Thursday, June 18, 2009

Bugaboos Aren't Always the Best

(Epic) Stroller Buying Advice from a Parent in the Trenches

I love talking to people who are about to have their first baby. They know their lives are going to be changed forever, but they don't KNOW. You know? It's like watching videos of people who are about to bungee jump, or rappel down a mountain - you want to warn them to take all the precautions, but in the end all you can do is stand back and watch them go.

I have a morbid curiosity, though, in what people buy to prepare for their first child. I want to know what they've stocked up on, what they still need to get and where they are planning to shop. Part of me wants to know what's considered (baby on the)hip or (old s)cool these days, but more specifically, I want to know if they are unprepared as I was. And I want to help. I want to guide. I really do! But I have to bite my tongue, because, as I've found, people don't really want advice. They may think they do, but they most often don't.

The thing I'm most curious about, though, is what stroller people are planning to get. So far, I've found that people either have no idea what to get (to which I think you really should do some reasearch. Really.). Or, they invariable say "Oh, I'm getting a Bugaboo. Everyone says that they are the best." (to which I think Hmm, yes and no.) If they ask my advice, they regret it, because I have a lot to say about strollers. A LOT. I have to watch them and make sure I stop talking when their eyes start to glaze over and they look like they're going to go out and buy a stroller right that minute just so I will SHUT UP.

So, if you are a parent and are actually looking for advice on buying a stroller, if you feel as lost as I did when trying to choose the right stroller, and if you want to avoid having Stroller Graveyard in your back shed like I do, you may wish to read this. And please, if you are a parent who has bought and loved (or hated) a particular stroller, please add your two cents to the comment section. I'd love to hear any advice you have. Cause I feel the need to purge the information from my brain so that I can stop putting people to sleep at baby showers. And perhaps move on with my life.

Really think about how you are going to use your stroller. This is the hardest part, in my opinion, especially if you are going to buy the stroller before the baby arrives (as most do). I bought my first stroller - a Peg Perego Atlantico - because my sister-in-law had that stroller and loved it, and I didn't know any better. My SIL and I do not have the same life and we are not the same person. She liked walking around in malls with the baby. I liked walking in High Park on the trails. While that stroller was fine on flat surfaces, it did not like any kind of rough terrain, or snow deeper than a few centimetres. I trashed that stroller with my extreme strolling, and even lost a wheel at one point. Still don't know where it is.

Size matters. Wheels, storage, and overall size. In this one respect, you get what you pay for. Generally cheaper strollers are larger and bulkier. They also often have small, hard wheels. If you plan to only use your stroller in the mall or on large suburban streets, then it doesn't matter if you have a great big, stroller. If you are using it in the GTA, for example, you're screwed. There will be shops you can't go into (unless you offload the kid every single time), and you will even find it hard to navigate the city sidewalks with all the signs and flower pots. There are MANY people who don't want "SUV-type strollers" in their stores and go out of their way to make them inaccessible (Stupid, that, because who is spending the money during the weekday but parents at home with children? Others are probably working, not shopping.) Don't even get me started on taking a large stroller on the subway... Also, storage is essential - unless you like pushing a stroller while juggling groceries, diaper bags, jackets, snacks and sand toys. (Have fun with that.) And something I didn't know? The larger the wheel (the inflatable, bicycle-type wheel), the better it goes through the snow. VERY IMPORTANT in Canada.

Strollers to consider:

Bugaboo. Yes, I want one. Yes, I have stroller-envy. But yes, I realize now that this would never have been the best option for me. They are cute, light, easy to manoeuvre and totally what all the cool parents are buying. (Yup, still jealous. Just checking.) But they are not right for everyone. Plus they cost $1300! I consider them like Porsches. No one can deny that they are great (and expensive!) cars, but are they right for every lifestyle? No. Would you go off-roading in a Porsche? No. Would you go camping with a Porsche? No. A friend of mine has one, and she doesn't think that the tires don't go through snow very well at all. You can buy snow tires (at an additional cost, of course), but then the tires lock and the whole "easy to manoeuvre" aspect is gone. My main problem is the cost. Not only is it insanely expensive, but what happens if you have a second child? Yes, you can attach a "boogie board", but you better hope your kid is old enough and responsible enough to hang on. And, I doubt this feature is terribly useful in snow. (Note. Peg Perego's Skate is a cheap knock-off of this stroller, minus the storage. Who doesn't want storage?)

