InStep vs. Schwinn Echo vs. Schwinn Trailblazer
InStep bike trailers and Schwinn bike trailers are insanely popular on Amazon. If you’re looking for a trailer without breaking the bank, InStep and Schwinn are great options. But of course you want to get the most bang for your buck, right?
As with most bike-related purchases, you get what you pay for when it comes to bike trailers. So what’s the real difference between one of the Instep bike trailers and the Schwinn Echo or the Schwinn Trailblazer? And do those differences merit spending more money on the more expensive bike trailer? We outline their differences below so you can decide if a $100 InStep is good enough for you, or if you really need that $200 Schwinn Trailblazer.
InStep & Schwinn Trailer Comparison
|Feature||InStep Take 2||Schwinn Echo||Schwinn Trailblazer|
|InStep Take 2||Schwinn Echo||Schwinn Trailblazer|
|Wheels||16" plastic||20" metal||20" metal|
InStep Bike Trailers
Let’s start with the InStep bike trailer. InStep sells several different variations on this model, including double or single capacity as well as an optional stroller wheel to convert your trailer into a three-wheeled stroller. (The stroller version is called the Quick-N-EZ or Sierra Double.) We reviewed the double capacity, trailer-only InStep Take 2.
How Does the InStep Take 2 Ride?
We were actually pretty surprised at the smoothness of the ride in the InStep Take 2. While certainly not as smooth as a Burley or Thule trailer, the InStep pulled well through our neighborhood with minimal rattling. From a kid’s perspective, because the seats aren’t reinforced, their bums sag and their weight can cause them to lean forward a bit.
Because the InStep has smaller 16″ wheels on plastic frames, the maximum recommended speed is just 10 mph. That may sound fast, but you can easily reach that speed going down even a gentle slope. At 10 mph, bumps are more pronounced.
The InStep is best limited to casual rides around the neighborhood or local paved trails where you won’t reach high speeds and your child won’t be subjected to bumpy terrain.
One place the InStep excels is in interior space. With 25″ of shoulder width and 26″ of seated height, it’s actually one of the most spacious trailers we’ve tested. While this is great for giving two kids more room to move around, it does make the trailer wider, which may or may not be a problem depending on the trails and turns you’re taking.
All three trailers (Instep, Schwinn Echo, and Schwinn Trailblazer) have a maximum weight capacity of 80 lbs, with a maximum per child of 40 lbs. This weight capacity is what you’ll find on almost all bike trailers.
Instep Take 2 vs. Schwinn Trailblazer
You’ll also notice that the shoulder straps are at their lowest setting in the InStep to properly fit both our 3-year-old and our very tall 20-month-old testers. While they fit them just fine, we would be more nervous placing a smaller child in the seat and securing them tightly. (Kids can technically start riding in a trailer at 12 months.)
The covers on the InStep, Schwinn Echo, and Schwinn Trailblazer are nearly identical and very basic. Low-quality nylon covers the sides and front of the trailer. The cover attaches with three pairs of snaps on the top, front, and back of the frame.
The snaps aren’t the best quality and are a bit difficult to secure. They’re also prone to coming undone – especially at the bottom – if you don’t have everything aligned just right.
With the snaps in place, the bottom of the front cover secures in place with a long strip of velcro. This system of securing the cover is a bit of a pain to use, and makes accessing kids during an outing a bit of a pain as well. Kids can also kick against it and open it up during a ride.
Although the InStep is incredibly easy to assemble out of the box, the basic frame and low-quality nylon cover lack durability and longevity. Even with minimal use on our part, the nylon is already starting to wear where it’s pulled tight against the frame.
There is also a small hole starting around one of the snaps on all three of the trailers. The snap areas are reinforced on the reverse side with another layer of clear plastic, but will probably eventually tear at the seams. Having to pull tight on cheap, thin nylon is a recipe for rips.
The InStep, Schwinn Echo, and Schwinn Trailblazer all have a clear plastic rain cover on the front that rolls up when not in use. The rear mesh opening doesn’t have a plastic cover, but does have a vinyl cover that will provide some protection from the weather.
