Synonymous with outdoor adventure with kids, Chariot has helped families stay active for over 20 years. Recently acquired by the Thule Group (as in Thule car racks, bike racks, etc.), Chariot has now been rebranded as Thule Chariot. At Interbike in September of 2013, I had a chance to see the newly branded Chariots, as well as their new up and coming models for Spring of 2014. Having never owned a Chariot before, I was eager to see their models up close and personal as well as talk to Thule about their plans for the Chariot line. Eager to get families outside, Thule was not shy about their excitement for the Chariot line. From the get go, they were excited to announce that the new Chariot series will now come standard as a four-wheeled stroller (with exception to the Chinook which comes standard as a three-wheeled stroller), versus just a chassis like previous years. In the Spring, Thule will also be releasing two new bike trailers, that will not accept the conversion kits (jogging, stroller, ski and hiking kits), but will provide parents with a budget-friendly, high-quality trailer.
To help us become more familiar with their line, Thule offered to provide us with their top-selling Cougar 2. We eagerly accepted and began testing the carrier in the sun and the snow. After several months of use the quality and unique design features of the Cougar began to shine, but upon talking to several parents, so did its price tag. While most parents loved the idea of the Cougar, many questioned whether it was worth the investment as compared to the lower end Cheetah model. Intrigued myself, my friend graciously allowed me to borrow her 2012 Cheetah 2 to test out as a comparison to the Cougar. Although an older model, most of the features of the 2012 model are up to date, so although not perfect, I found it to be a good comparison guide. Between the two, both models would be a worthy investment for active families, yet each have their pros and cons as outlined below.
2014 Cougar 2 (no major changes for the 2016 model). Current model retails for $789.
The top-selling Chariot carrier, the Cougar 2 is the mid-line model of the series and to many, it has the perfect combinations of desirable features and value. For most parents, the adjustable suspension, extra storage and the partially vented windows, three features not found on the Cheetah, are main selling points of the Cougar. Compared to the high-end CX model, the Cougar does not have disc brakes, a hand brake, full side-vented windows, a fully padded, removable seat, and a highly adjustable, ergonomic handlebar.
2012 Cheetah 2 (old model, but most features are up to date). Current model retails for $589.
The lightest carrier in the series, the Cheetah is also the most basic. It has the same padded harness as the Cougar, but it does not have suspension, a “trunk” for extra storage and partially vented windows. Although the same basic size of the Cougar, due to the lack of suspension and extra seat pad, the Cheetah has one additional inch of head room.
Comparison of Cougar and Cheetah
The exterior of the Cougar and Cheetah are very similar in size and shape. Both models are 31.5″ wide (pass-though width) and have an internal shoulder width of 23″. The Cheetah, however, has an internal sitting height of 27″, while the Cougar’s is 26″. **These numbers are based off of the 2014 Cheetah 2** Outward differences include the Cougar’s pop-down trunk, partially vented windows (the mesh portion at the bottom of the side window), partial waterproofing on the front, and the Click n’ Store on-board storage, which conveniently stores the bike trailer arm on the carrier itself.
The Cougar and the Cheetah are both compatible with Chariot’s conversion kits, child comfort accessories (infant sling, baby supporter and bunting bag) and additional storage consoles for the included top accessories bar. Single rider models of the Cheetah and Cougar are also available. Compared to other lower-end brands, the seats on all Chariot models are well anchored, supportive and will not sag under the weight of two kids.
The Cheetah and Cougar offer the same easy to use, five-point harness with padded waist belt. The shoulder straps and waistbands on each side of the harness consists of one continuous strap that is easily adjusted with the adjustment clips located beneath the shoulder strap pads. While increasing comfort and usability, the padded waist belt does prevent a center harness buckle from being added to the double Chariots. As a result, a single child cannot sit centered in the double carriers, but must rather sit to one side. While seemingly inconvenient, our preschool testers preferred sitting off to one side as it provided them with more leg room.
