Sunday, June 03, 2007

Hello, Cielo: A New Lightweight Stroller Design Takes to the Mean Streets

When Mia Moda offered us an opportunity to try one of their slick new strollers, we jumped at the chance. Their lightweight Cielo departs from the traditional umbrella stroller design.

Our family LOVES lightweight strollers. As Ranger came into the world by cesarean, we knew that a heavy travel system would completely overwhelm my lifting restrictions during the long recovery period. We bought the then new-to-the-market Graco Snugrider car seat frame which inspired a diehard affinity for lightweight strollers. After a lot of research, it seemed that the best choice for our family would be the Maclaren Vogue (the precursor model to the recently discontinued, soon to be re-released Maclaren Ryder). We've been exclusively using the Maclaren for about a year and half.

The Cielo is remarkably small when folded. The box it ships is only slightly higher than my knee. The Cielo comes almost completely assembled in its own travel/storage bag (included with the stroller and not an optional accessory). The large rear wheels need to be snapped on to the otherwise assembled stroller (requiring no tools; it took me less than two minutes). There were two small plastic c-clips whose purpose I couldn't determine. I emailed Mia Moda, and it turns out they are spare bumpers for the basket bar in back (these bumpers often contact the ground in stroller folding and may get scuffed up over time).

As soon as I unfolded the stroller, Ranger was all over it. This was bit less than helpful as I hadn't put the wheels on before he climbed on board. Ranger LOVES this stroller, probably for its open sides and unobstructed view. He willingly climbs in it all the time.

Once I had him out long enough to get the stroller assembled, it was apparent he wanted to take a test ride. As I was in my pajamas, we took a stroll through one level of our house. In our progress from the living room to the kitchen, I realized that this nimble stroller could circle the coffee table without hitting the couch and run the obstacle-course gauntlet of scattered toys and books without me having to clear a path. After we easily circled the kitchen island twice and reversed directions in a tight space (1970s kitchen- so this is a bit of a feat), it was apparent that the short front-to-back wheel length offered a small turning radius.

This stroller can navigate a crowded place easily (malls and retail stores jump immediately to mind). We toured the hallway, bathroom, and Ranger's room, before returning to the living room. Ranger was ecstatic, but I didn't know if this was true enthusiasm or simply the novelty of something new.

When I took him out of the stroller, he was reluctant to disembark. I folded it up and he cried and tried to open it himself. After we were ready to head out, we rolled through the rough terrain of our unmowed, unleveled hilly yard. Surprisingly, this stroller only got hung up once. I didn't think any non-jogging stroller could work so well on that rough terrain.

The stroller works well in our hilly neighborhood. The handle placement and shape allow easy hill descent (I often end up kicking the back bar or wheel locks of other strollers going downhill or feel like I am experiencing a gravitational tug-of-war). The center dual brake lock is out of the way of big feet, so we don't accidentally stomp it with a regular (long) stride. With the Cielo, my balance wasn't greatly altered by the stroller and my stride was normal. Going up a steep hill, the circular handle is just right for leaning into the burn.

The large dual wheel brake lock is very effective. When I used this on some pretty steep slopes, the locks responded quickly and the loaded stroller stayed put.

I was worried that the stroller wouldn't be tall enough for us (the pushers). A lot of ultra-portable strollers skimp on height, but the Cielo handle falls comfortably for the around 6 foot crowd.

The back basket on the Cielo is easy to access, stays open, and can be extended lengthwise a couple more inches via zipper. It's detachable and can be used separately. It attaches to the frame with 3 Velcro-type fasteners and two snaps at the bottom of the bag. It can hold a lot of bulk, but when I loaded it with a 48 ounce water bottle, 12 ounce kids' Thermos, and my heavy digital camera, the hook and loop fasteners gave way on 2 out of 3 connection points. It performed well with many more items of more distributed weight.

Though the Cielo's bag is very handy while in use, it does dump a major percentage of its contents if not emptied or removed before folding.

Folding itself is initiated with a one-handed motion, but after a week of attempts, none of the 3 adults in our group could actually achieve a one-handed fold of the entire stroller. It always takes two hands to collapse the stroller back from its upright position to its folded position.

The Cielo arrived the day before we visited Chicago. As Ranger loved riding in the stroller, I thought we could try it in a variety of environments. It packed easily in the car. As it folds compactly and stands one end, its footprint in the cargo area was smaller than my Maclaren Vogue (which allowed us to overpack in new and exciting ways).

We made a detour on our journey to the Windy City to visit Aunt Julie and go to fabulous Conner Prairie (if you live within a day's drive of Indianapolis YOU MUST TAKE YOUR KIDS THERE). Conner Prairie's dirt and/or gravel paths presented no challenge to the Cielo- even where they had been rutted by recent rains.

