Friday, August 22nd, 2008
Stroller Review: Bugaboo Cameleon — Is it really worth it?
When friends and strangers spot the Bugaboo Cameleon we’ve been test-driving for almost four months, their first reaction is, “What a beautiful baby! My he’s big.”
Oh, but sure, conversations invariably turn to the new stroller and eventually its approximate $900 price tag. They all want to know, is it really worth it? Is it a status symbol or does it have a ton of cool features?
I’ll preface this review by explaining that I’m not motivated by style. I’m all function over form. For our first child four years ago we bought a Phil & Ted’s E3 after meticulously comparing strollers without a clue what features would become important to us.
What follows is an overview of our major likes and dislikes with the Cameleon, the sort of stuff that comes to mind when talking to friends. In order not to miss something important, this review is presented partially in the format of bullet point features (claims) found in Bugaboo marketing materials.
Bassinet — A bassinet is a wonderful thing. I’m accustomed to jogging strollers, so it was a surprise plus for our newborn to be laying completely flat and facing us. Moreover, the bassinet’s shade coverage is insane. First there’s a zippered cover that shields the lower half of the infant and then a full sun canopy that makes direct sunlight hitting the kid very unlikely (I dread the task of rubbing chemical sunscreen on an infant).
It felt like you could achieve 80 or 90 percent coverage when you wanted, with a handle in front of the opening, making it sort of like peaking into a cave to see my son. When configured as such, it kept away baby-groping strangers.
The bassinet easily detaches and has a handle for carrying. We didn’t use it, but it would come in handy when completing a walk and wanting to bring the baby inside while storing the chassis elsewhere such as a garage.
One downside is that the same seat frame is used for the bassinet and regular seat and there’s some setup involved in the switch (Velcro straps, inserting a mattress). This is more of an issue if you have an infant and an older toddler who trade off.
Choice of tailored fleece fabric — Our demo had orange and black canvas.
Reversible seat — The seat is easy to reverse. Push a large square button on both sides of the stroller and lift up. It’s a flawless design that gave me a certain satisfaction in hearing the seat click into place.
Reversible handlebar for city or rough terrain — Pull two switches on the handlebar and the bar flips so the stroller can be pushed in reverse. We regularly flipped the bar to alternate between our son facing us and facing outward. You can achieve the same effect by lifting the seat and reversing it, but it’s faster just to flip the handlebar.
If you’ve never had a reversible stroller, hey, it can be a big deal. Our son transitioned from insisting on seeing our faces all of the time to being content watching the world go by. In the early phase, an outward-facing stroller would be untenable.
Having the larger tires in front helps you handle rough and loose terrain better, but it’s slightly harder to steer because the swiveling wheels are now in the rear position.
2-wheel position for sand or snow — I plead ignorance. My wife did the jiggering and couldn’t figure out how to convert to 2-wheel mode using the included photo instructions (Bugaboo provided the above image).
However, the 2-wheel mode strikes me as unnecessary. We dragged the stroller half a mile over several dunes and I’m confident it would have been a pain-in-the-ass either way. Any stroller would be. Once on the flat beach, we used the Cameleon normally with all four wheels and it was delightful. At that point I would have despised being unable to let the stroller stand upright.
3-position tilting seat — It’s an awesome feature. Unlike most strollers that only tilt the back, the Cameleon tilts the entire seat, back and feet together. We regularly used the three positions.
- Lay flat for sleeping (bassinet or not).
- Middle tilt because our son couldn’t sit fully upright yet.
- Full tilt for our 4-year-old daughter.
Folds compactly — Technically, true. However, the Cameleon doesn’t have a one-handed fold. To pop the stroller in your car trunk, you remove the seat and place it somewhere. Then, you (sometimes) flip the handlebar to rest over the big wheels and then pick up the chassis.
While it’s not a difficult process, it’s far enough removed from regular one-piece folds that it was sometimes a psychological barrier that caused us to not bring the stroller with us.
The Cameleon strikes me as best suited to a family that leaves the stroller intact at home ready for use, rather than ferrying it around by car.
In our situation, the Bugaboo Bee might be a better fit because it does offer a one-piece fold.
Swivel wheels with adjustable suspension — The wheels swivel or can be easily locked. The suspension has four settings; we left it on the heaviest setting. Our 4-year-old rode in the stroller on many trips to the grocery store, reporting it was comfortable, but no more comfortable than our Phil & Ted’s stroller.
Extremely maneuverable — True. Swivel wheels are a key feature to have and when combined with the reversible handlebar, it qualifies as extremely maneuverable.
Aerosleep mattress — (for the bassinet) It certainly felt comfy. My wife says, “I would have curled up on that.”
