Maybe If They Hadn't Hyped It I'd Be Kinder

I have mixed feelings when I recall my first bicycle. One might expect that I would have dropped cycling not long after taking it up; that first bicycle had no seat.

This segues to today's topic, the Segway. With such an introduction I hope you see where I'm going here with a review for a product I don't even need to use to know it's dumb.

Every morning a Segway whines down the alley outside my bedroom. When I ride home through the park in the afternoon, I often see a herd of tourists on Segways as it is apparently part of some sightseeing tour. I've seen them other places too with surprising frequency. Surprising because they are just so dumb.

As a nerdy guy, I can definitely appreciate the idea and I could see how it'd be fun to build such a thing and play with it. However, as a mode of transportation, it is extremely restricted. It pretty much is in the same transportation category as the unicycle.

This analysis is pretty easy for me because I know of another type of vehicle that has *all* of the advantages of the Segway plus many more and none of the disadvantages. Of course I refer to the bicycle. I've seen enough videos of people learning to ride the Segways to know that it's not quite perfectly intuitive. With a bicycle, you can at least learn when you're young and unbreakable but I've never seen a Segway for half-sized people. Accepting that both vehicles are reliant on a decent sense of balance and taking riding skill as given, we can move on to other issues.

I would be very nervous about how the Segway handles inevitably treacherous road surfaces. Clearly the thing is going to perform very poorly off road, especially in single track, but I find the worst riding surfaces are on bad pavement. If you jar one wheel on a bike, you'll probably jar the other one, but nothing perturbs your stability.

Then there is the long list of practical issues. Can a Segway carry cargo? Where? A kid? A trailer? You get the idea. Bikes are a pain to transport on buses and worse on airplanes, but it's at least possible. You can mail a bicycle relatively easily. A Segway weighs 48kg, about what my expedition bike weighs when loaded for winter trekking. I've never seen one locked up anywhere. Is that even feasible? It seems like a huge liability to leave it locked up all day somewhere.

Of course the real advantage that the Segway has is that you can arrive at your destination free from the symptoms of physical exertion, you know, like being in shape. With bicycles you have to expend a modest amount of energy while the Segway magically transports you. I should point out here that on a bicycle I have kept up with the Segway's rated top speed of 20kph for about 10 times the thing's 38km range (yes, in one day). That may be slightly extraordinary, but if the thing really only has a top speed of 20kph, I'm confident I can beat it anywhere, anytime on a bicycle without cracking a sweat. The reason that powered propulsion is not an advantage anyway, is that if you want to use your body to provide the motive power for your Segway you can not. On the other hand, if you're a lazy cyclist and want some or all of the motive power provided by your utility company, you can get an electric bike. Or a moped. Or at $5k-$6k, just buy a motorcycle.

Maybe Segway fans have something against bike seats. Certainly the seat interface is one of the main complaints about bicycles. I don't know about you, but standing board stiff while directly facing a persistent wind doesn't sound too comfortable to me. And if it did, I could just do what I do sometimes when I see the Segway tourists in the park. I just stand up on the pedals and lock my knees in an awkward-looking position, but one that is unmistakably that of a Segway pilot.

No comments: