Caution, Live Cargo!

Last month, in Vlissingen in the Netherlands, DTW came across a pram museum. They’ve got wheels, so we’ll write about them.

Oudekinderwagens, Vlissingen
Oudekinderwagens, Vlissingen

When I was a student designer, there was a clear difference between the straight from A level bunch, like me, and the ‘mature students’, some of whom were maybe just 3 or 4 years older than me, but who had seen a bit of life. That ‘bit of life’ might have been bumming around the world, or it might have been all that grown-up stuff like parenting, and those people could interest themselves in a project like designing a pram or a baby buggy in a way that I never could. By that, I don’t mean that my ambitions were only to draw ludicrously impractical sports cars – I was quite interested in doing something a bit more worthwhile, especially since, with the Arab Israeli Conflict, the activities of the Baader-Meinhof Group and, as the final nail, Showaddawaddy being near the top of the charts, it was clear that society as we knew it was coming to an end. No, my problem was that I could never really appreciate the difficulty in piloting a clumsy wheeled device with a screaming passenger through a crowded supermarket, since, although I’d read both On The Road and Nausea, I lacked any actual experience of the real problems of life.

Royale oudekinderwagens-nl

I don’t know if my parents ever pushed me in a full blown, old fashioned pram, but I do remember having a short-term affection for my old pushchair when I was, maybe, 4 or 5. It was a pretty crude device of hinged pressed metal, but it had wheels like a car so I pushed it around making Brrmmm noises. But, in the end, the differences were too great and it was soon discarded as being no fun. It’s not always fun for a lot of parents too. I saw someone the other day, looking at his twin pushchair and obviously wondering how he was going to manage it, and a trolley, around a large supermarket. Still, his problems would have been far greater 50 years ago – though I suspect that, back then, his mid 20th Century counterpart might have skived off both shopping and pram duty with the excuse that his masculinity might be compromised.

I have a fair amount of experience pushing industrial trolleys, pallet lifters and the like around. Doing it deftly requires a fair amount of skill. Even supermarket trolleys offer a challenge and, if there’s a gap in the aisles, I’ll still usually take the opportunity to polish my J-turn. Recently I have had some experience of adult wheelchairs, both manual and electric. Fortunately, I don’t need one yet, but the transition to pushing a living cargo has been salutary – pitching my Mum forward recently after hitting a bump on a brick path was not pleasant for me, let alone her.

Our test route revealed frontal lift at surprisingly modest speeds.
Our test route revealed frontal lift at surprisingly modest speeds.

The old fashioned pram, formally and rather pretentiously known as a Baby Carriage, was an unwieldy device. Its primary purpose was to be a moving fortress, protecting Baby from the threats of the surrounding World. Its secondary purpose was often to show the World how well you’d done for yourself or, maybe, how much you valued Baby. In a low third place was the need to get it round corners or over steps. Women (for the main part) put up with this for decades whilst men (for the main part) just tweaked the shapes of the handles, and fiddled with the spokes.

The first successful lightweight buggy was the Maclaren, designed in 1965 by an aeronautical engineer. This was inspired by seeing the unwieldy chair being used by his daughter for her child. It’s another example of first-hand experience producing the best ideas. They weren’t cheap, especially for something that might only be used for 2 years, and more affordable alternatives appeared. Indeed I remember young parents on my course discussing the Maclaren, and at least one coming up with an impressive design

Others followed, with even Land Rover cashing in at one time by giving their name for Pegasus to use on a version of one of their ‘all terrain’ buggies. Silver Cross, the long-established manufacturer of baby carriages, has diversified into the modern world, yet still offers retro carriages for those nostalgic for a time they never knew. Maclaren are still around, sticking like many others to their 8 wheel (4 sets of twins) concept, though some prefer the more compact and sporting tricycle configuration and there’s no doubt that the business of hauling children around these days is far less labour intensive than that demonstrated by many of the cumbersome if endearing devices on show in the Vlissingen museum.

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But from my overview of what is now available, if I were a parent today, I’d find myself in the same situation that I experience when buying any consumer item, except a car. Since I don’t subscribe monthly to What Pram?, Pushchair & Pushchair Conversions or Buggy World, I would come to the market ignorant, to be confronted with a plethora of solutions, some probably excellent, some not so. In addition, wanting the very best for Baby and not wanting them to grow up feeling deprived, I’d need to ensure that the pushchair came with a respectable badge. Fortunately, and predictably, arch brand tarts Ferrari and Aston Martin can provide on that front.

BMW Buggy theverybesttop10-com

20 thoughts on “Caution, Live Cargo!”

  1. My kids are just passed being pushed around in buggies but this is all very familiar Sean. Didn’t know the history behind Maclaren but for their combination of lightness, maneuverability, indestructibility and instant foldability they were by far the best. If you need go anywhere ruggedness combined with ultimate long distance comfort (ie getting them and keeping them asleep ) I found the Phil & Ted’s a bit heavy but worth the extra effort required to push them.

