Hardly a day goes by when we don’t grumble about the lack of bicycle trailer awareness in the UK.The Dutch and Germans love ‘em, or so we’re told. On the Continent (and, to be fair, in some more enlightened pockets here), the School Run no longer means heaving a tonne of Volvo into a queue of other Volvos, to drop your tiny charges in the ‘Strictly No Parking’ zone outside the school gates, but a quick and hopefully stress-free cycle ride.
This sort of journey – generally a couple of miles or less – is a perfect candidate for cycling. A child seat is great in the summer, but for secure, all-weather transport, a trailer makes a better option. Hence our frustration – trailers are cheap to buy (bought a new Volvo lately?), economical to run (just work off that breakfast) and practical (no parking restrictions and very little queuing).
We’ve had experience with two classics in the trailer field – the Winchester (now manufactured by Kool-stop) and the Burley Solo, the latter fully reviewed in August 1999 (A to B 13). In the same test, we tried the Chariot Cheetah, but found it a bit leisure- orientated for our tastes – more jogger than cycle trailer.We’ve revisited the Chariot stable to see what’s changed and stage a rematch with our elderly, but much loved Burley.
By the time a Chariot trailer arrives in your local cycle shop, it has done a fair old mileage.The trailers are manufactured in Canada, then shipped to Germany for distribution by Zwei plus Zwei. In the UK, trailers were formerly sold through Two plus Two, the trailer specialists in Lewes, but new distributor Amba is aiming to take on board a number of regional shops too. By and large, that means the sort of outlets that advertise regularly in A to B.
Back in 1999, Chariot produced only four designs, but by 2003, the Cheetah had been joined by a bewildering range of alternatives.We’ll try to keep things simple: there are three ranges – city, touring and sport. For practical, everyday commuting, the city trailers are the best choice. There’s a basic Comfort model at £360, plus the Captain at £430, with ‘proper’ (as opposed to moulded plastic) spoked wheels and polymer-bungee suspension. These chunky, practical load-carriers include a cavernous boot for serious shopping and a waterproof polyethylene floor-pan that extends right over the wheels to cut spray, a big problem on child trailers.Take our word for it – if you intend to use a trailer on a regular basis, in all weathers, most other designs will stay soggy inside and out for much of the winter.The Comfort and Captain are uniquely sensible and practical in this respect, but they’re a little wide (102cm) and heavy (claimed 13.7kg) for some purposes.These big trailers won’t negotiate most supermarket aisles, and bundling one into a small shed at the end of the day – folded or not – would be a frustrating task.
The touring trailers (base model Cabriolet and deluxe Corsaire – priced as above) are typical bike trailers, more suited to fine-weather commuting and/or weekend leisure use. As with the city trailers, the deluxe job has spoked wheels and suspension. Chariot also produce the Chauffeur at £400, an older design, now made exclusively for Zwei plus Zwei, so one must assume, a big hit on the Continent.
Finally, we have the sports models; the Cheetah at £360 – broadly as tested last time – and its deluxe cousin, the Cougar, at £430, with the now familiar ‘proper’ wheels and an unusual leaf-spring suspension offering longer travel and better response than the bungee type. Both of the sports jobs also come in single-seater versions, priced at £330 and £400 respectively.We chose the Cougar1. It sounds obvious, but if you’re carrying only one child, it’s better to go for a single-seater.They’re lighter, more manoeuvrable – both on the road, in the supermarket, and in the shed – and they can be shoe-horned onto public transport.That’s the practical reason for our choice.The other is that the Cougar1 looks remarkably sexy as trailers go – a mini Formula One car in red, grey and silver livery, with tinted windows and that adjustable suspension.
…lightly loaded child trailers ride best with almost zero tyre pressure…
Where the Winchester and Burley ooze practicality from every pore, the Cougar is about as impractical as cycle accessories get. Despite a wheelbase of 65cm, in true Formula One style, the interior measures just 30cm across, with 60cm headroom, and 50cm legroom.That’s barely large enough for our just-turned-four year old, let alone a modest Thomas-the-tank-engine lunch box, and you can forget shopping on the way home. If luggage won’t fit in the rear bag, slung kangaroo pouch style behind the trailer (with a minuscule weight limit of 1kg), you’ve had it. Chariot also produces a luggage rack or ‘lightweight extra luggage’, which perches ludicrously on the roof, so the lightweight luggage risks blowing away, or being eaten by a motorcycle courier at the traffic lights. It’s all nonsense on a bicycle trailer, of course, but makes more sense when you realise that the Cougar is primarily a ‘stroller’ (for which a handy conversion kit is available).This also explains the effective rear parking brake.
