Backstory: A natural Segway ...
The two-wheeled transporters are making inroads into everyday life - from fishing trips to weddings.
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For most users, the good outweighs the occasional battery problems (a six-hour charge can give you 12 miles of gliding), the falls that can occur in reckless gliding (yes, abrupt turns and excessive speed can cause wrecks), and the public scorn (some pedestrians can't resist hurling insults: "Get a bike!", "Start walking!"). Being rich or geeky (or both) are typical Seg-owner stereotypes. Add to all that the problem of looking manly - if you're a guy - while gliding. Many Segways have a man purse-like bag strapped to the handle, and gliders are a droll sight sporting helmets on moving platforms eight inches above the ground.Skip to next paragraph
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"It's like high school," Hopper says, laughing. "Gliders are more on the nerdy side than on the jock side." But when they show up to their first Seg gatherings, they park their transporters, step down and ask: "Where are the girls?"
Speaking of which, there aren't that many women on Segs yet - although Hopper says they relax faster once they step on the platform. By contrast, men get on it and try to manhandle it into balance themselves, though there is nothing in the Seg that needs taming. (Through gyroscopes and computer, the device self-balances - and acceleration is achieved simply by leaning forward.)
In terms of marketing, the machine is the kind of invention the majority of the public will jump on only after it's vetted by early adopters, which, in the case of the Segway, include groups ranging from police officers to Segway polo players. If a drop in price won't help the Seg mainstream, the network effect of the groups might.
"Certainly the desire to have an alternative way of getting around is gaining popularity," explains Tim Kanaley, a D.C. commuter who glides five miles roundtrip to his government job. "I think that with rising gas prices and more people taking responsibility for their immediate environment, [Segways] and other mobility devices will continue to grow in number," he says via an e-mail interview.
Etiquette recommends asking before taking a Segway into a building, but Dickson says he has had no choice but to break this unwritten rule; he parks his by his desk on the 11th floor of a downtown building. "I can't really leave it and walk." Somebody complained on a restaurant review website after seeing him glide all the way to the table at a local restaurant, and some museums have denied him entrance - though they proposed he check the Seg and get in a wheelchair. But being able to move around standing, Dickson says, "makes all the difference in the world."
Although the Segway is unlikely to fulfill its revolutionary promise anytime soon, gliders believe it's here to stay. And if the Silicon Valley Aftershocks, the US Segway polo team, takes the cup away from New Zealand's Pole Blacks next summer, who knows ... gliding might suddenly become less nerdy.
There are an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 individual Segway gliders nationwide. These enthusiasts have found ways to integrate the Segway into their daily lives and hope more people will join their ranks. Correspondent Cristian Lupsa interviewed four gliders via e-mail about their thoughts on Segway. Excerpts follow.
Ryan Colbert, Orlando, Fla.
IT director for Rissman, Barrett, Hurt, Donahue & McLain, P.A.
I'm not a hippie or an environmentalist.
My wife and I spent our 2005 anniversary at Walt Disney World [and took the Segway tour]. It was love at first glide, and I knew then I had to have my own. I didn't know when I would get a Segway or if I would ever use it for more than recreation at the time.
When I purchased my Segway, it initially was recreational only.... I rarely strayed more than about five miles from home. If I used it more than a couple times per week it was unusual.
In February of this year my family and I moved ... downtown. Since then, I use my Segway for my daily commute to and from the office. I think that I probably average around 250 miles per month on my Segway.