I’m not ashamed to admit it: I love Segways.
So much so that one of the things I was looking forward to most about Mike’s visit, besides the birthday stuff and all the nomming, was a three-hour Segway tour around Paris that we’d booked weeks in advance. Three hours! How could we say no?
For the uninitiated, a Segway is a sort of electric scooter that you maneuver by shifting your weight. It’s controlled by gyroscopes and responds to the slightest touch, so a small lean forward makes the machine go forward; a slight shift backwards slows it down.
It is admittedly a ridiculous-looking machine, but I find them incredibly fun and novel. Because it responds to your every move, the Segway becomes an extension of your body; when you ride one for the first time it feels like magic — like you have just become one with technology (in a good way, not the creepy sci-fi way).
I know it’s detrimental to public health and we’d probably all end up like the fat space people in Wall-E if it was actually used in daily life, but I was seriously disappointed the Segway didn’t become more popular after its launch.
But then I learned, as with most things in life: There can be too much of a good thing.
When we arrived at the City Segway Tours office, we were introduced to our guide for the day, then spent thirty minutes reviewing Segway basics and practicing a few laps in a safe area. Everyone in our group, including Mike and myself, had ridden Segways before — but it never hurts to have a refresher.
Afterwards, we set off on our tour. Three hours on a Segway: sounds awesome, right?
Turns out…not quite.
The weather: When you’re on a bike or walking tour, rainy or cold weather isn’t too much of a problem because your constant movement keeps you warm. On a Segway, you’re not moving whatsoever, so the wind only makes you colder. Imagine sitting on top of a car while it’s driving on the highway through the rain — it was kind of like that.
So if you go on one of these tours and the forecast calls for rain, BRING GLOVES. Your hands will be the first to freeze — and unlike riding a bike, riding a Segway without hands isn’t really an option.
The guide: Our guide was an American who told us he had a French mother; so I thought that with a connection to France, he might be able to add more to the tour — even if it was just more enthusiasm for the country or culture. Unfortunately, I saw nothing of the sort. His tour felt like he was spouting off a memorized lecture; there was no energy, no passion, and no attempts to really connect with our group. I could’ve led the exact same tour, given a script and no preparation — that’s how dispassionate and impersonal it felt.
A good guide is engaged with the people on his tour; I felt our guy was just trying to get us through the day’s itinerary, and that lack of tour guide passion ruined most of the experience for me.
The tour: The itinerary wasn’t great, but that’s also personal preference. I don’t care much about Les Invalides, and we spent far more time on Napoleon than I would have cared to. Our tour basically went like this: Ecole Militaire to Les Invalides, followed by the Pont Alexandre; through Place de la Concorde, the Tuilleries, and the Louvre; a quick trip across the Seine, then back to the Pont d’Alma and ending at the Eiffel Tower. (Their site says you “see” the Musee d’Orsay and Champs-Elysee — they mean you literally see them as you Segway across the river and through Place de la Concorde.)
It’s a decent itinerary for someone who is new to the city, and I know you can’t easily take Segways through the Marais or Montmartre. But I personally thought there could have been a little more pizzazz put into the itinerary. And the information was so bland; nothing in their spiel made me go, Wow, that is a really interesting factoid.
The physical aspects: As much as I love riding this technological marvel, I have to admit that three hours on a Segway is a long time. Its feather-like responses to your body is a double-edged sword — you actually can’t move too much because you’ll risk going too fast or turning too hard and crashing the Segway. So for three hours we basically weren’t moving our bodies at all, staying in a ramrod-straight position. By the end, our legs had some kind of weird cramp from three hours of non-use.
In conclusion, I’m extremely glad we got our tours with a 50% discount (I found a sale on Viator); I definitely would not have felt we received our money’s worth if we’d paid full price. By all means, if you ever have the chance, definitely try a Segway or even take a tour on one! But don’t go for three hours — and if you can, request a highly-rated tour guide.
I still love riding Segways, but next time I’m going with the bike tour.