Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Stroller Talk

I thought I'd take today to talk about strollers. DH & I had a horrible time trying to figure out the whole stroller situation. There are so many different kinds . . . frames, umbrella strollers, full strollers, lite strollers, jogging strollers . . . it's so confusing! We had no idea how to differentiate. We knew that initially, we wanted a stroller that would work with our carseat. We selected the Graco Snugride carseat, so there were a host of stroller options.

We have a "mom and pop" owned baby store here, and the manager will take you on a tour and go over all the different products. After our initial meeting with him, we were thinking of purchasing the Graco Metrolite stroller - we thought it would give us room to grow, and would be great for use with the infant carseat. He said it would be all we would need, and would give us a good mix of the benefits of both an umbrella stroller and a "full" stroller. We were decidedly against buying a stroller frame (basically, a basket for storage and a metal frame for attaching the car seat) - we thought it was a waste of money since we would only be able to use it for 6-9 months while we were using the infant carseat.

DH and I kept debating about the stroller. After thinking we liked the Metrolite, we started noticing the widespread use in our area of "jogging" strollers as regular strollers. As we talked to more and more people, we realized that the "jogging" stroller would be a good idea for us. We live in an urban area, do a fair amount of walking and go on hikes, so we wanted a versatile stroller that we could use in all these different ways. I was also interested in a stroller that would be easy to steer. The 3 wheeled "jogging" style strollers are excellent for urban living, long walks, and maneuverability. They are often good on different terrains, and the more we looked at them, the more we liked them. We narrowed down our search to the Baby Jogger CityMini and the BOB Revolution stroller. We still weren't sure, however, if we would need a standard stroller in addition to the jogging stroller. DH & I spent months avoiding the decision, and a few short weeks before Micah was born . . . we still did not know what stroller we wanted to get.

Luckily, SIL came to the rescue! She had purchased the Graco stroller frame for her girls, so we decided to borrow that while we decided what stroller we wanted. I have to say, the Graco frame was quite handy - much more useful than I had anticipated. The storage is decent (although I found it difficult to pull things out from the basket while the infant seat is locked in place). It was lightweight and easy to open/close and transport (critical for me). It has a cupholder that has come in quite handy, too. We still use it as the primary stroller that we keep in the car. Many of my new mommy friends have a different variation of the frame - they use the Snap 'N Go frame, and I think it might have a few nicer features. I'm not sure about the weight or ease of use, but it looks nice. My biggest objection to the stroller frame is that it does not steer well. The wheels often get stuck making tighter turns, and it is difficult to maneuver with one hand (a key concern when you are juggling doors, or trying to walk a dog while navigating with a stroller). Nevertheless, it was free for us, and it is a relatively inexpensive "starter" stroller that is good to use while you contemplate how you live with a baby and assess your needs after you have a baby.

After our experience with the frame, we became certain that we wanted a three-wheeled "jogging" stroller for our permanent stroller. We examined hundreds of them out and about and read reviews. Based on the information we gathered, we ruled out many of the less expensive Kolkraft imitation jogging strollers. We had heard excellent things about the Bill and Ted's, but it didn't really seem like a good option to me (still can't tell you exactly why - it is expensive but it doesn't offer anything better or nicer than the other brands unless you have 2 children, and it falls short on some of the features we did like about the brands we selected). DH was a bit intrigued by the Jeep branded "jogging" strollers, but I thought they were cheaply made, and the reviews were mediocre. That left us with two choices - the BOB Revolution and the Baby Jogger City Mini (we ruled out the City Elite because it was too expensive for what it was and bigger than we needed).

Ultimately, everyone who has the BOB Revolution LOVES it. It is a true jogging stroller, however, and well . . . I don't jog. Ever. Unless maybe someone was chasing me. With a knife. Even then . . . not sure I'd be jogging. I might prefer to stay and fight. The BOB is extremely expensive - around $400. The BOB is a bit heavier (important for a jogging stroller) and it is a bit bulky to fold up and put away. It pulls together like an umbrella, only it does not have any kind of a clasp or a hook to keep it closed. Many of our friends said they never closed it because it would just fall over and open up anyway. We also heard that it is complicated to close, large (it does not fit in all cars) and heavy for people like me with no upper body strength. The wheels are real tires (not the hard plastic like other strollers) so you can get punctures and flats. The suspension, however, is much better for runners, and supposedly it provides much nicer cushioning for the baby.