The Cielo performed admirably in the Chicago suburbs. It worked particularly well maneuvering through stores and crowded spaces. Ranger went from car to stroller and back to car, so the two-handed fold presented no problems for a person traveling alone. The Cielo works well on sidewalks and can tilt over a average height curb.

When we took the train into the city, I was excited because of the Cielo's compact size. As the train drew up to the platform, I folded the Cielo while Grandma held Ranger. Had Grandma not been with us, I would have had to hold Ranger, remove the full stroller bag, fold the stroller, and carry the bag, Ranger, and the folded stroller onto the train. I don't think I could have done this alone without letting go of Ranger for a minute while folding- on a train platform. With my Maclaren I can hold his hand while collapsing the stroller.

The lower level of the train was pretty full, so we ascended the tiny staircase to the second level. To my relief the Cielo fit on the stairway. The Maclaren performs a little better in this tight ascent because of its small side to side dimensions and long height (which mirror the space in the small stairway). I could not have carried Ranger and the Cielo up the tiny staircase at the same time, so we would have had to find seating on the first level of the train if traveling alone.

The second level of Chicago Metra trains provides a great view for kids, but only offers single seating. I put the stroller in my foot space (it fit easily, but left no room for feet). I put my feet into the aisle and could set them on top of it if anyone needed to pass. Again, this would have been a lot harder had I also been holding Ranger. The following photos show the Cielo folded on a single seat, then between two double seats on the floor.

There were two luggage bins suspended over the main aisle of the train. The Cielo would have fit easily on steel bar rack (see next photo: lower left corner), but it would be very precariously balanced over the heads of first level passengers. With a restraint strap, it could be fixed to the rack, but it would be a challenge to get it secure enough not endanger the people below.
The larger open-sided bin (above photo: top center) would have been a much safer option but the Cielo was about 2 inches too thick to squeeze in). I should point out that the bin was fashioned for a different decade and its height couldn't have accommodated my fully-loaded undergraduate backpack either, but an umbrella style stroller would have fit.

We disembarked at Union Station and opened the stroller on the platform. It's possible to open the stroller in a crowd and load the child, but it's not possible to take the time to reattach the cargo bag if it is bearing any weight. We got off the tracks and were confronted by levels of escalators. We could look for an elevator, but what an opportunity to test the Cielo.

The manual and the escalator DO NOT RECOMMEND using the stroller on escalators or stairways. We folded the stroller and Ranger went with Grandma while I carried the folded stroller.

We reassembled the stroller again outside and started looking for our bus. We had problems finding it. Eventually we ended up finding it on the opposite corner of the station from our directions. We were too busy trying to fold the stroller and catch the bus to really think about this development. As a result we ended up on a 45 minute joyride through some pretty tough sections of Chicago. [ If you know Chicago, we took the 126 (Jackson-Austin) instead of the 126 to Michigan and Congress.] Once we got on the bus, I sat next to a mom with beautiful baby boy in a Graco travel system stroller. There was enough room on the bus for a deployed stroller. Wow. I didn't bother folding up the stroller for anymore bus rides after that.

Getting on or off the bus with a deployed Cielo turned out to be a bit of a feat. The Cielo's short wheel base which offers great turning doesn't "reach" as far as a stroller with a longer wheel base. It's my habit to put one foot on the back axle of my Maclaren when pivoting the stroller up and over. With the Cielo, this motion simply sets the brake (can you hear the people behind me groaning with impatience?). I never mastered the practical art of popping a wheelie with the Cielo, so getting on and off buses was really tough. A few very nice people stopped and bent down to assist, but the complete lack of a front axle or handle leaves no good place to grip in the front so they usually just smiled and shrugged.

Disembarking, the gap between the bus and the curb proved very problematic. The weight had to be on the back wheels while the front wheels crossed the gap. Once the front wheels connected with the sidewalk, the angle of tilt to shift the weight onto them and off the rear wheels would have left Ranger's full weight suspended in the five point harness for a few seconds. Rather than dangling the boy like a parachuter stuck in a tree, I'd pull the handle back toward me to slow the descent of the rear wheels into the gap between bus and curb. It was graceless at best and bone jarring at worst.

When Ranger miraculously fell asleep in the stroller, we couldn't lean it back very far. The Cielo reclines only about 6 inches (at the top) from its most upright position. When reclined, the bag's contents are much harder to access. Because of this limited recline Mia Moda only recommends the Cielo for ages 6 months and older. A child must be able to sit upright in this stroller. For upright sleepers, this stroller poses fewer problems.

The Cielo can hold up to 40 pounds of kiddo, but the height of its sunshade is low enough that our tall boy will outgrow it height-wise long before he weighs in at 40 pounds. If your kid is tall to abnormally tall, this stroller may not have a long window for use.

Because so much of this stroller design is built around the back-of-the-seat joint, I got Test Engineer Grandpa to check out the design and construction. He pronounced it safe and secure, but absolutely does not endorse its use as a cargo dolly (I know, most of you are thinking "Really? People do that?," but the other 6 of you should really stop immediately). Using the Cielo seat to haul heavy boxes or goods is not recommended by the manufacturer, and it can create enough leverage to break the stroller's seat.

