Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Matt's 300-Mile Segway Report

(Posted on SegwayChat.com and on my personal web site, www.BeforeISleep.net)

As of today, August 1, I will have hit the 300-mile marker on my Segway. This is after a total of just under two months (I got it on June 5th) -- and keep in mind that I lost my InfoKey for a week. (Thank goodness for the free spare, which arrived just before I went mad from Segway-withdrawal.) I want to take this opportunity to share my thoughts, experiences, and suggestions. Hopefully my write-up will convince others to take the plunge and buy a Segway. Believe me, you will be very happy with your decision!

I had dismissed the Segway as a nutty fad when I first heard about it several years ago. But when I was sitting in a Dupont Starbucks in May, I saw a DC police officer gliding past the window, and I realized the Segway might be the answer to my transportation woes. You see, I live in Washington, DC, and I had been spending a LOT of time waiting for the bus, sitting on the bus, walking from the bus -- it seemed like public transportation was sucking up hours of my day! I knew there had to be a better way.

So when the cop zoomed by, I thought, "Oh yeah, Segways! I wonder what ever happened to those?" After some cursory research, I learned that, while still not "popular," Segways had come far in recent years, and now had a nifty new "LeanSteer" feature that let me control my turns simply by leaning. I remembered missing that feature when I had looked into Segways originally, and I was glad to see it had finally arrived. After some more Googling, I learned of the existence of the DC Segway Users Group, and e-mailed for permission to join the Yahoo group. Will Hopper, a Segway dealer out of Annapolis, wrote back and told me about a group glide that was taking place the next day in DC. It just so happened he had an extra Segway, and wanted to know if I would like to join them? Hell yeah!

The group glide was a milestone. Six or seven of us zoomed through DC and up Embassy Row on Massachusetts Avenue. It was SO much fun, and I made a slick 9-minute video of my adventure and sent it around to friends and family. For the next several days, I could think of little else but getting my very own Segway. I even had dreams about it! Finally, after learning that I could get a very good financing deal from my bank, I decided to take the plunge.

This is what I have learned:

Efficiency and Cost

Before I got the Segway, I had three options for getting to work: drive, walk, or take the bus. Driving eats up gas, but more importantly, it eats up quite a bit of parking meter change -- something like $8 a day -- so that's out. Walking the 2.7 miles takes almost an hour each way, and humid DC summers would leave me drenched by the time I got to work, so that's out. The only other option was the bus. The bus costs $1.25 each way. It takes, on average, about 15 minutes to wait for the bus, another 20 to get to the nearest stop, and another 7 to walk the 1/3 mile to work: that's almost 45 minutes. So, each weekday, I was spending $2.50 and wasting an hour and a half in commute time. For the 25 work days of August, I'd be paying $62.50 in fares and spending 37.5 hours walking to or from the bus, waiting for the bus, and riding the bus.

IMG_1260 Enter the Segway. In the time it used to take simply to wait for the bus, I make the full journey to work. Door-to-door, it takes around 17 minutes. That's less than 35 minutes a day. It doesn't cost me a thing, because I plug it in downstairs, using the apartment building's electricity. (Even if I had to pay for it myself, it only costs about 10 cents to charge it fully -- and I only use about 1/4 of the battery on my daily commute -- so let's say maybe 3 cents a night, or less than a dollar a month.) For the 25 work days of August, I will be paying essentially nothing, and spending a measly 14 hours commuting. This gives me almost an extra hour a day -- or 23.5 hours a month. This is a LOT of extra time. I use it to spend more time with friends, read more, go to the gym more. What would you do with an extra hour every day?

I've also found that, because I use the Segway more for little trips around the neighborhood that I would usually use my car for, I am saving at least $50 per month on gas, and more likely $100. And I keep finding more uses for it: A couple weeks ago, I was determined to prove wrong the common misconception that you can't carry home a week's worth of groceries on the handlebars. Well guess what -- I must have hung 60 pounds worth of groceries from the bars! I just had to make sure to lean back enough to compensate for the added weight up front. Admittedly, this is probably not recommended -- and I plan to get the cargo plate add-on soon -- but it was amusing.