Phil and Ted's. I'm biased, because this is the stroller we bought with Little G on the way. In my opinion this is the best option currently available for families planning to have two children close in age. You buy it as a single, and then you can add the second seat later when you have another child. You can lie the baby flat when newborn and put the additional seat in front for the older child. You can buy a Coccoon which slides right into the stroller so you can take the baby out with waking. It's the smallest double option available, lightweight, and most importantly - when your older child is walking consistently, you're not left with a double stroller that you can't use. Oh! And it's great in the snow. BUT. Because I do have this stroller, I know it's not perfect. I've had tire issues. I'm sure it's just me because I haven't heard of anyone else with this problem, but I've had to replace the inner tubes far too often. When you do this, you have to go to a stroller repair shop (not just "any bicycle shop", as the salespeople assured me), because they are the only ones that carry inner tubes with angled valves. If you don't have an angled valve, you can't pump up the tires when they deflate. Also, your kids either have to be very close in age or very delicate. My boys are 38 and 28 pounds respectively. The max weight is 88 lbs total, which we haven't reached yet, but I assure you that you will not be able to push a 26 lb stroller with 88 lbs of kid inside it. The total weight with my kids and stroller is over 90 lbs and I have now officially refused to push both of them. I am a fairly fit mother of two who works out 4 times a week, and I think I might have a heart attack if I have to push them both one more time.

Maclaren Umbrella Stroller. I love this stroller. It's light, packs easily and can manoeuvre shops and coffee joints like a dream. It's expensive for an umbrella stroller (you can get a usable umbrella stroller at any Zeller's type store for $20 or less and this one costs over $100 dollars), but it's worth it for the extra: it reclines, it has a sun hood and a rain shield. Also, their doubles version is probably the only realistic side-by-side stroller option for city life. But, because their wheels are small and hard, it's a lost cause using this in the snow. We have one, and I call it my "summer stroller" because I wouldn't even consider trying to go through snow with it.

Running Strollers. I am a runner. A devoted, long-distance, not going to give it up anytime soon kinda runner. For that reason, I have always wanted a running stroller. The reality is, I don't actually like to run with the stroller all that much. I always preferred to use that time as a break from the kids. It's my form of meditation, and I don't like it being interrupted by demands for snacks and constant whining. And now, with two kids, I can't imagine trying to push both of them. (Wow, that would be some kinda workout.) I think that a lot of people feel the same way, because I always see ads on Craigslist for running strollers that have barely been used. Either that, or people find that it's hard to run with a stroller. However, if we had extra cash and storage, I would buy either a BOB Ironman stroller or a Chariot Cougar or CX. The BOB is lightweight and supposed to be the best for handling the wear and tear of true running (ie. you could do a marathon with it. Not that you would.) and I think it would be double well as a regular city stroller. The Chariot is way too big for regular use, but if you are a devoted exerciser, it's great, because the pod-like shape means you don't have to fuss with rain shields while you're running, and toys won't fall out. Also, there's a great storage feature for all your exercise needs.

If I was going to buy a stroller for my first baby all over again, I'd probably buy the Phil and Ted's because of it's versatility. But, if you're only going to have one child, then it probably woudn't be my first choice. If I wasn't worried about using the stroller for a second child (if we were only going to have one, or if I had the cash and the storage space to buy as many strollers as I wanted to) I'd probably buy the BOB Ironman, the Quinny Buzz. I've also seen some UppaBabys and Zooper Zydecos that I thought looked worth trying. I haven't used any of these strollers personally, but I've watched them go by many times and thought "Damn, I wish I had that stroller."

