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Geek Gang Away

Tour takes the taboo out of the Segway


At certain times in our lives, we have to put our egos aside. Sometimes, it's for the greater good. Sometimes, it's an act of selflessness. Sometimes, it's being willing to look like a complete dork in the name of fun.

Donning a bike helmet and riding through downtown on a high-tech scooter with seven other people is a humbling experience. Stripped of any form of pride, you begin to lose some of your grown-up self-consciousness and suddenly revert to childhood, when fun took priority.

Who knew such revelations could come from a Segway?

The two-wheeled personal transportation vehicles have been around for years, but they are still rare enough to garner stares from the curious. Until recently, there have been only a handful around the valley, ridden by tech-savvy commuters.

But now, a Boise company is giving the public the chance to ride a Segway without plopping down roughly $5,000 to own one.

Adventure Tours of Idaho has set up shop in a storefront near the Grove Plaza, offering Segway rentals and guided tours of downtown. Nearly any day of the week, passersby can be found gawking at the machines parked out front.

On a recent afternoon, a group from Boise Weekly decided to quench our curiosity the only way possible--by spending an afternoon on a Segway.

We started our adventure by watching the required safety video, which cuts between images of happy Segway riders buzzing across a multitude of surfaces, and the unhappy Segway stick-figure rider who manages to flip his ride a lot.

As soon as we signed the waiver, we were left staring at what suddenly had become menacing vehicles. We completed our ego strip down by strapping on bike helmets and gingerly stepping onto the machines.

Segways are self-balancing, and the sensation of having something else control your center of gravity takes a little getting used to. All seven BW staffers slowly traveled up and down the breezeway next to the Grove Plaza as our guide, Cindy Davis, helped each of us learn how to delicately move forward by putting pressure on our toes, and turn by rotating the handlebars.

Once we were all up and moving, it was time to hit the streets. Rolling down the sidewalk in a single-file line, we looked like a roving geek gang out to start trouble with a scooter crew.

In no time, we had forgotten how silly we looked and were creating synchronized formations and patterns whenever we came to a parking lot or plaza. We quickly found our comfort level after clearing a few curbs and were soon diligently following our guide like a flock of high-tech sheep.

Our tour of historic Boise led down the back alleys of the city, while Davis shared stories about landmarks like the Idanha and the Capitol, and long-gone Chinatown and red-light district.

It was a similar tour in Reno, Nev., that planted the Boise Segway tour idea in the head of Adventure Tours co-owner Greg Reir. He was visiting a friend who had arranged for a tour to celebrate his wife's birthday. Reir admitted he wasn't all that into it at first.

"I thought it was pretty dorky, honestly," he said. "But I had a blast. I felt like a kid riding a bike for the first time."

Reir never considered Segways as a way to commute but thought they would be the perfect way to show Boise visitors the city. "It's a fun way to go from Point A to Point B," he said.

Reir and his business partner, Tom Pedilla, found a Segway dealership in Idaho Falls--which specialized in selling the larger-wheeled versions of the machine to farmers and ranchers in the area. Reir said the dealership sold 76 Segways in a single year and found success with a rental program it started.

Reir bought eight machines, found an office location and picked the brain of former Boise city historian, Todd Shallot, for interesting tidbits about the city. Shallot wrote the script for the historic tour, throwing in assorted urban legends and ghost stories as well.

Adventure Tours opened its doors on April 1 and has seen steady interest from visitors looking for tours, and locals who just want to tool around on the machines for a few hours.

But for Reir, the secret to riding a Segway is riding in a pack.

"You don't hear anything negative when you're in a group," he said, adding that the hecklers only seem to come out when someone is riding alone.

The herd approach definitely seemed to work in the favor of the BW Segway team. Passersby, both on foot and in cars, smiled and commented as the motley crew worked its way down the sidewalk. One staffer commented that she felt as if we were all part of a David Lynch movie, only we didn't have a copy of the script.

As we made our way across Boise, our toes going a bit numb after so long on the machines, we got a little cocky in Capitol Park, riding across the grass and turning in tight, circular formations. By this point, we felt like experts and had nearly forgotten just how silly we looked to everyone not on a Segway.

After we returned the machines to the shop and began the agonizingly slow two-block walk back to our office, sans helmets, something more seemed missing. Then, we realized drivers were no longer smiling at us as we passed. We actually missed our Segways.

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