    1. Not having children, my interest is somewhat vicarious. Objectively, there’s probably need for three or four different pushchair designs on the market, but you can say that about so many products and, of course, there are many – multitude of choice is a prison we’ve made for ourselves. As with cars, I’m sure that, for some of those who can afford it, vanity comes into play as much as practicality.

    2. Prams: possibly the main driver to get people to buy huge cars. Actually, it’d be cheaper to leave prams at the homes of relatives visited most and rent a big car occasionaly. Three prams, secondhand cost a few hundred quid, a whole new/er car, about five thousand but people often spend much more.

  2. My sister-in-law insisted on a Land Rover three wheeler for my niece. It was about as good as a third-year ID product could be, but heavily branded. Cynical, really cynical. It was adequate for summer use – the valves on the plastic wheels are almost innaccessible to a connector so pumping is very hard to do.
    Another useless version is made by Stokke: it has hard, small wheels and is tall. It might just work in a shopping mall but is useless on pavement. It has no suspension.
    A good pram is semi-collapsible, had an undertray for shopping, semi-solid tyres and Cadillac suspension. Side pockets and rails to attach panniers are a plus.
    Thank goodness I am past the pram stage.

    1. Yes Richard, I too am delighted to be finished with them. Interesting point about having a spare buggy at relatives etc but I found we needed the buggy mostly going for walks/shopping/etc. Your specifications for the ideal buggy are spot on but I can’t think of one that matches up fully, even the one that costs over a grand doesn’t have the under tray.

  3. This discussion will be largely the same as on Mumsnet.
    Ah – the worst pushchair I experienced was a Teutonia. Three guys in a carpark could not get one Teutonia to collapse.
    PegPerego make rigid, light pushchairs from aluminium. Even second-hand they cost a lot. We had one wrecked by Copenhagen airport. A spare Teutonia was heavier and less rigid with lots of minor irritating features (no room under the seat for shopping).

  4. So, with hollow satisfaction, it seems that my suspicion that pushchair design is just as superficial, arbitrary and ill-informed as car design is confirmed. When I started training as an industrial designer in the 1970s, I assumed that I would be designing ruthlessly logical items for a more sensible and chastened world. With no disrespect to my course, which was a far better school than I was a student, by the time I finished I’d realised that wouldn’t be the case.

    Choice means that, instead of three door catches, carefully designed and refined, with high set-up costs amortised by huge production, a trip to the hardware superstore presents you with 20, all designed by someone who appears never to have had to open a door in their life, and produced in an anonymous factory that is already anticipating your return order when the one you’ve just bought falls apart in three months. You won’t know it’s the same factory because, by then, they’ll have a new, but equally crappy design, in production. Get on to more elaborate items and it’s no better. Choice is massively over-rated.

  5. It gets worse. Most pushchairs these days are multipart systems. The wheeled undercarriage comes with a seat adjustable for age, but is also designed to mate with various other seats that can be lifted off, baby and all, and deposited into a corresponding ISOFIX seat base in the car. I could not believe the unfathomable expense of it all; everything is an optional extra and invariably requires adapters of one sort or an other. A simple collapsible buggy and a couple of car seats would have achieved 75% of the job with 10% of the expense. And little did I realise that by the age of three, all of this stuff would be pretty much redundant. Thinking about it now, I could despair.

    1. Only by acquiescing to the dear lady wife purchasing a CX5 for our one four year old child.

      Besides, I would take issue as to whether 140bhp is “hot”. I recently read an Autocar test that described a 200bhp Astra as “warm”. How times have changed.

    2. Gosh, 200 bhp is warm? Does that make 140 bhp Tepid, or just Ambient? I guess you need a different scale for below Ambient rather than degrees of chill, maybe Stagnant for my Cube?

    3. I know, I read that and realised my conceptions of what constitute “hot” are perhaps ten years behind the curve. That said, above a certain threshold you enter the realm of diminishing returns, so I am happy with -60bhp and +12mpg over my old car. Well, at least until the lease comes up and I start looking at 10 year old V8 Jags again.

  6. This must approximate the approach that normal people take to buying cars. On TTAC they occasionally talk about the concept of “capability in reserve” and how that has come to inform people’s car buying choices, increasingly CUVs and pick ups in the USA. Well that is very much the approach that people take to buying push chairs. The result of this is streets choked with expensive and cumbersome leviathans, on the roads and the pavements. In reality, something smaller is less of a faff for more of the time. But people don’t see it like that; all they want is that redundant capability in reserve.

    1. Over-engineering is what that is called.
      The aluminium PegPerego weighed about 8 kilos and had the space for a large basket of shopping underneath. The wheels (unisized) clipped off the undercarriage; the seat clipped off the undercarriagr and folded to flattish. It had no special parts. The new PP buggies have none of that simplicity, products of “design” for design’s sake, such as all those costly molded plastic joints and hinges.

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