THE HAPPY WANDERER – SEGWAY IN THE CITY


CONTRACOSTATIMES.COM January 30, 2009

Ginny Prior and Steve Wozniak playing Segway polo

Ginny Prior and Steve Wozniak playing Segway polo

IN MINNEAPOLIS, a popular attraction for tourists is the Magical History Tour. It’s a clever reference to something old (the Beatles) and something new — seeing the city on Segways. (The name also reminds me of hippies flying through time on a psychedelic carpet, but that’s another story.)

I’ve been a fan of the Segway since my first encounter with the futuristic machines in Oakland’s Redwood Park. A local entrepreneur, Drew Foster, was taking folks on an off-road tour through the tall trees and the sight was —— quite frankly — something out of Twilight Zone.

Yet “humans on a stick,” as one company calls Segway riders, have the best of both worlds. They can cover more miles than a pedestrian and without the aching arches. It’s really one of the best ways I’ve found to see a city.“Feet” down, my favorite Segway tour is in my hometown of Minneapolis. For $75, the Magical History Tour takes you along the scenic Mississippi riverfront, across the stately Stone Arch Bridge, over St. Anthony Falls and past old flour and saw mills. It includes a snack stop at one of my favorite attractions — the Mill City Museum.

Another great Segway city is Pittsburgh. With more bridges than Venice, Italy, Pittsburgh is a fun city to explore in what I call “a nerd herd.” Starting out at historic Station Square, you travel in pods past centuries old churches, modern museums and across a network of bridges that traverse three rivers.Of course, not everything goes smoothly when there’s motion involved. I’ve heard of riders losing control and running their Segways into the river. (A $3,000 ding to the pocketbook.) In Minneapolis, a woman ran into a building. And I once saw a man break his ankle on a Segway when it got caught under the machine. No, I was not the common denominator in these accidents. In each case, it was rider error.

Having said this, the Segway is still a relatively safe mode of travel, even for the elderly. There were several seniors on my tour in Long Beach, and they saw more than they ever could have seen on foot; including the Queen Mary, a Russian Scorpion Submarine, the world’s largest mural and — my personal favorite — a breezy stretch of beach used for the taping of CSI: Miami.

There is, of course, traffic with which to contend. Segways stay mainly on sidewalks and side streets, but occasionally have to cross busy intersections. The guides are good at herding their flock, and motorists are usually too amused to be mad if they’re held up at a light.

A Segway tour —— sans cars — is on Angel Island. The only thing you have to contend with are trams and bicyclists. There is, however, a challenging climb at the beginning of the ride and a rather daunting descent at the end. Guides offer words of encouragement to riders who feel certain their machines are going to tip over. They almost never do and riders are rewarded with sweeping views of seven counties and five major bridges from the top of Mt. Livermore.

But the ultimate challenge may be San Francisco’s Lombard Street. Electric Tour Company warns that you need to be an experienced rider to take this tour, which includes a climb up Russian Hill and a cautious descent down the famed cobble-stone corridors of the “world’s crookedest street.”

This ride is definitely on my “bucket list.” The bragging rights alone make it worth the risk.

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