Seeing Washington the Segway Way

There’s no shortage of ways to tour the nation’s capital—and the latest in guided fun is on two wheels. Segway tours have been popping up in the area over the past few years and producing mini-herds of PTs (personal transporters) maneuvering through pedestrian crowds and gliding down District sidewalks.

The machines—which President Bush notoriously tumbled off of—are quite stable and relatively easy to use. They move forward and backward when you shift the weight of your feet, although if you try to move backward for too long, the Seg thinks you’re sliding down a hill and shuts off. Turns are made by moving the left handle; this is probably the trickiest part to get used to. Because the mechanism is sensitive and requires only a slight movement to change directions, a quick flick of the wrist can send a rider into a jarring 90-degree turn.

Segs in the City, one of the area Segway tour companies, starts its tours—or safaris, as it calls them—with a brief training/practice session, and then groups take off on the streets. Guides lead the pack but are watchful and attentive to riders. A one-hour mini safari, the shortest available, costs $45 and begins with a ride down Pennsylvania Avenue: first stop, the National Archives. Other stops include both sides of the Capitol, the Library of Congress, and the Supreme Court.

Tour guides offer up facts about the sights, but if you’re looking for in-depth information about the city, this isn’t the best way to get it. Instead of learning about what’s housed in the Archives, you may find yourself spinning in place or puttering around a giant potted plant—Segways are like a new toy you can’t help playing with. And they don’t blend into city surroundings: On a Segway, you’ll be stared at, you’ll be wearing a helmet, and “cool” is not necessarily the first description that comes to mind when riding.

The Segways are capped at nine miles per hour, in accordance with DC law, but if you ask your tour guide, you may be able to have your speed capabilities increased. Overall, Segways are a unique, often hilarious, way to experience the city, but they’re not an easy joy ride—you have to use your feet a lot, and it takes a lot of concentration in the beginning before you start to feel comfortable. After you’ve completed a guided safari, Segs in the City offers unguided rentals by the hour.

Other tour companies in the area are City Segway Tours and Capital Segway. Each offers different options—evening tours, Embassy Row tours, and more. Tours are also available in parts of Maryland and Virginia.

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