Sounding like someone mashed two alien words together, a Segway rally experience is not what you might expect. It is also not to be confused with Sega Rally, although my mouth is determined to be that way whenever it comes up.
Since finding a Segway is about as common as finding a hen’s tooth, it’s understandable that I had no idea what to expect. I don’t even watch Arrested Development, but apparently one of the characters is a Segway. Or something.
You’re advised to show up in something you don’t mind getting dirty, so after donning my Armani suit we set out to take part in a Segway rally.
On getting there, we headed over to something resembling a farmyard for a blissfully sweet crash course of the Segway. Lean left for left and right for right. Congratulations, you’re certified.
Following that is baby’s first steps around a coned out course. After that however, you’re called up to the big leagues. If you’ve managed not to run anyone over, you’re allowed to take on the equally worthy competitors.
Hitting the road
Kitted out in motocross gear, you stand atop your trusted steed. Your palms sweat, your teeth grit, your helmet is stuffy. The instructor counts you down, and you’re off.
Off like lighting it feels. Hitting 20kph at full speed, the Segway is not messing around. A normal Segway that is. The ones used in rallies don’t even have that restriction, meaning if you know what you’re doing you can get some serious speed (as opposed to frivolous speed).
The track looks much like a bike track through a forest, with nice stretches for building up speed before coming up to a bend, letting you pull off some tidy manoeuvring as you kick up dirt at the other racers.
It’s at high speeds on the straights that I discovered the genius of the Segway. It’s not the fancy gyroscope voodoo going on in the machine’s guts, although I’m sure it took some brainpower to figure it out. Neither is it the wordplay going on with the name.
No, the real genius is this; the further you lean, the faster you go. Finally, someone got it. For years I’ve been pushing buttons down harder to get them to work better, like the eject button on a DVD player, permanently disinterested in your desire to retrieve the disc.
When you lean forward, head down, teeth gritting; that’s when you truly get your money’s worth. It’s not often you can go this fast whilst free to the elements, unless you own a motorbike.
Down and dirty
And my word are you free to the elements. My Armani suit seemed ideal at first, but by the end there was no telling the difference between it and a jeans and t-shirt ensemble. Due to it raining the night before, the track was somewhat more challenging, but more importantly, muddier than usual. You will get filthy, so bring a change of clothes.
That’s not all. With all the leaning going on, your thighs are in for a rough time, as is the rest of your body if you drive with the carefree attitude of someone who has never broken a bone. There’s a reason they make you wear safety gear, and it’s not to wring sweat out of you like a cloth. You will get hurt, you will get muddy and you will get sweaty.
It’s not all about speed
As much as I love going fast, that’s not all there is to it. Although, if that were the case we might see some Segway drag race tracks along with our Segway rally ones soon, then we can finally see who can lean forward best.
One of these mythical other elements is called steering. As someone who cycles everywhere, the Segway’s handlebar looked very familiar, although smaller than what I’m used to.
The likeness ends there however. The handlebar itself doesn’t actually turn; instead, you steer by tilting the handlebar in the direction you want to go. It sounds odd, but works quite well. In fact, it worked so well that it wasn’t uncommon to see people doing 180s on the spot, apparently without moving, revealing the Segway’s potential as a Bond villain prop.
Under the hood
That all sounds great, but you’re probably wondering how the Segway pulls it off. The first thing you’ll hear about it is its use of five gyroscopic sensors (an actual gyroscope would be too big) and tilt sensors that detect how much tilting is going on.
This information is then handed over to a pair of computers running Segway Inc.’s proprietary software. These computers translate the information from the sensors before passing instructions onto the motor, telling it how fast to go or how much to turn in response to the rider’s movements. Its apparent lack of complexity matches that of the actual riding.