Ex­pe­ri­ence new thrills while sight­see­ing in The City

Escalon Times - - PERSPECTIVE - By CARY ORDWAY Cal­i­for­ni­aWeek­

If walk­ing or driv­ing the streets of San Fran­cisco is not quite enough ad­ven­ture for you, try join­ing the grow­ing num­ber of peo­ple who are see­ing Bay area sights while bal­anc­ing on board a Seg­way, that two-wheeled elec­tric ve­hi­cle that was once hailed as the fu­ture of all per­sonal travel. Not only will you see tourist land­marks, but you’ll learn a new skill and face just enough of a chal­lenge to keep you, well — on your toes.

The Seg­way — for­merly called the IT when it was first un­veiled in 2001 by in­ven­tor Dean Ka­men — was the ob­ject of con­sid­er­able me­dia spec­u­la­tion as peo­ple no less pre­scient than Ap­ple’s Steve Jobs sug­gested the new in­ven­tion would be as fun­da­men­tally life-chang­ing as the PC. When it was fi­nally un­veiled, the con­trap­tion ac­tu­ally seemed a bit odd look­ing — it re­sem­bles in some ways an old two-wheel push lawn­mower, ex­cept this de­vice al­lows you to step right onto it. What makes it work are five vir­tual gy­ro­scopes that sense what way you are lean­ing and then “tell” the wheels to turn in the di­rec­tion and speed you want to go.

The City Seg­way Tours of­fers two-hour tours to var­i­ous tourist sights leav­ing from their Fish­er­man’s Wharf lo­ca­tion. We’d seen the sin­gle-file lines of Seg­way rid­ers not only in San Fran­cisco but in other Cal­i­for­nia cities and de­cided we just had to give this kind of sight-see­ing a whirl.

Un­der­stand you don’t just show up, hop on a Seg­way and head out for the near­est at­trac­tions. Be­fore you fly solo, there is 30 to 45 min­utes of in­struc­tion, in­clud­ing a brief check-out to make sure you re­ally do know how to go for­ward, turn and, most im­por­tantly, stop. The good news is your train­ing time is not de­ducted from your tour time.

We’d heard some peo­ple com­pare rid­ing a Seg­way with rid­ing a bike, and this com­par­i­son does make some sense. It’s not that it’s dif­fi­cult to ride a Seg­way; it’s just that it’s a dif­fer­ent feel­ing that takes a lit­tle get­ting used to. Rid­ers are taught how to power up the Seg­way, how to read the dis­play lights to make sure the ve­hi­cle is in balance, and then how to step on board, one foot at a time. From that start­ing point, we learned how to lean for­ward slightly to go for­ward and lean back to bring the Seg­way to a stop. Then it was lean left or right on the han­dle­bars to turn — which, by the way, the Seg­way does on a dime.

Most peo­ple in our class of 20 were pick­ing all of this up quickly, and soon there we were, with our hel­mets and very un­fash­ion­able yel­low safety vests, fol­low­ing our in­struc­tor in a sin­gle-file line out onto the street like so many baby ducks fol­low­ing their mother. Soon we were off the road in Aquatic Park where we stopped on an open, wide con­crete path­way to prac­tice our ma­neu­ver­ing. Af­ter a few min­utes of that, it was time for grad­u­a­tion -- “Momma Duck” (aka Carla Plante) told us we now could change our speed gover­nors from five miles per hour to 10, which was not too far from the Seg­way’s top speed of 12.5 miles per hour.

The dif­fer­ence in speed was al­most breath­tak­ing. Okay, 10 miles per hour doesn’t sound very fast, and of course it isn’t — but there was some­thing about be­ing on that Seg­way that made it seem like it was just as fast as we wanted to go. At the higher speed we could lean our whole bod­ies into our turns and ac­tu­ally feel some grav­i­ta­tional force as we spun our Seg­ways around in dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions. A few rid­ers seemed al­most giddy as they fi­nally gained a com­fort­able balance on these un­usual ma­chines. It was start­ing to be­come fun.

Soon, our group of about eight rid­ers was trav­el­ing sin­gle-file not only along paths and walk­ways, but on ma­jor road­ways with real cars and trucks. Carla care­fully led the way through all kinds of traf­fic, up and down hills and to sev­eral fa­mous San Fran­cisco water­front lo­ca­tions. From Aquatic Park we rode to Marina Green, then over to the Palace of Fine Arts and the Ex­plorato­rium. Our route back took us through the Marina Dis­trict. There were sev­eral op­por­tu­ni­ties to stop for pic­ture­tak­ing — since tak­ing pho­tos from your Seg­way is strictly pro­hib­ited — as well as a longer rest stop at the Ex­plorato­rium. The sights and views in this part of San Fran­cisco are great, but if you’re like us, you’ll be fo­cus­ing as much on mas­ter­ing the Seg­way as view­ing the scenery. But it’s an ex­pe­ri­ence we won’t soon for­get, and will no doubt want to re­peat. More San Fran­cisco fun The Seg­way tours be­gin and end in the Fish­er­man’s Wharf area so, nat­u­rally, we spent a few hours down on the Wharf be­fore and af­ter our tour. First it was a tour of the Aquar­ium of the Bay, just down the water­front at Pier 39, which should be a must-visit for any­one with chil­dren vis­it­ing Fish­er­man’s Wharf. The aquar­ium fea­tures 20,000 ma­rine an­i­mals, fo­cus­ing on species that are all found in the San Fran­cisco Bay. These in­clude se­v­engill sharks, bat rays, var­i­ous bot­tom fish, sea stars and many more col­or­ful and unique fish. Es­pe­cially fun is the walk-through tun­nel at the aquar­ium that lets you walk right through a huge tank filled with many species of ma­rine life. Huge sharks and sting rays glide right past you and you can watch aquar­ium divers feed the fish.

Closer to lunch time we browsed the many fresh fish ven­dors and side­walk restau­rants at Fish­er­man’s Wharf of­fer­ing just about any kind of seafood you want. Vis­i­tors of­ten get a fresh bowl of chow­der or crab sand­wich and eat it on the run, avoid­ing the higher cost of sit­ting down at one of the Wharf seafood restau­rants. We chose a sit-down restau­rant right on the Wharf, Sa­bella and LaTorre, where we feasted on clam chow­der in a fresh-baked bread bowl.

Pho­tos cour­tesy City Seg­way Tours

TOP PHOTO: Out­side the palace of Fine Arts. BOT­TOM PHOTO: Near the Golden Gate Bridge.

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