Earlier in summer ’13 (I know – it seems a long time ago now) we added a new member to our outdoor family in the form of a lovely new BOB Sport Utility Stroller. With the whole sunny summer and start of a slightly damp autumn to test out our new addition we set to putting the BOB Sport Utility stroller through its paces and throwing all kinds of weather, terrain and quite a lot of mud at it . In that time our BOB Sport Utility Stroller has been through bog, over beach, through the woods and fields and up on the hill tops, all with our now considerably sturdy toddler hitching a ride.
Recently too I have been able to road-test the BOB Sport Utility Stroller with a bump! With a new member of our family due next Spring, carrying our 2 year old daughter whilst pregnant has become impossible for me now.
Choosing which BOB stroller to go with was the first mission. Those familiar with the Baby Routes website will know that my predominant form of outdoor exercise with my daughter is cross-country walking. From a weekend wander on a woodland trail, ideally with a pub lunch at the end of it, a half day hike or a hill-top challenge, I have spent a lot of time since having my first baby finding ways and family friendly routes with which to continue my love of the outdoors whilst encouraging my daughter to appreicate also the delights of the natural world.
It went without saying then that any cross-country stroller we chose had to be rugged and equipped with wheels tough enough to take on tree roots, stoney ground and bogs and suspension smooth enough to stop my daughter feeling every lump and bump. It also had to be highly maneuverable and light – hiking Mums I’m sure will agree that toddlers seem to put on at least a stone in weight when being transported uphill!
The BOB Sport Utility Stroller met all the above criteria and made for an easy choice. What’s more, it is also approved for running and skating. My roller-blades have been in a dusty cupboard since I was about 16 but my travels to Switzerland have proven that skating with a buggy is all the rage on the Continent so who knows? I have tried my hand at running, with a combination of regular walking and jogging helping to tone up my baby belly and get me into shape for my wedding last winter – just over a year after the birth of my daughter. My husband also goes running and has been known to compete in the occasional triathlon or two so the fact that the BOB Sport Utility stroller model is approved for running was an added bonus.
Early days and practicalities
Our new stroller arrived promptly and was well packaged. The majority of the stroller was easy to assemble although it does take a bit of time to accurately attach and adjust the front wheel in order to get it correctly aligned for your use. Roo enjoyed ‘helping’ and we had fun with converting the packaging into a playhouse for her later that evening!
Initial impressions were great – the BOB Sport Utility stroller is much roomier in terms of seat size for your child than many other makes of outdoor stroller the wheels are pretty rugged with a big tread and most definitely looked up to some cross-country action and the suspension, which is adjustable, is also particularly impressive, absorbing a lot of bounce as I proved when perching in it myself!
Better still, the BOB Sport Utility stroller model looks good. I’m one of those people who loves curvy, sporty cars that look like you can almost stroke them. The BOB Sport Utility is their stroller equivalent, with bold vibrant unisex colours, akin to those used for running and sports tops, to match. The fact that the stroller handbook describes its components on the set-up page as its ‘anatomy’ speaks volumes for the kind of look and feel this stroller aspires to. It is certainly a far cry from the ‘Mumsy’ look of traditional baby accessories that I try so hard to steer clear of and is a stroller any Dad would be happy to be seen pushing too.
Storage wise there is a fairly generous basket for gubbins under the seat although high side on the basket and a low slung seat make accessing it tricky for larger items. There is also a storage net on the back of the buggy for a water bottle, windproof layer or lightweight bits and bobs.
As we go on outings both near and far, the next test was to see how easily the BOB Sport Utility stroller is to transport by car.
Collapsing the stroller is easy – remove any stored items (including child!), pull the levers under the handlebar, push forward, pull the handle on the back of the buggy, secure with a clip and hey presto, one folded, secure stroller. The stroller can be wheeled whilst collapsed to the car and is fairly light for its size, although a little bulky, to lift. I can manage it pretty easily though, even with a six month baby bump!
