1. april 2014

Tips when Buying a Stroller,Part 1: Quality and Simplicity

As a stroller repair man I get to work on a lot of different strollers.  Sure, the majority of these are produced by well-known brands, but both cheaper and older strollers show up as well.  The truth is that expensive branding does not guarantee quality.  From the standpoint of repair, there are, in fact, good and bad strollers at every price level.  In the end, it really comes down to two characteristics: quality and simplicity.
Let’s start with wheels.  Shopping for a budget stroller may very likely present one with a choice between metal wheels and plastic wheels that are spray painted to look like metal.  No-brainer, right?  When shopping for a cheaper stroller it is very important to avoid plastic whenever possible as cheaper strollers tend to use cheaper plastics which lack sufficient tensile strength.  Bugaboo and Mountain Buggy both use plastic wheels, but you can be sure that this is not the same plastic that one finds on a budget stroller.  Flip those wheels over and examine the backside.  Are there ball bearings or does the axle just slot into a plastic ring or hole? The combination of cheap plastic wheels and no ball-bearings can be deadly as friction and weight will often loosen plastic wheel components within a few months.
The consideration of plastic versus metal wheels should even be taken into account when dealing
with strollers at the higher end.  TFK, for example, has shifted the wheels on their flagship models; the TF K-3 and the Joggster Twist from metal to plastic. This shift in materials, while reducing aesthetic problems with rust, has introduced more concerning problems with unstable break mountings that lead to chronicly “squeaky” wheels. In the end, the metal wheels were of a higher quality, and this mattered.
Simplicity is also important.  Take for example the folding mechanisms of the following three strollers: EasyWalker’s Sky, TFK’s Joggster 3 (or Twist) and Mountain Buggy’s Urban Jungle.  The EasyWalker may be seen as having the most complex folding mechanism of the three in that it's chassis folds together by means of internal metal lines that are pulled tight when one presses a button at the top of the chassis, activating a mechanism further down. The key problem here is that, should the chassis itself break, replacement and repair are vastly complicated by the presence of multiple components linked together by these internal lines.  Where on other strollers a single broken part might be replaced, welded or supported by an internal splint, on the Sky it is often necessary to swap out half the chassis rather than simply replacing the broken element. 

The TFK by comparison does not have this problem, all it’s parts can be easily swapped out individually.  But one would be wrong to call it a simple chassis. One of the key selling points of the TFK is its small size when folded.  This comes at a price however as the chassis sports a higher than average number of hinges and points at which separate elements are screwed together. If each of these connection points is loose and provides room for movement of even a couple of millimeters, the end result is a feeling of instability in which the handle may move up and down as much as five centimeters. 
The simplest of these three strollers is the Mountain Buggy.  While it may not be the smallest when folded, it’s simplicity means that very few problems tend to occur related to the folding mechanisms and, if parts do loosen or break, the required repair or maintenance is quite easy to undertake.

If we were now to look at these same three strollers in relation to the quality of materials and simplicity of design of the front wheel’s swivel mechanism a different order emerges. Definitely the worst of three, the TF K Joggster Twist sports mostly plastic components in the front wheel’s swivel mechanism and a smaller 10 inch front wheel. The combination of these two elements means that more pressure is put on the smaller front wheel, and the mechanism itself is less capable of dealing with that pressure due to its abundance of plastic components. Needless to say this mechanism is one of our most common repairs.

In the middle lies the Mountain Buggy whose swivel mechanism contains mostly metal parts, though there are a few plastic parts and these do on occasion break.  On models older than the last couple of years, some of the plastic parts that do break are not removable from the metal fork making repair difficult.  Additionally the fork holding the front wheel on the Mountain Buggy is held in place by a bolt hidden beneath a plastic cap.  Because the whole mechanism is hidden away, it is rarely oiled and often rusts creating problems down the line.

 The best-of-three in this case, is the EasyWalker sky which, like the Mountain Buggy, has a 12 inch front wheel.  Unlike the Mountain Buggy, all of the parts are metal.  Additionally, the mechanism is created in a remarkably simple manner and although problems can occur, especially if the mechanism is not oiled regularly, this mechanism functions the smoothest of three and is generally the easiest to fix.  It also is one of the only three wheel strollers I have found that uses ball bearings to aid in the smoothness and durability of the swivel mechanism.

 One additional stroller that I can’t help but mention here is the Teutonia Spirit S3as it has potentially the absolute worst front wheel swivel mechanism ever produced.  In my opinion, this stroller should have been recalled for its wide range of defective and weakly designed mechanisms.  The S3’s front wheel epitomizes poor materials and unnecessary complexity being made almost entirely of plastic parts that connect in ways seemingly designed for shock absorption but in effect rob the stroller of any reliable stability while moving over anything but the flattest terrain.

People often ask which chassis is best of the three main types produced by Emmaljunga and a comparison of these will serve as a good closing example for this blog post. By three main types of chassis I’m referring to the City Cross chassis, the Sports chassis and the Classic chassis.

The City Cross is made to be very light and is smaller than the other two.  Early models had problems with the crossbar that provided stability for the chassis, and this chassis still often develops problems with the brakes and wheels as a result of too many plastic components.  In general, from a repair standpoint, the City Cross’s light weight comes at a high cost in poorer quality materials across the board; from foam-decked plastic wheels to a painted aluminum frame. 

The Sports chassis is made of higher quality materials and it's heavier as a result. The rigid handle and strong chrome frame means one can often drag it up stairs or push it over tree roots without much risk of damage.  Unfortunately though, the Sports chassis is composed of a few highly complex mechanisms that involve a variety of plastic components (I am referring mainly to the telescopic handle and the brakes system) that regularly brake and can often be difficult and potentially costly to repair. 

 The Classic chassis is my favorite, at least from a repair point of view. It is made of high quality materials with a minimal amount of plastic and the mechanisms are all very simple and easy to understand. There is very little that can actually go wrong with this chassis. Sure the mechanisms controlling regulation of the handle can break, axles can bend, and chrome does rust if not maintained properly.  But the mechanisms are all just so darned simple.  This means that in the end, very little can go wrong that you couldn't fix yourself.

            Though a bit on the long side, I hope that this blog entry has helped you to understand the value of quality materials and simplicity of design when buying a stroller.  By focusing on these two design elements, I in no way mean to suggest that strollers with complex mechanisms are “bad” or necessarily inferior to strollers with simpler mechanisms.  Bugaboo strollers, for example, have very complex mechanisms (that are generally impossible for owners to repair themselves without access to spare parts) and yet they are definitely a high quality brand and guaranteed to fit some lifestyles better than Emmaljunga, for example.  For some it may also be worth while to sacrifice endurance for light weight in relation to materials.  But these are considerations that one should be aware of in the purchasing phase.  We recently took a trip to the local stroller shop and were amazed at the conversation surrounding us; it was all about colors.  I hope reading this has brought some consideration of technical elements into your purchasing decisions.  As always, we welcome questions and comments. 

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