In terms of cost, five grand is a lot of money to shell out. But with the good rate I got on my personal loan from the bank, I'm only paying $112 a month for the privilege of riding a Segway. With conservative estimates of $62.50 saved per month on bus fare and $50 saved per month on gas, the Segway is quite literally paying for itself.

Bystander Reaction


I will admit that when I am riding my Segway, All Eyes Are On Me. When I first got it, I was fairly uncomfortable with all the attention, but I think that's because I was nervous about what others would think. I was concerned that I would get a lot of negative comments, but in reality, the reaction has been almost entirely positive. At best, people are really excited about it and want to ask me questions about it. Most just look at the Segway with a look of bemused curiosity. The drunk ones almost always point, laugh, hoot and holler, but that is to be expected from drunkards. Very rarely, someone will glare at me for daring to share the sidewalk with them. The nerve!

Now, all eyes are Still on me, but I no longer pay much attention to it. I ride with headphones in, generally listening to NPR, and by the time people notice they have just been passed by a guy on a Segway, I am long gone. My newfound nonchalance about being looked at all the time is probably akin to
what new celebrities go through. It sometimes can be annoying, losing your anonymity, but you learn to live with it.

People love to ask questions, and a good rule of thumb is that the later you are for an appointment, the more often you will be stopped by curious bystanders. The three most common questions, by far, are:

1. How fast?
2. How far?
3. How much?

Usually in that order.

My answers to questions 1 and 2 are usually met by an appreciative nod; Answer 3 often doesn't sit well. But the good part about getting the same questions all the time is that I can try out different responses to see which elicit the best reaction! (My new answer to question 3 is, "It's free!" I then explain that the savings balance out the cost.) I have kept a log of the most interesting reactions on my Web site, where I have a feature entitled,
"Segway Reaction of the Day!" (SRD.) It is a fairly popular feature. Highly recommended. I also map out all the SRDs on a Google Map.

I was fully prepared for people to taunt me as I rode past. I expected them to shout out, "Dork!" or "Fa**ot!" or some other such nonsense. That hasn't happened. People still shout, but in a totally positive way. It usually happens on Friday or Saturday night in some trendy area like Dupont or Georgetown. Drunken people will see me and excitedly blurt out, "Segway!", for they have never seen one in person before. To which I sometimes respond, as I zoom past, "Seeeeeggggwaaaaaay!!!" We are like Daniel Laruso and Mr. Miyagi, crying "Banzai!!!" to each other. It is a battle cry, a call between warriors. In that moment, glider and bystander are one.

"Seeeeggggwaaaay!!!!!"

Of the thousands of people have seen me on my Segway in the last 300 miles, only a few have been openly hostile. In response to the few people who are jerks, I have learned to develop several good comebacks. One person told me that I was really annoying, zooming around on my Segway. I responded, saucily, "I step off the Segway and I won't be annoying anymore. You don't have that solution."

And every so often, someone will stop you and practically beg to use it. A few days after I got it, a woman's jaw dropped as she saw me coming. She stopped me, and said, "It has always been a personal dream of mine to ride a Segway." How could I say no to that?

Ride Safety

Before I bought my i2, I had wondered if I would have to be more careful gliding down the sidewalk than I would be riding a bike down the sidewalk. After 300 miles, I can say that the answer is "yes" -- but just because it is very easy to push the Segway to its limits, traveling 12.5 mph with the power of thought, and "forget" to pay attention to all the divots and bumps in the sidewalk. Pay attention, keep your knees slightly bent, and lean into curves and turns, and the Segway is harmless. Well... mostly harmless.