The whole buggy, wheels still attached, fits into the empty boot of my Mazda 6 Estate without a problem, although this wasn’t the case with our VW Polo. Luckily you can remove all three wheels making the stroller considerably smaller and it just about gets in the Polo boot, albeit without much room for additional luggage. In the Mazda, with all wheels off and some clever packing I have managed to fit in both a second stroller (for the shops) and enough luggage to last two adults, one child and two cats for four weeks!
My only niggle with transporting the buggy is that whilst the quick release back wheels are really easy to remove and put back on, the front wheel always needs a bit of a wiggle and readjusting to realign the wheel correctly before its next use – a bit of a pain but not a show-stopper. It’s also advisable to invest in a boot liner or at the least a roll of binbags for the back of the car , ready to transport your detached stroller’s wheels in after any particularly muddy walks!
In terms of public transport – the buggy is great getting it on and off of trains and is no issue in the empty vestibule of the train but you would not want to be travelling on a full train or bus with this stroller – the BOB Sport Utility stroller model is just too big to stow easily without getting in the way, although BOB do make other strollers for city use.
Out on the trail
Having established that our BOB Sport Utility stroller was car-friendly, we headed off for the the hills and trails with our daughter and new stroller in tow. First up was some cross-country field action. We live in the middle of the countryside and so a bit of field hopping is essential. The BOB Sport Utility stroller handled our local fields with ease in all weather. During the scorching summer, the stroller hopped happily over the rock-hard ruts of ploughed earth with the suspension impressively cushioning the ride meaning Roo didn’t even wake from her mid-afternoon nap. A large viewing panel with foldback cover in the hood also meant I could check on my sleeping passenger without disturbing her or stopping moving – a great feature for runners! On damper afternoons in the same field we also managed to navigate the mini-lakes without a problem other than my own poor choice of footwear! So far so good.
Our next trip took us up onto the hill tops on the Ridgeway National Trail. The first half of the 139 km uplands trail is stile free so a perfect venture for pushchair walking and our current personal project. As the trail is fairly flat in places, Roo enjoyed walking for parts of it with the BOB Sport Utility stroller taking the strain whenever we hit a hill. The stroller proved pretty light for uphill stretches and easy to control on the downhill with a wrist strap to stop the stroller rolling off without you. We did find though that the wheels slide whilst the brakes were on whilst travelling on downhill thick gravel patches. I’m not sure how another buggy or even mountain bike would compare with a similar weight on it – I have a feeling that gravel might just be a fairly unforgiving surface to brake on when going downhill.
Woodland trails seemed to be no problem either. I’ve always found the woods to be a bit tricky with a pushchair as tree roots can make for a bumpy ride but the BOB Sport Utility stroller managed these beautifully with wheels big enough to hop over fairly large roots and fallen branches with ease and the super-absorbent suspension coming into play again to prevent too much bounce for our passenger. The fixed front wheel also helps to keep the stroller on course and stop it lurching into the nearest ditch!
Our walk in Stockhill Woods near Wells on a wet afternoon proved a particularly good test. Whilst most of the routes at Stockhill are wide open gravel tracks, perfect for strollers, I naturally opted for a short cut on a lesser walked route which turned out to lead pretty much through the trees on a very muddy bridlepath. I have no idea how horses actually get through on it as the trees were pretty dense and low and the trail almost non-existent in places. We did plenty of root jumping, bog hopping and still we managed to emerge the other side unscathed and without having got stuck once. We were then faced by a fairly steep incline and a few more narrow trails better suited to badgers than buggies whilst exploring different route options. At four and a half months pregnant though I was still able to maneuver the stroller past all the obstacles with my nearly two year old toddler hitching a lift without any issue which says a lot for the light-weight, maneuverable yet ruggedness of the BOB Sport Utility.
A Baby Routes visit to the New Forest also put the BOB through its woodland paces, where again it performed pretty well. Not ones to make things easy for ourselves, one of our routes took in an area of heathland which contained a few well-hidden bogs and drainage ditches. Again – Bobby’s chunky wheels and the large space between front and back wheels meant our stroller had no problems with either bog hopping or wheeling over the rough grass, heather and gorse of the heath. The same can’t be said for us.
