You’ve probably seen them before: a row of tourists with nerdy helmets coasting across an intersection on funky two-wheeled chariots. Maybe you’ve watched Paul Blart: Mall Cop and had dreams of riding one of these technological wonders. The Segway became available in 2001 amid a lot of hype and found its way into the tourism market because of its ease of use and ability to get to places that cars can’t go. It is an amazing invention. I think that the only reason we don’t see more of them around is the high price tag. They start off at around $6,500, which is a a bit of money for something only one person can ride on. But the good news is that you can rent one and take a Segway tour!
I was in San Francisco yesterday and decided that it was time to find out what all the fuss is about. I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to follow someone around for a couple of hours, or if I wanted to wear one of those helmets. However, I did feel that I needed to debunk the mystery of why those people on the tours look so happy. Were they brainwashed? I was about to find out. After some research I noticed that Electric Tour Company seemed to have some of the best reviews and was very prompt about getting back with me about doing a tour. They offered four different tour choices and itineraries. We decided on the one that covered Fisherman’s Wharf, the waterfront and Little Italy.
I had hopped on a friend’s Segway years ago and it seemed to me to be a wondrous invention like the iPhone; something invented by superior beings from another planet and left accidentally on Earth to baffle us. I really didn’t know much about Segways except that they got a lot of hype when they first came out as something that would change life as we know it. Of course that didn’t really happen since most people still haven’t ridden one and you rarely see one outside of law enforcement or tour companies. It turns out that they are perfect for tour companies. They’re rechargeable, faster than walking, go up hills effortlessly, last all day and are fun to drive. I can’t think of one negative thing about them except I’d like them to go a little faster.
The tour started off with some one-on-one instruction explaining how to use the vehicle. There’s a very small learning curve because the machine is designed to keep its balance and has just a few simple controls. You can spin in circles, back up, and do zig zags within five minutes of getting on it. The company issued the required helmets, reflective vests, and a little personal electronic receiver to be able to listen to the guide during the ride. We were then ushered into the building to watch a video about what not to do on a Segway. The biggest no-no was using a phone while you’re operating the unit. We were told that the fine was $400 and that we’d be kicked off the tour. Both were good reasons to leave your phone in your pocket.
We then lined up and proceeded down the streets of San Francisco following our guide like baby ducks. I had always thought it looked a little nerdy when I passed by a Segway group but most people we encountered were genuinely fascinated and took pictures of us as if we were an Elvis sighting. I must admit, it’s fun riding on one of these miraculous machines. It’s like a jetski on land. You can’t help but feel good on such a cool machine. We glided effortlessly through historic parts of downtown San Francisco, stopped at a few famous movie locations and landmarks and then took a pizza break in Little Italy. I never figured out whether the Segway had a key or not. Our guide watched our machines while we took our snack break.
Once we got back on our electronic chariots, we made a big circle back to the waterfront. We passed through the main parts such as Fisherman’s Wharf, Pier 39 and Ghiradelli Square. Our guide chattered throughout the drive explaining a little history about some of the landmarks and insider tips on getting “free chocolate”. He was very entertaining and the little headsets made it easy to hear what he had to say with no effort. After a while the Segway just becomes an extension of your body and you don’t even realize that you’re driving it.
We finished off the tour at the Municipal Pier. It’s a long curved pier that gives one great views of the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz. Best of all there’s no cars and not very many pedestrians, so it gave us a chance to hot rod on our Segways and see what they could do. All they can do, it turns out is 12.5 miles per hour before the machine starts pushing back at you, forcing you to slow down. If you pull back, it stops. It seems nearly impossible to hurt yourself on one of the machines.It almost seems as if they can predict your movements. The tour was timed perfectly to take advantage of the sunset. The golden gate bridge looks even more orange with the sun behind it. Once we’d gotten our pictures and done a few laps up and down the pier, we headed back to drop off our Segways.
Rather than just cutting you loose from the tour, the guide gives you a little pomp and circumstance as graduation diplomas are handed out. The whole tour was a great experience and I recommend that everyone try it at least once. San Francisco is the perfect place for Segways because it’s downtown area is not overwhelming and it’s easy to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time. The waterfront is the most famous part of the bay area and it makes a great backdrop for your riding adventure. You can feel the breeze on your skin, smell the seafood, dodge the tourists and be part of the true San Francisco experience.