Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Why I am purchasing the Contours Options Tandem II stroller (and summary of online parent reviews)

The Research Process

When I found out we were pregnant with our second child, I had it in my head that I wanted to find a side-by-side jogging stroller that I could have my kids facing me or facing outward. I wanted a jogger, because the larger wheels would be easier to push through the snow in the parking lots (we get snow five months out of the year where we're living now). After looking around on the internet, I was not seeing any jogging stroller that had this capability (not anything close to my price range) and many parents mentioned in their jogging stroller reviews how tough it is to push any side-by-side through a standard doorway. That's fine if you're just outside, but we use strollers indoors a lot. Even if you're just using it outside, a lot of sidewalks aren't that wide, and what if another pedestrian or cyclist needs to pass you? Side-by-sides can also veer to one side if you are pushing two children of different weights.

So I realized I would need to reconsider what I was looking for. I started looking for a tandem stroller with larger wheels that would push smoothly that I could have my children face me or face outward. There are few strollers out there that fit this description, and in most cases only one child can face and you have to use an infant car seat in order for the child to face you.

I discovered two strollers with large-ish wheels that allow for multiple configurations without the use of the infant car seats: the Baby Jogger City Select and Kolcraft Contours Options Tandem.

Here's the breakdown on the difference

The Contours stroller comes in three models:

Contours Options Tandem: first model they came out with, red in color, retails for around $200

Contours Options Tandem II: second model, gray with orange, canopies are adjustable in height, deeper seats, child cup holders, iPod dock and speaker, retails for around $240

and Contours Optima (yeah, Optima like the Kia Sedan?): improved frame weight with use of aluminum, comes in black/red combo or brown/green combo, no toddler handles, no toddler instep, no iPod dock and speaker, retails for around $290

Baby Jogger City Select: lighter weight frame, comes in red, black, white or purple, larger wheels, retails for about $400-$600. Second seat sold separately for around $140. Belly bar sold separately for $25 each/$50 for two. Child cup holder sold separately for $20 each/$40 for two. Parent console with cup holder and mp3 dock & speaker sold separately for around $50. While its possible that Baby Jogger makes a high quality stroller, totaling a minimum of ~$680 to match Contours Options II isn't something most parents can swing.

*Prices do not include tax or shipping

Making the Choice

For some it seems like a no-brainer at this point.

While $240 + tax + shipping is a LOT of money for the Hyde family to spend on a stroller, I managed to get a Contours Options II cheaper than Amazoncom on sale at Kmart.com plus used a coupon to save almost $60 (off the total...bringing the total to $248 [Allstate Motor Club members find a coupon online to get Kmart discount. Occasionally you can find these strollers on eBay as well]). We usually try to find pricier items like furniture etc. at second-hand stores and yard sales for a fraction of the price, but once in a while I decide I would like to have something brand new that I picked out to suit my own taste and will be durable. Besides, I did find fully 100—yes one hundred—single strollers on BabiesRus.com that cost more than this one. That's not even counting the double strollers that are even more costly.

Our current stroller is so old I haven't even been able to find any information about it on the internet (such as recall info or used one on eBay). It always veers to the right. It is completely blue (from the parent tray to the wheels), which is one of my husband's favorite colors and just fine for most people with little boys, but its actually my least favorite color! The canopy is missing the center piece, so it sags in the center and sometimes the screws that hold the canopy on come out. Only the left brake works; the right brake is broken off. Sometimes when we are collapsing/opening the stroller the fabric gets caught in the hinges making the whole thing inoperable. It only reclines to a completely flat position and the harness only goes around the baby's waist, so while I was waiting on my little guy to gain ability to sit up, there was always a chance we'd go up a curb & he could fall out the back head first! (And I won't talk about the times he fell forward) The belt is so difficult to adjust, we've only done it twice—and he's 2 years old! The seat dos not “cradle” the baby at all, so with my little guy having very low muscle tone, he was 9 months or so before the seat seemed really appropriate for him. As a young baby, he couldn't turn his head to see me either, which always left him thinking Mommy was gone. He would cry every time I put him in there, because he thought I left him. I think the stroller originally came with a tray for the baby's snacks/toys, but it was gone by the time the stroller came to me.

