Active parents of young children once had to stay home or find a baby-sitter if they wanted to jog or bicycle. Now, courtesy of fitness-oriented marketers plugging in to the booming baby market, a variety of safe and sleek devices help parents take their infants and toddlers on the road.
Since 1984, parents serious about their jogging have been rolling their children out in jogging strollers, the three-wheeled devices that sometimes even have their own class in 10-K races. Southern California parents will buy more than 5,000 jogging strollers this year, according to Phil Baechler, the inventor of the device and owner of Racing Strollers Inc., the industry leader.
"Because of the climate and fitness-oriented population, Southern California has always been a real strong market," said Baechler, who came up with the design in frustration over leaving his young son at home while he worked out.
Using three 20-inch bicycle tires supporting a hammock-style seat for a smooth ride, jogging strollers can accommodate up to a 50-pound child. And thanks to their wide tires, they're usable on hard-packed beach sand or grass as well as concrete.
Jogging strollers range in price from about $150 for a Ming Ta steel alloy model up to $350 for a Super Jogger from Racing Strollers Inc. (available at Chick's Sporting Goods in Tustin and Yorba Linda). The top-selling model is the Baby Jogger, available at most sporting goods stores and some baby stores for about $270.
And with the Twinner (about $340), a double-wide seat means parents with two toddlers aren't out of the running. On a custom-order basis, Baechler has made "a handful" of strollers for triplets, as well as one unwieldy contraption for a woman who wanted to take all four of her kids on the road. He's also made about 1,000 custom strollers that feature wheelchair seating for handicapped children.
Kids are also getting free rides behind their parents' bicycles. Bright yellow trailers, available at bike and sporting goods stores, are available for between $250 and $350. They will carry up to 100 pounds. In case the bicycle goes down, the parent may suffer but the kids may not, since a hinged hitch is designed to keep the trailer upright.
The 19-pound Burley d'Lite, the most popular model, is foldable for storage and features reinforced nylon covers, front screens, window-pocket side panels and quick-release, 20-inch wheels.
The Burley-Roo, about $100 less, features a hard-plastic seat, smaller wheels and no side pockets. With an optional conversion kit, Burley trailers can turn into jogging strollers.
The Bugger trailer from Cannondale ($274 at Village Bicycle in Yorba Linda) offers a hard-plastic alternative to the Burley trailers.
"The Bugger is non-foldable, but people seem to like the hard plastic," said Gordon Blakey at Village Bicycle. "Also, the kids face to the rear, so they don't get as much dust in their faces."
If your child weighs less than 50 pounds and is over 9 months old, he can ride on the back of your bike with a child carrier. These carriers, costing from $30 to $80, feature polypropylene shells with breastplates for security. Some models feature neck bars for the child's comfort, and the Rhode Gear Child Seat, a popular high-end model, fits onto an existing rear bike rack.
For hiking or "power walking," a variety of baby carriers are available.
William Sears, a San Clemente pediatrician and author of several books on parenting, developed an over-the-shoulder cotton sling in 1989 based on models used by Third World women. In addition to allowing the mother to breast-feed, do household chores or otherwise bond with her baby, Sears says, the sling is the perfect exercise accessory.
"One question new mothers always ask is how they can start losing weight," he said. "I say, 'Wear the sling an hour a day, walk briskly and you'll lose three-quarters of a pound a week.' That's a healthy weight loss for a postpartum mother."
The Original Baby Sling, distributed by Nojo, costs $50 at most baby stores and is available in several colors and patterns. Seven positions are possible, but the parent and baby usually settle on two or three for most tasks, Sears says.
Other baby carriers use two shoulder straps and range in price from $24.97 for the Gerry Model 048 (available at Marcy's Laguna Hills) to $140 for the Tough Traveler Stallion backpack (available at Sport Chalet in Huntington Beach and Brea). The Stallion, which can carry toddlers up to 35 pounds, is adjustable for parents from 5-feet-2 to 6-feet-8 and features an optional rain/sun hood for $22.50. One innovative carrier, the Tot Tenders Six-Position model, allows the baby to ride in front or back of the parent, facing forward or backward. It costs $49.95 at Marcy's.
For parents who take their kids with them when they bicycle or jog, helmets are critical accessories, says Susan Keller, a rehabilitation specialist in Tustin.
As part of her work, Keller sees the worst: children suffering brain injuries as a result of not wearing helmets.
"Parents definitely need to set the example by wearing helmets themselves," Keller said. "When buying children's helmets, look for an approval sticker from ANSI or Snell, which specifies that the helmet meets safety standards. It should be on the right side of the helmet."
As part of National Hospital Week, Tustin Rehabilitation Hospital and Western Neuro Care Center, 14861 Yorba St., is sponsoring a Kiddie Karnival this Thursday from 1 to 5 p.m.
Bicycle helmets will be given away as part of the festivities.