Sunday, July 22, 2007

Strollertown: Maclaren Vogue, A Traveler After Our Own Hearts

Once Ranger entered the world, we dealt with the looming reality that we would need a real stroller to replace his SnugRider car seat frame stroller in just a few short months. I had no idea how fast he would outgrow his car carrier, so I started stroller research soon after his birth.

Again, the travel system strollers looked less functional than their competitors. There were ample online complaints about their wheels, their weight, their turning radius, and their slightly bloated size.

Here were my stroller minimum requirements; the stroller should:
  • not hog my station wagon's cargo area,
  • not weigh more than the pile of books I keep by the bed,
  • include a good sunshade,
  • have ample seat support (remember losing the feeling in your feet while riding in 70s umbrella strollers?),
  • recline FULLY (this was a big deal as kids without good head support should online ride reclined and babies sleeping in the stroller can be a good, good thing!),
  • be durable (should last through multiple children),
  • fold easily,
  • steer with one hand,
  • be tall enough for us,
  • and be able to jump curbs and navigate yards and uneven surfaces in a pinch.
Things we didn't care about:
  • snack tray,
  • huge storage basket,
  • rain cover,
  • ability to attach car carrier,
  • storage bag,
  • and ease of use in air travel.
We chose Maclaren's Vogue which received great reviews online from both pros and parents, and it tested well in the store.

First-timers: Don't be afraid to take the demo stroller for a spin all around the store (with an eye for obstacles: real or improvised). Be sure and throw something heavy in the seat so you're getting a real feel for the stroller's performance... We were testing the stroller in a Target, so good ballast would have been a few large bags of sugar. People may give you completely bizarre looks, so be ready with a weepy "Little Domino, PLEEEEEZE stop crying." If you're in a baby store either flats of organic baby food (it comes in heavy glass jars) or massive formula canisters will quickly add up to baby weight- 20 to 30 pounds.

Pay attention to maneuverability, how your back and arms feel, whether you feet kick the lock or back bar, and where you will put the typical parent gear (baby bag, toys, etc.) when the seat has an occupant with human needs. Look for weak or cheap parts. If anything is worn or broken on the demo stroller, it will probably break for you too after some use. Fold and unfold the stroller repeatedly. This is really important. You'll get lots better at folding a stroller with real world use, but even as a total newby you will recognize the strollers that will infuriate you.

Avoid light colors unless you can live with visible dirt and stains. Strollers regularly pick up scuff marks as well as baby and toddler residue. Juice cups will be spilled. Washable covers are nice, but it's somewhat unrealistic to expect yourself to have time to regularly disassemble, wash, dry, and reassemble the stroller. After market stroller covers exist for just this reason, but that is for another post.

Anyway, the Maclaren Vogue stole our hearts with its smooth performance and clean design and my mom's wonderful prayer group friends bought it for us. This was such a great gift! The Vogue was then $200 at Target. The Vogue model has been retired by Maclaren (but is a close relative to the Maclaren Ryder which will be back on the market this fall.

When we were working on our Cielo review, I started wondering about replacement wheels for the Vogue (all lightweight strollers have lightweight wheels). Our Vogue is in fantastic shape, but we'd like see it used for more than one kid, so replacement wheels seem an eventuality. I emailed Maclaren and ended up learning a lot.

The Vogue was actually going off the market when we chose it. Turns out that some of the big box stores only buy soon-to-be-discontinued products from specialty manufacturers like Maclaren. The ramifications of this for the consumer? It may be harder to get replacement parts, but you benefit from discount store pricing. You won't be getting the absolute newest features, but you're still getting a quality product from a good manufacturer.

Maclaren's online parts ordering wouldn't allow me to purchase replacement wheels online. I emailed their parts people and they wanted my stroller to visit a Maclaren Service Center for inspection and replacement. This was sort of a problem as my stroller is in fabulous condition after over a year and a half of heavy use and I wanted the wheels on reserve for when mine wear down (they still look great). The nearest service center to my Southern Indiana home was south Georgia, so I couldn't just stop by. Maclaren's service centers are not in the Midwest or the Plains states. They're primarily near NYC, sprinkled in the southeast and in California. That leaves a HUGE service gap in the middle of this large nation.

So, I called the Maclaren customer service number which has the very odd hours of 8:30 am to 1 pm. Well, it turns out that Maclaren employees (with their handsome British accents) aren't taking really short days in Connecticut, they're working full days in England.

Part of the problem in getting replacement wheels is my specific model of Maclaren. Apparently some newer models- like the crimson red Maclaren Techno XT- don't always require inspection for replacement wheels.

Maclaren USA is looking for service centers in the middle US. They're just not in place at this time. Bummer, but not a real crisis in my mind. I think our well made Maclaren probably won't need service any time soon.

Back to the stroller itself, the Vogue came standard with a rain cover and retractable leg supports. While we didn't really consider either of these features before purchasing, these two items have turned out to be very significant. The leg supports make for longer stroller naps! The cover (while great in rain) is EVEN BETTER for shielding the baby in windy environments and making a little insulated bubble in cold weather (and while I'm not that into strolls in rainstorms, I do like winter walks).

The stroller doesn't have vast storage space and it can be hard to access the under-stroller basket when the seat is fully reclined, but we don't take oodles of stuff on our stroller trips. Like many lightweight strollers, the Vogue can tip backwards if you hang a heavy baby bag around the push handles. There's a British made counter-weight system that remedies this, but I just don't hang anything very heavy from the push handles. Another remedy for rear tipping would be placing gear in stroller saddlebags. (Skip Hop's model pictured.)

The Vogue is a true family favorite. It navigates easily over real world environments and obstacles and provides a very comfortable place for an infant or tot. We look forward to its newest incarnation this Fall as the soon to be re-released Ryder.

Another fine product from the company that pioneered high quality lightweight strollers.

*This review is the unsolicited, independent opinion of Baby Toolkit. We did receive a free set of replacement wheels from their American service center after our phone call, but that may be because I totally geeked out about the stroller in my phone call and scared them with my stalker-like enthusiasm.

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