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Guide to Buying Jogging Stroller

July 7, 2004

by Tony Chen

Table of Contents


DISCLAIMER and WARNING: Before you read any further, note that every stroller manufacturer will say that inline skating with their products is not recommended in any way whatsoever. In this regard, despite my own intentions to skate with a stroller, I also cannot officially recommend that anyone else does so, and that if you do, you do so at your own risk. In fact, part of this article will detail the manufacturer's own responses on why they consider jogging strollers to be not safe enough to be skating strollers as well.

However, if you happen to be shopping for a jogging stroller anyway (and not necessarily for skating with), then this warning does not apply.

As our family now includes rollerbaby (well, baby isn't on skates yet, but any minute now!), the idea of having a stroller that you can push while skating starts to seem attractive. Since we're not all completely independently mobile yet (read: certain someones can't yet be trusted not to run out into the street) we're often homebound or shoebound which can be tedious at times!

Now as the erstwhile Skate FAQs reader will know, I don't really qualify as a skater these days. I'm relegated (or demoted?) to a mere skate enthusiast perhaps. Anyway, to rectify this awful tragedy, I've decided it's time I investigate and try out some strollers that work well while the parent is skating. The two proverbial birds that I get to knock in the head with this stone are: a) my almost non-existent times to skate and, b) giving the baby a nice outdoor activity, which means less time in front of the TV.

So in the fine tradition of the Skate FAQ buying guides (see the Skate Buying Guide, or the Women's Skates Guide) I'm taking on the possibly even more convulted market of baby strollers. You thought figuring out durometers, braking systems, and skating jargon was bad. Just you wait 8-)

Anyway, so as most research begins these days, I went online to start my stroller search. I try not to go into it with any preconceptions, but I have a strong feeling I'm going to end up with some type of jogging stroller, and not your typical 4-wheel umbrella stroller.

I started with Google, but the results were awash with lots of commercial links. Fortunately, I remembered one site I had read a long time ago during some random browsing, called JoggingStroller.com. This an online shop that seems to carry all the high-quality jogging stroller gear. They seem to have quite an range of strollers from many different brands, and lots of customer reviews too (always a plus). From there, I knew what the high-end brands were, and I could hit Google and Epinions.com for additional info and reviews.

What Makes a Good Jogging Stroller

So after reading and re-reading countless reviews and digesting their wisdom, the important criteria for a good jogging stroller seem to be:

  1. Wheel size: bigger means smoother ride and easier to push (less rolling resistance)
  2. Construction and design quality: how sturdy or flimsy the stroller is, and how it will last over the long-term. You don't want a stroller that is easily bent since the stroller may not roll straight after that. Many designs feature shock absorbers, which we'll touch on later.
  3. Sunshade or canopy: how well the stroller can shield the passenger (i.e., the little one) from the sun, wind or rain.
  4. Handlebar height and design: how high the handlebars are, and if they are adjustable, and additional features (hand brakes, tethers, handy water bottle/sippy cup holders, etc.)

For my purposes, I'm just looking for a single-passenger stroller, so for now I didn't really consider the double (and even triple) strollers. The doubles and triples are probably a whole different article, although perhaps much of this article is pertinent to them.

Wheels

To address the age-old question of whether size is everything, I'll talk about the wheels first. The main question I had was if bigger always meant better?

Wheel Size

Wheel size, as mentioned before, affects the ride quality. Three wheel diameters seem to be prevalent: 12-inch, 16-inch and 20-inch. For skating, 16-inch wheels seem to be the minimum recommended height, with 20-inch wheels suggested. 20-inch wheels will ride smoother and handle bumps better, but the trade-off is a somewhat bulkier stroller to transport. 16-inch seems to be a happy medium that many people chose (as per the reviews). One brand, Baby Jogger, even offers 24-inch wheels on some models. While I'm sure the ride is extra smooth, I don't know if I quite want a stroller with wheels almost as large as a bicycle. But that's just me. Some day I hope to try out a 24-inch wheel stroller to see though. I might be wrong!

Wheel Type

Recently there have been a new class of strollers introduced that are much like jogging strollers, but sport a swiveling front wheel for added manuverability. While I didn't want to blindly exclude any strollers, none of the swivel wheels trollers ended up making the short list.