To be fair, this is the single-seat version.The Cougar2 is only 11cm wider, but offers nearly twice as much width inside – 59cm. That’s reasonably generous for two and ample for one, provided you can live with the extra weight and bulk.
The Cheetah suspension has two leaf springs - the clamp can be slid along to adjust the spring rate
OK, we’ve settled that shopping might be a problem, but how does the Cougar perform on the School Run? Image- wise, it’s a striking success. Kids really do appreciate the tinted windows and racy lines, and mums immune to less- flamboyant trailers, squeak with delight.
Alexander particularly admires the ‘s’pension’. One thing we’ve learnt, is that lightly-loaded child carriers ride best with almost zero tyre pressure, or the poor mites will be shaken to bits. Even then, trailers have a tendency to crash into pot-holes – it’s worth remembering that the occupant(s) can’t see what’s coming and brace themselves.
The Cougar gets around the problem with a pair of leaf springs each side, the two leaves being tied together by an adjustable clamp that can be moved to alter the spring rate.That’s a great feature on a machine designed for children from 0 to 5 years old, but we’re not convinced the softest setting would react properly under the weight of a baby – we ignored the weight chart and chose this setting for our 18kg boy.Those Canadian roads must be mighty smooth.
In normal use, the suspension doesn’t react, because the springs are pre-loaded against a polymer stop. But hit a bump and the leaves overcome the pre-load, allowing the wheel/s to rise up over the bump to a maximum of about 35mm. It’s much more effective than the squidgy tyre option, giving greater travel and better control.
Why has suspension taken so long to arrive? Presumably the engineers haven’t been listening to the legitimate complaints of small children. One or two other designs now offer suspension, but generally a less compliant polymer system, as on the Cougar’s larger cousins, the two seater Captain and Corsaire. In our opinion, you’re better off with low tyre pressures than this sort of thing, which is not intended to do more than round the tops off bumps, and (according to Chariot) only work satisfactorily with a load in excess of 25kg anyway.
According to Alexander – who’s well placed to voice an opinion – the Cougar leaf springs, hammock seat and general cosy fit, combine to provide a jolt-free ride, so full marks on that score. Incidentally, although the Cheetah looks low and wide, its wheel track is less than three times its seat height, whereas the much lower Burley Solo and two-seater Winchester are around 4.7.This makes the Cheetah less stable in theory, but we’re not suggesting it’s likely to turn over – child trailers have a massive reserve of safety.
Wheels are secured by clevis axles - push a button and the wheel pops off
The Cougar weather-proofing is about as complex as they get, offering no fewer than four individual layers. Basic protection is provided by a full-length mesh fly-screen, which should stop small stones thrown up by the towing bike.To add a bit of sun screening, a sun-roof with nifty tinted visor can be rolled out under the mesh, and in cold weather, a full-length polyurethane cover provides wind-proofing and protection against flying horse pooh and mud, although Chariot emphasises that this option is not rain proof (and it definitely isn’t). All Chariot trailers can be fitted with full rain covers, but they’re a £20+ option, and you need to remember to buy one and carry it when the weather looks dodgy. All the same – from our experience of leaky roofs and screens (they all leak in monsoon conditions) a well-sealed separate rain cover is probably a good idea.
Not the smallest package, but quite neat - note the tight fit for the wheels
Trailers have come a long way. Our Burley ‘dismantles’ rather than folding, and the wheels are bolted in place, so you need a spanner and can expect to get grubby.The Winchester folds flat in a few seconds, but the wheels are held by locking-pins, which can make removal a fiddly, oily operation.
