a
bike rider but not the much lower profile trailer.
- Rollover hitch: if the bike falls the hitch
is flexible enough such that the trailer is not forced to rollover.
NOTE: At first I thought this requirement was a bit silly. I have been riding bikes for over 30 years and
the only time I have fallen over on a bike was while racing downhill on dirt trails (something I
do not intend to do with my kids). However it ends up occurring much more frequently than I thought.
For instance while preparing to take the trailer out for its first spin my bike fell over in the driveway (from a big wind).
The KidsHealth for Parents web site has an interesting article on bike
that is worth reading.
Safety standards are commissioned by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM
This standards body has published a bike trailer standard called F-1975-99 (1975 isn't a year, but instead
refers to subcommittee F.19's 1999 standard--I don't know what the "75" is for).
There is supposed to be an updated specification called F-1975-00 (00 since it
was drafted in the year 2000). More details on this can
be found at the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute:
Make sure that whichever trailer you choose either meets or exceeds ASTM standards.
The Burley web site says about the d'Lite's
The Burley d'Lite is recognized the world over as the safest, most
durable two-child trailer available.
Interestingly enough I was unable to find any
literature on the net that actually backed up this claim. There were some
anecdotal evidence posted in news groups but this was simply anonymous people
posting messages along the lines that they felt the d'Lite was the safest.
However, nobody could definitively state why. As far as I can tell everyone
feels that the Burley d'Lite is the safest because the Burley web site says so.
We finally decided that we wanted the following
- Fits two children (we expect to eventually
have a second child)
- Can easily be protected from wind and rain
- Can be easily modified to act as a stroller
(and back to a bike trailer again)
- It had to be rollover safe:
- Have a roll bar to keep the sides upright
even when rolling over
- Bike hitch must be able to allow bike to
fall without twisting thus causing trailer to roll as well
- Must have plenty of head area so in the
event of a rollover the child's head is not up against the ground
- It had to be light
- It had to be noticeable and visible to car
We stopped by our local REI store
(http://www.rei.com/) and looked
over their Burley d'Lite and the Chariot Cougar trailers. My first observation was that
the d'Lite did not come with handle bars and the front wheel (both of which are
needed to use the trailer as a jogging stroller). Instead that was an additional
add-on called the "Walk n' Roller Kit". From looking at the Burley web site
photos one was left thinking that this kit came with the d'Lite.
In the end we decided to purchase the Burley
After looking at various places both on the net
and in brick and mortar stores we found that the d'Lite was almost always $400.
We did manage to find it for $20 cheaper (and without tax) on the net but
shipping costs made up the difference. So we decided to drive out to REI again
and purchase it there. This way we at least would get a little bit back as a dividend
at the end of the year (since we were members).
The cost was a bit hefty:
|Walk n' Roller Kit
|Tax at 8.8%
I saw some d'Lites on eBay for a few hundred
dollars cheaper. However my wife and I decided that it was better to just bite
the bullet and buy it new. This way we are guaranteed that the product will be
in good shape. It ends up that it was the right decision from the warranty side
of things since their "Limited Lifetime Warranty" is non transferable.
The trailer came in a large box but was
reasonably light and fairly easy to carry (it had a hand hold punched out of the
box). It was able to snuggly fit into the trunk of our Honda Civic sedan.
My general impression before assembling it was
that it looked easy. The instructions proved to be more complex than the actual
assembly. Mostly because the drawings were sometimes difficult to understand.
This was especially true with drawings of only a part of the trailer (leaving
you to wonder what part of the trailer the picture was illustrating). But
overall it was pretty obvious. I had the trailer up and running in probably 10
minutes. The only tool I needed was a phillips screwdriver to screw in the 4
|Rollbar Cotter Pin:
The rollbar is held in place by a cotter pin that pushes up against the
|Rollbar Cotter Pin
With the canopy pulled back you can see the cotter pin.
The rollbar is held in place by a plastic
housing. It is then secured to this housing by the application of a cotter pin.
However when the canopy is attached the cotter pin pushes up against the fabric.