With an internal shoulder width of 23″, the Cougar and Cheetah have plenty of room for one, but like most double trailers, it is a bit cramped for two. Two kids between the ages of 1 and 4 fit snuggly, while our five-year-old was too big to share with anyone. Both models also provided plenty of head room for our oldest testers, even when wearing a helmet. Along the rear panel of the carriers, all Chariot models have a mesh panel that serves two important purposes. First, as a helmet pocket for toddlers (it’s too low for preschooler and up), which allows their helmets to comfortably recess into the carrier. Secondly, the mesh panel provides for air flow within the carrier, especially when used in conjunction with the Cougar’s partially vented side windows.
Located beneath the mesh and plastic covers, all Chariot models come complete with a roll-up sun shade. Designed to help block the sun from sensitive eyes, we found the shade to be useful for toddlers and babies who are not yet willing to wear sunglasses, but too intrusive for older and taller riders.
As a Trailer
As a trailer, the Cougar was quick and responsive. On flat surfaces, the trailer was hardly noticeable and when riding over uneven surfaces (sidewalks, dirt or curbs when we cut the corners too small), the Cougar glided over the obstacles with only a minor pull back on the bike. Compared to lower-end bike trailers, the Chariots, especially the Cougar, excelled in comfort. Between the suspension and the padded, yet firm seat (also on the Cheetah), our testers preferred the Cougar, especially during longer rides. Compared to less-expensive spring mount systems, the “ball and socket” hitch allowed the trailer to rotate more freely with the bike during turns. The joint is also flexible, which allowed the trailer to remain upright even when the bike is placed on its side.
In addition to the trailer arm, the trailer conversion kit also comes with a quick-release skewer, a hitch cup, a safety flag and lots of reflectors for the wheels and rear of the chassis. On our bikes, we were confident that our quick-release skewers could handle the additional space required by the hitch, however, it is better to err on the side of caution and we highly recommend using the skewer provided by Chariot. For those with bikes with disc brakes, the back-up safety strap does tend to rub on the rear rotors, so with time the strap will begin to wear.
As a Stroller
We tested the carriers with the four-wheeled swivel kit included as well with the jogging kit. The four-wheeled stroller kit pushes easily and smoothly over paved terrains and moderate terrains. Along with the wheels, the stroller kit also comes with spare O-rings as a precautionary measure (instructions for use in the stroller manual). The HeightRight handlebar offers two heights that are obtained by simply flipping the handlebar. Being 5’10”, I actually preferred the lower setting, which may be too high for some. With a 34″ inseam, I was also pleasantly surprised to find that I had plenty of walking room when the Cougar’s “truck” was down. Like all jogging strollers, the inability of the jogging wheel to swivel was burdensome, but for essential for those who are truly running with the stroller (the fixed wheel prevents allows the stroller to “track” and not veer to the right or left when hitting small obstacles, i.e. rocks, sticks, bumps). Two small complaints I had with both the Cougar and the Cheetah was the lack of foam in the middle of the handlebar (ideal for one-handed pushing) and the fixed placement of the handlebar strap. As one who likes to push a stroller with only my right hand when exercising, I was disappointed to find that the exercise strap is not only fixed to the left side of the stroller, it is really short. For those looking to do extensive running, Chariot did address some of these issues in the higher end CX model, which comes with an improved handlebar as well as a drum-brake with a hand lever.
Quick and easy, the Chariot is a breeze to fold. When folded, it is still large, but easily fit in the trunk of our 2005 Toyota Sienna, along with two balance bikes and our luggage for a week-long vacation. Best shown in action, the folding mechanism of both carriers is shown in Thule’s Chariot Cougar video.
The $200 price difference between the Cougar and Cheetah is apparent when in use. For some, the differences aren’t worth $200, for others they might be.