The seat in the InStep trailers is hammock-style, which means that it is a piece of fabric pulled semi-taut on either side of the trailer. This a common style of seat for budget-friendly trailers, including the entry level trailers for Burley and Thule.
There are however, better hammock seats than others. The InStep system has nylon straps under the seat that can be pulled to tighten and prevent sagging. While this is great in theory, this type of system doesn’t work well to actually prevent sagging.
In the image below, you can see just how far below the trailer our tester’s bum sagged beneath her weight in the InStep Take 2 vs in the Burley Bee.
The bottom of the trailer has a little extra room for legs and feet, which is great, but it isn’t reinforced. Be careful having kids put their full weight on the bottom when getting in and out.
Mesh Helmet Recess
One feature of the InStep that is less than ideal is the mesh layer on the upper back of the seat. This mesh is loose and is meant to provide space for the back of a child’s helmet. This is meant to prevent a child’s head from being pushed forward uncomfortably.
Unfortunately, the helmet recess is so high up that it’s not very useful for most kids that will fit in the trailer. The InStep’s helmet pocket starts 15.5″ above the seat bottom, while the Trailblazer’s starts 14″ above the seat. As a comparison, the Burley Bee’s mesh pocket starts just 10.5″ above the seat bottom.
Burley Bee’s Mesh Pocket Much Lower than InStep’s
Harness and Buckles
The harness and buckle system on the InStep, Schwinn Echo, and Schwinn Trailblazer are the same. The strap tightness around the waist is a little difficult to get adjusted and the buckle insertions are a bit stiff and lack a clear “click” when inserted correctly. As a result, you’ll need to double check that the buckle has, in fact, fastened properly by tugging on the buckle.
Instep Trailer vs. Burley Buckle
I learned this lesson the hard way on the Trailblazer, which I thought I had secured properly. My 18-month-old undid the buckle on her own at the end of our test ride, presumably because I thought the buckle had inserted all the way, but it hadn’t.
In general, harnesses tend to be more difficult to use with hammock-style seats because the child slides forward on the sagging seat while you’re trying to buckle them in. The child’s weight against the straps makes it harder to fasten them.
The height of the harness straps can be adjusted to accommodate kids of various sizes. The InStep, Echo, and Trailblazer have three slots for distinct height adjustments. This system works easily enough, but the plastic pieces you move into the slots to secure the strap in place aren’t actually held tight by anything on the back side.
While we had no issue with the safety of this system during our testing, it does give us pause that it’s possible for the top of the strap to be removed by an older child or to get ripped out of place in the event of a major crash.
Higher-end trailers, and even the budget Allen S2, have continuously adjustable straps that are on a sliding system to dial in the perfect fit for your child, no matter their size.
As seen above, the lowest shoulder strap setting on the InStep trailer is higher than the Trailblazer’s, making the Trailblazer a more secure option for kids under about 20 months.
Burley Bee’s Adjustable Shoulder Height vs. InStep/Schwinn
What makes the InStep the most “budget” trailer of them all is the 16″ wheels on plastic rims. Almost all other trailers have metal rims and 20″ wheels, which are more durable and roll more smoothly. Although we haven’t experienced it personally, several reviewers on Amazon have commented that the tires sometimes pop off the plastic rims.
If you are going to be doing a decent amount of riding, 16″ wheels will quickly become problematic because you’re limited to just 10 mph, vs. 15 mph with higher-end 20″ wheels. (The Schwinn trailers with 20″ wheels are only safety rated to 10 mph, while trailers from Burley and Thule are safety rated to 15 mph).
Additionally, those plastic rims will not last as long as metal rims, so if you’re planning on using the trailer frequently and through several years or kids, the Echo or the Trailblazer would be a better option.
The rear storage of the InStep is contained by a low-lying velcro enclosure that can come loose if not aligned perfectly. While handy for storing light items in a pinch, we wouldn’t recommend storing anything of value in there. The Echo and Trailblazer have the same system.
Hitch and Tow Arm
The hitch and tow arm set up for the InStep and the Schwinn trailers is identical. The tow arm fits easily inside the coupler attachment and secures with a pin, which attaches to the rear axle of the adult bike.
