Segway like a magic carpet ride

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Children stand and stare as we glide past serenely. 

Riding a Segway around Queenstown Bay on a sunny afternoon is not for anyone who minds being looked at.
The two-wheeled motorised scooters draw lots of responses from enthusiastic exclamations and smiles to sniggering. 

Before trying this, I must admit I was in the sniggering camp. 

Maybe it’s the way you have to stand bolt upright, but they always seemed a bit geeky, a bit science fiction convention. 

Before we can navigate the lakeside footpaths and the Gardens and be judged by the public, we need training.
Segways are controlled by either shifting your body weight to go forwards or backwards, or turning the handlebar. The machine – which took ten years and $250 million to develop – is managed by five gyroscopes and two microprocessors. They keep the Segway upright and the wheels moving as you move. 

It’s a weird sensation, like riding a magic carpet. It only takes a slight change in weight into your toes to begin moving forward, so it’s almost as if you’re controlling it purely by thought. 

Tour-firm owner Kevin Hey takes me and two customers – Auckland couple Kevin and Fran – through our paces in the One Mile Roundabout car park. 

After getting to grips with the controls, we head into town. Fran is nervous, very slow and steady, while Kevin is a tad overconfident. Kevin comes off twice during the two-hour tour. At one point he nearly gets run over by his own Segway, which would be an embarrassing way to go, though not unprecedented. In September 2010, Segway firm owner and multi-millionaire Jimi Heselden, 62, died when he rode one over a cliff near his British home. It’s the only known fatality.
 
Heselden is in my thoughts as the speed restrictor is released and we get to go the 20kmh top speed shooting up and down banks on Lake Esplanade. 

You can see why kids love it – going uphill at full pelt is a lot of fun. I’m sort of sold on them by the end, even though they’d look more at home in a spaceship loading bay dock in Star Wars. But it’s an entertaining way to kill a few hours, both for riders and gawking tourists.