Rachel gives the Thule Chariot Cross trailer a long term test, out on the bike, running, walking… but sadly not on the skis!
Ah, the peace, quiet and restorative nature of a solo bike ride, truly one of my favourite things… But I now have a child so it’s peace no more.
So I’ve been thrust into the world of kids’ bike trailers – specifically the Thule Chariot Cross (formerly the Cougar before Thule bought the company out in 2011). The Cross is a “multi-sport” trailer which converts between a stroller/buggy, running buggy/jogger, bike trailer and even a cross country ski trailer. At £850 it doesn’t come cheap but what price for a bike ride and one’s sanity?
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- Thule Chariot Cross – £850
- Jogging kit – £120
- Ski kit – £300
- Infant sling – £90
- Extra axle – £55
- Extra hitch cup – £20
- Available from: Freewheel, Tredz (£849.99)
The base model comes with bike trailer attachments and stroller wheels. The VersaWing system means you can easily and securely switch parts over and attach them to the trailer for storage. The ski (£300) and jogging kits (£120) are available separately.
As a bike trailer it is recommended for children aged 6 months to 4 years or a maximum weight of 22kg and 111cm height. There’s an infant sling available for babies 1-10 months old but only in stroller / jogging modes (your child should have sufficient head control before you start bumping them along the trails hence the 6 month restriction).
The frame is a robust aluminium and plastic construction with a tough fabric back and sides. There are two integrated covers: a zip down mesh and a pull-over plastic waterproof one, and also a separate sunscreen panel.
Suspension comes from the adjustable leaf system and the large rear inflatable tyres which take a 20” inner tube (the front stroller wheels are solid plastic.) If you have the jogging attachment that also has a single 20” inflatable tyre.
There is up to 4kg of storage in the large rear pocket and a couple of smaller internal ones for snacks and toys. The padded seat uses a five-point safety belt for your precious cargo and the seat reclines for easy snoozing. The infant sling fits like a hammock above the seat and uses the same safety belt.
The Thule Chariot Cross is available as a single or double seated (Cross 2) version. There’s also a Thule Chariot Lite which doesn’t have external storage or adjustable suspension but is £100 cheaper. As well as the jogging and ski conversions there is also a range of accessories including storage covers, emergency hand brakes and locks.
We’ve (I include the small boy and OH in responsibility for this review) had the single model on test along with a jogging kit and infant sling.
Thule Chariot: The Ride
The Thule Chariot Cross is an excellent utility / workhorse trailer. Most of the time it stays hooked up to my gravel-cum-commuter bike for trips to nursery, the shops, the park and a longer weekend family ride and has happily endured it all.
In bike mode the hitch arm attaches to your bike by means of a cup fitted onto a specific rear axle. Coupling up the trailer is simple enough and it’s no bother leaving the axle and cup on your bike when you’re not using it. A quick release axle is included in the kit but if you run a thru-axle then you’ll need to buy separately. Typically we’ve needed several different ones as none of our bikes ran the same axle, but we have used this to our advantage by buying a second hitch cup. This means we are able to leave it set up on our most used bikes to minimise faffing. It’s also a handy way to share the towing load if there’s more than one of you going out on a ride. The parts aren’t cheap (£55 per axle and £20 for the cup) but for us it’s been worth the cost.
I suspect the safety strap system on the attachment arm hasn’t been updated since disc brakes became common place as it’s a bit too long to clip round your seat stay without the loop catching on the rotor. We’ve decided the risk of the trailer breaking free is much lower than the strap fouling the rotor so have wrapped it out the way.
Once hitched up, the trailer’s two-wheeled design and extremely effective foot brake mean that it’s straightforward to get your child in and out without the need for an extra pair of hands (as way of comparison we also have a single-wheeled trailer which is a complete pain on your own.) The five-point seatbelt is easy to operate even with cold and wet hands and has seemed nice and secure on general child squirming and crash testing (ahem!).
The Thule Chariot’s strong build is up to bouncing down as many trails and kerbs as your child will take. For most of our rides when I peer in to check on the boy I am met with a completely non-plussed face and I’ve only been yelled at to slow down once and I was clattering down a particularly loose trail at the time. So far we’ve done nothing to play with the leaf-suspension or tyre pressure to aid comfort but the option is there if your passenger didn’t seem comfortable.
The Thule Chariot Cross isn’t a MTB specific trailer so has a number of limitations if/when you do go off-road. It’s too wide for most singletrack and its two-wheeled design means it’s unstable on off-camber or lumpy terrain and fast cornering. This hasn’t been a huge problem for us as our local trails and family rides tend to be a bit more sedate in nature and we keep the more fun stuff for adult-only time (or use the aforementioned single-wheeled trailer). As a bit of a guide you’ll be able to manage a typical trail centre blue but are unlikely to get very far on a red route.