...But I remind myself they don't have strollers in third world countries...they just strap the baby on their back (I strapped the little guy on my chest on a regular basis when he was a little smaller, and it was a lifesaver). I am thankful that I have a stroller at all. The bright side of all of this is having used this stroller for two years has set my expectations so low that anything with a fully-functional canopy would be an improvement.

Details about Contours Options Tandem II

The coolest thing about this stroller is in the name: options. There are 7 seating options with this stroller. Your kids can #1 both face you, #2 both face forward, #3 face each other, or #4 face away from each other. #5 With the car seat adapter, you can put most models of infant seats on the stroller in place of one of the seats. #6 The car seat can go in either spot (but its easier to push with the heaviest child in rear). #7 A second car seat adapter is sold separately if you have twins (but I think only a couple models of infant seat work with this configuration). You can only face the infant seat toward the parent.

The biggest drawback to this stroller is that you must remove one or both seats each time you fold it down, in order to get the most compact fold. While most parents reported that the seats easily click on and off, for some it was a deal-breaker.

The stroller weighs quite a bit at 44.4 lb according to the manufacturer, but its worth keeping in mind that when you set it up, you are lifting at least one piece of it separately; its not quite that much. Many parents reported it wasn't really a problem to them, since most double strollers weigh A LOT. If that is the only deal-breaker for you, you could go for the Optima model, which weighs almost 8 lb less. (Hey, I need to do some strength-training anyway to prepare for breastfeeding and soothing a new baby!)

It is freestanding in the folded position, so it will not flop onto the dirty parking lot as soon as you let go. This could really come in handy when we find ourselves in a restaurant, which is unavoidable anywhere that we walk from our car to the restaurant (places like big cities, the mall, or an amusement park). Parking our stroller in a cramped restaurant is annoying to everyone. Our current model won't fold down without flopping to the ground, thus becoming even more of a tripping hazard.

The belly bars are kind of an added safety feature, as well as a place to hang toys, pouches of stuff, and a spot to hang onto for your toddler. They have a double-action hinge that swivels both out and down. I guess if they really bug you, you don't have to put them on. If you're using a blanket to keep the sun/rain/wind off, the belly bar will help keep the blanket out of baby's face. The extra big canopies help with this, too.

Yes, this is a tandem stroller, and yes, it is looong. But most parents reported it is easy to maneuver compared to other tandem strollers. You can push it with one finger. Turning works just fine as long as you're not in the clothing racks at WalMart. Its shorter than some other tandem strollers on the market.

The canopies are adjustable in height, so you can lower them to keep sun out of a younger baby's eyes, or raise them for your taller toddler. They're pretty big compared to many strollers. They have peek-a-boo screens that roll back or Velcro down for protection from the sun. The canopies have pouches for the iPod speakers, but parents reported this only works for one canopy at a time, which seems a little unfair. One random thing that is neat (but that I probably won't use) is the iPod dock and speakers. There is a dock that you can attach—and remove—from the parent tray that apparently feeds music to somewhere in the stroller. Take the dock off and use the little stand to stand your iPod on a table. It also has an adapter insert for iPod mini.

The foot rests are reportedly adjustable, but I don't have the stroller yet to check how this works.

The basket on this thing is huge. The long frame accommodates a large, easily-accessible basket, which is especially easy to access if you're using the car seat adapter or your children are facing each other. If you remove one seat to use this as a single stroller, you can use the extra space to stash groceries, purchases at the mall, or winter coats etc.

There are two deep cup holders for the parent, and a deep, rotating cup holder on each baby's seat. They have slits in them so gunk and liquid won't collect in there. There is no snack tray, so thumbs down on that. I'm hoping to get the Star Kids Snack and Play Travel Tray , so I can serve the kids meals in the stroller if needed & they can play with toys on it without them constantly falling to floor. Parents reported that the parent tray on the handle bar was very spacious. It can be removed and is top rack dishwasher safe!

