Hands-on Gear Review
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Street Price: Varies from $599 - $750 | Compare prices at 3 resellers
Pros: Easy Setup, easy attachment to bike, aerodynamic shape, on board accessory storage, parking brake, versatile
Cons: Heavy, excessive play at hitch, limited storage
Best Uses: Getting a workout in with your child in tow, family outings
We drug this trailer around on a daily basis for six months, in rain and heat, on dirt roads, bike trails, the beach, you name it we took it there. We even took it some places we probably shouldn't have… (note: mountain bike trails may be to narrow for a trailer.) But after all of our adventures, the Thule Chariot Cougar 2 is still going strong. Winner of our Editors' Choice award, you will be hard pressed to find a better trailer for your child toting needs. Top-notch construction and design with unmatched ease of use made this one hard to get back from our testers. We love this trailer, and most importantly our kids love riding in it. Its only downfall is a lack of cargo space, so we recommend dedicated commuters look at the Burley D'Lite, winner of our Top Pick Award. Read on for our full review.
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OutdoorGearLab Editors' Hands-on Review
The Thule Chariot Cougar 2 is a top-of-the-line bicycle trailer, and the winner of our Editors' Choice Award. Thule, a company most recognized for their high quality vehicle rack systems, bicycle racks, and cargo boxes, recently acquired the Chariot brand, and has brought their well loved designs into the Thule family of products. Chariot trailers have been in production since 1992, and have an almost cult following in the outdoor community. Despite the recent acquisition by Thule, the rebranded Thule Chariot does not have any notable differences from the previous model. The trailers are still made in Canada under the direction of the original owners.
The Thule Chariot Cougar 2 stands out from the crowd with a simple, intuitive folding design, and easy attachment to the bike. Overall ease of use is paramount to our testers. When you have a fussy baby, being able to get moving quickly is critical. A simple, easy to use product equals more time for you on the bike. Other standout features include adjustable suspension and a well-designed cover with a retractable sunshade. No other trailer we tested has adjustable suspension, making the Thule Chariot a capable off-road option. The Chariot meets ASTM safety standards, and the easy to use adjustable padded five-point harness makes securing your child a breeze. A plethora of optional add-on kits such as skis and jogging kits add to the versatility of the trailer, and provide you with options for all seasons.
Protection for Child
The Thule Chariot Cougar 2 meets ASTM safety standards, and receives high marks from our testers here. The anodized aluminum frame of the Chariot is well constructed, and designed to protect the occupants in the case of a crash or roll over. The Burley D'Lite was our top scoring product in this category, due to its horizontal roll bar that provides unmatched roll over protection. However, the lateral frame tubing on the Chariot extends well over the height of the seating area and should prevent a child from coming into contact with the ground in the case of a roll over. The well-designed 5-point harness system is padded and easy to adjust to the size of the child. A pad on the seat ads some extra cushion so that he child is not sitting directly on the trailer frame.
The cover does a good job of keeping out light rain, and has a retractable sunshade, which our testers found to be quite effective at preventing sunburned faces. Other trailers we tested, such as the Burley Bee, do not have a sunshade, which can be an issue on long rides or on hot days. We did have some issues with wheel spray water getting in under the cover flap, but this was an issue that all of the trailers we tested suffered from to some extent. Additional safety features include wheel guards, a hub engaged parking brake, and a safety flag for visibility.
Ease of Attachment, Storage, and Assembly
This is where the Thule Chariot Cougar 2 stands out from the crowd. We love the ezFold™ system used to collapse the canopy for storage or travel. The release knobs are located on the outside of the trailer for easy access. Other trailers we tested, such as the Burley Bee and Burley D'Lite, are collapsed by manipulating the frame inside of the trailer. This design is more time consuming and requires partial removal of the cover. The Chariot also employs push button axle wheels that make wheel removal quick and easy. Our testers were able to complete assembly and attachment of the trailer in 1:30 after some practice, and this is the fastest time of any trailer we tested.
The hitch and tow bar design make attachment very easy, and the parking brake prevent the trailer from rolling around during the process. Once folded the Chariot is still quite large, and you will need a vehicle with a decent amount of cargo space to transport the trailer to your destination.
Ease of Towing
Overall, we found the Thule Chariot Cougar 2 to be easy and enjoyable to tow. The aerodynamic design is a huge help when towing with a head wind, and the lower side profile helps with stability in cross winds. Other trailers we tested, such as the Burley D'Lite suffered a bit more in the wind due to a less aerodynamic profile and a larger side profile to catch the wind.
