Russell is the owner of Segway by KAR in downtown Traverse City, where she sells and rents the self-balancing, two-wheeled machines. She stands on a Segway and zips around a pole with ease as I wonder, How does it stay up?
As though reading my thoughts, she shows me a flashing diamond of green lights on the platform. That shows that the gyroscopes are reading the platform 100 times a minute, she explains.
She opened Segway by KAR in August 2006. The dealership serves 15 counties in Michigan and two in Ohio, and offers six models, which range in price from $5,145 to $5,645. Accessories like golf bags and backpacks are also available.
Segways are entirely electricity-powered and can travel 20 miles on a charge, which uses approximately 10 cents worth of electricity. They emit 14 times less greenhouse gas than the average American car, and 20 times less than a large SUV.
A TRUST THING
Its a trust thing, she explains as she demonstrates. And its simple. To go forward, you lean forward; to stop, you can lean back or stick out your bum. I have my toes down as though Im pressing them into warm sand, she says.
The machine has a maximum speed of 12.5 miles an hour. In Michigan, its classified as a personal assistive mobility device, which means it can be operated on sidewalks, bike paths, and streets with speed limits of 25 or less. Half of the trips Americans take are less than five miles and transport a single passenger--trips that could be made on a Segway.
Before long, Im swooping around the pole too. This is fun! I exclaim, giggling.
And thats what we call the Segway smile, Russell says.
After 10 minutes of practice, were off. Everywhere we go, people are looking at us and waving. If youre in an introverted mood, go somewhere where youll be by yourself, she laughs. Youll spend a lot of time showing it off.
We meet an older man behind the citys Maritime Academy, and Russell lets him give it a try. Look at me! Im a pioneer, just like the Wright Brothers! he cries as we Segway together to the end of the pier. First in flight!
Russell first encountered a Segway in February 2006. Ten years ago, at 39, she was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinsons Disease, which impacts the nervous system and impairs motor skills and speech for many people.
Last year she attended a Parkinsons Action Network conference in Washington, D.C. One of my colleagues glided in on a Segway, and I just couldnt take my eyes off it, Russell said.
Before she got Parkinsons, Russell was extremely active; she played basketball and softball for Penn State in the 70s and used to bike from Toledo, Ohio to Traverse City.
I was used to being able to do things like climb two fourteeners in a weekend, she said, referring to the 14,000-foot-high mountains in Colorado. Getting on the Segway was kind of like a return to that sense of mobility for me.
Im a guy who works with words, and I cant come up with the right word to describe it, says Paul Heaton of TC, who rented Segways with visiting family members to take a tour along the Bayfront. Its an invigorating experience, because the technology is so fascinating and the simplicity is impressive.
Russell stresses a Segways role as a tool for mobility. Segways are great for people with injuries or prostheses, and for people who simply cant move as much as they used to. Of the 85,000 people living in Grand Traverse County, she tells me, nearly 12,000 are disabled--over 14 percent.
Roen Tharp of TC has been paralyzed on the left side since he had polio in 1951. He uses a Segseat, an accessory thats not unlike a bicycle seat, which allows him to both stand and sit. Its nice because you can use it on the trails. If youre not able to walk that far, it helps a lot, he says.
Tharp doesnt own a Segway yet, but he hopes to buy a used one. I think if people are used to being able to do things, and cant as much as they used to, they should check it out, he says.
Russell has heard people complain that Segways will make us all fat and lazy. However, she says, its unfair to presume that you can judge another persons ability to walk. And shes not trying to discourage people from biking or walking.
We call it Segway by KAR because K.A.R. is my initials, but its also to say goodbye to cars, she says. We dont want to replace bicyclists, we dont want to replace walkers, says Russell. Part of my joy in Segwaying is the out-of-doors.
Segways are also great for family outings and tours, Russell says. It allows grandparents to be really cool. Its been a pleasure to see family reunions.
Susan Close of TC surprised her husband with a family Fathers Day glide around the city with their kids, ages 12 and 14. All of us just had these big grins on our face once we started riding them. Within five minutes we had the hang of it. Its just a feeling of freedom, she says. My kids just zip around like its part of their body. We call it pod-racing because it reminds us of Anakin Skywalker.
Segways also have many practical applications for security and business. They can be used in airports, in large warehouses, and for hospital security.
The TC police department has purchased one, which they use downtown. Theyre able to patrol all day for under 10 cents, Russell says. Theyre eight inches taller, and theyre able to see above the crowd. The Chicago Police Department has a fleet of 50.
Northern Michigan College received a Segway through an anonymous donation, which has been used by security, in classes, and as part of the energy demonstration center. Its a great resource for us, says Heaton, the NMC director of public relations. It has made our campus safety officers more visible and accessible.
Although she hopes Segways can enhance mobility and create family fun, Russell also hopes that for the young and able-bodied, Segways will spark creativity and entrepreneurship. Its my hope that some people will decide to be a scientist or inventor, she says.
Sometimes I think I shouldve stopped at one Segway, but its been quite a moving adventure, she says, laughing and adding, pun intended.
Segway by KAR is located at 130 Hall St. in TC. A lesson is $5 and goes towards the price of a tour, which is
$75. After taking a tour, a 24-hour rental costs $150. For more information,
call (231) 922-0KAR (0527) or visit