Feb 232011

Unveiled in 2001, the ever-so-geeky-but-cool Segway was meant to revolutionise urban transport. With around 80,000 Segways in operation worldwide, compared to around 600 million passenger vehicles, the revolution has been a bit of a fizzer so far.

Most Segway riders are private individuals, despite various police departments in the US using Segways in crowded city environments, and the Chinese military doing Segway patrols of the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

The Segway is an odd bikey-scootery-type electric vehicle. While there are some basic electronic controls, the main mode of operation involves standing on its small platform and leaning, to change your direction and speed.

There’s just two wheels on the Segway; this alone may prompt any readers as perennially unbalanced as myself to immediately strike the Segway off their Christmas list.

However, Segway fans insist that, after just a small training session, the vehicle is safe even for the unco-ordinated who stumble amongst us, because of its clever use of gyroscopes that make hundreds of tiny engine adjustments to ensure smooth travel.

Safety is a controversial topic for Segway aficionados; George Bush famously fell off a Segway in 2003; and in an ironic – and tragic – twist, UK multi-millionaire James Heseldon accidentally drove his off-road Segway over a cliff to his death just months after he had purchased the financially-troubled company.  Low battery levels have been blamed for earlier accidents, with new models said to have overcome this problem.

And, as with motorbikes, the safety of the Segway is likely to be somewhat dependant on the approach of the operator.

Segway tours are a hit with travelers from San Francisco to Sydney and Segway lovers swear that the two-wheeler (which has a top speed of 20 km/h) is an ideal transporter across short urban distances.

As we guzzle the last drops of the planet’s fossil fuel, the vehicle of the future will clearly need to run on anything but oil; perhaps the time for Segway’s world domination is near?

Before joining the exclusive Segway revolution though, Australian Segway-hopefuls will need to check the Segway road-approved status, which varies from state to state.

Bottom line: The latest geek-cool transport – tested by George Bush
How much : Range from Au $8,000 to $9000 plus accessories