The 20" wheels employed by the Chariot roll over obstacles well, and the adjustable suspension helps smooth out the ride and limits vibration and feedback felt through the bike frame. Our one complaint is a lurching and clunking feeling felt with hard accelerations, which is due to the design of the hitch and tow bar. The ball on the end of the tow bar has some play fore and aft with the receiver. When you accelerate rapidly, the ball slides to the back of the receiver, causing a lurching feeling as the trailer begins its acceleration slightly after the bike. This is really only an issue with stop and go riding and is not felt when cruising at a steady pace. Turning radius is similar to all of the trailers we tested, right hand turns at slow speed can be a problem if the rear tire contacts the tow bar. This is an issue that all trailers suffer from, related to attachment at the hub of the rear wheel.
Smoothness of Ride
The Thule Chariot Cougar 2 is our best scoring trailer in this department. Our passenger survey was unanimous. We attribute the excellent ride quality of the Chariot to its adjustable suspension. The Chariot uses a leaf spring suspension system on each wheel that can be adjusted based on the total weight you are carrying in the trailer. We found that the settings based on total pounds being carried were a good starting point, but most of our testers preferred the springs to be set slightly softer than recommended by Thule. The suspension does not eliminate all vibration, but it will take the sting out of the unexpected encounter with a pothole or bump in the road. We found that the suspension was especially useful when venturing off road and during operation on uneven surfaces. The Thule Chariot is the only trailer we tested with adjustable suspension, and is a step above the others. The Burley D'Lite uses an elastomer suspension system that is not adjustable, and while it is better than the unsuspended trailers we tested, it does not quite measure up to the Thule Chariot.
The Thule Chariot Cougar 2 is our top scoring product for versatility. Thule offers a range of conversion kits, including a jogging kit and a cross-country ski kit. It also comes with stroller wheels. Burley offers these kits for the D'Lite as well, but Thule takes things a step further with on-board external storage for the stroller wheels with their versa wing system, and built-in storage for the bicycle tow bar. These features allow you to tow your trailer to a destination, and quickly convert it to a stroller once you arrive. Our testers loved this feature and we used it far more frequently than we thought we would. Some of our testers even felt that their jogging and car seat strollers were obsolete after experiencing the versatility of the Chariot.
The Thule Chariot Cougar 2 is best suited to active families with one or two children. It is an excellent bike trailer that tows well in the wind, and was well liked by our testers that frequently ride for exercise and training. The ability to use it as a jogging stroller with the conversion kit was a big plus for our athletic testers trying to stay fit with a little one in tow. We used it for commuting as well, but the lack of cargo capacity was a limiting factor, and we found ourselves grabbing the Burley D'Lite for trips to the grocery store. For dedicated athletes, excellent ease of use and multisport appeal make up for the lack of cargo space, but commuters may prefer the D'Lite.
There is no getting around the $830 price tag (as tested with the bicycle conversion kit that is an additional $80 to the $750 MSRP). The Thule Chariot Cougar 2 is more expensive than any other trailer we tested. The Burley D'Lite similarly equipped with a stroller kit is $718, and Burley offers similar conversion kits. What you get with the Thule Chariot Cougar 2 is a highly refined trailer, with unmatched ease of use. The ability to convert the trailer to a jogging stroller is an added bonus, and can save you some money and storage space by allowing you to purchase a single product instead of two. Despite the high price, we feel that the Chariot is still a great value.
The Thule Chariot Cougar 2 is the winner of our Editors' Choice Award due to its strong scores across the board in all of our rating metrics. It is a highly refined product with unmatched ease of use. Features such as adjustable suspension and onboard storage for conversion kits set the Chariot apart from other trailers on the market. If we had to pick a trailer to recommend to our friends and family, this would be the one. The almost cult following that the Chariot enjoys is well deserved, consider us converts.
Other Versions and Accessories
Thule offers a range of strollers and trailers, including a single occupant version, the Thule Chariot Cougar One-Child Carrier. They also make single function trailers such as the Cadence and Coaster models. One of the strong selling points of the Thule Chariot Cougar 2 is the broad range of conversion kits. We have outlined some of the key ones below and you can read here for more information.
— Curtis Smith
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Most recent review: July 18, 2014
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