In summary:
  • Great for traveling by car. It folds up very compactly and has a tiny cargo space footprint. Its two-handed folding procedure is not a problem when you have somewhere to corral your youngster while folding.
  • Great on the uphill and downhill slopes.
  • Very small when unfolded and remarkably maneuverable. This agility translates well into moving through crowded areas or aisles (shopping, airports, etc.).
  • Surprisingly good on grass and rough non-road surfaces. While I wouldn't go so far as to recommend the Cielo for hiking or jogging, it's definitely up to some short atypical detours. Grass medians present no problems for this roller.
  • Seems ideal for air travel. Whether you can get it on the plane with you is probably dependent on the particular flight crew and number of passengers on the plane, but it looks like the Cielo could easily be stowed in an overhead bin (and at only 15.5 pounds weighs far less than most of the stuff stowed up there). The Cielo's fold seems very protective and doesn't leave spindly parts exposed (the Cielo is built without spindly parts), so I would have no problem handing the stroller over in its standard-issue carry bag for flight gate luggage check. Like a turtle, this stroller can protect itself in ways that umbrella strollers can only dream of.
  • Transit situations in busy and/or dangerous environments that require folding and unfolding are problematic with the Cielo. You will probably have to leave your child momentarily unattended while folding/unfolding.
  • Limited recline.
  • Only recommended at and after 6 months of age.
  • Central locking brake: strong and out of the way for walking (even on inclines) but in the way for "popping a wheelie" maneuvers while jumping curbs or crossing gaps.
  • Sunshade is very compact, too compact at times in sunny places.
  • Cargo bag: handy design! Easily accessible! Expandable! Hook and loop closure doesn't hold heavy items with dense footprints (48 oz. Nalgene full of water) though it can hold a lot of normal stuff.
  • Open sides: afford a great view and a sense of freedom for toddlers (if Ranger is any indicator of general toddler opinion). This also means that toys and snacks more easily drop to the ground, but that's really not a big deal compared to the toddler joy this design brings.
  • Clean design: not only does the Mia Moda look good, its folding process releases a lot of the stroller detritus that comes with toddlers and snacks. When you fold it, there is no back of the seat crevice for Cheerios to hide in. so schmutz simply falls away.
All in all, the stroller performs quite well in most day to day situations except for traveling alone with your baby on commuter trains and buses. The materials are quality. All Mia Moda strollers have a one year warranty.

Like all lightweight strollers, the wheels are not heavy duty and may need to be replaced eventually if you're using the stroller with more than one child. Starting in Fall '07, replacements will be available Mia Moda for $18/set plus shipping and handling.

We all like the Cielo. Ranger absolutely LOVES it!

This review is the independent opinion of Baby Toolkit has no relationship with and recieves no compensation from Mia Moda or its affiliates.


Melissa Keleti said...

I can't believe that you posted this review on the same day that I found the Cielo on but you did! Anyway, my husband and I are planning a trans-Atlantic trip with our 8 month old daughter, I'm considering ordering the Cielo to take with us. I usually carry her in the ergo, but for extended touring I'm not sure I want to be without a stroller. I prefer the carrier for shopping and heavy off-roading, but for long walks and mealtimes, I'll need something else to hold the baby. I'm smitten with the Cielo's folding, however, I read this review that says "Handle Bar is cheap feeling Wheel assembly can be loud" Is this true?? Say it ain't so! Please let me know what you think! Thanks!

adrienne said...

Hunh... We're surprised by these comments.

The wheels haven't made a peep- despite some substantial abuse going on and off the buses.

The handle itself isn't a bar but a big ring and its manufacturing and quality seem fine and passed the engineer grandpa inspection.

The handle is kind of springy in a way that umbrella strollers aren't, but that seems a result of the cantilevered seat design. Typically a lightweight stroller's handles connect directly to the wheels, but there is a junction between the handles, the seat, and the ground in this design which cause the feel of the stroller to be different (more flexible).

I think the Cielo will serve you well for the trip- especially combined with an Ergo (those look so great).

Unknown said...

Do you know how tall the seatback is? It seems somewhat short for a toddler. My child is 3 and I wouldn't want her head unsupported.


adrienne said...


The back is 17" high (from the seat crevice). The sunshade is at 26" (with the seat reclined about 22" upright).

Anonymous said...

I have the Mia Moda Cielo and really love how it maneuvers and my 14-month loves being in it. BUT, I have found the front wheels to be noisy and after using the stroller only a handful of times, the fabric on the seat cushion is starting to pill. I've been trying for the last couple days to get through to Mia Moda customer service, but have had no luck so far.

I hoping that the company can rectify the problems, because this is otherwise a great stroller.