Most of these strollers have only 12-inch wheels. Several have 16-inch on the rear and 12-inch on the front, which is not terrible. Also, some models let you lock the front wheel in place, if you want, which is nice. What mostly kept the swivel wheel strollers out of contention was that they tended to be the low-end brands, and that meant the canopies generally were insufficient, and the construction quality was not quite up to par. JoggingStroller.com even specifically states that they do not consider any of the swivel wheels strollers to be jogging strollers. So if you can't jog with them, I'm assming skating is out too.

However, if you have experiences or evidence to the contrary, definitely let me know.

Wheel Arrangement

Most all the strollers sport three wheels, two on the rear and one in the center up front. Some strollers have a larger back wheels than the front wheel, but most models seem to have the same wheel size for all 3 positions. There are also some models (I think only one or two) that have two wheels in front and one in back. But these were definitely not jogging strollers.

So the verdict on the wheels? There is a lot more to it than just the wheel size. However, bigger does seem to be better, at least in terms of better ride and less rolling resistance. Of course, you'll have to pay more, but that's a tradeoff you'll have to decide for yourself.

Canopy

While it may not be readily apparent in a catalog or in the store, the design of the canopy or sunshade on the stroller is actual quite crucial, and can be a deal-breaker (at least for many people, including me). If your passenger is getting hit with direct sunlight or wind the entire time, it won't matter how cushy everything else is! There are some add-on sunshade canopies (either through the manufacturer or via third-parties), but frankly it's much better to have a large adjustable one that is built-in to begin with.

Handlebars

Since I wanted the stroller to be comfortable for both walking and skating, I considered an adjustable handlebar as being a plus on my checklist. When you're on skates, you might be a full 4 inches taller than in your shoes. Some of the mid- and high-end strollers appear to have adjustable handlebars. Also, note that if you get 20-inch wheels, the stroller will ride 2 inches higher than if it has 16-inch wheels (i.e., the difference in diameter is 4 inches, so the radius difference is half that). Anyway, we'll cover how to determine the proper handlebar height later on. As it turns out, the adjustable handlebar is still a plus, although perhaps not the overall deciding factor.

Weight Limit

One noticeable difference between the low and high-end strollers is that the low to mid-end brands usually have a total cargo+passenger weight limit of maybe 40-50 pounds. The high-end strollers can usually handle 70-85 pounds, and some go up to even 100 pounds. The greater weight limit correlates pretty closely with the quality of construction (i.e., the higher the limit the better the contruction). The strollers with welded metal frames can support much higher loads than the ones with metal tubes connected with plastic joints.

Anyway, having a higher weight limit means your child can be older and still comfortably ride in the stroller. And it also means you can stow more gear in the stoller (let's see: diapers, wipes, drinks, snacks, cell phone, keys, toys, and so on).

Shocks or no Shocks?

Many jogging (and even non-jogging) strollers come with shock absorbers now. Naturally, shocks are great if you expect to encounter fairly bumpy trails or roads. If you're going to be in the mall or on pretty flat sidewalks or roads though, they're not particularly necessary. As a comparison, consider mountain bikes for a minute.

On mountain bikes you want the shocks there to absorb the energy created by all bumps or holes. However, since we are wanting a skating stroller, and presumably we are skating on mostly paved and smooth surfaces, the shocks would actually work somewhat against us. Instead of absorbing energy from bumps, they would be absorbing energy from our skating strokes. With bikes, you want the rigid frame of a touring bike on the road. And so we also want a rigid no-shocks stroller for skating. This doesn't mean you can't have a stroller with shocks to skate with, but if you already have plenty of weight to push (you, stroller, baby, and baby gear), this might be a factor. Also consider that strollers with shocks tend to cost a little more than their non-shock sister models, so if there's no need for them, you can save some money.

Brakes

You didn't think I'd leave out brakes did you? 8-) On most every model there's a hand brake to apply braking to the front wheel (and only the front wheel). In most cases, the braking is for parking only (i.e., you are not meant to use it to slow down the stroller). This means you'll have to apply extra braking on your skates, in order to slow both yourself, a 20+ pound stroller, and up to 70-80 pounds of cargo and passenger.

