One Year With Segway - Reflections and Recollections

Well, I've had the Segway i180 for a whole year and as it is mostly a solitary transport vehicle, I have had plenty of time to think about the practicality and pleasure of owning one. For all those who are interested, I will share the thoughts collected in my head over these past 12 months.

Let me start off by getting the basic information out of the way. Based on a year of talking to hundreds of people, I feel confident that this will answer 80% of the questions you may have:

  • It is powered by a (rather quiet) electric motor which runs on batteries that charge from a standard house outlet using a common power cord like the one that plugs into your computer.
  • Top speed is around 12mph and it can go about 22 miles on a single charge under optimum conditions (I usually get tired before it runs out of juice).
  • It does all the balancing for you - you actually don't even need to hold on once you get comfortable. It is actually much more similar to the way we walk than is riding a bike or rollerblading.
  • It takes about 30 seconds to learn how to ride and I've had 7 year olds to 70 year olds do just fine - noone has ever crashed or hurt anyone while on my Segway.
  • I rarely worry about someone stealing it. Because it is so new and different, I don't think that the first impulse is to run off with it and sell it for a few bucks. Besides, without the custom key to start it, its simply an 80lb paperweight.
  • No, I don't recommend you getting one for yourself. These are very cool and ideal for some commuting routines but they are still WAAAAAAY too expensive to be practical for the masses.

Now, on to the...

All Time Frequent/Dumbest Questions

There is nothing that interferes more with gettin' your glide on than a well-meaning bipedal who can't quite put together the words required to form a worthwhile question. Now, I understand that most people don't come in contact with Segways that often so I am normally very polite and accommodating. Truthfully, I have given hundreds of demos to perfect strangers all of which elicit similar, if not predictable responses.

But there are certain repetitive queries that have become irritating over the course of the past year. I am tempted to create flash cards with the answers on them and simply pass them out whenever I stop near a crowd. Here are some of the most annoying, in reverse order of annoyance:

  • "How much did that cost?" I have not yet perfected a good response to this one because it is both hard not to sound elitist when shouting out the actual sticker price as you whiz by and because it is really none of their business how much idiots like me will spend on ridiculous technology. In their defense, I suppose the novelty of the Segway makes it difficult to easily compare it to more familiar means of transport like motorcycles or Razors or four-wheelers but really, if this is the first time you have seen one up close, is that the first thing that comes to mind?
  • "Why don't you just get a bike?" - this could actually be my favorite "worst" question. First of all I used to own a bike and you know what? I never used it and I'm betting that most of you are just like me. So to imply that I've abandoned my biking fitness program for the lazy man's approach to outdoor exercise is absurd. I love bicycles (what's not to love?) but I never got out as much as I do now. I have explored my own and nearby nieghborhoods and met many more people than I ever did on my bike. So, if biking works for you, go for it - just don't look down on me or should I say, up to me as I pass you going up that steep hill, waving with both hands!
  • "Do you like it?" How many people do you know that would not only buy a seemingly absurd gadget like this but would willingly glide up and down busy sidewalks in plain view if they didn't like it? Does it really seem like a punishment or some unfortunate curse that I am able to silently cruise along at a decent clip for miles without working up a sweat? No, I hate it. I often assume, for their benefit, that they really mean to ask "How do you like it?" as in, "...compared to other forms of transportation or locomotion" in which case, I explain that its the closest thing I've ever found to owning a magic carpet.

No Friend of the Segway

No Friend
You might imagine that after gliding around miles and miles of sidewalks and streets one would inevitably learn to spot and, ideally, avoid certain obstacles that would otherwise impair your glide. Well, here is the list of most offensive impediments for the Segway owner:

  1. Low-Hanging Branches - because the Seg is much more susceptible to cracks in the sidewalk or any general pavement unevenness, the rider invariably finds himself diligently studying the path ahead only to be occasionally (and violently) reminded of the low-hanging tree branches that the unkind homeowner has neglected for far too long.
  2. Loose Gravel - your balance is virtualy assured - as long as both wheels of the Segway are firmly connected to the earth. Loose gravel, while perhaps inviting to the daredevil in us, is no friend of the Segway. Nothing seems to delight onlookers more than to see an overpriced hunk of technology lose its grip in the gravel pit and throw its smug rider into like some possessed mechanical bull.
  3. Lawn Sprinklers -this should go without saying but in 2006 have we really not figured out how to keep the sprinklers aimed squarely at the actual lawn instead of oscillating over the public sidewalk? The only saving grace is that wet clothes tend to dry quickly at 12mph.
  4. Hard-core bicycle excercise freaks - these speed demons are simply a menace to all other well-wheeled enthusiasts. "On your left - ON YOUR LEFT! - Get OUT of the WAY LOSER!" Now, I ask you is that any way to address your fellow man? Perhaps if I wore more spandex, bought some $200 tinted sunglasses, rigged the Seg with at least five water bottles filled with various energy drinks, and wore fourteen Lance Armstrong bracelets, I would have more bike path cred.

Greatest Segway Moments

greenThese are some high-points that are not otherwise captured in my ongoing TechLore thread Segway Spotting, which I encourage you to also read.


The day after I bought it, I rode down to the Village Hall and tracked down the Chief of Police. With a little persuasion, I got him to try it out (one of my first demos) and I have had no problems with the local law enforcement since then. He said he was going to buy a few for the department but still haven't seen them around. I carry his card around with me just in case but I think I probably built up enough good karma for awhile.

One time, I got up the nerve to ride the Segway inside a store and through the aisles while I shopped. None of the employees seemed to be willing to challenge me on whether it violated any rules. I actually had alot of fun dodging panicked shoppers but ultimately decided it was just too weird to make into a regular habit. Since then, I have been told by many other proprietors that it wasn't allowed inside their establishment and I generally don't try to fight it. Despite the fact that the machine and tires were specifically designed for indoors use as well, there is just way too much unfamiliarity with the Segway for it to be appropriate in settings like these.

But the single best part of this past year, in all seriousness has been the interaction with the kids. Still untarnished by the inevitable cruelty of the adult social world, children are simply awestruck with wonder when they see the Segway in action. Like their grown-up counterparts, their brain cogs also spin as they try to understand how the Segway can balance and move the way it does but children are much better at getting past the physics and focusing (more appropriately I think) on how cool it must be to have one. My sincere hope is that it will have been their childhood encounter with a Segway that ultimately inspires these kids to grow up and build the Next Big Thing.

Final Thoughts

So that's it, the first year is in the books. I hope I was able to provide some insight into what its like to own a Segway but again I'm not advocating that everyone go out and buy one. Renting is probably your best option and most large cities now seem to offer convenient tours.

If it didn't come through here or in the Segway Spotting thread, I am very happy to own one. Most of the time, its a pure blast and I have no regrets other than having few travel companions to share the experience with.

I still can't get over how well it works each time I step on it, I hope that never goes away. Please share your comments here.

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