|Chariot Cougar 2|
Maybe you first noticed Chariot carriers when you saw Jennifer Garner with one. Or maybe you noticed a neighborhood mom towing kids to preschool in one that’s attached to the back of her bike. Perhaps your friend takes her kids cross-country skiing with hers. Whatever your introduction, it’s now time for you to get to know these amazing kid-carriers a little better.
Chariot is a well-known, Canadian-made bike trailer (and then some). The company calls the Chariot X-Country series “adventure carriers” but I like to think of them as SUVs for kids… and parents! And that’s why — for the first time ever — I’m turning to my husband for some help with this review. He has long been drooling over Chariot carriers so when the Cougar 2 ($675) came our way, he was quick to lunge for the box and set it up. But if he’s going to get all the fun, then I think he’s going to have to do some of the work, too! And so here we offer (mostly from the dad-perspective for a change) our take on the Chariot Cougar 2.
The Chariot X-Country series is a versatile chassis and conversion kit system. First you choose your chassis. There are three different options, each with a one-seat and two-seat model. Each is made of lightweight aluminum and engineered with the patented ezFold technology for quick storage. Colors vary somewhat between series, as does chassis design. However, the essentials – like a five-point safety harness – are constant. Once you select a chassis (whatever the series), you can choose up to five different conversion kits: strolling, jogging, hiking, biking or cross-country skiing.
We tested a Chariot Cougar 2 chassis. It’s the middle child of the X-Country series and comes with red, orange or green highlights on a sleek grey base. As with all important decisions, we let our four-year-old choose the color. The result: rocket red! We also tested three conversion kits: the Strolling Kit ($75), Jogging Kit ($90 for Cougar 2) and the ever-popular Bike Trailer Kit ($75).
Of course, we can’t speak for every variation of the X-Country series, but we’ve been around the block (and the hills, and the trails) with the Cougar 2. And we absolutely love it! Let us tell you why.
Putting It Together
The chassis comes fully-assembled, right down to the rain, bug, and sun covers. Unfold it, click in the handle, pop the large rear wheels on and you’re ready for a conversion kit. This is where it gets truly cool. The front of the chassis is equipped with the Chariot Versawings, which allow for extremely quick changes between different kits. We tested the Strolling Kit (two “stroller-style” wheels simply pop into the Versawings), the Jogging Kit (a single inflatable tire with arms that slide into the Versawings) and the Bicycle Trailer Kit (a single arm that attaches to an adult bike and clicks into one of — you guessed it — the Versawings!). Even the specialized axel that you need to add to your bike to pull the Cougar 2 goes on easily.
I (husband speaking) have literally been admiring Chariots (of various models) since before I had children. Their track record as simply the best bike trailer carrier is well documented. The Cougar 2 was incredibly easy to attach to the bike using the Bike Trailer Kit. Once attached (double safety harnessed), it’s a seamless transition from biking without the trailer to biking with it. It rolls smoothly and corners brilliantly. The same goes for the Jogging Kit, which features the same smooth ride without the assistance of energy-saving gears.
What truly surprised us was how smoothly the Cougar 2 handles when equipped with the Strolling Kit. It moves like any of the high-end strollers we’ve tried (and we’ve tried a lot of strollers!). It can turn on a dime. It’s short (unlike most “active/jogging” strollers on the market). And, most surprisingly, it’s narrow! We were able to get in and out of stores, squeeze by dogs on the sidewalks, and slip on and off the subway via elevators or escalators. Although, as every parent knows, you must never take a stroller on an escalator (ahem!).
There’s ample room for two kids (up to 100 lbs. of kid, in fact). Our tall four-year-old even has a lot of legroom courtesy of the Cougar 2’s new chassis design. The new design also means our little one-year-old can climb in independently thanks to a low step-in height. Once in, they both need to be buckled up. Fortunately, the safety harnesses are ingenious! Adjustable shoulder pads secure little travelers as part of a two-step safety system, together with a waist belt.
And the ingenious part? The shoulder straps detach at the top or the bottom so that drowsy passengers may be whisked away to bed. There is also an integrated helmet space to make sure children’s heads rest naturally even when adorned with the latest cranium cushions. The padded seat cushion with wicking mesh is removable and washable. Finally, the seat is equipped with no less than three types of reflective materials for 360º visibility.
At the back of the Cougar 2 there is a very sturdy, fold-down storage compartment with a cover. We find it surprisingly roomy and love the way it folds up and out of the way. It can easily handle a two-bag grocery trip and a picnic in the park. Also, each passenger has a little mesh storage pouch attached inside the carrier for storing snacks and treasures.
The Cougar 2 has three sun panels which block 87% of UV rays: there is a fold down demi-cover on the top and each side of the stroller is a tinted window (which is also great for visibility). In addition, the front mesh (a.k.a. bug cover, which can completely cover the occupants or fold away) blocks 45% of UV rays. Together with the rain cover, the front mesh blocks 87% of UV rays. This means your little travelers are protected from sun, rain, wind and locusts… or all of the above. The most wonderful thing about having all of these covers attached — aside from ease of use — is that you’re never caught without one.
There is only one element of the Cougar 2 that folds: the whole thing. The ezFold technology is amazing. All you do is remove the conversion kit and fold the carrier. To get it really slim (like for a car trip) you can even remove the wheels.
While the conversion kits are the main ‘accessories’ (they can hardly be called that, since they’re necessary for the stroller to work), there are also a host of optional accessories. Highlights include: the ezHitch ($30) to equip a second adult bike for bike trailer mode; the Baby Bivy ($66) to get wee ones from 6 to 18 lb rolling along (though it can’t be used for biking); the X-Country Cargo Rack ($77 for double carriers) for additional storage and a Stridelite Strobe Kit ($55) for extra night time visibility. Be warned: once you start looking at accessories, it’s difficult to stop! (See? Dads aren’t as different from us moms as they might like to think!)
Cougar 2 In a Nutshell
It’s hard to say whether the Cougar 2 (and the Chariot X-Country Series as a whole) is a luxury or an essential. The price is higher than many strollers, yes, but it seems to come down to lifestyle choices. Are you a biker? A runner? A hiker? A skier? All of the above? If so, how often? (And where on earth do you find the time? Sorry… not part of the review, I know!) Do you have an existing stroller?
That’s what’s perfect about the Cougar 2: you can customize your “adventure carrier” to suit your needs. Choose a chassis, then up to 5 conversion kits and, finally, accessories. It could be that the Cougar 2 fulfills all your stroller/carrier needs. Or, it may simply fill an important niche. Whichever it is, with a Cougar 2 in your stroller lineup, you are sure to be delighted. The Cougar 2 is more than just an impressive baby product. It is lightweight, versatile and — thankfully — very cool-looking. No matter what role it fills for you, it will undoubtedly do so effortlessly day in and day out, for many years to come.
(A little note: Remember… if a dad can get this excited about a stroller, then there’s a pretty great chance he’s going to take the kids out for nice long walks, runs, rides, and more! Trust me on this one.)
– Stephanie, crunchy, urban Canadian mama to a 4-year-old contrarian son and a 1-year-old philosopher daughter loves all things green, gadgety and glam. (With a little help this time from a friend.)