Innovation & Design

Bugaboo Leaps Past Frog


(Readers'

Reviews below)

Editor's Review

The Good More than 30 color combinations. Improvements like shock absorbers give it an edge over the Frog

The Bad Big and bulky. Bag clips can't be attached on the new handlebar. And a beyond-steep price of $879

The Bottom Line Good for urbanites seeking a stroller that navigates city streets with lots of stuff -- in style

When the Bugaboo Frog stroller rolled into baby stores six years ago, a collective gasp was heard in playgrounds from the Netherlands to New York. Seven hundred and twenty nine dollars? No one could imagine paying such a huge premium -- about double the cost of the most deluxe baby stroller at that time. The biggest grumblings came from parents with older children who had managed to survive those early years with seemingly good looking and functional carriages made by Inglesina, Maclaren, and Peg Perego.

Fast forward to 2005: While the company won't reveal sales figures, it's evident that Bugaboo has found an audience. The Frog, which hit stateside in 2002, is now carried at 350 stores nationwide. Its strongest U.S. sales are in California and New York City, where it has been the top seller at retailer Buy Buy Baby on 23rd Street, according to a salesperson.

HOOKED IN. What explains the success of the luxury stroller? Is it as simple as the desire for status symbols that drives sales of Marc Jacob handbags or Range Rovers? Is it the cult status derived from celebrity clients such as Sarah Jessica Parker, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Liv Tyler? Those factors might account for some sales, but the root of Bugaboo's success lies in its focus on a new generation of parents who are urban, active, and often share parenting responsibilities.

"We define the Bugaboo customer as a modern parent who has an active and dynamic way of living," says industrial designer Max Barenbrug, who co-founded the company with his brother-in-law Eduard Zanen, a physician. "Our customers are searching for innovations that would make [their lives] more comfortable and would improve [their] freedom of movement."

Indeed, it's easy to see why parents, particularly those without cars who live in cities, love the Bugaboo. (Full disclosure: My son Leo has been cruising around New York City in a black Bugaboo Frog since he was born last Halloween.) It ably carries not just a child, but, thanks to a range of hooks and attachments, all of the accompanying stuff parents need. It's solid and sturdy. And its sleek, minimalist design and all-terrain wheels appeal to both women and men.

"It's a stroller I'm not ashamed to push," said one father. Made in Taiwan and available in 21 countries, the Bugaboo is the Mercedes-Benz of strollers: practical, built like a tank, and very expensive.

VISION FIRST. The Bugaboo's flexible design makes it less of a splurge than it seems: With a few snaps, it transforms into a pram (which lets newborns lie flat), a car-seat stroller, or a two-wheeled beach walker. Its seat can be adjusted to accommodate a newborn or a toddler. You can even snap off the bassinet and use it as a mini-crib. (Leo slept in his Bugaboo when we visited my parents in Philadelphia last Thanksgiving.) Purchased separately, the different pieces of baby gear could easily add up to much more than the Bugaboo price.

The Frog grew out of Barenbrug's final project for the Design Academy in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, where he graduated with honors in 1994. Like the vacuum inventor James Dyson, Barenbrug was rebuffed by existing manufacturers he approached with the idea. "Most companies are too focused on the products of other companies," he says. "They focus on cost rather than on a vision."

So he went into business himself, introducing his innovative stroller in 1999. This fall, Bugaboo will begin selling new models: the high-end Cameleon ($879) -- with all of the Frog's basic functions and a few new ones -- and the scaled-back Gecko ($679).

ALL-TERRAIN VEHICLE. For the Cameleon, Bugaboo tweaked the Frog's design, adding a new suspension system as well as an adjustable handlebar. In designing the new model, Barenbrug set out, once again, "to get under the skin of modern parents and define their latent needs."

In early August, Leo, his caregiver Leila, and I, took the new Bugaboo Cameleon for a spin through New York's West Village, where I tested it on cobblestone streets and high curbs. All in all, we were pretty pleased, although the overhauled design isn't perfect.

What gives the Cameleon an edge over the Frog -- as well as other strollers -- is the adjustable handlebar. Bugaboo, after all, is based in Holland, home to some of the tallest people on Earth. However, I'm pretty short and so is Leila, so the adjustability didn't matter much to us. And while the new handlebar is handy, it didn't feel as solid as the one on my Frog.

STILL CUMBERSOME. Even worse, those handy bag clips that let you attach your cargo to the Frog's handlebars don't fit on the Cameleon, and Bugaboo isn't offering bag clips for the new model yet. Moreover, the new handlebar design forced Bugaboo to move the handbrake to an awkward spot on the back of the stroller. To be fair, I'm very attached to my Frog, so the slightest design difference seems major.

The biggest innovation in the new model are the shock absorbers attached to the front two wheels, which help the stroller navigate urban potholes as well as rockier terrain. The water-repellent fleece sunshield is also much bigger, a substantial improvement. (When it's really sunny out, I've resorted to draping a blanket over the front of my stroller to keep the light out of Leo's eyes, and that certainly looks less than cool.) And with four base colors and eight accents to choose from, the Cameleon definitely has more pizzazz.

For some more user feedback, I put the Cameleon before a panel of experts: Leo's playgroup. Their first question was: "Does it weigh less?" Believe it or not, at 20 pounds, the Cameleon is about two pounds heavier than the Frog. Their second question: "Is it easier to fold?" Again, sadly, the answer is no. Like the Frog, the Cameleon is a pain to collapse, which makes getting in and out of a taxi, or on and off a New York City bus, a big production.

But there's hope: "The design team is working hard on new products, and, of course, also next-generation strollers," says Barenbrug. And if Bugaboo stays on course, those products will spring from needs like mine.

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