Looking for green and efficient urban transportation? Hoping for a teen travel activity that won’t have your kids rolling their eyes? Perhaps you just want a fun and unusual alternative to the typical walking tour. For many, the answer lies in exploring the Segway experience. They certainly look simple enough when you see others floating by on them, don’t they? The truth is, there’s a little more to riding a Segway than first meets the eye. You only need to take one look at this Segway crash video to realize that.
While riding a Segway does offer many perks, it clearly pays to be prepared. Especially for your first time. When it came time to gather tips and advice for having a successful Segway experience, I turned to the pros at The Electric Experience, in Delray Beach, Florida for a bit of training. Our guide Zachary broke down the basics before we were ever allowed on the road.
HOW TO RIDE A SEGWAY
Whether you’re planning on riding a Segway to work in Manhattan, or simply want to squeeze in a quick tour as part of your family road trip, taking the time to develop a proper skill set is recommended.
1 – Subtlety rules.
The first thing you need to know about how to ride a Segway is that smaller, subtle movements will produce the smoothest Segway experience. For example, in order to steer left or right, a light lean in either direction is all that’s needed. Move too quickly or severely, and you may find yourself shooting out into traffic or worse. The good news? It doesn’t take long to get a feel for these machines. A short training session and a few turns around a parking lot or two, and I felt much more comfortable with my skill set than I ever thought I would.
2 – Pay attention to your foot placement.
The first few minutes of my training looked a bit like a Three Stooges routine. I wobbled and twitched, and generally didn’t feel like I was the best candidate to turn loose on the streets of Delray Beach. That’s when Zach from The Electric Experience suggested I shift my feet a little further forward on the foot boards. It made all the difference for me, so I can definitely attest to the fact that when it comes to riding a Segway, it’s best to keep your foot placement precise.
3 – Don’t panic, or your machine will too!
Remember what I said about subtle movements being all that were necessary? And the part about rapid, severe movements resulting in an equally swift reaction from your machine while you are riding a Segway? Well, when we panic we tend to react quickly, and with strong movements away from whatever is making us nervous. I’ll leave you to ponder the various lessons with a relatively steep learning curve I received during my Segway experience with whatever degree of humor you deem appropriate. Suffice it to say, it pays to keep your cool during any Segway adventure.
4 – The handles may look like a motorcycle, but they work quite differently.
Personally, I went into my Segway experience expecting the handle bars to serve some function besides balance and stability. They don’t. While at first glance they may look remarkably like the handles on your motorcycle or ATV, you don’t actually accelerate or break with them at all. They’re used for mounting, dismounting and maintaining the proper body position on the machine (Yes, ON the machine is the operative term here.) while you’re moving.
5 – Slowing or stopping requires a backward lean and weight shift.
As with the other skills required for a safe Segway adventure, it pays to practice this one in the parking lot first. Remember, leaning too far backwards can throw off your center of gravity and result in one of those unfortunate flips featured in the video above. What I learned from the folks at The Electric Experience was to focus only slightly on the full body lean and more on shifting my weight to the heels of my feet. As with any mechanized vehicle, stopping won’t necessarily occur at the same speed with which you can snap your fingers. Factors such as speed and the strength you put behind your weight shift will enter into the equation. Practice in large parking lots at different speeds and inclines in order to get your “sea legs”, so to speak.
6 – Acceleration requires a slight forward lean and the shifting of your weight as well.
The first few times you do this, chances are you’ll feel like you’re learning to drive a stick shift. At least that’s how it went down for me. Choppy and jerky are the adjectives I would use for my first few tries. Practice makes perfect however, and I definitely got smoother as my training progressed and I had more time to practice. In essence, take the skills and techniques required for slowing and stopping, and apply them to the front balls of your feet when you lean and shift your weight forward. A few trips around the parking lot, and you’ll feel more confident.
7 – Staying stationary is a matter of balance.
Having your feet too far forward or backward can leave you feeling “tippier” than you’d like, and result in a more severe angle of body placement on the machine. Speaking for myself (and at least one other person who was on our tour), this is far from the most confident position for a positive Segway experience. Try placing each foot firmly in the middle of the step area and using the balls and heels of your feet to shift your weight. Basically, you’re combining your skills from tip numbers five and six into something you can use to control when you stop and start the machine during your Segway adventure. It’s sort of like using a clutch on a manual transmission vehicle (one of my favorite universal travel skills). You may rock back and forth slightly, but you’ll pretty much be able to stay put.
8 – Mounting and dismounting should be done with care.
The same concerns that apply to tip number three (Don’t panic.) apply here. Subtle and swift motions are best, as are mounting and dismounting one side of your body at a time. During our training, Zachary prompted us to go with our left foot on the step plate and left hand on the handle bar first, followed by the swift ascent to the machine with both of our right limbs. The trick is to not put any of your weight on that first foot until you’re ready to step up with your side. You use the same technique in reverse when dismounting. You can certainly start with your right side first as well. The point is to complete your on or off motions before the machine can “misinterpret” them. Again, see tip number three. When all else fails, wait for your guide or trainer, and make sure you have perfected this skill before you start riding a Segway to work on a busy city street. I’m just sayin’.
9 – Know your limits.
The average Segway top speed is between 11 – 12 miles per hour. You’ll know when you’ve reached that limit, because the handle bars will press back towards your waist, indicating that you are now operating at maximum warp. At least as far as Segways are concerned. There’s nothing wrong with going this speed, provided your skill set and the traffic conditions fit the situation. Common sense and good safety judgement are the keys here.
10 – Plan your take along items.
Most Segways have room for a small pack that attaches just underneath the handlebars. This is the perfect place to tuck a bottle of flavored water, a smartphone with your favorite travel apps and a few healthy road trip snacks to get you by if you’re going to be riding a Segway for any length of time.
11 – Know where you are.
When learning how to ride a Segway, it’s definitely important to remember where you are. This is, after all, a mechanized vehicle that you’ll be taking on the road. A road populated with pedestrians, bikers, cars and canines on leashes. Keep your eyes on the road and practice basic courtesy. Of course, a smile and a wave never hurt either.
When all is said and done, most people find it more than possible to enjoy a successful Segway experience. The trick is to master the skill set, know your boundaries and practice reasonable safety protocols. For a peek inside just how extreme you can get with a Segway adventure, check out this movie trailer about some folks who embraced a cross-country tour on their Segways.
Sort of puts those daily commute concerns into perspective, doesn’t it? Have you ever ridden on a Segway for a family travel activity or used one to get to work? Share your tips and experiences with us below.
Photo Credit: Robert Hornung