Babies don't come cheap, and forking out £600 on a bike trailer may not be your number one priority, but the Thule Chariot Cougar 1 is a wise investment. Suitable for children up to 22kg (roughly 6 months to around 5 years), and even younger with the Infant Sling (around £70) designed for babies 1 to 10 months, this trailer is robust and nimble enough for both town and track, making it ideal for keeping the family mobile when there is a little one in tow.
Like the wares of a certain Swedish furniture manufacturer, the trailer comes flat packed, but the relatively clear instructions mean after an hour of snapping things into place and tightening straps, you'll be ready to roll. It needs to be noted that specific instructions for your variant of the Chariot Cougar range are sometimes not clearly labelled to be on the next page, something a bleary eyed parent might not spot, resulting in 15 minutes of frustration.
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A bar extending from the trailer's front attaches to the bike, using the modified quick release axle provided with the kit. With a robust pin and rubber clasp locking everything in place, plus safety straps, I felt reassured that my little one was secure. It only took a couple of minutes to connect bike and trailer, and I was soon trundling the streets with the smart looking Cougar in tow.
I suggest taking it for a spin with a stuffed toy fastened in the solid five-point safety harness, to test that all the straps are correctly in place while allowing you to practise cycling with a trailer, but quickly you'll be cruising around, able to negotiate the majority of obstacles with ease. Be warned, though, its 69cm width might leave you unstuck at the occasional narrow gate, so plan your route with care or be prepared for lengthy detours.
Adjustable suspension, frequently not found on cheaper trailers, allows for a smoother ride for little passengers, especially if you're planning off-road use. The ride must be at least reasonably smooth as my daughter happily fell asleep while being carried around, and even bumping over the occasional tree root on a woodland track failed to raise her from her slumber.
When awake, there are large windows that provide a good view of the world, with the front panel opening up to keep her cool on hot, sunny days. Although the mesh front keeps insects out, it doesn't stop splashback from your back wheel. Partial window venting gives some relief from steaming up when the cover is in use.
The cabin is spacious, with plenty of legroom for growing children. They're kept safe with, as I've said, a five-point safety harness, and the padding is deep and comfortable, though I would have liked to see specific points to anchor soft toys and teething rings to.
When out and about you'll either need a lengthy bike lock to make sure it's secure, or you can use the stroller kit to transform the trailer into a pushchair – with either three wheels or four. Attaching the single front wheel is an awkward process, managed best by two people. When the front wheel is finally attached properly it works perfectly fine, but lacks manoeuvrability so is more suitable for open, non-urban settings and is great for jogging.
The four-wheeled configuration turns the trailer into a high-tech version of a classic pushchair, and is an easier conversion process. The two small front wheels snap into place smoothly and can be removed with ease. Size is an issue, though. We struggled to get it into shops or cafes, but it's more manoeuvrable than with just three wheels, able to navigate an urban setting well.
When using the Cougar as a trailer, you stow one of the wheels on the trailer's frame while the other takes up a little space within the luggage compartment, making it highly practical for, say, cycling to a country park for outdoor events. The luggage compartment is surprisingly spacious, able to store locks, tools, a nappy-changing kit, jumpers and snacks.
The main downside is the size: 107 x 80 x 27cm collapsed, with wheels and tow bar removed. If you're planning on transporting this by car check it fits in your boot – it's 'snug' in my C3 Picasso, which has spacious cargo capacity for its size; anything smaller you're having to fold down seats to fit it in. On the plus side, if it fits your car it's straightforward to release the catches and push down to collapse, reversing the process to put back up. An obvious click to let you know everything's in place would be useful, but a little pressure on the frame checks the trailer is safe to use.
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The Cougar is actually due to be replaced soon by the Chariot Cross, but babies don't wait for new product release dates, and if your need is pressing, this is a high quality product that feels safe and secure without being too burdensome to pull. There are a plethora of additional accessories available, from storage covers to a kit to convert the trailer to use skis, should you be inclined to go fat biking in the snow! It also comes in a two-child option, the Cougar 2, for £699.99.
High quality, not arduous to pull even after a few hours, and a smooth enough ride for plenty of nap time
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Make and model: Thule Chariot Cougar 1 child trailer
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Thule says: "Thule Chariot Cougar is the all-round adventurer, a balance of features and value making it a popular choice for many active families."
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
Aerodynamic design enhances multi-sport capabilities
Accessory Cross Bar to mount accessories
Adjustable suspension for a smooth and stable ride
HeightRight adjustable handlebar for parent's comfort
Click n' Store for on-board storage of conversion kits
Partial window venting for temperature control
Rate the product for quality of construction:
Solidly built, safe and durable while remaining aesthetically pleasing in style. Collapsing mechanism trouble-free without compromising safety.
Rate the product for performance:
As a trailer it is excellent, perfectly doing what it 'says on the tin'. As a baby stroller it is troublesome to erect and lacks manoeuvrability.
Rate the product for durability:
Robust and reliable, no mechanical issues despite heavy use including off-road country paths. The fabric is durable with no issues to report.
Rate the product for weight (if applicable)
Despite being sturdy and hardwearing, the trailer isn't hefty to pull when cycling nor challenging to lift into a vehicle.
Rate the product for comfort (if applicable)
My child had no issues with the trailer, happily climbing into it and falling asleep.
Rate the product for value:
It is a hefty chunk of change, but good value given the quality of design, being robust, reliable and comfortable without sacrificing safety.
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
In bike trailer mode, my child was safe and comfortable, often falling asleep on rides. In stroller mode, it was too big to be a genuinely practical solution around town.
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
I felt my child was safe and secure.
It was easy to attach and detach from the bike.
After one trial run, cycling with the trailer was trouble-free and I quickly became accustomed to the extra weight and bulkiness.
The roomy luggage pocket, able to carry everything needed for a day out with a baby/small child.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
The occasionally confusing instructions, and the unavoidable width of the trailer meaning some routes become impassable.
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes, beyond the occasional long detour upon finding out the trailer was unable to fit through a gate.
Would you consider buying the product? Yes, it is a high quality solution to keeping a family on the move until the little ones are old enough to ride.
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Without hesitation; the only issue would be the price.
Use this box to explain your score
There are a few niggling issues but on the whole I am impressed by the overall package.
Age: 38 Height: 5ft 7in Weight: size 16
I usually ride: Trek 7.5 WSD My best bike is: Turquoise Cruiser
I've been riding for: Under 5 years I ride: Most days I would class myself as: Novice
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, general fitness riding, leisure
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