The Full-Tilt Tour

Seeing the sights from aboard a Segway, you're bound to turn into an attraction yourself, especially if you take a spill

April 08, 2006|By KEVIN COWHERD | KEVIN COWHERD,SUN REPORTER

Maybe you remember the hype that swirled around the Segway Human Transporter, the two-wheeled, battery-powered scooter that looked like something out of The Jetsons when it was introduced five years ago.

Its inventor, Dean Kamen, crowed that it was "world-altering technology." Jeff Bezos, the amazon.com mogul, claimed it would "revolutionize the way cities are designed."

The Segway would cure cancer and promote world peace. Then President Bush took a highly publicized spill on one in front of photographers in 2003, and when the image was beamed all over the world, you could feel the air going out of the Segway Fever balloon.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in Saturday's Go Today section about a Baltimore business that offers tours on the Segway Human Transporter incorrectly listed the top speed of the models using lithium-ion batteries. The top speed is 12.5 mph. The Sun regrets the error.

So how 'bout we leave it at this?

How about we say the Segway can be a fun and different way to get around? And if you're so inclined to try it, there's now an outfit called Segs in the City - we don't make up the names, folks, we just report 'em - that provides guided tours of Fells Point, downtown D.C., historic Annapolis and the battlefields of Gettysburg on a Segway for $45 an hour or $70 for two hours.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, under threatening skies, I took the one-hour Fells Point tour and did not go flying over the handlebars even once, nor did I take out the old lady on the sidewalk along South Broadway who veered into my path with a steaming cup of cappuccino and a look of terror on her face.

Our tour guide was Tonia Edwards, a sunny woman who is co-owner of Segs along with her husband, Bill Main. (They opened their Fells Point shop, at 2003 Fleet St., last September.)

The rest of our group consisted of John Chetelat of Bel Air and Tim McCoy of Des Moines, Iowa, both of whom work for Action Alarm, a company that installs commercial and residential security systems.

Chetelat and McCoy were actually on a scouting mission to see if a Segs tour would be fun or a dislocated shoulder waiting to happen for members of the Alarm Dealers Association, who will meet in Baltimore next month.

First, we had to sign the usual insurance waivers indicating that Segs would not be responsible if anyone drove through a plate-glass window, plunged off a promenade into the water, etc.

Then Edwards gave us a quick 10-minute lesson on how to operate a Segway, which is difficult only if you find operating a spoon to be difficult.

Basically, here's all you need to know: Lean forward to go forward. Lean backward to go backward. Stand up straight to stop.

And to turn the 83-pound Segway, you use a gizmo that looks like a throttle on the left handlebar. The newer model, with a lithium-ion battery, has a top speed of 25 mph; we were on older models with nickel-metal batteries and a top speed of 12 mph.

"It was designed to mimic walking," Edwards said.

Chetelat, McCoy and I breezed through the lesson. And we were feeling pretty good about ourselves as we assembled for the start of the tour - until we came face-to-face with the man-hating dog on the sidewalk.

This was a skittish Labrador retriever on a leash, held by a woman who announced: "I just got him from the pound. He hates men. It was some kind of abuse situation."

Great.

But Fido the Man-hater didn't lunge at us and we were soon gliding down Fleet Street, keeping to the sidewalks and making our way in the direction of the dock area.

A couple of things quickly became evident.

No. 1: Four people in bright-yellow helmets atop stainless-steel Segways with hot-pink wheels tend to attract attention.

Lots of people gawked and asked us about the Segways as we passed, affording Edwards the opportunity to pass out business cards. And when we passed a wedding party on one of the docked ships that cruise the Chesapeake Bay, everyone on deck came over to the railing with their cocktails to stare.

No. 2: When you're taking a tour on a Segway, you tend to focus more on the machine than the historic information your guide is imparting.

"I'll point out things, but people are more preoccupied with the Segway," Edwards said. "The men want to know how the Segway was built, how it operates, what kind of air pressure goes in the tires, things like that."

As we rolled down the 1700 block of Thames St. and past the famous City Recreation Pier that received national attention as the police headquarters in the TV series Homicide: Life on the Street, Edwards said women tend to do much better their first time on a Segway than men do.

And this would be, um, why exactly?

"Men want to do this!" Edwards cried, grabbing the handlebars caveman-fashion and yanking them side to side. "Women are a little more relaxed ... they don't have the sense they have to control the machine.

"Women will accept the machine, whereas men need to push it to its limits."

Oh.

Just as Edwards' words were trailing off, Chetelat went flying past me and over the curb, landing with a jolt. But that was probably a coincidence.

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