In contrast, the City Mini has a single-handle pull closure. It is so easy to close! It folds up nice and small, and if you are tight on space (as we are), it is fairly compact (for a stroller). It is relatively light weight. The underseat storage . . . sucks. It has a great canopy for covering the baby, and two plastic windows for peeking in on him. The stroller does not come with much - you have to buy the infant cupholder console and the parent console separately. If you want to attach your infant carseat, you have to buy another accessory carseat bar. Like most jogging strollers, the front wheel can lock in place (for rougher terrain) or swivel (great for maneuverability). The stroller can be controlled with just one hand, and it is so light and easy to push. The stroller is not inexpensive, but it is significantly cheaper than the BOB (it lists at $220, but we were able to use a 20% off coupon). The biggest complaint I heard about this stroller is that when you have a child that sits upright, the City Mini does not go fully upright (it stays slanted) and the children will sometimes lean forward rather than utilize the back support, and many parents think this must be uncomfortable for their children. I'll let you know when Micah is sitting up! It is not considered a true jogging stroller - if you intend to actually jog with it on a regular basis . . . well, you are probably better off investing in a BOB.

For us, the City Mini made the most sense. I do wish we had more under-seat storage, but I love having the light and easy stroller. We are just starting to use it with Micah more often - we take it out on neighborhood walks, and I brought it to my Stroller Strides exercise class. We did not purchase the infant carseat bar accessory (DH and I are STILL not in agreement on that) so I have not yet switched to it as my primary stroller because I still prefer to keep Micah in the carseat whenever I can - it is just easier than trying to transfer him all the time.

On another note, we also ended up with an old Metrolite. DH found one on sale at a consignment shop for practically nothing and picked it up about 1 month ago. We kept forgetting to transfer the stroller frame between our cars, and after I was stuck without a stroller a few times, we decided that the secondhand Metrolite would make for a good alternate stroller now (and when we have to dump the frame, it will continue to play the roll of backup stroller in the 2nd car). Because we bought it secondhand, we did not get to select a nice pattern. In fact, I hate the pattern we have. We also do not have one of the newer strollers with all the bells and whistles. I find it a bit bulky. It folds the same way as the frame, but it is more difficult to figure out. It has a clasp to keep the stroller from inadvertently opening, and you can fold down the handlebar so that it is more compact. It is heavier and bulkier to lift, and it can be challenging to maneuver. I love the under-seat storage - it is quite roomy, and it has a release system that allows you to drop the side to reach underneath. It comes with both the parent and infant consoles included, which is nice, and the canopy covers the infant seat well. It fully reclines, and it sits upright. It is compatible with the infant carseat (no need to buy any accessories). Our friends who have the Metrolite love it. I think the XL version is the one they recommend (although I might have that wrong). If you expect to be sticking mostly to malls or paved areas/sidewalks, the Metrolite is probably a great option. It is reasonably priced and about as compact as you can get for a full stroller.

That about summarizes our stroller discussion. There is another class of strollers that is also quite popular around here - we call them the "chi-chi" strollers, and from our perspective, they are a whole lot of money for no real purpose. These strollers include the Bugaboo, the Quinny, and the Stokke. Basically, these are stroller frames that can be placed in different positions as your child grows and they come with 2 or 3 different attachable seats. One size works with the infant carseats. We really did not see the benefit of these strollers, and they start around $800.

Now . . . can someone explain an umbrella stroller to me? I'm not sure yet why anyone needs one in addition to regular strollers, but I may figure that out with time. My friends who have one swear by the Maclaren . . . I don't have an opinion on that yet. I understand why the lack of the consoles and under-seat storage makes it inadequate for some people as the only stroller. Feel free to comment on your favorite strollers!

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