We’ve turned the trailer a few times, mainly when it’s been empty (I won the parenting prize the day I did this outside nursery). I suspect this is a combination of reckless riding and not having the passenger’s weight to lower the centre of gravity. The OH has turned it onto its side with the boy inside when he clipped one of the wheels on a small stump at a moderate speed, neither the trailer nor the boy seemed affected by this. Thule does recommend your child wears a helmet to cover such parenting mishaps.
The mesh front cover performs well, fitting snuggly and securely. Having said that even when you have full-length guards on the towing bike the trailer gets pretty splattered so the waterproof cover is a good option if you want to keep your child clean on wet and dirty rides (personally I think a muddy face is a MTB rite of passage). The waterproof cover performs really well and we’ve also used on particularly cold days to reduce the wind chill. On the downside the ventilation isn’t great so we often leave a corner unfastened so the boy doesn’t steam up too much and can enjoy the passing views.
There are a couple of downsides for the Thule Chariot’s day-to-day utility. It isn’t very bright and there are limited reflective highlights and places to attach a rear lights. We saw to this with a liberal application of reflective tape and a hi-vis jacket as well as some extensions to rear light brackets. It does have a flag although someone nicked ours. On the subject of security, it’s quite difficult to lock up with a decent D-lock or similar as there aren’t many points where you can thread one through the frame. (Thule does sell a specific lock to lock the trailer to your bike but we didn’t try one out). Finally we’ve attached a couple of spare rucksack clips onto the rear pocket as the standard one didn’t seem to hold that well even when the pocket wasn’t loaded.
Apart from it being filthy there are no real signs of wear or tear after over 18 months of use. I know others who have previous versions of this trailer that have been bought second hand and used by more than one child so longevity seems to be good, and there is a good range of spares available if you need them. I won’t be spawning children for the next 10 years and dragging them around behind me to enhance this review though (sorry Singletrack, I’m just not that dedicated.).
All of this robust structure comes with a weight penalty (14kg) and it’s a bit of a beast to pull. It’s also pretty sizeable although does fold down to be reasonably compact for neater storage or putting in the car. The biggest disadvantage of this is unless it’s very clean you just end up folding muck inside or have to find somewhere else for the wheels and hook-up bar. Given we’ve got a van and so plenty of space we’ve tended to leave it unfolded to transport for ease.
We’ve mainly used the Thule Chariot as a bike trailer and given this is a bike website, it’s what I’ve concentrated on in the review but that misses a lot of its utility.
As a buggy it’s easy enough to both push and manoeuvre. The bigger wheels make it more suitable to kerbs, cobbles and rough ground than weaving around shops. On the downside it’s a lot wider and heavier than a standard buggy so relatively more cumbersome. We’ve used it as a buggy most often when we’ve gone away as being able to swap between setups has meant we’ve not needed to take his normal buggy with us as well as the trailer and bikes. We’ve also found the convertibility handy when going to places with a bit of a walk the other end as we can go somewhere on the bike, unhitch the trailer, clip on the stroller wheels and then be able to push the boy around rather than having to carry him.
If you’re that way inclined, having the running set up is a useful addition, again to minimise the number of transportation items you need. It’s slightly fiddlier to set up than the bike or stroller mode as you have two arms to centre on one wheel, but the ‘VersaWing’ system which clips in each part makes it hard to go wrong. With the single wheel on it’s longer than in stroller mode so takes up more space so we’ve tended to take it off after each run. We used it most with the infant sling when he was very little as have found the additional weight as he’s got bigger much harder work, but then we’re soft. We’ve also found that it makes quite a good off-road buggy, with the single wheel on the front far less likely to get stuck in the mud than with the stroller wheels on.
The final extra that we had on test is the infant sling. We started using the Chariot in jogging mode from when the boy was about 4 weeks old and he always seemed perfectly comfortable and secure in it and would nap nicely as we went along. As he is pretty small and skinny we continued to use it when he hit the 6 month mark and we started using it as a bike trailer rather than putting him in the trailer seat.
Three things we liked
- Bomb-proof construction so we’ve been able to ride without the fear of bolts or child flying out
- Wind, mud, rain and splash-proof covers
- Convertibility between bike trailer, jogger and stroller
Three things we’d change
- Necessary size and two-wheeled design of the trailer limiting your choice of rides
- Better visibility – more reflective material, brighter colours and rear light mounting points
- Disc brake friendly safety strap
Thule Chariot Cross Trailer Overall
The Thule Chariot Cross is a well-designed, sturdy and reliable bike trailer which has a huge advantage of easily converting to a stroller, a jogger and even ski trailer. Its robust and sturdy design, easy bike hook-up and child installation makes it convenient for day-to-day use although it’s awkward to lock up and lacks some visibility features.
Although not an MTB-specific trailer its build-strength and weather/muck protection mean it makes a pretty decent fist of it. You just need to pick your trails and dial down your gnar accordingly.
|Price:||£850, Jogging kit - £120, Infant sling - £90|
|Tested:||by Rachel Sokal, the OH and the boy for 20 months|