Chariots of fire – my review of the Thule Chariot Lite
August 29, 2017
It’s coming up to 1 year since Baby M was born and so I’m planning my return to work. In the past, I loved my daily cycle commute – it’s not a long ride, but it’s just long enough for me to feel like I’ve had some exercise and fresh air and for me to unwind. However, I was worried that this would have to change.
I’ve been looking at ways to share my daily ride with M and I thought it appropriate to share my research as it’s nearly Cycle to Work Day. I immediately discounted bike seats. I don’t think that front mounted bike seats are very good – it’s hard for the parent to see and I’ve never seen someone using them without their knees bowing out to the sides. Rear-mounted bike seats can completely alter your balance on the bike and leave your child exposed to the elements. Another option is a cargo bike/trike, such as Bakfiets or Christiania, however, they are prohibitively expensive, difficult to store and often heavy, which isn’t great when you have some tough hills to climb. This leaves me with a bike trailer being the best option.
Swedish company Thule has been around for a long time creating products for travel and outdoor activities. They are a market leader when it comes to cycle trailers, which they have been making for over 25 years. Recently, some of their most popular products have been redesigned and rereleased, so I was delighted to be given the opportunity to road test a Thule multisport trailer, the Thule Chariot Lite.
Although I was interested in the Thule Chariot Lite primarily as a bike trailer, it easily transforms into a stroller. This is a massive advantage over many other trailers. I recently used a cheap bike trailer when on holiday. We were planning to cycle to a nearby tourist destination, but realised that when we got there we would have to carry M around. I hadn’t brought a sling with me, so that would have made the visit hard work. In the end, we decided not to cycle to the tourist destination; if we had had the Thule Chariot Lite, we wouldn’t have had to make that decision.
It is also possible to use the Thule Chariot Lite as a city-jogger or a ski pulk if you choose to buy the conversion kits. This is a great idea. Having a baby is expensive and also requires space as they need lots of kit. Any way that you can pare that down is helpful. Before having M, I thought I had carefully researched running buggies, but I hadn’t realised that it would be possible to buy a bike trailer and running buggy in one. The RRP of the running buggy conversion kit is £110.
As for the ski conversion kit, that’s not something that I would use in the UK, but I would imagine that it’s great for sporty people in Scandinavia or North America (or anywhere else where there is snow!)
There are plenty of other extras which can be purchased. My friend has an older Chariot Cougar 1 with a baby supporter. Her little boy always looks snug and comfortable, so it seems like a worthwhile extra. It can be used from 6-18 months and is a great idea if you have a little one who likes to snooze on the move.
Opening the box
The first thing I wanted to know was how easy is it to put together? If the trailer were too fiddly too assemble then it might put me off using it. (I also needed to know how difficult it would be to attach it to either of my bikes or transfer it to my husband’s bike).
There were clear instructions about how to put the trailer together and even with the ‘help’ of an inquisitive 9 month old, it didn’t take me very long. I found that the blue buttons (that you can see in the image above) helped to make assembly really simple. They show you where you need to do something and the red/green indicators (that you can’t see in the photos) make it clear whether you’ve set it up correctly or not. It couldn’t be any easier!
It’s worth bearing in mind that you might need an insert depending on the age/size of your baby/child. Baby M is 10 months old and 10kg. She’s been sitting unaided since she was just over 3 months old and has been walking for 6 weeks, so she’s quite sturdy, but is still small (in comparison to a school-age child who could also use this product). The baby support (6-18 months) would be useful for her; for smaller babies there is a sling that can be used when using the trailer as a stroller.
Exploring further – what features are there?
Once I’d set the trailer up, I took a bit of time to explore it in more detail. The first thing I noticed was the stylish colour. I’m not sure what it’s official name is (I think it may be bluegrass), but it’s a lovely jade green colour, which is striking and (if you’re into gender stereotypes) suitable for a boy or a girl. More importantly for me, it doesn’t clash horribly with any of our bikes!
I was pleased to see that there is an adjustable handlebar. I’m just over average height for women and Stu is just below average height for men, so a non-adjustable handlebar wouldn’t be a deal-breaker for us, but it’s nice to have – especially if either of our mums has to use the trailer as a buggy as they are both quite petite.
Behind the child’s seat is a mesh area to encourage airflow. This is good for a couple of reasons: in summer, it will help to keep the trailer cool, also, if I were to use it as a running buggy then it makes it a lot easier to push without it inflating when running into a headwind!
