This is a two-part post about buying jogging strollers. Part 1 will talk about what to look for in a jogging stroller. Part 2 will provide reviews of various strollers I’ve “test driven.” If there is any particular stroller that you’d like to hear about, post it in the comments and I’ll try to incorporate it in the reviews.
With the frigid weather we’ve been having, buying a jogging stroller (AKA “Jogger”) is probably the last thing on your mind. Believe it or not, now’s a great time to buy a stroller. Stroller manufacturers tend to make slight tweaks to design and/or color annually. At the beginning of the calendar year, you can find last year’s models at a significant discount as retailers try to clear space for new inventory. This post is designed to tell you what you should consider when buying a stroller in the event that you want to take advantage of some of the great prices out there!
A very important safety note about running with your stroller in fixed-wheel mode:
This is important enough that I wanted to put it up front so that if you read nothing else, at least you’ll have read this. Almost every jogging stroller, even ones with swivel wheels, have the option to lock the front wheel. SO MANY moms that I talk to hate locking the wheels because it takes a lot of energy to maneuver the stroller. Trust me when I say that fixing the wheel is more of a safety than a performance feature – I cannot stress enough the importance of locking the wheel if you plan to run with the stroller. Why? If you hit an obstacle like a rock, stick, or pothole, your wheel can swivel and turn sideways while you still have forward momentum of your running. When this happens, you can topple over and/or launch your child out of the stroller. It has happened to two of my friends and is more common than you might expect.
The Basics of Buying a Jogging Stroller
Before you stroller shop, consider the following:
1. How do you plan to use it? Will your jogger double as your regular stroller? Will it be used more for running or walking? What type of terrain (sidewalk, roads, packed trails, natural trails)?
2. How many jogging miles (as opposed walking miles) do you expect to accumulate in a month? Most moms I know tend to put less than 15-20 miles (max) in a month. If you are doing 25+ monthly miles for 11-12 months, consider that decent usage.
3. Are you willing to buy used? Many people buy jogging strollers with good intentions, but discover that they don’t use it nearly as much as expected. Many used strollers have barely been used – if you want a beefier stroller than your budget allows, consider buying used. You can get a great deal that way.
4. In conjunction with the above, decide UP FRONT how much you’re willing to pay. Joggers range from $150 for a single to over $700 for a double. It’s a general (but not absolute) fact that with joggers, you get what you pay for and it’s very easy to get carried away. Unless you narrow your options down up front, you may find yourself coveting a stroller that costs hundreds more than you wanted to pay.
So, what about all those features? How important are they?
Adjustable handlebar – I’m 5 feet and 0 inches (yes, ZERO) tall. I’ve tested strollers with fixed and adjustable handlebars. Handlebars have never been an issue for me…you can pretty much rest assured that if you’re short like me, you won’t have any major issues. If you’re tall, that might be a different story, and I suspect that you’d like adjustable handlebars so that you’re not continually hunched over.
Brakes – some strollers have a handbrake, while the majority just have a parking brake. The need for a handbrake really depends on how hilly your route is, how fast you plan to go, and how much (or lack thereof) upper body strength you have. If you live in a really hilly area, if you live in a mildly hilly area but are super fast, or if you have zero upper body strength, then yeah…maybe a handbrake should be a priority. But for the rest of us, you probably could get away without having one. For the record, I live in a hilly area and run about a 9:45/mile pace without the stroller. I’ve never had an issue with using my body weight to stop the stroller.
Safety Strap – there’s basically nothing to discuss here. Every stroller I’ve tested had a wrist strap. It shouldn’t even be a question – just wear it. You won’t even notice after a while.
Fixed Wheel versus Swivel Wheel – strollers will usually come with a fixed or lockable swivel wheel. If you’re a high performance runner who logs the majority of your mileage on pavement, or if you run on very rough terrain, then a fixed wheel might be a good option because you can run efficiently without wasting excess energy in the slight movement of the wheels. However, if you want some flexibility in how and where you use your stroller, then you might want to buy a swivel wheel for versatility because turning a fixed wheel during everyday use can be tough. See note at the beginning of this post on running with your stroller in fixed-wheel mode.