If you buy an additional coupler attachment, you can easily switch the trailer from one adult bike to another. The hitch joint is stiffer than higher-end trailers, but at slow, casual speeds, this shouldn’t matter.
InStep Bike Trailers – What’s the Difference?
There are several different models of Instep bike trailers, and they are all very similar. Here’s a quick chart to showcase their differences:
InStep Bike Trailers Comparison
|Feature||InStep Take 2||InStep Single||InStep Quick-N-EZ||InStep Sierra Double|
|Trailer Type||Trailer only||Trailer only||Trailer/Stroller||Trailer/Stroller|
|Seat Style||Hammock||Hammock||Hammock||Supportive Bench|
How is it Different from the InStep Trailer?
The Schwinn Echo shares many features with the InStep trailers, but with a few crucial upgrades that may warrant a higher price for you. (Both Schwinn and InStep are sold by Pacific Cycle, Inc.) The Echo is only available as a double trailer and does not have a stroller upgrade option.
How Does it Ride?
The Schwinn Echo rode surprisingly well, and better than the InStep. Bumps were pronounced, but our 5-year-old tester didn’t complain. Like with the InStep, you’ll want to stick to very smooth pavement and slower speeds (again, the maximum recommended speed is 10 mph, although we did 15 mph in the Schwinn without a problem).
Most importantly, the Schwinn has 20” aluminum wheels, which make for a smoother ride and will last much longer than the InStep’s 16″ plastic wheels. The Schwinn Echo is slightly taller than InStep, and has more room for feet and rear storage.
The Schwinn Echo has the same cover design as the InStep Take 2, including its challenging snaps and cheap nylon. (Again, there is already a small hole starting near the top snaps after only one ride despite being reinforced with clear vinyl on the other side.)
Harness, Buckles, and Seat
The Schwinn buckles are also identical to the InStep, but the straps do have some padding. It’s still a challenge to get bigger kids buckled in, as the seat sags under their weight. We do appreciate that the seat is lightly padded and also sags less than the InStep.
The Schwinn Echo’s wheels are its primary selling point over the InStep. In our opinion, the 20″ wheels on metal rims are a very worthy upgrade, from a durability standpoint, as well as overall ride smoothness. Whether that’s worth an extra $80 is up to you!
How is it Different from the InStep Trailer?
The Schwinn Trailblazer is available as a single or double trailer. The double trailer comes with a stroller wheel, while the single trailer cannot convert to a stroller.
How Does the Schwinn Trailblazer Ride?
Interestingly enough, we thought the Trailblazer was actually the least smooth of the three trailers. The tow arm of the Trailblazer rattled pretty significantly during our test rides. The tow arm joint has too much play, and moves and rattles noisily. We found this a little odd because the trailer frames and tow arm designs seem to be identical between the three trailers so this rattling could have been an anomaly. However, we also tested the single version of the Trailblazer, and it had the same issue.
Schwinn Trailblazer as a Stroller
We really do love the option of converting your trailer into a stroller. We do this all the time with our personal trailer. With a stroller wheel that attaches to the end of the tow arm, it’s super easy to convert the Trailblazer from trailer to stroller mode. You don’t even have to remove the kids from the trailer!
The Trailblazer is a good option for an occasional stroller. During a few hours of walking with the stroller, my feet kept kicking the rear of the trailer, which obviously got annoying. If this were my everyday trailer it would be a no-go for me, but if it’s just an added perk to a trailer, it’s definitely something I could deal with.
The Trailblazer has a bit less interior space than the InStep Take 2, with 24″ of shoulder space (25″ Instep) and 23″ of seated height (26″ InStep). Despite being smaller than the InStep, it still has more interior room than most other budget and even mid-range trailers.
You can see in the image below that the Trailblazer is shorter and will be more quickly outgrown from a height perspective. This is, in part, due to the sagging seats of the InStep which place a child lower in the trailer. So… sagging seats and more room for a child’s head, or supportive seats and less room for growth? You choose. 🙂
Additionally you can see that while the InStep is an inch wider, the hammock-style seat forces the two riders to slide together in the middle. In the Trailblazer, they seem to actually have more room because the bench seat keeps them separated.