To fold a Chariot trailer, you simply pull out a pair of safety pins and push two levers forward, allowing the whole trailer to hinge downwards with a scissor action.The tow hitch pops out after releasing a pin, and depressing a lock button.The wheels are even easier, being secured by ‘clevis axles’ featuring a couple of raised ball bearings that engage with a groove in the frame, holding the wheel in place. Press a rubber cap in the centre of the wheel and the assembly pops off.
With practice, the process takes about 20 seconds, leaving a package weighing 10.8kg (Chariot claim 9.7kg).Two provisos: On the single seater the wheels won’t quite fit inside unless the tyres are partially deflated, which would add all sorts of annoyance at journey’s end.And we’d be slightly nervous about the security of the clevis axles after years of abuse.That aside, it’s probably the quickest and easiest folding system around.
For the Cougar1, the result of all this activity is a folded package of 105cm long x 59cm wide x 27cm tall.Volume is 167 litres or 6 cubic feet – slightly smaller than the Cheetah we tested in 1999, mainly because the wheels can now be stowed inside (although we might have missed this last time). Back then, we thought the trailer was unsuitable for carriage by train. Thanks to the reduced folding time and smaller package, we’d say it’s much better today, although the same cannot be said for the two-seater models.
Hitches & Accessories
The axle tow bracket mounted to a hub-gear bicycle. Note the over-size allen-key nut - part of our Burley hitch!
Chariot produces three hitches, which are all interchangeable on any of their trailers. Cheapest is the universal tow arm – a ball-joint and fairly sophisticated frame-tube clamp at £30. The disadvantage, of course, is that the clamp must be positioned and tensioned every time the trailer is used. OK for leisure rides, but not feasible on a daily basis, or secure enough when it’s wet or icy.
Chariot’s baby seat can be fitted to any trailer in the range
The standard hitch is the ‘axle tow arm’ – a simple alloy bracket secured to the rear axle of the bike with the standard quick- release or hub nut.The tow bar ends in a plastic ball once again, which slides backwards into the bracket, and is secured by a pin.This design doesn’t quite allow for full rotation (the ball could be strained if the bike falls over, for example), but it’s quick and easy to use on a daily basis. Both the above include safety straps looped around the bicycle frame – the straps, incidentally, being a little shorter than we would like.
The stroller kit - neater and lighter than most. Chariot also produce a buggy kit and that all-important ski kit
Top of the range is the German- made Weber hitch, costing £50.The bicycle end if this complex device incorporates a basic stand, a clever universal joint and the trailer socket, the assembly being permanently fixed to the bicycle frame. At the trailer end, the tow bar terminates in a locking device that engages the bicycle with a satisfying click and can even be locked on or off with a key to prevent theft.The makers (and presumably the stringent German safety authorities) are so confident in the system that there is no safety strap. Once it’s all fitted and working, hitching up and unhitching is quick, easy and secure.
The list of options includes stroller, hiker and buggy kits, plus – most spectacularly – a £150 ski kit for the Cougar or Cheetah. If you’re just starting out with trailers (and children), you might find the baby seat (up to 10 months) or baby support (10 – 20 months) more useful. For cold weather, there are two foot-warmer options, plus a wind-proof and/or chill-proof Polartech sleeping bag sort of thing. Serious stuff, and all beautifully made.
At £330 to £430, Chariot trailers look expensive against supermarket jobs and pile-’em-high Chinese horrors selling for £100 or less. But the quality of the range speaks for itself, and most people who know something about trailers agree they’re superb machines.
Better than the Burley? Tricky one that. Alexander prefers the Burley, which is more practical, but less exciting; lighter, but slower to fold; and about the same price. In the end, you’ll probably want to look at both ranges before making up your mind.
Chariot Cougar1 CTS (c/w axle tow arm) £400
Weight 10.8kg (23.8lb)
Tyres Cheng Shin 47-406mm
Folded Dimensions L105cm W59cm H27cm
Folded Volume 167 litres (6 cu ft)
Accessories Buggy kit £55 Stroller kit £60 . Hiking kit £60 . Skiing kit £150 . Rain Cover £20 Baby seat £35 . Weber hitch £50 . Universal hitch £30
German Distributor Zwei plus zwei tel +49 (0)221 9514700 mail email@example.com web www.zweipluszwei.com
UK Distributor AMBA Marketing (UK) tel 01392 840030 mail firstname.lastname@example.org