I rode on a Segway for the first time 15 years ago. I bought my very first Segway last week. It’s the Segway MiniPro. Actually it’s made by Ninebot in China, not the company established by Dean Kamen at the turn of this century. It’s smaller than the Segway you have seen but larger than the flashy popular hoverboards. It doesn’t have a handlebar to hold on to. Why did I buy it? For one thing, to see if the world is finally ready for Segway.
After riding my mini Segway for a week, I have been pleased to find it’s still very much a Segway, even if made by a different company. The little zoom unit performs very well, topping out at 10 mph (the larger Segways top out at 13 mph), and it will carry me well over 10 miles! By riding with my hands free, I can lean more freely into my turns, and even ride carrying a beverage. It’s the same amazing technology that monitors your weight distribution 100 times per second and adjusts the pitch of your vehicle in response. Amazing!
I have waited a long time for an inexpensive Segway. When I was consulting the original company back in 2003, I was told the smaller P-Series would be priced less than $2,000 if there was volume over 50,000 units/year. That scale of production was never seen. So Segways were priced at $5,000, and in more recent years they sell for $7,000. The new Segway (Ninebot) Mini is available at Walmart and other retailers for only $600.
Ninebot began making self-balancing scooters in China that Segway claimed infringed on their patents. So Ninebot swooped in and bought Segway. At this point, Segway may have been owned by three different groups after Dean Kamen and investors created it. (The second owner unfortunately died on an off-road Segway as he traveled about his large estate in the UK).
Over the years I have spent many hours “gliding” (that’s the term for riding a Segway), exploring what these micro-mobility vehicles can do, and how they might one day fit in our cities. As a kid that grew up skiing in Colorado, some say it looks like I am skiing when I ride a Segway, as I make a lot of big sweeping turns. Even Adrian van Hooydonk, Senior Vice President of Design at BMW, said that unlike others he’s seen gliding, I made a Segway look cool when riding it!
Today our cities are more multi-modal than ever before. This presents a lot of opportunity for these small inexpensive Segways. They are small enough to fit on the train, bus or in one’s Uber (trunk) with total ease. But it would be great if there were small lockers to leave mini Segways at the transit hub, a restaurant, or other destinations around our cities. And cities with cracked sidewalks and pot-holed streets are not exactly conducive to riding along on a Segway.
My all-time favorite place to ride a Segway is at Swan Lake, a car-free, mobile home community in Ontario, California. Swan Lake makes residents park their cars at the edge of the community, and now allows micro-mobility vehicles for movement inside the community. Riding on the streets of Swan Lake with no cars in the complex is a lot of fun. I believe we will come to see more communities like Swan Lake, which will give rise to more of these mobility alternatives.
In the year 2000, Steve Jobs told Dean Kamen the world would architect new cities around the Segway. It hasn’t happened yet. But we are seeing many new micro-mobility vehicles/devices enter the marketplace. I am confident that all-new travel zones for light vehicles like Segways are not far behind, especially since the price of a Segway is now lower than what its creators thought was even possible.
*Editor's note: to check out Segway in its heyday, see adandp.media/articles/panic-in-detroit
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