While similar in shape and design, the covers of the Cheetah and Cougar adhere to the carriers in very different ways. The Cheetah mounts via Velcro straps while the Cougar uses plastic clip-on trays. The Velcro straps of the Cheetah are not difficult to use, but was challenging to latch when wearing gloves in colder weather. The cover of the Cougar mounts via two plastic trays that snap over metal bars. The snap-on system of the Cougar was certainly my preferred method as it was quick and easy.
Cougar Latch Problem
Although I enjoyed the snap-on system, upon first receiving our Cougar, we did have problems with the cover coming loose on its own. When in use with our three-year-old tester, the cover came loose when kicked. Upon contacting Thule, they offered to send up a new cover, or said that we could try to fix it on our own with a hair dryer. A bent plastic latch was causing the problem, which could often be bent back into shape with a hair dryer. Not wanting to wait for a replacement, we tried the hair dryer trick, and it worked amazingly well. By simply heating up the plastic latch with the hair dryer on high, within one minute we were able to easily bend the tray back into shape. Since fixing the tray, it has yet to come loose, even with a child kicking the cover.
Although it appears small, we found the “trunk” of the Cougar to be quite useful. While not as large as other trailers storage space, we had no problems fitting our gear into the carrier. In both the mesh and trunk spaces, we were easily able to fit a child-sized skater helmets with plenty of room to spare. The Cougar also has a small pocket, with Velcro closure, located inside the large mesh pocket that is perfect for cell phones or keys.
The Cheetah does not have the extra storage spaces like the Cougar, but the mesh pocket easily fit the skater helmet. The plastic weather cover on the front of the Cheetah also does not zip up like the Cougars. Secured only with a Velcro strip at its base, the loose sides of the Cheetah are prone to allowing water and wind to enter the carrier during more intense weather conditions, but for the most part, wasn’t a concern. Finally, the Cheetah does not have the additional padded seat like the Cougar (shown above in “buckling” picture).
A step up in waterproofing, the plastic weather cover of the Cougar zips down to help keep the rain and wind out of the trailer. While great for helping our testers stay warm, the lack of ventilation in other zipped-up carriers we have used has been problematic as the windows often begin to fog up. With Cougar’s partial side-venting window, however, the air flows provided by the vents kept our testers cool and comfortable. A rare find in the bike trailer world, if you plan on using your trailer in a cold climate (when you are more likely to zip up the plastic weather cover), the vented windows are a substantial upgrade. The side windows of both carriers are also UV tinted and block 87% if UV rays.
Having owned many bike trailers over the years, this was our first opportunity try one with suspension. Easy adjustable to compensate for the difference in weight between kids, Cougar’s greatly increase the comfort level of our testers. While nice, for those planning on sticking to the pavement, the suspension may not be necessary, but for those adventuring off the beaten path, it is certainly an upgrade to consider.
Any carrier in the Chariot series is a great investment for active families. The quality, attention to detail and performance that Chariots offer, is certainly worthy of their higher price tag, especially when compared to lower-end, $100 to $200 trailers. If budgets allow, our top pick for most families would be the Cougar 2 as the suspension, partially vented windows and additional storage significantly increase the usability and comfort of the carrier. For families not planning on having more than one child within a four-year period, the smaller and lighter Cougar 1 would be a better choice. For multi-sport families who do not plan on using the carrier in all wet weather or on non-paved surfaces, the Cheetah series is a great combination of features and value. The Cheetah is also a great choice for long distance runners, as its lightweight and lack of suspension (which can negatively affect steering when running at faster paces) are desirable.
Interested in the Burley D’lite as well, check out our Cougar and the Burley D’lite comparison.
Where to Purchase
Two Wheeling Tots received a Thule Chariot Cougar 2 directly from Thule to help facilitate this review. No monetary compensation was provided and all opinions given are strictly that of Two Wheeling Tots LLC. Two Wheeling Tots is also not affiliated with Thule but is an affiliate of Amazon and REI.