Dork horse

When I heard about the Chicago Segway Tour-a new lakefront sightseeing excursion conducted entirely aboard those futuristic Segway scooters-I was instantly intrigued. Like so many others, I've been curious about the Segway since its debut in 2001 amid heaps of hype usually reserved for "Star Wars" sequels. For months prior to the release, it was mysteriously referred to only as "It." Some guessed "It" would be a perpetual-motion machine. Others guessed "It" would be a personal hovercraft. I was hoping "It" would be a saddle that would allow my cat to ride my dog.

We were all wrong. "It" was a scooter. Powered by batteries and balanced by five gyroscopes, the Segway promised a revolutionary, environmentally-safe ride steered by the slightest of body movements. It also promised to put you in the poorhouse: Currently, these sweet babies run around $4,500.

The tour, however, is just $65. It begins with a 30-minute training session. You address a Segway as you might a wild stallion-with sensitivity, authority and just a tiny bit of fear. Once carefully mounted, all you need to do is lean. (Screaming, surprisingly, is usually not necessary.) The tour staff then taught us to find our Segway's "center of gravity" by thrusting our hips in and out to the staff's shouted encouragements of "Harder!" and "More!"

After making love to our machines for nearly 15 minutes, the eight of us zipped off at 6 MPH. Your speed is controlled by three different keys: the "Black Key" caps you at 6 MPH, the "yellow key," which you also use on the tour, brings you up to 8 MPH. The "Red Key" will get you 12.5 MPH, but you won't find this key on the tour-they keep it locked in a secret vault guarded by a shark, a robot and two zombies.

For a local, the one and only tour offered is pretty redundant. We saw Meigs Field-or what's left of it. Then we saw Soldier Field-or what's left of it. Then we buzzed our way to happier sights, including the Field Museum, Grant Park, the Guy Who Lives on the Steps in Grant Park and Buckingham Fountain. Sure, you could cover the same ground in equal time on foot, but please-walking is so 2003.

Near the tour's end, we were caught in a 20-minute downpour, but never once did my trusty Segway lose traction. This is important, for an engaged Segway never completely stops; it is always moving slightly forward or back. Thus, panicking on a Segway could be disastrous. It will interpret your bailing out as a sign to go backwards, and will begin to run your ass over, nailing you in the shin again and again until you manage to dive free or crawl back on, weeping and defeated-but respectful.

Ultimately, there's no hiding it: The Segway is dorky. You may feel like a dork driving it. People may even shout "Dork!" as you pass. But while the weather is still nice and most of the tourists have split town, it's time to hop on one of these exhilarating uberscooters-and make those haughty hipsters eat your dorky dust.

City Segway Tours$65. 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. daily through Nov. 30. 1-877-SEG-TOUR or citysegwaytours.com/chicago.

Daniel Kraus is a metromix special contributor.

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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