InStep vs. Trailblazer Interior Space
The Trailblazer is the only one of the three trailers to have a bench-style seat. Bench-style seats are much more supportive and don’t sag. This makes it much easier to strap kids in, and prevents two riders from sliding into the middle of the seat together.
While we really do appreciate a bench-style seat, its padding is minimal and the seat is a bit hard. It’s still superior to the seat of the InStep or the Schwinn Echo, but higher-end (and more expensive!) trailers have a much more sophisticated and comfortable design. The budget-friendly Allen S2 actually has a pretty soft bench seat that we prefer over the Trailblazer’s.
InStep Seat vs. Trailblazer’s Seat
The bottom of the trailer has a more extra room for legs and feet compared to the InStep trailer, but still isn’t reinforced.
The Trailblazer’s wheels are identical to the Echo’s – 20″ wheels with metal rims.
Which bike trailer is best for you really comes down to your budget and a few minor details. In general, the Schwinn Trailblazer, Schwinn Echo, and InStep Take 2 have essentially the same entry-level design, budget-quality components, and average riding experience.
If you’re planning on using your bike trailer periodically, sticking to easy paved trails, and don’t need it to hold up over several years or several kids, the InStep and Schwinn trailers are a fantastic bang-for-your buck. Just keep in mind that their low price is directly related to their lower quality.
Here’s a quick snapshot of where the Schwinn Trailblazer shines in comparison to the Schwinn Echo and the InStep trailers.
Areas where we prefer the Schwinn Trailblazer over the Schwinn Echo:
- Bench-style seat prevents sagging, making it more comfortable for kids and easier to load and unload
- Stroller conversion kit
In addition to everything above, more reasons why we prefer the Schwinn Trailblazer over InStep Take 2:
- 20″ wheels with metal rims vs. 16″ wheels on plastic rims
- Lower shoulder harness better accommodates the youngest toddlers
If you plan on using your trailer regularly and want the option of riding faster and on more varied terrain, we highly recommend taking a look at the entry-level Burley trailer, the Burley Bee.
What Are You Missing With a Budget Trailer like the InStep?
We understand that shelling out over $350+ for a Burley, Thule Chariot, or Croozer trailer may not be ideal for your budget. If you only want to spend $100, get that InStep and enjoy the ride! We salute you for getting your little one out for a ride!
If you’re interested in understanding why other trailers cost so much more, here’s a quick snapshot of a few of the features you’ll get with a higher-end trailer that you won’t with an InStep or Schwinn trailer.
- Padded and supported seats to prevent sagging and provide a more comfortable ride
- Additional padding along straps as well as for the back (standard on most high-end trailers)
- Helmet recess pocket (mesh pocket above the seats) to allow room for the back of a child’s helmet above the seats, versus having their helmet push their head forward when it makes contact with the seat
- Water-proof seams to keep kids dry if caught in the rain
- Ventilation throughout the cabin to provide additional airflow in hot weather and prevent the front plastic cover from fogging up in colder weather
- Suspension makes for a much smoother ride for little people, and less jostling for the towing adult
- High-quality, easy-to-use mesh front covers with zippers, rather than Velcro or snaps
- A true footbrake that easily allows you to safely stop the stroller without bending down to place a strap around the wheel
- Wheel guards (small plastic bumpers that are installed in front of the tires) prevent the wheels from getting caught while riding, which is a potential safety hazard
- Replaceable parts: Most high-end trailers sell replacement parts in case something goes missing or breaks
- In general, the quality and durability of higher-end trailers is significantly better. In addition to being much easier to use, and they should last throughout all your children while maintaining a good resale value.
Conversion Kits and Upgrades
- Multiple height-adjust handlebars with various height settings versus two
- Stroller conversion kits turn your trailer into an exceptional weather-resistant stroller that provides a comfortable and safe place for kids
- Jogger conversions provide true multi-sport options, in addition to cross-country skiing kits
10 Best Bike Trailers: For a quick look at our top picks for every budget.