There is also a large fabric and mesh pocket to store items in. This is good as babies come with lots of clutter, however it’s not quite big enough to put a week’s shopping in. I can easily fit my work bag in it as I’d like to use the trailer for commuting. (I usually use fixed panniers on my bike and am not whether I’ll still be able to use these if a trailer is attached). There are also two interior pockets that can hold up to 1kg – these will come in handy for M’s toys or snacks. When we went for a day trip to a local park, I put all of our stuff into a rucksack that I placed in the pocket, along with a picnic blanket and a spare pair of shoes for Stuart and there was still room left in the pocket.
Another feature that I hadn’t expected was suspension. This makes the ride much smoother for the passenger (and makes me much less worried about going over minor obstacles, such as small sticks and stones). Stuart followed me on his bike for most of my rides and he commented on how stable the trailer looked – he said it looked safer than other models that we have tried.
Is it safe to use?
Any trailer sold in the UK must meet certain safety standards, however, there are also some optional extras. Any bike trailer must have a safety harness. Cheaper models often have a 3 point belt with an additional lap belt. This trailer has a comfortable 5 point safety harness. This should be more comfortable for Baby M, if she falls asleep when I’m cycling.
One of the reasons that I wanted to have a trailer rather than a child seat on the back of my bike is because it features a roll cage, so in the unlikely event of the trailer turning over, the occupant would be protected. (This is in addition to wearing a helmet).
Something that can put some people off using a cycle trailer is the visibility as the trailer is quite low to the ground. For this reason, I wanted to make sure that the trailer is as noticeable as possible. It comes with an orange flag that is easily seen by car drivers and other road users. It also has reflectors on the front and back. I will be commuting in the dark at times, so will be investigating lights that are rechargeable and easy to attach. This will make me feel happier about using it in the dark. I may also add some spoke reflectors for visibility on the side.
There is also a wrist strap, which is useful when using the trailer in stroller mode (and essential if I use it as a running buggy). It is not as long as the wrist strap on my current running buggy, however, I think it is superior as it is sewn in place, rather than being secured via a knot. This means that I will not lose it.
The trailer has a sturdy foot brake. I found it very easy to use. The foot brake on my Out N About Nipper Sport has not lasted well – by the time it was 4 months old, I was having trouble with getting it to work, which is a known issue. I will be paying close attention to whether any similar issues develop with this trailer over the next few months.
Protection from the elements
The trailer comes with an all-weather cover, which is important when you live in the UK! It also comes with an adjustable sunshade, which I’m really hoping that I get to try out! I’ve read suggestions that it’s possible to store the rain cover in a pocket on top, but I didn’t think it fitted well and was worried that it would fall out, so I put it in the rear pocket.
Many trailers are just shower-proof and the covers only go over part of them, but the front and top of this trailer are fully covered. The cover was a little fiddly to put on, but I am assuming that it will become easier with use and practice. I’ve seen a review where a sprinkler was been trained on various bike trailers – the Thule ones came top in terms of keeping the water out, which will be really important for me. If you’re choosing a trailer for leisure activities then if it’s raining hard, you can just cancel your ride, but as I’ll be commuting to work, I have to go whatever the weather.
Another advantage of this trailer is that it has a mesh screen which can help to keep insects and road debris out of the trailer (as well as keeping toys in!) When using the trailer as a stroller, I rolled up the mesh screen and tucked it under the flap at the top.
How easy to use and manoeuvrable is it?
I’ve already explained how easy it is to set up this trailer and to convert it between different activities, but how easy is it to use it in daily life? One of the frequent battles that I have with M is strapping her into her car seat, so it was essential for me that the safety harness was easy to do up and undo. It was a little fiddly to adjust it to the correct size before using the trailer for the first time, but after that, it was very easy to do up.
This trailer is one of the lightest ones available. It is lighter than the Chariot Cross, which gives it the edge when cycling uphill. This was important for me as I live in a valley, so every ride starts with a hill.
My usual buggy is the Out’n’About Nipper Sport, which has a fixed front wheel, so I’m used to lifting it up to turn, therefore using the stroller kit on the Thule Chariot Lite seems unusual for me, as it turns very easily. For many people this is a bonus, but I think it’l take me a bit more practice!
When cycling, the trailer was barely noticeable at just over 11kg, which is exactly what I had hoped for.
The images above show the trailer attached to my cyclocross bike on a visit to the park. We were able to lock the bikes up and then quickly convert the trailer into a stroller to visit different areas of the park. The conversion took me less than five minutes and I was pleased to see that the two-hitch could be stowed on the side of the stroller (it’s the metal piece with an orange safety sticker on it).
Quality and value
This trailer feels sturdy and well-constructed. The fabric is really attractive and strong and the wheels roll well, so it’s easy to push (or pull).
The Chariot Lite can hold a child weighing up to 34kg, which is more than most British 7 year olds weigh, so how long you are able to use it for probably depends on your child’s height and willingness to be in the trailer.