Some models have parking brakes for the rear wheels and some don't. The parking brakes aren't crucial, but certainly are handy for keeping the stroller stationary while you are attending to your skates or getting stuff out of the stroller. If you're skating, make sure to keep the front wheel down for the brake to have any effect. Also, some strollers come with a wrist tether, so that in case you fall down, you won't have a runaway stroller.

Everything Else

The rest of the features tend to be somewhat cosmetic or optional. Steel vs. alloy wheels/hubs (steel will rust eventually). Colors don't matter greatly to me, although it seems that most strollers have at least several choices of color. Additional features such as cup holders or pockets to hold stuff are nice, but not a deal breaker for me. Also, warranties seem to range from 1-year, 5-year, 20-25 years, and even lifetime. I imagine if you only ever have one child, then anything beyond 5 years might seem overkill. However, if you think you might want to give or sell the stroller afterwards, having it still be under warranty after many years of use will surely be important. Given the high price tags, a nice resale value is probably not a bad thing to factor in.


CST Strikes Again!

Another interesting (and perhaps not surprising) fact is that the CST (Crummy Skate Threshold, introduced in the Buying Guide) seems to apply to even jogging strollers. I guess it should be the Crummy Stroller Threshold in this case. From the various FAQs and reviews I read, the typical $99-$150 jogging strollers you see in the stores, while tolerable and even quite decent, tend to be on the flimsier side, use cheaper parts (more plastic, less alloys), and cheaper design (tube fitted vs. real welding). Yes, this is kind of a generalization, so don't just rule out the low and middle range strollers, if they're really all that you need. If you're only going to walk or do light jogging, then the more affordable strollers are certainly worth looking at. Again though, my target activity includes possible skating, so I'm more focused on the higher-end strollers. I will touch briefly on some of the middle range strollers that I saw that I really liked though.

The price range for the Stroller CST seems to be a tad higher than my original Skate CST, but seems to start around $250 (new price).


Yet another Warning


Now, before I delve further into the decision-making process, I need to reiterate the warning at the top of the article. Every stroller manufacturer officially states that they do not recommended inline skating with their jogging strollers in any way. The same reason given by all is: the strollers are not designed for skaters, and control and safety are major concerns. For liability reasons, it's obvious why they all make this disclaimer. After all, the strollers were designed with jogging and running in mind, and not inline skating. And if they started touting them as being skating-friendly products, I'm sure some annoying litigation-happy person would decide to sue the manufacturer over any incident involving a stroller and skates.

However, having said that, I have read a number of customer reviews that say they skate with their strollers without any problems. The only danger that I foresee is about the same as if I were walking or running with the stroller. If I fall, the stroller could get away. This is true regardless if I'm on shoes or skates. I guess the main debate is whether you are any less able to recover from a fall, while on shoes vs. on skates. Also, since some strollers come with a tether that connects you to the stroller, this risk can be significantly mitigated.

Later on I will discuss some interesting feedback I got from some of the manufacturers as to what they would consider to be a truly skate-worthy stroller.

Making a Choice

My general approach to shopping for anything, is first determine what I want (in order of preference), regardless of price. Then I find out where to get it from and who sells it for the cheapest. Then I can weigh the price-value proposition for each model.

To help narrow down the main brands or models I first scoured the customer reviews. My main resources in this regard were JoggingStroller.com, Epinions.com, and some online reprints of articles from running or biking magazines.

After reading numerous comments and articles, I seem to have come to the same conclusion as many of the other stroller owners. The brands to really consider are (in no particular order): Kelty, B.O.B., and Dreamer Design.

Kelty is a well-known backpack company and comes highly-regarded. BOB or B.O.B. (short for their original name, Beast of Burden) is another high-quality brand that also does bike trailers (the kind you tow behind your bike). Dreamer Design also came with lots of great praise and were lauded for their attention to details and features.

All the models in these brands got very high marks from their reviews, and were generally all considered to be worthy investments. So although for my personal selection I had to start eliminating models and brands from my list, don't feel like you can't buy any of these models, especially if they fit your criteria.