Dilapidated sidewalks in Georgetown Over the past 300 miles, I have fallen off the i2 just a few times. All of those falls occurred during the first 100 miles, when I was still getting used to the ride. However, the phrase "fallen off" is misleading. On a bike, when you crash and/or get tripped up and/or fall, you FALL. You are sitting four feet off the ground and traveling somewhere between 10-30 mph. When your tire hits really rough pavement and you lose your balance, you go flying, and it is almost impossible to land on your feet. In contrast, on the Segway, I have hit rough patches going a bit faster than I should be. The residential sidewalks in Georgetown are paved with bricks, and in several instances, roots from nearby trees have grown under the bricks, causing a pronounced washboard effect at a diagonal angle to the path of the sidewalk. A couple times, the Segway has come to a controlled standstill when I have gone too fast over those ridges, and I learn my lesson, and continue slowly on my way. A couple times, the Segway has not shut down, but rather handled the bumps just fine. I, on the other hand, did not have my knees bent far enough and was not able to maintain my balance on the now earthquaking Segway platform.

What happened? I jumped off. Once, the Segway kept going a few feet before falling over. Once, I was able to keep my grip on the handlebars, running behind the Segway as I tried to slow it down. Key point: I have (so far) always been able to land on my feet, run forward a bit (to keep my feet under the center of gravity of my free-flying torso!), and stay upright. Had I been riding a bike, I would have almost certainly fallen off a couple times over the course of 300 miles through Washington, DC, and odds are I would not have laughed it off so easily.

Owwww The Big Fall came around mile 85. I had ridden for about 10 hours, so I felt pretty comfortable on it -- perhaps too comfortable. I was going too fast over unfamiliar terrain, and before I knew it, I was heading toward a faceplant. It seriously happens FAST, like within a quarter second. As far as I can tell, I think I went up on one wheel, the platform tried to stabilize itself but was bouncing around a LOT, I couldn't keep on it and had to jump off... now my torso was going at 12 mph and my legs were on the ground, probably running at around 8 mph. I'm no expert in physics, but even I could predict what was going to happen next. My left arm shot out to break my fall, and the next thing I knew, I felt my arm scraping against the pavement as my body slid several feet forward. I had skinned my palm, elbow and knee. Luckily, nothing was broken or sprained, but MAN did it hurt. I was wearing my helmet, but my head never touched the ground. Had I been wearing mountain biking gloves, my palms would have been protected and I would have been spared a fair bit of pain. Lesson learned.

When you fall, everything goes everywhere. I was sprawled out face down on the ground. My Blackberry had shot off my hip about 30 feet. My InfoKey had also fallen out of my pocket, and was 20 feet behind me. My trusty Steed, which I thought would be just to my right, had actually continued about 15 feet forward and to my left, and was now face down in the right lane of traffic. Luckily, he's fine -- I've learned the Segways are a lot more sturdy than people!

For a while, I had no idea why I went down. After much deliberation, I have determined that the loss of balance was due to my placing too much weight on one foot while turning in the same direction. Apparently I had gotten into the bad habit of "roller skating" on my Segway -- placing all my weight on one foot, and then shifting to the other, and making wide arcs along the sidewalk as I went. Although that kind of gliding might be fun and look neat, it is neither necessary nor wise. I have since corrected my gliding style -- feet firmly planted, center of gravity spread out evenly across both feet -- and I have not fallen off since.

Exercise

Anyone who says riding a Segway is the easiest, laziest, most effortless mode of transportation... has obviously never ridden a Segway. For several months, I had walked one block to the bus stop, sat on my ass for twenty minutes reading the Wall Street Journal and waiting for the bus to arrive, lazily took it three miles, and then walked three blocks to my building. I was never sore, never tired, never excited -- I just existed. At the end of the day, I did the same thing in reverse. At home, when I wanted to go to the store, I wouldn't walk; I would get in my car and sit on my ass for a mile. Repeat the process to come home.

After the first few days (about 30 miles), I FELT it! My quads and glutes were sore, my shoulders were sore, my obliques were sore... I guess that's what comes from trying to keep one's balance at 12 miles an hour on a quaking Segway platform. (Segway virgins, don't misunderstand: The Segway is still "balancing" me; but when I push it hard, I have to work to keep my knees bent to keep my feet firmly planted on the platform and avoid being thrown around.) Now that I've hit the 300 mile mark, my muscles have adjusted, and I no longer have any soreness... but I am definitely using muscles I didn't use waiting for the bus.

