NEW YORK (Money Magazine) -
I'm not sure whether the Segway Human Transporter will transform our lives the way its creators hope. But I can say that this battery-powered, self-balancing scooter transformed my afternoon. On a snowy February day, a large group of MONEY staffers and I took the opportunity to try a test model and zoom around the block-long hallways of our Manhattan offices.
We went up and down. And up and down. And up and down. That's because the Segway is highly addictive. It can travel up to 12 miles per hour, has no accelerator pedal or brake and gives off no emissions. Lean forward and it moves forward. Lean back and it slows and stops. Turn the hand grip and it swivels in place, an act of levitation that must be experienced to be believed. It feels queer to the touch: pulsing, purring and alive; more like a hovercraft than a wheeled vehicle.
Segway has just begun shipping the scooters via Amazon, so you may start noticing riders on streets and sidewalks. Should you buy one? Let's lead up to that question a little at a time.
Q. This thing is about a third of the price of a new compact car. Is that what it's meant to replace?
A. Not really. Segway's creators think it can reduce solo trips in your car or serve as an ideal vehicle for a short commute. It's clearly not practical for longer drives or hauling kids.
Q. Is it for the street or the sidewalk?
A. It's for anyplace you'd ordinarily walk. It's as wide as a person and can be operated at a quick clip or a casual pace. Many places have already approved the transporter for their sidewalks, though San Francisco has said no way.
Q. Exactly how does it work?
|Segway Human Transporter
|||COST:$4,950 (includes riding lesson; does not include attachable cargo bags)
|||RANGE: Depending on speed, terrain and rider's weight (and payload), anywhere from 10 to 15 miles per recharge
|||BATTERIES Last about 18 months; replacement pair costs $590
A. We could throw around terms like "gyroscopic" and "tilt sensors" but we won't, since Segway has talked to us at length about these things and we still don't have the faintest idea what's going on here. Let's just say that it took $100 million and a lot of smart people to design and engineer it. If you want to know more, you can read more at www.segway.com.
Q. Is it easy to ride?
A. It is. After a few minutes riders tend to get a feel for the balancing properties and steering mechanism. But some folks need more time. A certain MONEY editor who will not be named but whose initials are W.U. and whose first name is Walter, and who writes a column called Ask the Expert, plowed the Segway into a wall and shattered an office mailbox. He was unhurt. But his scooter privileges were curtailed pending further instruction.
Q. What if it breaks down?
A. There's a one-year warranty for defects, but if you crash your Segway into a wall (or an office mailbox) at high speed, you'd probably have to pay to have the vehicle fixed by a Segway mechanic. You shouldn't tinker with the machine yourself unless you actually know about gyroscopic and tilt-sensor-type stuff, in which case the company still wouldn't recommend it.
Q. So should I buy one or not?
A. You'll need to ask yourself other questions first. Like: How important is it to you to cut down on car use? And: Are you afraid you'll look silly on a scooter? We can certainly recommend that you try the Segway--it's like nothing you've ever driven--but at this price we imagine you'll need to be an unusual consumer to take one home. Or maybe the real question is: How much would you pay to feel young again? In which case five grand might not seem like much at all.