BOB on the Beach
Late summer had us heading for the beaches and coastal trails of Cornwall. Our BOB Sport Utility stroller revealed her inner surfer-chick by joining us on the beach at Perranporth, transporting not only Roo but also all our beach kit. Pushing a stroller on a beach, particularly on the soft sand, is hard work. I tried it once with our regular stroller and gave up when Roo was just a few months old and so was surprised to find that the BOB Sport Utility stroller managed pretty well. The soft sand still required some heavy pushing, especially since all our kit and toddler were loaded on board but the harder sand was a breeze with no sinking wheels and we even managed a bit of paddling with it whilst taking Roo for an afternoon stroll to lull her to sleep.
A hot sunny day on the beach also showcases another great feature of the BOB – a huge double hood which effectively removes the need for those horrible black stroller sunshades you see. The seat reclines to pretty much flat with everything but the tips of Roo’s feet are in the shade when the hood is fully pulled down meaning shady snoozing despite the glare of the midday sun. The large water-repellent hood also means you can make a dash for home if you get caught out in the rain without a cover, keeping your little one largely dry.
Out and about
Whilst we have used our BOB Sport Utility stroller predominantly for walking, we have also taken it on other outings. I’ll be honest – if you need a stroller for nipping round the shops or hopping on and off the train with then the Sport model isn’t the one for you. If like me though, you need to be able to occasionally multi-task with one stroller then the Sports stroller is fairly versatile. We have taken Bobby to the zoo, to farm parks, round the Eden Project, on the train and even into town and Roo’s grandparents have road-tested it and been surprised at how light-weight it is to push. The streamline shape of the stroller means that actually, it takes up less space than you first think and we have squeezed it through many a narrow gap. Having said this though, the fixed front wheel does make quick maneuvers of the kind required to weave through crowds heavy work and this model of stroller will dwarf other compactor pushchairs at a crowded restaurant making storage tricky when space is at a premium.
Wet and wintry weather
When we first got our BOB Sport Utility stroller the weather was a bit hit and miss, so I also got a raincover to go with it. One of several accessories, the storm shield has to be one of the best designs for a rain cover on a pushchair I’m yet to see. The entire front panel is see-through giving your child a clear view out but the sides are opaque, made a of a light but durable material that fits easily around the pushchair frame. The transparent front is also made from a more flexible material than the traditional plastic covers meaning that the whole cover is very lightweight and packs away pretty small. The other thing that impressed me was the fact that it stretches right down to under the foot rest which combined with the generous space inside the buggy as well as making it easier to fit the cover if your toddler is attempting to simultaneously kick it back off again! Roo is fine when inside her BOB rain cover yet she screams and hates going in her two other buggies we have used since she arrived if their rain covers are on – I’m guessing the additional space is the reason for her different reactions.
A velcro flap at the back of the buggy means keeping the inside well ventilated without the wet and wind getting in is simple and reduces occurrences of getting fogged up. We have used the cover both in the rain and when it’s just been cold and windy. Having a protective layer like this means walking on exposed sections of a trail in colder weather or travelling at speed in chilly temperatures becomes possible, cocooning your little one from damp air and wind-chill and reducing the need for carrying bulky extra layers.
We have not yet had the chance to test the BOB Sport Utility stroller on snow but will keep you posted on how it copes. With the big treads on the wheels and a great rain cover though I am pretty optimistic.
I’ve been really impressed with the BOB Sport Utility stroller and it has handled most of our needs brilliantly.Having tried other off-road strollers in the past, I would say that the BOB Sport Utility stroller model knocks spots off them all in terms of its ability to handle rough terrain whilst giving your child a comfy ride. This is a serious techy and sporty model designed with its purpose in mind rather than as an afterthought and half-hearted attempt to expand and existing brand’s range.
The features of the BOB Sport Utility stroller all relate to it being pretty thoroughly thought through with the active parent in mind. The wheels are by far the most robust and serious off-roading tyres I’ve seen on a cross-country stroller to date. They have managed all types of terrain without puncture or problem for the best part of six months. The suspension is another favourite feature and a vital twin component of any off-road stroller that many manufacturers neglect – BOB have remembered that there is a baby travelling in the buggy not just the pushing parent! The width of the seat, the comfortable and easily adjustable straps and fantastic compact and light weight rain cover also go a long way to putting this stroller ahead of its competitors.
