The Technium

In Praise of the Segway


I wasn’t very impressed with the Segway when it first appeared in 2002. I had several occasions to ride one back then and it seemed a fairly competent machine. It was mildly fun, but neither necessary (for me), nor amazing. I forgot all about them, except when I would run into a Segway polo match, or some other wonderful frivolity.

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But I had a chance to ride a recent model and it changed my mind. There’s a Segway rental place a mile from my house near the Pacific ocean and when relatives were in town we spent two hours riding along the coast. We rode the lastest model, the x2 Adventure.

It was unexpectedly thrilling. It was like riding an animal. You steer by leaning ever so slightly to the left or right. To speed up you lean forward, to brake, barely lean back. I say lean, but your body movements are almost imperceptible. In fact you are not aware of moving at all. You kind of just think, “I want to go left” and you do. The Segway responds to your desires almost before you are aware of them, in the way a horse might. I felt I was riding a Segway animal. Riding a bicycle is intimate, and a good rider can feel “at one” with the bike, but the bike does not ever take the initiative. The Segway does. At times it leads you.

Like a horse it has impressive power. When you come to a steep hill, you lean into the hill and you and the Segway charge up the hill much faster than you could ever run up. When powerful electric motors are combined with gyroscopic intelligence an animalistic spirit emerges. For the two hours we rode it never flagged. And during all that time we were smiling, giggling even.

I am very aware of how dorky one looks scooting along on a Segway. For some strange reason when we sit and do nothing while we zoom on an electric bike, it looks fine. But if we stand and zoom, its looks dumb. Maybe if it happened often enough we’d get used to it.

I did not change my mind about buying one. It’s more like owning a horse – an expensive luxury. But that could change if they became very cheap, and much lighter. Their deadweight is intimidating. But once they are turned on, they have a remarkable lightness, nimble and fleet.

The technology will improve. Gyroscopically controlled personal vehicles are coming. Some will be two-wheeled you do sit and zoom in, and some, like the Solowheel below, will be alternatives for standing.

In the meantime if you have a chance to rent as Segway for a few hours, I recommend it.




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