Curiosity of Wave of future? Some find Segway "awesome'

June 05, 2005|by DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ

In Hagerstown for dinner, Martinsburg, W.Va., resident Alan Horn and his daughter Renee happened to wander by Public Square during Hagerstown's monthly Thursday Night Out on the Town on May 13.

There, at the corner of Washington and Potomac streets, the two saw a pair of the strange, two-wheeled, vertically-inclined machines in use and curiosity got the better of them - Alan first, and, at her father's urging, Renee second.

"I saw him over there playing around with it and he said I could ride it," Alan Horn said.

Would he ride one in public? "Oh, sure I would, because it fits my personality."

Would he buy one? No.

More wary of the thing at first, Renee Horn also was more emphatic in her opinions of it, once she returned to solid ground.

'Scary ... awesome'

"I think it's freaking awesome," she said. "It's scary ... but it's awesome."

And would she buy one? "Not me. Maybe (my father)."

Inventor Dean Kamen introduced the first model of the Segway Human Transporter in December 2001 to a less-than-stellar public reaction as the machines failed to meet the expectations set for them during the pre-unveiling publicity.

Steve Colby, who is the owner of Segway of Hagerstown, operated from his Antietam Street Off the Deep End store, said he did not think much of the machines when they were introduced. Like their 0-degree turning ability, Colby has made an about-face since then and is now hoping the machines will catch like wildfire in Hagerstown.

"It would be hard for something to live up to that, I heard all the hype and everything like that, but I didn't even look at it," Colby said. "As a marketing aspect, I started seeing possibilities for it. I enjoyed it, I thought it was fun, but again, I thought it was a product whose time has come."

In January, Colby committed to buying 18 of them over the next year as the exclusive Segway dealer for the region. Quietly building a buzz over the past few months, as much for marketing reasons as for company-driven, supply-related issues, Colby is taking the gloves off for a full-fledged publicity campaign he hopes will make Segway a household name.

He and his son, Austin, took two of the machines to Thursday Night Out, and then to the Senior Fair on May 19, and were planning more public appearances.

Colby is quick to point out that the machines are environmentally friendly, do not use gasoline, are low maintenance and ideal for commuting from the outskirts of the city to downtown Hagerstown without getting stuck in traffic or hunting for a parking space.

More than that, though, Colby said he believes the strongest selling point for the Segway is riding one.

"It's a self-balancing machine, which means you don't do the balancing, and it's just an incredible piece of technology," he said, demonstrating the Segway's ability to stop in the middle of a ramp inside his shop. "A lot of people have seen them, but they haven't had an experience with them. When you feel what it does, then it's just kind of amazing."

Pogo stick on wheels

The riding position on a Segway is much the same as standing on a pogo stick with wheels, except that instead of foot pegs its users stand between the wheels on a platform. To move the thing forward, gliders - the phrase advanced by Segway - simply lean forward, transferring their weight to the toes of their feet. To move backward, pressure is put on the heels of the feet. A collar on the left hand grip turns the machine left or right.

'Time will come'

The Segways have several redundant systems built into them, including a second motor in case the first one fails and five gyroscopes to balance the weight of their riders rather than requiring the riders to balance themselves on the machines.

They are electric-powered, and capable of traveling about 24 miles on a charge. They come in four models that weigh between 70 and 100 pounds, and are capable of traveling at between 10 and 12.5 mph, depending on the model. The machines, designed for riders up to 260 pounds, retail at about $5,000.

Colby said that even without marketing them, people have expressed interest in the machines through his dealership's presence on corporate Segway's Web site.

"Right now, it's all Internet driven, we haven't even pushed them and there are, like, 10 people that want to buy them. We haven't done any public relations, we will when we know that we can have a steady supply," he said. "It is a revolutionary way to travel, but society has to change. Segway's time will come."

Vinnie DiCola, owner of Rocky's University Pizza at 1 Public Square, had the chance to try out the Segways during Colby's Thursday Night Out demonstration. He said it took a moment for him to feel comfortable on the first Segway he tried out, but found his footing quickly and soon was moving along at a good clip. He said he enjoyed the experience so much he tried both the on-road and off-road models.

"The first couple of minutes I was kind of leery, but as I spent more time on it I felt more confident," he said.

The Herald-Mail Articles