Smaller details are not forgotten. Gone are the annoying days of a large hood which when folded down takes up most of the headspace for toddler in the seat below. The BOB Sport Utility stroller has two simple pull tabs which simply ruche the hood material up and away from the stroller interior. The peep-through viewing window in the hood is large enough to get a proper look at baby whilst on the move but also comes with a cover flap, meaning you aren’t unwittingly scorching your child in the summer – another simple feature that other manufacturers seem to miss on occasion.
With a growing bump and as a fair weather runner, I’ve not had much of a chance to test out the BOB Sport Utility stroller for jogging but on the occasions I have run with it it has been a very smooth, light push that doesn’t interfere with your stride and its locked front wheel make it particularly stable and easy to maneuver at speed. Oddly, despite being dubious of the fixed height handlebar at first, both myself at 5’9″ and my husband at over 6′ found it a comfortable push.
Of course, as with anything there is always room for improvements! There are a few issues I would love to see addressed for future models of the BOB Sport Utility stroller, although none of them for me were show stoppers.
One key area for improvement is the storage unit. The BOB actually has quite a lot of room in its storage basket but because the BOB is quite low slung and the storage basket has high sides, it make maneuvering larger items into the deep basket tricky. With other buggies I’m used to just flinging my changing bag in the basket and going but this isn’t possible with the high sides of the BOB Sport Utility basket. Maybe a clip-down side on the back of the basket would be a good compromise?
The downside of not being able to fling in my changing bag and go is that sometimes I need to hang it on stroller handles. This makes the buggy pretty back-heavy. It also means you cannot lower the backrest as any bag gets in the way and this also makes the buggy pretty unstable. As this is a sports model I suppose that it has been designed with runners in mind who are unlikely to need the full works with them. It does make it trickier for hikers though or those taking the BOB on a longer day trip where baby gubbins are also necessary.
Whilst on the topic of reclining seats, I did raise an eyebrow when I read in the BOB Sport Utility stroller manual that reclining the seat whilst travelling cross-country is not advised for safety reasons. I’m afraid I’ve flouted this rule on many occasions now (I know, I know) with fortunately no disasters but having the seat in recline definitely makes the stroller back-heavy and you have to take care not to lean on the handlebar excessively or it can tip back. Whilst the buggy is roomy and comfy enough for most children to nod off in the upright position, it’s a bit annoying that the stroller loses the functionality of one of its main features when travelling over terrain it was predominantly designed for! The other niggle is that conversely we can never quite seem to get the backrest up vertical enough for Roo, who likes to command a good view of everything from her chariot! She manages but we quite often prop her up with a spare jumper to avoid her leaning forward without support.
The poor braking capacity of the BOB Sport Utility stroller on gravel is another issue. I’m not entirely sure how much can be done about this as even braking on a mountain bike on gravel causes some skidding but it would be great if this could be improved.
Finally, the locked front wheel can be a bit off-putting for those who aren’t used to it. According to the team at BOB, having a fixed locked front wheel is a must in order to be approved as a running stroller. The locked front wheel is on the whole fantastic for proper off-roading hikes – preventing both pushchair, toddler and possibly you ending up in a ditch when on bumpy ground! However if you are mainly going to be using your stroller for fairly flat tracks, roads or in crowded places then I would recommend choosing a different model. Maneuvering the fixed wheel through quick changes of direction is tricky and on the rare occasions I take our stroller to more everyday settings, I find myself often lifting and pivoting the buggy which quickly takes a toll on your wrists!
On the whole though, none of these issues would stop me from recommending the BOB Sport Utility stroller to outdoor parents looking for a pushchair up to the task of serious cross-country hiking or running. It’s light-weight, roomy and easy to use and beats other off-road strollers I’ve tested out to date hands down.
For more information on the BOB Stroller range, please visit the BOB Active Parents website.
Readers should be aware that Baby Routes received a complimentary stroller for the purpose of undertaking this review. All opinions however in the review are very much my own and an honest representation of my experience with this product.