SEATTLE — Those people on Segway tours always look so happy.
I wanted to find out why.
So I took my caffeinated sister, Lisa, on a Seattle By Segway tour on her recent visit here from San Diego. I figured it would be an efficient way to hit a lot of the hot spots in downtown Seattle without me having to huff-and-puff the hills or deal with traffic. Also, Lisa could get her fix for history and trivia about landmarks.
When I looked online at Seattle By Segway’s extensive itinerary for the tour I thought, “No way can we go to all those places in two hours. Not on those funny-looking things with fat tires.”
Home base for Seattle By Segway is a tiny, nondescript office across from the viaduct where the tunnel machine queen Bertha is grinding away. From the outside you’d never imagine there was a fleet of Segways charging up inside.
Our tour guide was Snohomish County native Jonathan Martinez, 27, of Lynnwood.
He began with a crash course on Segway basics: Go forward or backward by shifting your weight forward or backward. To turn left or right, move the steering grip left or right. The Segway stays balanced by responding to the body’s movements.
“When you are leaning forward and turning, just make sure you are getting your weight over the inside wheel so you have an idea where your inertia is,” Martinez said.
I don’t like to have to worry about my inertia, but he made it look and sound so easy as he zipped around the small room.
Then it was our turn to drive the stand-up electric scooters. It actually was easy. Much easier than I expected. I’m not very coordinated but it didn’t matter; it’s more like riding an escalator than a bike.
We had to pass a Segway driving test by doing a figure-eight obstacle course around cones. Lisa aced it. I didn’t hit any cones.
Helmets are provided and required, just in case. Signing a waiver is mandatory.
Our small group headed out into the wild streets of downtown Seattle on a sunny Wednesday afternoon. Martinez sometimes leads as many as eight riders on busy weekends, rain or shine.
Martinez stressed we should keep an eye on him and on our surroundings.
“I’ll always lead you down the clearest path,” he said. “Watch out for potholes or bumps on the sidewalk or maybe the tail of a dog or foot of a person taking a break.”
We tooled along the waterfront by the touristy spots on Elliott Bay: The Seattle Aquarium, Great Wheel, Edgewater Hotel. Martinez was a fountain of anecdotes about Bertha, The Beatles, cruise ships and the great fire of 1889. He knew his Seattle history well for not being a city slicker.
Without missing a beat, he also asked pedestrians in our path to please scoot a bit to the side to let our Segway group through. Nobody seemed to mind. In fact, they were amused by the gaggle of these sci-fi looking battery-powered vehicles soundlessly zipping by.
People constantly smiled at us. “This is so fun,” Lisa told them. “I highly recommend it.”
She said it at least 25 times. No lie. She could quit her day job as a lawyer and be a Segway PR flack.
It was fun, and freeing as well. I’ve walked along the waterfront from the ferry terminal to Olympic Sculpture Park dozens of times. It’s a hike. I couldn’t believe how quick and painless it was to go that stretch by Segway. It was a smooth ride, even with the funky tires.
We paused at spots to take a breather or photos. Lisa is not one to stand still so she stayed on the go, spinning circles forward and backward.
The steep hills from the waterfront to Seattle Center were a snap. No extra effort was required. It’s not like a bike where you have to exert energy. You just lean forward. Amazing.
We were at Seattle Center in no time. Martinez led us around the grounds, telling about the highlights. Lisa continued to tell everybody flashing a grin at us how she highly recommended they try it.
Indeed. There’s a feeling you get staring up at the Space Needle while standing on a Segway that you can’t get when your feet are planted on the ground.
For Erin Stone, a visitor from the Midwest, Segway tours are the best way to explore a new place on her travels.
“It’s better than getting on a tour bus and seeing the city,” Stone said. “You actually go out into the city. To see all the energy is amazing.”
The time went by quickly. Too soon we were riding by Pike Place Market on the final leg of our journey.
We covered all those places listed on the tour itinerary, just as promised. To my surprise, I survived unscathed, despite plowing smack-dab into a lamppost when I rounded a corner too fast. The wheels absorbed the head-on impact and I didn’t feel a thing or lose balance.
My sister was behind me. We both laughed. “It looked like a cartoon,” she said.
However, when the side of my tire barely clipped the edge of a curb it by some fluke toppled both me and the Segway. I hit the ground and the Segway went sideways. I think it scared Martinez and my sister more than it did me.
I got back into the saddle and Segwayed on.
Lisa is still all keyed up about the ride. “I’m going to go Segwaying again,” she said. “Maybe in San Diego.”
Maybe I’ll go with her.
Seattle By Segway; 214 Alaskan Way South, Seattle; 206-388-5508.
Tours are $85 for two hours; $75 for a 90-minute tour.
Ages 12 and older.