It was 1999 when Bill Neuenschwander first learned about the Segway while watching “Good Morning America.” Little was known about the two-wheeled vehicle, but Neuenschwander felt inspired.
Within the next year, he ordered an entire fleet of Segways and purchased space on the St. Anthony Main riverfront.
“It was worth my effort and the additional expenses,” Neuenschwander said. “I thought it was a neat machine in terms of what it was doing physically and mechanically.”
It was a product he knew people would want to try out. And given the steep retail price (most Segways cost about $7,000), renting them out seemed like the most sensible alternative.
Launched in 2003, the Magical History Tour is a three-hour historical venture that covers six miles along the Mississippi riverfront on Segways. The tour costs $80 and each group allows up to 20-25 riders at a time. Now in its eighth year, Neuenschwander admits he didn’t start out with grand ambitions and never really anticipated the business to have much lucrative staying power.
“I thought my business model would only last 18 to 24 months. I thought it was going to be a shorter, more optimal thing,” Neuenschwander said
The tour kicks off with a brief tutorial session that gives riders a chance to get Segway basics down. Stops include the Mill City Museum, a run down the Stone Arch Bridge and a break on Nicollet Island.
As far as navigation goes, the thing’s fairly easy to operate. The newest edition — the Segway i2 — relies more on intuition opposed to the throttle-controlled system of the previous models. In order to accelerate, all the rider needs to do is lean forward. Turning takes a little longer to get accustomed to, but it’s all really just a matter of a practice. Aside from a few accidental spills, the ride is relatively safe and it’d take a disastrous streak of bad luck for anyone to get seriously injured.
“Part of its great utilization is it’s a heck of a lot easier than walking. It’s not practical for a lot of things, but it’s so easy to learn,” Neuenschwander said.
It was an experience that had Chuck Knower of Eagan, Minn., unsure it’d be worth the hefty $80 price tag. But an afternoon of riding left him less skeptical.
“I got to see a lot of places I otherwise wouldn’t have been to,” Knower said. “It was a lot more fun than I expected — really interesting and informative.”
Aside from some occasional mean-mugs from (jealous) passers-by and having to look like a bit of a dweeb for a couple hours, the Segway tour is a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
The two-wheeled human transport might not be the future of the workingman’s commute, but it makes for a pleasant afternoon. Oh, and you sort of feel like you’re from the future while you’re riding it.
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