Rolling by San Francisco Bay

People stare as we pass by on our Segways, the two-wheeled gyroscope-balanced devices rolling on streets around Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco.  They are curious about these strange-looking vehicles, and we feel like tourist attractions instead of tourists. Introduced a few years ago, Segways now provide a novel way to tour many cities in the U.S. and worldwide.

Segways in San Francisco

Starting our Segway tour in San Francisco

Gyroscopes and tilt sensors emulate human balance in the Segway, the world’s first self-balancing human transporter. Using body movements similar to riding a bike or skiing, you go forward by leaning forward.  Lean back, and that’s where you go. Your body is the braking mechanism, so you stand up straight to stop.  Each little shift in position causes a change in motion and direction.

A half-hour training session at the Electric Tour Company, San Francisco’s original waterfront Segway tour, helps us feel comfortable with the machines, and everyone must wear a helmet.  Soon we’re maneuvering tight 360-degree turns and steadily running along the practice path. We look for the happy face on our Segway dials, an indication that the gyroscopes are on and all is well.  See a sad face, and you have to adjust your stance.

Our guide leads us single file onto Jefferson Street.  Each Segway is equipped with a walkie-talkie, so she can provide knowledgeable commentary about the sights and give specific instructions regarding the route and road conditions. Segways are not allowed on sidewalks in San Francisco, so we must dismount when not on approved paths.

Segways provide an innovative way to appreciate the beautiful City by the Bay.  In two and a half hours, we cover eight miles, far more than we could walk during that time.  We ride past Fisherman’s wharf, the National Maritime Museum, stop at Pier 45 (the largest fish processing spot in the world), learn history of the harbor, and see Ghirardelli Square (famous for chocolate and shopping).  The day is chilly and cloudy, so we welcome a break for coffee, hot chocolate, and pastries at Green’s Vegetarian Restaurant, a trendy bayside lunch spot popular with locals and tourists alike.

We roll uphill and downhill (the later motion recharges batteries), shifting positions on the footpad as our guide directs, and zip over to the Palace of Fine Arts.  We stop for picture opportunities beside the dome and fountain, placing our Segways flat on the ground when not in use.  Past the cable car turnaround, with awesome views of Alcatraz across the water and Golden Gate Bridge in the distance, we carry on, leaning and swaying ever so smoothly.

Segways in San Francisco

We've learned to balance on the Segways

Although Segways can travel up to 12 mph, our color-coded keys allow us to attain only 4 mph at first, later upgraded to 8.5 mph.  Because we’re touring on a cold January day, our group elects to cruise the upscale residential Marina District rather than windier open areas.

Segways are powered by heavy-duty batteries that recharge by plugging into a standard wall outlet.  Cost is about 10 cents for a full charge that lasts 8 to 10 miles (about the same amount of electricity as two 100-watt bulbs left on all day).  It’s not only a cool means of transportation, but it’s also cheap.

Tours depart morning and afternoon.  Cost is $70 per person. Riders should weigh between 100 and 250 pounds and not have mobility issues. A parent or guardian must accompany riders under 18. For exact times and reservations, call 877-474-3130 or click www.electrictourcompany.com, 757 Beach Street, San Francisco, CA.

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