It looks like it is just a matter of time before the cotter pin actually
penetrates the canopy fabric. This makes the design look very cheap and not well
thought out. This is illustrated by the two pictures to the side. I played with
different ways of attaching the cotter pin but each one proved a problem; the
way illustrated in the pictures to the right seem to be the less stressful
against the canopy fabric.
Once that the d'Lite was assembled it was time
to attach the "Walk n' Roller Kit". The kit looked quite cheap (not what I would
expect for $90). It consisted of an aluminum handlebar with foam padding, two
aluminum handlebar attachments, a front wheel and a parking break mechanism.
Unlike the d'Lite itself, this kit requires tools to assemble (in particular a
7/16" torque wrench, a regular 7/16" wrench, and a phillips screwdriver. I
discovered that you also need a rag (the front wheel leaked a bit of grease
making a bit of a mess).
Putting the front wheel onto the bike
attachment bar was tedious. Not difficult, just tedious. Remove one screw, pull
out the bike mount mechanism, add the wheel unit, reinsert the mount mechanism,
push a new screw through the mechanism, connect one end of the safety connection
strap to the front bolt on the new wheel unit and tighten down the two wheel
unit bolts. Oddly enough the safety strap would not fit onto the end of the bolt
as directed--there was not enough clearance between the bolt and the unit
itself. I ended up sandwiching it between the top and bottom piece of the wheel
unit then putting the bolt through it. It seemed to work well. While I was doing
all this the wheel kept oozing out a bit of reddish grease. This was annoying
but not the end of the world.
While next was the handlebar. The directions
said to attach the handlebar holders to the frame on the back; somewhere around
15" from the bottom of the chassis. This would place the holders right on the
canopy fabric. I would assume that this would not be favored. So I put them at a
different location where there was no fabric. This seemed to work out. The
holders were in place, the handlebar was attached and then secured with cotter
pins. After this I noticed that the handlebars had a lot of play. They were not
stiff as I would expect a jogger handlebars to be. That was disappointing.
Finally came time for the brake. It is
essentially a couple pieces of metal connected together with pivoting joints.
Three screws hold it to the underside of the trailer. The trailer's frame had 3
holes drilled for this specific reason. HOWEVER, the trailer's fabric covers one
of these holes. The instructions instructs you to punch a hole in the fabric
with the screwdriver or a hot soldering iron! I stopped laughing once I
realized that they were serious.
I found this quite disconcerting especially for
a fairly simple device that cost me over $500! Considering the cost of the
product I would expect them to have a better solution than to poke a hole in the
fabric with your screwdriver. Since they have been making this product for (at
least) several years I would expect them to have redesigned it so that there was
already a hole in the fabric.
- Loose handlebars: They are only held in by
one cotter pin on each side of the trailer. So they have quite a bit of play.
They feel secure enough that they won't fall out but it is just loose enough
to be fully annoying. It gives a cheap feeling.
- Roll bar cotter pin pushes up against canopy
fabric: I fully expect this to cause undue wear on the fabric over time. Refer
to the cotter pin pictures.
- Had to "poke a hole in the fabric" to
assemble the parking brake.
- Parking brake works by pushing the end of a
metal bar into the tire:
The parking brake disengaged.
The braking mechanism (big piece of metal) sits distant from the tire.
The parking brake engaged:
The breaking mechanism pushes into the tire.
- Does not have a solid rear axle. Instead
each wheel has two connectors it slides into that keep the wheel connected to
Our first time out my daughter both liked and
didn't like the trailer. The first problem we ran into was with her helmet.
Well, it was with the trailer's impact on her helmet. My 17 month old daughter
is a bit short for her age. When she sat in the seat and was strapped in her
head was just a little short of reaching the d'Lite's recessed helmet pocket.
Therefore she was unable to take advantage of this feature. The result was that
the seat's back kept pushing on the back of her helmet which inevitably caused
it to fall over her eyes.
During the same first outing it became apparent
that my daughter slouches. As she sat in the seat she would slouch and the point
harness system would not prevent this from occurring. During a ride up a nearby
river trail I watched in my rear view mirror as she slowly slid her body to the
side until she was sitting nearly at a 45° angle to the ground.