Whoosh. If you made it this far, you are either:

a) About to become a parent and are doing research. (Good for you.)
b) A stroller freak like me. (It's a problem, isn't it?)
c) A good bloggy friend who stuck it out to the end eventhough I bored you to tears. (Thank you! I love you!!)
d) My husband. (Although he probably stopped reading ages ago. He's heard this before.)

Please, if you have stroller suggestions or banishments, leave them in the comments. My obsession continues.


Beck said...

3 kids in and I've never done any stroller research, honestly. We had whatever was handed down to us - including the world's worst stroller that weighed about 400 pounds, veered to the left and had COFFEE HOLDERS in the handles - and a variety of cheapo umbrella strollers. My dad bought me a jogging stroller at a farm auction a few years ago, since it could handle the mud and snow.

Mac and Cheese said...

Heh. I started with the Peg as well, based on my friend's insistance. It is now my 'mall stroller'. I then bought a big-ass Zooper that works well on the trails near my house, but is still the size of a small Korean car when folded up.

Anonymous said...

basket size is crucial if you grocery shop with the stroller.

i love the phil and teds and have never had issues with the tires. we use it pretty hard.

kgirl said...

I did a ton of research on my first stroller, and ended up with a standard Graco, which did the job, but was nowhere near as sexy as the strollers my more monied friends were pushing.

With #2 on the way, we expanded our horizons, and as you know, also opted for the Phil and Ted's, which I LOOOOOOVE. I wrote about joining the cult of Phil and Ted's over a year ago, and it is still the post that gets the most hits. We've blown all three tires at once (our fault. we overinflated in the dead of summer), and had to replace all innertubes, but the company is just so gosh-darn easy to deal with. No complaints.

And, sorry to friends that have them, but I've always thought that you are a bit of a chump if you're spending $1300 on a friggen stroller.

Kyla said...

We got a Grace travel system with BubTar, which we used some, but really kind of hated. With KayTar it has been cheap strollers all the way and we've been much happier.

Sandra said...

There wasn't nearly this myriad of choices (or weird social status symbol stuff) when we had our guy 8 years ago. We got the basic standard run of the mill stroller - and it worked. But he really didn't like it much anyway and spent most of his time in a carrier or sling until he could walk on his own.

kittenpie said...

Bugaboos were just arriving when Pumpkinpie was born, and were twcie the price of the expensive strollers before them, which I already thought were kind of crazy, especially since I wasn't sure I'd have more than one kid yet. We bought our first stroller used - one of the Pegs with the suspension and the basket underneath. I chose it because it reclined fully for the newborn needs, it had a big basket for storing stuff, you could face it towards or away from you, and it had bigger tires for winter. It's a good stroller for a baby and for winter, and we attached a buggy board for Pumpkinpie when we used to for The Bun.

Once Pumpkinpie was approaching 6 mos and I wanted to start getting more adventurous, i started looking for a small folding stroller that was light enough to carry up and down subway stairs. I insisted on the Maclaren Quest in the end because it has a real reclining feature, and is very small and light. I used that thing pretty much every day for three years with Pumpkinpie once she could sit up, and The Bun is in it now. I LOVE it.

And like kgirl, I can't even imagine dropping $1K on a stoller. Really? I think my new closet is going to cost less than that, including a full cedar wall.

Capital Mom said...

I love our Chariot. With no car it is essential in winter. The wheels are large and it is totally enclosed so you can be out walking when it is minus 30.

bren j. said...

It seems like EVERYBODY around here has Quinnys. It's like some sort of epidemic! We bought a $60 Chico the first time around. It has a sunshield, reclines, and we bought a raincover on Amazon for fifteen bucks.

Now, we got the stroller package for a MEC bike trailer and we love it! We have the jogging wheel which we've never used, but the stroller wheel works well. It's not great for tight spaces, but perfect on sidewalks and streets and great on grass and for 'off-roading.' Plus, the price is right! It won't fit through a regular door so that's inconvenient, but I'm willing to trade that to pay half the price of a Chariot.

(And you're not alone - I suffer from stroller envy A LOT.) :)