Adaptable to various car seats — An adapter can be purchased for infant carriers such as Graco SnugRide and Peg Perego Primo Viaggio. We don’t own an infant carrier, so I didn’t ask to review this accessory.
Separate bassinet/seat fabric — Ours came in classic orange and black canvas.
Parking brake on the handlebar — (#2 in the image above) The brake sets easily and is in a convenient location. However, when you press the release button on the outside of the handlebar, the plastic brake handle snaps instantaneously downward. If your fingers are in the wrong position, you get smacked. Our son heard his first four letter word on our first outing.
My wife is left-handed, so depending on which way the handlebar was facing (it’s reversible remember) she would get her fingers snapped. It’s a significant usability issue that should be re-engineered in future models.
For children from 0 to approximately 4-years-old — True. The bassinet clearly makes it usable from birth. Our 4-year-old is 39.5 inches tall and her head skims the underside of the stroller shade.
All material is washable — We didn’t wash anything, but the canvas is easily removable via Velcro, snaps, buckles and/or O-rings (a button hole placed over a protruding pin).
5 point harness — Yep, it’s there.
Telescopic handlebar — The handlebar extends 8 inches. To adjust, you twist a knob on each side of the handlebar, pull or push, and then tighten the knobs.
My wife found the handlebar easy to lower to her height preference. I prefer a handlebar that adjusts in predefined increments so that I’m using the same height each time. But in usage, I rarely noticed the height or bothered to adjust the handlebar.
Higher seat/bassinet frame — Our son was much easier to access in the bassinet than when reclined in our Phil & Ted’s stroller. It’s the difference between, say, bending 30 degrees and bending 60 degrees. Thus, it’s much easier to place our boy in and take him out-of the Cameleon.
Larger sun canopy for coverage — The sun shade does descend much further than I’ve seen on other strollers to provide better protection from the sun. It also has three settings (fully retracted, halfway deployed and fully deployed).
Larger underseat bag for storage — It doesn’t look big, but it holds more volume than an average bag because it has a drawstring canopy. Where other bags would spill items, on the Cameleon you can stuff it and cinch it closed. My wife felt more comfortable placing her purse inside because she could hide it from view. The bag’s weight limit is 8 lbs.
(Stroller) weight approximately 20 lbs — Okay, I’ll take their word for it. The stroller wasn’t unwieldy, except on the sand dunes and carrying it up an unexpectedly steep forest trail (see photo near the end of the review).
Because the stroller separates into two pieces for placement in a car trunk, it’s not heavy handling two separate pieces. On several occasions we removed the wheels for car storage and they came off very easily.
Mosquito cover — You remove the sun shade fabric and use the skeleton to slip on the bug cover. It goes on sort of like a hair net. It’s funny looking, but rock solid.
Rain cover — It’s slightly more involved than the mosquito net, but still easy to put on and off. Most importantly, it’s a tailored fit. Many rain covers on other strollers look a bit sloppy, but the Cameleon is snug and sleek.
Okay, But Is Bugaboo Worth the Price?
Oh, come on. You know the question is facetious. First, a $900 stroller must be within your price range. If it’s not, you can buy a $300 stroller and be content, or for that matter, a $50 stroller, depending on your intended use.
So what are you really paying for?
My wife says: “You’re paying for a badass system that has interchangeable parts that work seamlessly from birth to 4-years-of age.”
Other people might be attracted to the custom fabrics, the style and status that Bugaboo represent. As my wife interjects again, “It is very sleek looking and noticeably different.”
In our rural setting where Target is the primary source of baby gear, people are pushing a lot of BOB and Graco strollers. So the Cameleon did get noticed.
For me, the stand-out features are the awesome bassinet, the awesome tilting seat, the awesome sun shade and everything having the feel of being well made. And it comes with a range of accessories… the bassinet, the mosquito net, the rain cover, maintenance kit and tire pump.
If we had the cash to spare, we’d buy one. “If” being the operative word. Are you getting an appreciably better stroller than you can buy for $300 or $500 less? Yes.
Also see: A Flickr set
of staged product photos I shot, but didn’t use in this review. This
has been my second most time-intensive product review. My sanity
willing, the longest will debut in a few weeks.
The Cameleon is available at Amazon, and a million other places.
[The stroller was loaned to Thingamababy for this review. The dark blue micro fleece blanket seen in some photos is a separate accessory we received long before this review clicked into place. Yep, it's warm.]
Hat tip to the grand poobah of stroller gurus, Greg at DaddyTypes. The stroller loan came about after I posted a comment there about the fleece blanket. The Bugaboo PR folks are on it.