I finally got a chance to take the Burley out
for a jog. I was excited to see how well it worked (compared to our other jogger
stroller). I understand that this is a bike trailer first and foremost. However
it is marketed as a jogging stroller when you install the $90 accessory (which
consists of a handlebar, front wheel and parking brake).
All in all the ride was pleasant. The wheels
moved smoothly and it was easy to control and navigate. However there were some
things that I found annoying:
No Running Brake:
We live on a hill so the very first
thing that I noticed was the lack of a running brake. Almost all jogging
strollers I have seen come with such a brake; similar to a brake found on a
10-speed or mountain bike. Such a brake is basically positioned where you can
reach it easily and with a simple squeeze of your hand it pulls a cable which
causes a brake caliper to clamp down on a wheel. The Burley didn't have one. To
be fair, I am not sure that it would be practical to include one with the
jogging stroller accessory since it would have to somehow come off if you remove
Anyhow, lack of a running brake was difficult
for me. When you combine the Burley's approximately 25 pounds of weight with my
daughter's 25 pounds you end up having to control 50 pounds that is free
wheeling in front of you downhill. With no brake this means that my body weight
was used to slow the trailer as it started to gain momentum.
No Top Window.
The roof has no window to see your child while jogging.
No Top Window:
After jogging for 20 minutes it became painfully clear that another thing
that the Burley lacks is any top window. This is a window that I can look down
through the roof and see my child. Without such a roof window I have no idea if
she has fallen asleep, is playing or whatever. This is something that I have in
my jogger stroller and missed.
Handlebar is Too Short:
The handlebar is too short. When jogging with the Burley I found that I had to
keep my arm stretched out so that the trailer is as far ahead of me as possible.
Otherwise I found that my feet kept kicking the back end of the trailer.
Lack of pockets:
Okay, this one is a nit but there is a lack of pockets in the back of the
trailer. To be fair, the Burley has a ton of room behind the child's seat;
enough to hold two adult bike helmets plus a bunch of other stuff. However there
are no pockets back there. So keys, cell phone, MP3 player, water, etc all go
into the space behind the child's seat. This wouldn't be so bad if there was a
separation between the rear and the front of the trailer. Since there is no such
separation the smaller items (such as house keys) slide to the front of the
trailer when we go over bumps in the road. As silly as it seems it is quite
annoying because it means that you have to be clever and find a way to secure
your keys, water bottle, etc.
Front Lifts Too Easily:
The trailer was designed to be towed by a bicycle. The fact that it can be used
as a jogger stroller is probably an afterthought. With this in mind my next
complaint seems more like me being picky but I'll mention it none-the-less. The
stroller's weight seems well distributed across the rear wheels (as it should be
for a bike trailer). But when used as a jogging stroller the front wheel lifts
off of the ground much too easily. While jogging if I even rested my hand on the
handlebars the front would lift off of the ground.
Really this is not so much a problem as it is an inconvenience. When the wheel
lifts it inevitably comes down with a slight jolt; enough to wake my daughter if
she has started to fall asleep. I do not believe that there was ever a risk to
the trailer flipping over. Even if there was the strap attached from the
handlebar to my wrist would have prevented this.
So I called the REI store from which I purchased the Burley. I explained that I was not happy with it and
to my surprise they told me to just bring it on back for a full refund. So I did. I wheeled it in the same
day and they gratiously took it back with no questions asked (I have to admit that I am quite
impressed with REI) and they applied the credit to my credit card.
We decided to purchase the Chariot Cougar bike trailer. After playing with it at the REI store
some of the benefits that really impacted us were:
- Tight handlebars: Unlike the Burley d'Lite the Cougar comes with
handlebars (the d'Lite requires that you purchase a "jogging" option). These handlebars
are not loose as they were with the Burley. When I hold on to the handlebar there is very little
- Pop-on wheels: The wheels of the Cougar are super easy to assemble.
Each wheel has a metal axle-like shaft protruding from it. You simply insert this shaft into the
axle under the trailer until it "clicks" into place. To release a wheel you simply push
in on a rubber cap in the middle of the wheel and pull it out of the axle.
Note that the Burley d'Lite had reasonably easy to assemble wheels as well.