I'm not saying I'm going to lose much weight gliding to and from work, and doing errands and seeing friends; but I can say for sure that I won't GAIN any weight by gliding instead of driving or riding the bus. Yeah, of course jogging or biking would be preferable from an exercise standpoint, but I didn't buy the Segway to get exercise, I bought it for transportation. I didn't buy it to replace walking; I bought it to replace driving and busing. That my muscles became sore (in a good way), and I felt it at the end of the week, was just an unexpected bonus.

Criticisms

I must admit, there's not a lot to be critical of. Overall, it's a wonderful little machine which has greatly enhanced my life. That said, I do have a few complaints. In reverse order:

3. The piece of plastic on the center console of my i2 sometimes pops off, as though it's not seated properly. It's annoying, but not a big deal.
2. Someone, please invent a spiffy kickstand for the thing. It's unseemly to have to lean my Segway up against a tree, or worse, set it face down on the ground when I just need to leave it for a minute.
1. My number one complaint is that the speed-limiter in Riderless Balance Mode is set WAY TOO LOW. Let me explain: Sometimes I like to walk my Segway next to me. Sometimes it's not appropriate to ride on it. For instance, when walking through the city with a Sweetie and a Segway, I would much prefer to walk alongside the other person while gently guiding the Segway next to us. But I can't do this, because if you try to push the Segway too fast in Riderless Balance Mode when you're not on it, it starts warning you with lots of shakes, and then shuts down! And when I say "too fast," I mean 2.5 mph. Seriously, I have to slow my walk down to a snail's pace in order to keep the Segway from going into conniptions.

But overall, the good far outweighs the bad. To anyone living in a densely packed city like Washington, D.C., I heartily recommended purchasing a Segway. Not only is it convenient and relatively inexpensive, it's a BLAST to ride! Again, if you haven't seen it, take a look at the video I made of my first Segway ride, "Gliding."

I hope you'll keep up with my Segway adventures at http://www.beforeisleep.net/labels/segway.html. Glide on!

Cool Segway Man

6 comments:

Di said...

Best post ever! I see your point about the kickstand. Or maybe a "lock" feature where the Segway will be able to stand upright by itself.

Matt said...

Thanks Di! I've been working on this post for literally a month and a half. :-) (It was originally going to be the 100-Mile Report, then 200... I'm glad I finally got it out!)

There used to be a "lock" feature available on consumer models: the E-stand (electronic kickstand). It lets the Segway balance upright by itself, without having to lean it up against anything. Now, from what I understand, that feature is only available on the golf cart models, or on commercial models for postal workers, etc. (so they can leave the Segway and mail bag standing upright as they walk up to a house).

Di said...

Okay... I'm guilty of driving your hits up today, sorry - I'm waiting for a report on Gettysburg because you guys looked like you were having a blast! I want to know what the "Period Fare" was like.

Jarod said...

> Before I got the Segway,
> I had three options for
> getting to work:
> drive, walk, or take the bus.

...how about a bike?

Rob O. said...

Hey Matt! Came across your site via Engadget this morning. Great stuff!

I finally had an opportunity to try a Segway in Kansas City recently and it was incredible!!

You're right about the Segway requiring the use of muscles you don't normally apply. I do a fair bit of walking but my calves and thighs were definitely starting to ache at the end of my cruise.

I wish I lived in a more urban area so that this could be a viable alternative for commuting to work.

Matt said...

Jarod: You're right, biking was technically another option for getting to work. However, as I sometimes wear a suit to work, that's not really an option in the DC heat and humidity. With the Segway, I get a fine 12 mph breeze on me the whole way. I don't even notice the 95 degree heat!

Rob: Thanks for stopping by! Yeah, you definitely need to live in an urban area for this to be a viable solution. As you will see from my most recent post, Segways do little good in the suburbs, where everything is several miles away...