While Baby Jogger fans may protest my omission of the Baby Jogger brand, I found that too many people complained about the insufficient built-in canopy. It was kind of surprising for a company that you'd think had lots of time to get all the little details just right, as Baby Jogger was the first jogging stroller brand. However, in Baby Jogger's defense, their strollers are still highly thought of. The BJ strollers also tend to be significantly lighter than the other brands (perhaps due to their minimalist style).

To help me start narrowing my choice, I used handlebar height as my next selection criteria. If the stroller isn't at a suitable height, then all the other factors don't really matter. According to the expert advice from the Jogging Stroller forums, the Optimal Handle Height (OHH) is determined for you by this simple measurement:

  1. Stand up straight
  2. Bend your arm so that your forearm is parallel to the ground
  3. Measure from where your hand is (on the outstretched arm) down to the ground. This is the optimal handle height

Obviously for the OHH for skating, put on your skates, and then follow the above directions. For me, I'm 5"11, and in my shoes my OHH is 42 inches. With skates, add 3-4 inches.


The Models

The specifications and information listed below for the following stroller models is an amalgam of various sources, including store sites, customer reviews, the manufacturers own web sites, and the official product manuals (which I was able to read online) which often provide details on interesting features, or lack thereof.

Kelty JoyRider

The Kelty JoyRider is Kelty's only single-passenger stroller. It comes in both 16 and 20-inch wheel sizes and weighs in at 22.25 and 22.5 pounds respectively. All the reviews give very high marks to this model. Of note is that the Kelty handlebars are not adjustable and are actually two separate and slightly angled (upward) bars, instead of the typical horizontal bar going across. Most of the reviewers seemed to think the handlebars were nicely ergonomic and didn't seem to consider it a negative.

Good points on this stroller:

Some of the few negative/neutral points:

At the time of this article, the lowest retail price for a new Kelty JoyRider was around US$250.00 (16-inch model) and US$270.00 (20-inch model). I saw many new 16-inch JoyRiders on eBay sell for around US$200-$210.

Dreamer Design Slingshot

The Slingshot is the intermediate model in the Dreamer Design's three stroller line-up. Really, they have only two models, the lower-end (but still very nice) Verve, and the Slingshot RPS (Responsive Pivot System) and Rebound RPS, which are for most intents identical. The main difference is that the Rebound has shocks, and the Slingshot does not (which for us is a plus). The Slingshot comes in a 16-inch wheel version only and weighs 25 pounds.

Good points on this stroller:

Some of the few negative points:

At the time of this article, the lowest retail price for a new Dreamer Design Slingshot was around US$280.00 (16-inch model).

B.O.B. Suport Utility Stroller (SUS) 2004

The B.O.B. strollers have several models, although they are mostly variants of the same stroller, with the wheels being either polymer or alloy, and the color/style being either the standard BOB style or the signature bright-yellow Ironman-branded style. They come in 16-inch models, weighing in at 21.9 pounds (SUS) and 21.1 pounds (SUS Deluxe). The only differences between the SUS and the SUS Deluxe, are that the Deluxe has aluminium wheels instead of polyer wheels and an aluminium rear axle instead of a steel one. The handlebars are at fixed at a 41" height.

Good points on this stroller:

Some of the few negative points:

At the time of this article, the lowest retail price for a new BOB SUS was around US$295 (SUS non-deluxe16-inch model) and US$335 (SUS Deluxe 16-inch or IronMan Deluxe).

Comparison Matrix

So far all the strollers have these in common:

so we will consider those factors to be mostly equal between models.