- Collapsing trailer: Collapsing the Cougar is incredibly simple. You
just remove the wheels (see the "Pop-on wheels" benefit) and flip a lever then the entire
trailer collapses upon itself. This is by far easier than the Burley.
- Roof window: Unlike the Burley d'Lite the Chariot Cougar has a
window in the roof of the trailer. This simply makes it really easy to see my daughter while
jogging. It may seem silly but for me it is very important to know if she is falling asleep or
- Adjustable suspension: Don't laugh but the Chariot Cougar has an
adjustable suspension. At first I thought that this was silly but having used it I fully endorse it!
You can adjust it to match the weight of your child. It really helps smooth the child's ride if you
take the trailer over non-smooth terrain. If you have two children in the trailer of different
weights you can adjust the suspension differently for each wheel. Nice.
After returning the Burley d'Lite trailer to REI my wife and I walked over to the Chariot trailers.
Before returning the Burley we had decided to purchase the Chariot Cougar. The Redmond, Washington
REI didn't have any left in stock but were
willing to sell us the floor model. I refused this for the same reason why I refused purchasing the
preassmbled Burley d'Lite (I may be paranoid but I don't trust someone else to assemble my child's
We did eventually purchase the Chariot Cougar as did some friends of
ours. We really liked the Chariot and compared with the Burley it was magnitudes better. The quality
between the two was like light and day. The Burley features were pretty shoddy such as the parking
brake which consisted of a sharp edged bar of metal that jabbed into the tires. For a company that
received all of the attention as Burley did they put out a pretty sad product.
The Chariot Cougar has two seats; something we though twice about since
we only had one child. After pondering this we concluded that we may one day have another child and
until then we can fit both her and one of her friends for a ride to a park. We have fit my daughter
and her friend in the trailer on numerous occasions and they had great fun. There was enough room
for both of them (a 3 & 2.5 year old) with helmets. Although at times their helmets were constantly
touching each other which looked kinda funny.
A handy feature of the Cougar was the independent
suspension settings. At first I thought this was one of the silliest marketing gimmicks I had seen. But
after giving it a try over while the kids slept over a bumpy path I started to understand the benefit.
I would adjust my daughter's side for her weight and her friend's side at his weight. I don't really know
if having dual adjustments is necessary but having the ability to adjust it at all is useful.
I really liked the Chariot's attention to detail. It looked like each part
was actually designed as opposed to hobbled together with off the shelf parts. Yes, I am happy that
we went the Chariot route. After a couple of years of use it hasn't broken down nor any parts have worn
out. It still runs smoothly, dis/re-assembles quickly and is not rickety. All that I have had to do
over the past few years was to occasionally pump up the tires with air (to be expected when packed away
over the winter). Unfortunately we have not used it as much as I would like but it has handled my
jogging and biking quite well.
Overall the purchase price for the Cougar was about the same as the Burley.
Once I added the components needed so that both had functional parity to act as a bike trailer and jogging
stroller they really were about the same price. It is worth noting that the Chariot has quite a few
interesting attachments such as the aforementioned storage rack and hand brake. They have even more
exotic attachments that allow you to use the trailer when hiking and even cross country skiing.
I think that the only real complaint I have with it is the lack of storage
space. The back pouches does hold snacks, first aid kit, keys, cell phone, a small jacket, etc.
However when we go on a long trek or on a picnic it would be nice to have more storage space.
I had considered purchasing a metal rack that mounts to the top but have yet to get it. I also considered
purchasing the hand brake for when I jog downhill but, again, have not yet done so I can't speak to
how well it works.
We purchased the trailer back in 2003. At that time the Chariot was the best product
that I could find (and I looked high and low). It is possible that Burley has since redesigned their
products to meet the competitive need. Or maybe someone else stepped in and made a better trailer. I
have not kept up since we have been content with the Chariot.
I would suggest looking for a local store that carries trailers. Stores like
Target usually have a few of the low end brands (eg. InStep) that are worth looking at. Out here in Seattle REI
has both the Burley and Chariots that you can put your kid in and try it out. Regardless, get one from a place
that is willing to refund your money even if you have used it a couple of times.