- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 2, 2006

Ripping through the streets of the District on a Segway, it is hard to know whether one is sightseeing or is, instead, the sight.

Segway tours are growing in popularity as a way to take in the nation’s capital without walking five miles or being confined to a tour bus. Segways are two-wheeled, self-balancing personal transportation devices that can travel at speeds of up to 12 mph.

Several places in downtown Washington offer Segway tours. One caveat: Riders must be 16 or older. However, Capital Segway, located on I Street near the McPherson Square Metro stop, has a batch of the newest model of Segways, as well as a Segshaw. This rickshaw-type carriage allows families to take children in tow for a seated ride.

A 2-hour guided tour at Capital Segway costs $65 per person ($30 for children sitting in the Segshaw). Visitors also can rent Segways for a day or half day to see the city on their own.

If you have never ridden a Segway, though, it is best to go for the guided tour. Capital Segway goes over lots of training and safety information before tour groups set out. Visitors learn the basics of riding the device as well as how not to fall over curbs or other tourists.

Once you get on and balance, riding a Segway couldn’t be easier. The Segway, powered by an electric battery and controlled by computer chips and gyroscopes, seemingly reads your mind. You think about going forward, lean forward just a tiny bit, and away it goes.

On older Segway models, hand controls govern turning. On the new Gen II PT, released last month, riders simply lean in either direction to turn.

After the introduction, tour participants cross the street to a park to get some practice stopping, turning and generally maneuvering the Segway.

Capital Segway has a staff of affable young tour guides who have a working knowledge of Washington’s landmarks and technical knowledge of how to work a Segway.

The Saltsman family — Ellen, Chip and daughter Jennette, 21 — came from Fallston, Md., to take a tour on a recent weekday. They had seen the Segways in action in San Francisco earlier in the summer and had vowed to check out a tour on the East Coast.

“Is this not fabulous?” Ellen Saltsman said with a laugh as she raced past her daughter on the part of Pennsylvania Avenue closed to car traffic.

Most of the tour participants — who ranged in age from teens to senior citizens — agreed that riding a Segway was, indeed, fabulous as well as easy. The only complaint: Being so close to all that pavement on a sunny day can be a little hot. So wear sunscreen and bring a bottle of water in a backpack, as you will need your hands for steering.

The tour takes riders past landmarks such as the White House, the Old Executive Office Building, Blair House, various government agencies, Smithsonian museums and the Washington Monument. One of the highlights of the tour is when the group stops near the steps of the Capitol to take in the sweeping view of the Mall.

When on a Segway tour, riders can’t leave the devices and wander through a museum, so though the tour is an excellent way for tourists to get familiar with the District, they will have to make a later trip to go inside a museum or spend more time at a monument.

That’s OK, though, because riding a Segway is too much fun to slow down. It also is interesting to see the reaction from others walking by or watching the action from a car.

Everyone notices a group of Segway riders. There is a lot of pointing, even giggling. Riding through the streets is probably the best commercial for the Segway industry. Every so often, though, a cab driver or angry pedestrian will yell at the riders for hogging the sidewalk or messing up traffic.

“There are a lot of people out there who are anti-Segway,” says Capital Segway tour guide Kyle Smallegan. “But you also hear, ‘That’s so cool’ or ‘I want one.’”

Or this one, overheard on Pennsylvania Avenue: “They look like Martians.”

• Capital Segway, 1350 I St. NW. Capital Segway offers several tour options. See the City is a 2-hour session with a safety introduction for $65. The guided tour takes riders past many downtown sites, including the White House, Smithsonian museums and the Capitol. Tours run seven days a week at 10 a.m. and 12:30, 3 and 6 p.m. Riders must be 16 or older, but Segshaw carriages are available for young riders ($30). Reservations are suggested 48 hours in advance. For more information, call 202/682-2980 or visit www.capitalsegway.com.

• Segs in the City, 1100 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, at the Old Post Office Pavilion, has several options for tours, called safaris. The one-hour Lunch Hour Safari runs at 12:30 and costs $45. The one-hour Happy Hour Safari leaves at 5 p.m. and also costs $45. Two-hour tours are $70 and generally leave at 10 a.m. and 2 and 7 p.m. Riders must be 16 or older. For more information, call 800/SEGS-383 or visit www.segs inthecity.net.

• City Segway Tours, 1455 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, offers four-hour tours of the District. Tours leave at 9:30 a.m. and 2:30 and 6 p.m. Tours cost $70. Riders must be 16 or older. For more information, call 202/349-4060 or visit www.citysegwaytours.com.

Notes: Check with tour companies for daily schedules, as they change depending on demand, season and weather. Wear comfortable shoes and a backpack, as you will need your hands to steer. Wear sunscreen and bring water; it gets hot on the pavement.

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