A month before our daughter was born, I had what I call the Bugaboo Epiphany. Until that moment, I'd felt largely ignored by the Baby Industrial Complex, which, like the wedding business, primarily targets women. But as I assembled the curved aluminum frame of our Bugaboo Frog stroller, the satisfying clicks reminded me of a solid mountain bike or piece of camping equipment. Here was a product I could relate to—one that acknowledged the dad-to-be. Whatever the challenges of impending parenthood, as long as I had my Bugaboo, I wasn't an interloper in a ruffly, all-female world.
Or so I told myself. Emotions run high during a pregnancy, and baby marketers capitalize on them by selling new parents myriad products they couldn't have imagined when they conceived. Not every purchase is of equal import, of course. But because they are used so frequently, and in public, strollers end up carrying a heavy symbolic load. Strollers communicate who you are—and who your kid is—the way your car does in Los Angeles or your shoes do in New York.
The panoply of models and options can make stroller shopping confusing, especially for first-time parents. In the hope that it will help new parents choose their own right rig, here is what I found after several weeks of road-testing six popular strollers.
Strollers, like cars, slot into market categories based on size, performance, and intended usage. I evaluated two strollers in each of three categories: traditional/travel systems (wagons/minivans); ultra-lightweight/umbrella strollers (compacts); and all-terrain/urban strollers (SUVs).
To evaluate the user experience—for both driver and child—I evaluated each stroller on the following: aesthetics and design; performance (Is it a smooth ride? Easy to open and close? Portable? Comfortable for the child?); safety; extras (Are the cup-holders, storage, console, etc. useful?); value (Is it adaptable to different ages and uses?); and finally, fit (Does it suit the needs of the intended user?). Users are as varied as strollers, and minivan-driving suburbanites face quite a different strollerscape than subway-riding city dwellers.
To test the strollers, I enlisted the help of my 16-month-old daughter. We live in both Manhattan and Washington, D.C., so I was able to run each stroller through a wide range of urban and suburban settings. I tested them on the subway and Metro; sidewalks, cars, and parking lots; gravel, paving stones, carpet, and marble; and in Central Park and the National Zoo, which, on weekends, appears to have the highest concentration of strollers in the Western world. And in a gesture of journalistic thoroughness, I made repeat visits to one of D.C.'s most congested malls. (You're welcome.)
Traditional Stroller/Travel System
Consider these archetypal strollers to be child-sized lounge chairs on wheels—souped up with cup-holders, consoles, canopies, and storage bins. (A travel system is a stroller that can hold an optional infant car seat.) While these models aspire to be all-purpose strollers, they often serve as extensions of the home (or the car)—mobile base stations to be loaded up with diaper bags, bottles, lattes, toys, jackets, shopping bags, even a baby.
Combi Ultra Savvy Price: $249
The Driver Experience: At first, the Japanese Combi feels so light it's almost disconcertingly insubstantial. Although it consists of a pillowy recliner perched on aluminum-sticks-on-wheels, the dominant feeling is plastic: The handle, joints, and child's cup-holders are all made of high-gloss plastic, which gets uncomfortably sweaty and greasy immediately.
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