The handle does not adjust in height, but most parents reported it was still comfortable for taller parents.

A lot of strollers have 6” or 4” wheels. This one has 8” wheels for easier pushing. The brakes are two individual locking foot brakes. Some strollers come with one bar across the bottom, which would have been nice here, but I think having the individual brakes accommodates parents with longer strides. I would have liked hand brakes, but haven't seen any strollers other than joggers that come with hand brakes.

Durable: nearly all parents reported this stroller being sturdy and durable. Comes with a one-year warranty. In a couple reviews I found, the wheels fell off and the company replaced the stroller, no problem. One person complained that she thought the tires were cheapo, but I would argue that this is the same sort of material nearly all standard stroller tires are made of.

Seats can either sit upright, partly reclined, or reclined to nearly flat. They adjust with the motion of one hand. A few parents complained that their 2 year old could not lay down to sleep in this stroller as the seat back is not high enough. Other parents who said they have a tall 2 year old said this wasn't a problem. I guess this part depends on your individual child and whether they'll be sleeping in it!

There are a few nice little extras on the Options II, that for some reason Kolcraft did away with when they came out with the Optima model. There are little handles for a toddler to hold onto if he is walking beside you in a crowded place. There are little “steps” on the sides for a toddler to climb into the stroller. (Kolcraft also did away with the iPod dock on the Optima model. I think they were trying to make the weight of the stroller look better on paper.)

Assembly: I didn't really find any complaints related to assembly, other than a parent who reported you must remove some pins that are meant to be place-holders only. You replace them with screws that are included in the box, but I guess some people didn't get the memo and it fell apart.

As for the styling on here, this is the most stylish, modern-looking double stroller in its price range. Looks similar to the pricier Baby Jogger. The gray/orange combo is not quite as appealing to me as the color combos on the other models of this stroller, but I like it and will probably do a little crafty embellishing of my own to “up” the cool factor. I looked at a lot of photos that showed the fabric being deceptively “tan”. Parents said that it is decidedly gray.

Babble editors chose not to include this stroller on their list of Top Double Strollers. I think it must be due the weight and the complication of removing a seat to fold the stroller compactly.

You can only purchase the additional car seat adapter with red accent to match the first model. Thumbs down there.

Check Back Later for the Real World Test

Is this stroller going to completely spoil me so I can never go back to using a regular Graco single stroller? Or will I be sorry I spent so much?


Kristy said...

So, how do you like this stroller? I too am debating between the city select & contour options ll. I worry about the weight mostly (I regularly walk a mile uphill both ways with the stroller) The price of the city select is what gets me.
-I came across your blog googling city select vs contour.

Marcia Hyde said...

So after getting in some use with two kiddos in the stroller, I find it is quite weighty and is harder to steer with a 35 lb toddler in the front, but I'm still satisfied with the purchase.

Mara Shep said...

Hello I am also stuck on which one to purchase... the options stroller or the city select. Why did you choose the contours instead of the city select?? Have you tried the city select?

Marcia Hyde said...

It was a price issue. I am sure the City Select is awesome.

ann niza said...

how about the contours options LT tandem? is it the same one with contours options?

Marcia Hyde said...

Ann - I would recommend that LT over the model I reviewed here, as the LT is lighter and easier to lift! That model came out later after I bought mine.

Anonymous said...

Hi! I own the first edition of the Contours Tandem stroller in red. It took my husband a month or so before we realized it actually DOES fold closed with the seats in it.

Heres a video that shows how :)


its shown at 0:46. Both seats have to be in that specific position to close, but it works wonders.

I chose the contours vs the city select because of the enormous price difference. I live in Canada, and to get the city select with the extra seat I was looking at at least $800 after taxes and accessories. I purchased the contours tandem for about $300ish at Babies-r-us during their babyfest sale. It included the extra seat, ad well as the car seat adapter and it was about $100 off the original price.

Best of luck!