Sunday, July 28, 2013

Day 77 - Riding a Segway

I have never ridden a Segway Scooter. For those that are unfamiliar with these vehicles, the Segway Scooter is the two wheeled, self-balancing device that permits people to travel while standing upright. In other words, it’s the laziest way to do the equivalent of walking or running that has ever been invented. Since first becoming aware of these vehicles I have maintained a curiosity about them and how they work. While I knew I would never want to own a Segway, the concept and technology used in the vehicles was enough to pique my interest. As a result, I knew I would ride a Segway if presented the opportunity, but I wasn’t about to go out of my way to make the experience a reality; until the start of my “I have never...” journey, of course. With motivation to try new things I have otherwise ignored throughout my life, my “I have never...” idea inspired me to begin looking for ways to ride a Segway scooter. Ultimately, my research efforts led me to a company that does Segway tours in downtown Milwaukee, Wisconsin. With knowledge Rachael and I intended to attend Germanfest at the end of July, I confirmed dates, checked tour availability, and bought tickets to take the Segway tour after our visit to Germanfest this afternoon. For no reason other than satisfying the slightest curiosity, I was going to ride a Segway, and I intended to put its capabilities to the test.

My Segway experience began shortly after Rachael and I spent some time at the Germanfest wiener dog races (our dog, Buddy, likes to compete… and usually win). With the races wrapped up, Rachael and I left Buddy with Rachael’s relatives, Laura and Patti, who were happy to spend some time with him while we were on our tour. In turn, Rachael and I made our way to the local Veteran’s park where the Segway rental company was located. Upon arriving at the park, we traveled down a winding road that led to the Lake Michigan shoreline. Just before the water we found a small parking lot and three small buildings with kite, bike, and Segway rental signs plastered across their faces. Realizing we were in the correct location, Rachael and I exited our vehicle and walked along the buildings until we found a “Segway Scooter rentals” sign tacked to the farthest building in the group. Continuing on, we walked through an open double-wide doorway at the side of the small brown building. A young man quickly greeted us, confirmed our reservation, and walked us through waivers needed to ride the Segway scooters. After a few minutes of discussion and a stroke of a pen, Rachael and I were ready to ride a Segway for the first time. Although Rachael’s indifference was apparent, I enthusiastically left the building and prepared to get my hands on a new and very foreign mode of transportation.

After a brief wait for the rest of our tour group, one of the employees at the rental company, Marco, walked us to a small building that contained several rows of Segway scooters. Marco explained we would first have to watch a safety video before taking to the streets on a Segway. At about five minutes in length, the video walked through a series of unlikely scenarios that could result in injury, which were explained by a man with a heavy Boston accent. The voiceover helped make the video as entertaining as it was ridiculous, which ultimately made the underlying points memorable enough to stick in my mind. Once the video was finished, Marco gave us a brief rundown of the main safety points as he prepared the Segway scooters one by one, unplugging each of them and wheeling them out to the exterior of the building. At the conclusion of his speech, Marco asked us to grab a helmet from a nearby wall and meet him outside to get some practice with the Segway before we departed for our tour.

Getting on...
With our helmets in hand our group walked to outside and gathered around a group of Segway scooters resting awkwardly against the side of the building. Rachael and I stood by as Macro powered on the scooters and offered them two the group. After two members of the group mounted their Segways Rachael gestured for me to take the next. With her encouragement I stepped forward and lined up behind the next Segway. Marco gently placed the handlebar in my hand without adjusting its position over the vehicles base. He reminded me the drive of the Segway engaged based on the handlebars position over center, which meant I needed to mount the vehicle unaided by the handlebars. Following his instruction, I promptly stepped up onto the Segway platform and gripped the handles. Adjusting to the Segway for the first time, my motions jolted the vehicle back and forth slightly as I settled it. I quickly stopped my movements and focused on finding center as the Segway jostled back and forth for a few moments and then became suddenly still. Standing perfectly balanced over the ground, I slowly leaned forward as Marco backed away from the Segway. As my weight shifted the Segway began a slow acceleration forward. Testing my method on the device I leaned back to center to stop. With the vehicle responding as intended, I again leaned forward until the Segway met a moderate speed. With the grass rapidly passing beneath me I leaned the handlebar left and right to steer the Segway, which came with relative ease. Moving my focus from the fundamentals of controlling the vehicle, I quickly became aware I was driving a Segway, and much to my surprise, I was finding it to be quite entertaining.

Ready to ride!
Waiting for the tour to begin, I cruised around the grass space in the park as the remaining members of our group mounted their scooters. After taking to her Segway, Rachael took her time adapting the vehicle, which made sense given the foreign nature of the balance and steering mechanisms that controlled the vehicle. Over time, I felt very comfortable with the Segway, which led me to ask Marco to take off the regulator feature on the scooter. He obliged and explained this was a necessary step prior to the tour, which would have us traveling at higher speeds as we traversed the city. The thought of the forthcoming event put a smile on my face as I repositioned myself on the Segway and prepared to test the unregulated speed of the vehicle. Without hesitation, I again leaned forward to drive the vehicle forward. The new pace of acceleration and top speed surprised me as I whipped over the terrain and tore down a paved walkway running through the park. With the wind rushing past me I turned the Segway and rattled back over the grass until I found my way back to the group... just in time for the tour to start.

Looking down...

Over the next 90 minutes, Marco guided us around the Milwaukee lakeshore and through parts of downtown. We cruised down public sidewalks, bike paths, and along lakeside walkways as we traveled, taking in the sights of the Milwaukee skyline and Lake Michigan. At first, I was careful to adhere to the guidelines Marco detailed before our trip, but as the tour progressed I began to take liberty with my navigation. While the majority of the group stayed single file in a line behind our tour guide, I began darting around less traveled areas, crisscrossing grassy areas, and weaving around structures we encountered along the way. Gauging my comfort with the Segway, Marco permitted my exploration of the space around us as we continued the tour. Within reason, I was free to roam, and it made the experience that much more enjoyable. Highly entertained by the experience, I continued; taking on small grassy hills and working my way through pedestrian traffic. As I traveled, one thought kept popping into my head, “The only thing missing from this experience is a frozen banana stand.”

Passing the harbor

Eventually, our tour began to draw to a close as we wound our way through a wooded path and back to Veteran’s Park. At the conclusion of our trip I remained on my Segway awhile longer than the rest of the group, making sure to soak in my last few minutes on the goofy little vehicle that had made the previous hour and a half so entertaining. While I will say 90 minutes seemed a little long for the Segway tour, I think I could have spent hours more on the Segway had I been free to take it where I please. The reality is, the Segway is a surprisingly fun way to get around. So much so that I would consider getting a few of them for our family’s lake house if they weren’t so expensive.

If it isn’t abundantly clear, I had a blast during my first experience with a Segway. The experience was a unique way to experience previously unknown parts of Milwaukee that made for a very memorable event. This is one experience on my “I have never...” journey I can easily say I would do again if given the chance and a little bit more freedom to roam. Although I never expected riding a Segway would be so entertaining, I can now say I gave it a try, and I’m very happy I did.

Rachael and I with my sweet ride

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