Brand Model Handlebar
Height
Shocks? Brakes Weight Total Cargo
Wt Capacity
Warranty Lowest New
Price (Online)
Key Pros Key Cons
Kelty JoyRider 16-inch 43 inches N Front brakes 22.25 lbs 85 lbs Lifetime on frame and fabric (natural wear and tear excluded) US$250
  • Handy storage
  • ergonomic handlebars
  • Seat doesn't recline, although may be non-issue
  • Handlebars not adjustable, although may be another non-issue
  • No rear parking brakes
Kelty JoyRider 20-inch 45 inches N Front brakes 22.5 lbs 85 lbs Lifetime on frame and fabric (natural wear and tear excluded) US$270
Dreamer Design Slingshot 16-inch 25-43 inches (adjustable) N Front brakes + rear parking brakes 25 lbs 80 lbs 20 years on frame, 1 year on soft goods US$280
  • Adjustable handlebars
  • Lots of pouches
  • Pump included
  • One-step harness;
  • Seat reclines
  • A bit on the heavier side
  • May have an uncomfortable harness
B.O.B. Sport Utility Stroller (SUS) or IronMan SUS 16-inch 41 inches Y Front brakes for parking only 21.1 lbs 70 lbs 5 year on frame, 1 year on parts US$295
  • Easy to fold
  • Reclining seat
  • Lighter than other models
  • Has shocks
  • Front brake is for parking only
  • Handlebars not adjustable

Test Drive Attempts

So at this point, I've been as methodical as I can about comparing what each strollers can offer, on paper at least. But nothing beats having the real thing in front of you. So I set out to see if any stores in our area carry the models I'm considering. Sports Authority was listed as carrying the Dreamer Design and Kelty, but apparently this only applies to the online store. None of our local Sports Authority stores carried them, and most didn't carry any jogging strollers at all. A few other stores listed as carrying some of the strollers had stopped carrying them as well.

My options were pretty limited with almost no local stores with any of the strollers. I could buy the strollers sight unseen and then try to return the ones I don't like. Having to ship returns back and having $900 or so sitting on my credit card wasn't really desirable though. I suppose in that scenario, the worst case was that I'd have auction them of on eBay to get my investment back. Another option I considered was to call each manufacturer and see if they could send an evaluation unit.

Discussion about Jogging Strollers with Inline Skates

Of the three manufacturers, I was able to reach B.O.B.'s marketing department. At first they readily agreed (over the phone) to send out a unit, but then just a few minutes later they called back to change their mind. I suppose after briefly considering their ultimate nightmare scenario they didn't want to lend any official support (even if only tangentially through an obscure product review article), to even hint that their strollers were okay to use with inline skates. On a personal level they thought my article was a great idea. However, I guess the corporate liability monster reared its ugly head in the end, and they had to recant their offer. Despite this, I wasn't all that surprised. Frankly, I was surprised they said yes to begin with. I followed the discussion further and asked them what exactly about the current stroller designs they thought made it unsuitable for skating with. Here was their reply:

"So much of safety of the child depends on the skill level and alertness of a runner/skater. In the case of a runner, the parent has the ability to slow the stroller with their own strength and control. (The brake on a running stroller is designed for parking, not stopping, so the runner must use their control of momentum to stop the stroller.) With a skater, the speeds can be much faster... Due to this speed, the combination of wheels, and the fact that skill level is never something we can expect to control, safety requires that we recommend against the strollers use with skates.

If we were to design something to specifically go after this market, it seems like the stroller would need well designed rear brakes (for stopping), a roll-bar, and due to the speed attainable with inline skates, some serious crash testing would have to be done to make sure that roll-overs at 30 mph (down hill?) don't end up being fatal. At this speed, helmets would also seem like a requirement."

I've tried contacting Kelty and DreamerDesign, but they haven't really been responsive. I'll try them again when I have a chance.

Although the manufacturers are understandably protecting their rears, not everyone seems to be as hesitant. Jo Ann Schneider Farris (author of "How to Jump and Spin on Inline Skates" and professional figure skating coach), has a web page on Stroller-Skating technique, which even includes skating backwards while using the stroller:

"To sum things up, Stroller-Skating is a safe and fun way to enjoy in-line skating, and every beginning non-skater can do it. It's also a great way for moms or dads to get out with their kids, and new moms will find it a fun and easy way to lose those extra pounds gained during pregnancy."

To Be Continued...

As I'm in limbo about how to effectively stroller test drive vs. just picking one and buying it, I decided to go ahead and post the article as it is so far. Sorry to leave you hanging 8-) If/when it happens, I will post an update on what stroller I ended up with. However, you certainly are free to use the above information to make your own informed decisions.

I welcome any feedback or comments from anyone who has done a lot of stroller-skating.

Thanks for reading, and remember to always skate smart.

-Tony


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