Storage While Folded – this is pretty self-explanatory. Think about how large the cargo space in your car is relative to the size of the stroller because you’ll inevitably need to transport it at some point. Some strollers have front wheels that come off in order to make it easier to store. My double stroller fits fine in our little Prius when the back seats are down.
Stroller Width (really only an issue with doubles) – some doubles are ADA-compliant and can fit on handicap ramps. Others are too wide. If you plan to use your stroller for anything other than running, you should make sure that your stroller is compliant…and once you’ve had a double, you will suddenly be aware of how many places are NOT ADA-compliant (department stores are notorious for pushing their movable carts so close together that a stroller/wheelchair doesn’t have a prayer of getting by).
Canopies – you wouldn’t think this is a big deal but when you’ve pushed your kid into the early evening sunset, you’ll realize that canopies ARE A BIG DEAL. There are 1 1/2 things to consider here. Also, some people might also think the viewing window is important but I’ve never found this to be particularly useful, mainly because I can’t really see much through it:
1. The actual angle and the way in which the canopy shields the sun – you don’t want your canopy to be a flat overhead shade because this will do nothing to shield the sun out of your kids’ eyes. You want your canopy to have a two point pivot so that it looks kind of like a box when fully extended. The first position would be totally flat (as described above), the second position would be extending downward almost 90 degrees to shade their eyes from the sun.
½. This is only relevant for double strollers. Some stroller manufacturers install one giant canopy in order to save money. BAD IDEA. When you have one kid who enjoys the warmth of the sun and one kid who HATES it, you’ll inevitably have fights. Two independently moving canopies are key. Saves you aggravation, saves the fighting.
Resale value – if you’re lucky, you might get four years with one kid out of a running stroller. If you have two kids that are staggered in age, this is great because you can get several good years out of the stroller, but if you’re like me and have two kids exactly the same age, you’ll really only get a small handful of years out of the stroller. Resale value was a huge deal for us. If you look at Craigslist or Ebay, you’ll notice that jogging strollers (particularly doubles) are a hot item. They sell RIGHT.AWAY. Naturally, the high performance, more expensive strollers are most popular and they tend to retain their value in resale. We found that a used price of a Bob Duallie (which we have) was so close to new that it didn’t really make sense for us to buy the stroller used considering the mileage that we had planned to put onto it.
Storage Space – consider what you plan to use the stroller for when you decide whether storage space is important. A big criticism of many good joggers is that storage space is limited. This is not by accident. The more storage space, the heavier the stroller. If you plan to use the stroller only for running, then storage space shouldn’t even be an issue – you’ll only need enough space to carry your keys, any of your running gadgets (I bring tissues, my inhaler, ID and water) and kiddie snacks. If you plan to use your stroller as an everyday stroller, then it might be a problem; however, you can get around this by buying stroller accessories, such as the handlebar consoles.
Tires – you will often see strollers as labeled as “air filled” or “pneumatic” – these are basically bike tires. I’ve never seen anything else on a jogger, so I’m not sure how relevant this is. Air filled/pneumatic tires allow you to control the pressure to your liking based on the terrain and your comfort level. Like bikes, the tires are either slick or knobby and should be chosen based on the terrain that you ultimately will run.
Wheel type and size – strollers typically come with a 12.5 or 16 inch front wheel. The larger the wheel, the more efficient and smooth it is while running. Therefore, the longer and faster you run, the larger you’ll want your front wheel to be. If, however, you plan to also use your stroller as an everyday stroller or want some versatility, you probably want to stick with a smaller wheel.
Wheel spokes might either be metal or polymer/composite. This is really only relevant as it relates to where you will be running with the stroller. If you plan to run only on road, you can get away with metal bike spoke wheels. If you plan to “go for long walks on the beach,” opt for the polymer/composite materials.
Do you have questions about a particular jogging stroller or a feature of a stroller? Feel free to ask it here. Next week, I’ll post a summary of a variety of strollers that I’ve test-driven. If there is one in particular that you would like to hear about, let me know and I’ll try to get it added to the list.