Although this trailer and the conversion kits that can be purchased are expensive, I think it’s best to view it as an investment. A quick glance at eBay and other selling sites shows that previous Thule trailers hold their value well and can be resold easily as long as they have been looked after. My friend Laura has had her older model Thule Chariot for at least 3 years – it still looks immaculate and despite being used daily, she has had no technical issues.
The tyres seem tough and sturdy, but I think this is something that I won’t really be able to assess until I have used the trailer for several months and many rides. One thing that I will need to do is source some appropriate size inner tubes as I don’t know whether every cycle shop would stock them and I don’t want to find that I can’t commute because of a flat tyre.
My final thoughts:
I’ve used the Chariot Lite as a bike trailer and stroller frequently over the last few weeks. I was surprised by how easy it is to convert it between the two activities. It is light to push in stroller mode and changes direction very easily (perhaps a little too easily for someone who is only used to using a fixed-wheel running buggy). It is quite wide to use as a stroller, but its manoeuvrability has meant that I’ve been able to go into a number of tiny local shops and have not had a problem negotiating their aisles.
Baby M seems to have enjoyed being in the trailer. There is plenty of room for her toys to accompany her and unlike with a traditional buggy, she is less likely to lose anything that she drops. I think the position is less comfortable for her when she falls asleep in the stroller mode than with a traditional buggy as it is not possible to recline her seat. I think the seat may recline on the more expensive Chariot Cross model, which would be a point in its favour.
- The trailer can be used for cycling or walking straight out of the box and for running or skiing if you buy a conversion kit.
- The trailer folds up easily and is compact to transport or store.
- The quality of this trailer is top notch. The fabric and stitching are good, it feels sturdy and yet is light.
- The trailer is easy to assemble/use. The Thule VersaWing system makes it easy to swap between activities.
- The trailer is rain-proof (which is essential if you’re using it for commuting, rather than leisure activities which can be postponed.)
- This trailer has all of the safety features that I would hope for.
- Thule trailers have a good resale value, so although the initial expenditure may seem like a lot, you can expect to recoup quite a lot if it is looked after.
- The trailer has good suspension, which makes the ride comfortable for both parent and child.
- Thule Click n’ Store makes for convenient on-board storage of strolling/jogging/cycling kit while changing between activities.
- This product could be used from birth with the purchase of the newborn sling (however, this is intended for walking, not cycling – no-one recommends cycling with a young baby!)
- The RRP is £590, which is quite expensive (however, if you consider the cost of buying a buggy and bike trailer separately then it’s not so bad.)
- If you’re using it as a buggy then you can’t see your child from behind.
- The cargo compartment is on the outside, so your items may get wet.
- The seat doesn’t recline or have any padding (you would need to purchase a Thule Chariot cross for these upgrades.)
Things to consider if choosing a Thule Chariot
- How many children do you have/plan to have? The Thule Chariot Lite is currently only available as a single-child version in the UK.
- If you are spending this much money, is it worth spending a few hundred more on the Chariot Cross? (This is an easier decision Stateside as the price differential isn’t so much!)
This trailer looks lovely, is comfortable for Baby M and is really easy to use. It is the ideal trailer for use as a daily commuter not least because it is so well waterproofed. On occasion, I would like a little more storage space, so may have to don a rucksack or use panniers. It’s disappointing that the two-child version is not available in the UK (but as a ‘one and done’ mum, that’s not a deal-breaker for me!)… I guess this may change if there is enough demand for it.
The Chariot Cross is £260 more (and £360 more for the double version). It has a number of additional features such as enhanced suspension and more cargo storage and it is more suitable for off-road adventures. I don’t do much off-road cycling, so that doesn’t worry me too much, but if it were my only running stroller, it would be important for me.
I would really like to try the jogging conversion kit, so that I can cycle to parkrun and then take part… or continue to enjoy lunchtime runs with M when I am at work. For this reason, I am considering selling the other trailers that I have to buy this extra. I think we would also benefit from having the head support so that the trailer is more comfortable for M to nap in.
Obviously, I’ve only used the trailer for a short period of time, so there may be some aspects that I’ve not explored fully yet. My friend, Laura, has been using an older Thule trailer for some time, so I asked her for her thoughts. She could not think of any drawbacks. Her trailer has been well-used and is well-loved. It is heavier than her buggy, but she finds steering it much easier, so she chooses to use it when running.
Overall, this trailer is perfect for my current needs. It should see me through cycle commuting until M is at primary school (and beyond) as well as being appropriate for short rides when she visits Grandma.
Have you used a bike trailer? What are your thoughts? Do you prefer to use a child-seat?