Danville Express

Living - February 23, 2007

Come glide with me

Danville man is sold on Segway

by Dolores Fox Ciardelli

Mike Faith's personal transporter is more than a segue into the future. His Segway is a way to have fun in the present.

"I've been using it lately to play Segway polo," he said. "I'm not part of an official team but I go along every couple of months, to Sunnyvale or Oakland, and knock the ball around."

He also enjoys the other Segway enthusiasts at the polo games.

"I meet different people from different walks of life," he said. "It's mainly men but some women play, too."

Faith owns two Segways, one designed for street use and one for all-terrain, which works out well because his children love to join him on a glide. His daughter Jordane is 13 and attends Charlotte Wood Middle School; Jack, 10, goes to Hacienda Montessori.

His wife Melinda also has given it a go.

"She's tried it but has no interest," said Faith. "It's not for everyone."

He saw Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Computer, using a Segway on his Web site, a little over two years ago. Wozniak was the first consumer to purchase one.

"I said, 'That looks good,' and rented one from Segway of Oakland," recalled Faith. "Then I went and bought one."

The Segway was designed for mass transportation but has turned into more of an executive toy, said Faith.

"I don't think it's catching on," he said. "It's more of a specialty."

Faith works at Headsets.com Inc. in San Francisco and has taken his Segway to work.

"I've taken it to Yosemite, into the city, to my office," he said. "It's absolutely fine on the hills. It charges as you go downhill, slowing itself down by recharging the battery. You lean backwards to brake."

It's designed to operate anywhere pedestrians can walk safely.

"I've used it in hotels before," he added. "Sometimes people get weird about it but most of the time it's not an issue. Quite a few people take it on BART."

The Segway PT (personal transporter) is self-balancing, with computers and motors keeping it upright. Gyroscopes make it respond to movements of the user, going forward or backward. While bicycles or scooters need movement to balance, the Segway balances while it is standing still. The motion becomes intuitive to the user.

"The beauty is it doesn't take strength or balance," Faith noted.

Faith, who hails from England, has lived in the Bay Area for 16 years and moved to Danville just more than four years ago.

Melinda discovered the East Bay first, then reported to Mike: "I know where we're moving."

"I came out and fell in love with it," he recalled. "We lived on the Peninsula before."

Since his family lives behind the Livery, they are well situated to glide their Segways downtown on the Iron Horse Trail.

"I've seen other people with them on the trail," Faith said.

He knows Segway inventor Dean Kamen, who unveiled the product in 2001, and attended a Segway Conference at his home in New Hampshire.

"He's got a pretty big following," Faith said.

Kamen used the balancing technology of a wheelchair he had developed, called the iBOT, that could climb stairs and raise onto its front wheels to position the user upright. The name Segway is a play on the word "segue," which means a smooth transition, and is Italian for "follows."

According to the EPA, 500 million car trips per day in this country go shorter distances than five miles, so the Segway seemed like a viable alternative especially since it is cleaner, quieter, smaller and safer than a car. After many prototypes and evaluations, the Segway was designed to go the same speed as the people on foot around them.

"It goes up to 12-13 mph," Faith said. "I plug it in overnight to recharge it and it will do about 20 miles."

Sales began in March 2003 and were up to 23,500 by mid-2006. The main obstacle to general use seems to be cost. New units run around $5,000.

When the Segway first came on the market, some towns began to worry whether they would present problems on sidewalks or streets. San Francisco banned them from sidewalks in November 2002 but some Segway Tour companies use them anyway. They have also been banned from theme parks; however, in 2005 Segway tours were conducted at Epcot that were successful. Segways are also used to transport cast members at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando.

Faith said it can take him longer to glide downtown than to walk because so many people stop him to talk about his Segway. Many ask about a recall in 2006 due to a glitch with the speed limiter.

Segway in its product brochure lists a golf package and points out that it is friendlier for a golfing foursome to glide on Segways side by side rather than ride two by two in traditional golf carts. There is also a special model designed for patrolling parks, beaches or campgrounds. Another idea was that mail carriers might want to use Segways but they worried they couldn't sort mail or hold umbrellas while operating them.

Two years ago, Faith has the idea to enter the Kiwanis Fourth of July Parade. Segway owners Faith had met through Segway of Oakland converged on Danville, and the 2005 award for Special Interest Auto went to the Bay Area Segway Enthusiasts.

"Last year we had quite a few people over (for the parade)," Faith said. "We met at my house, then regrouped afterwards. The parade was a nice event."

Fun as the Segway is, Faith knows its limitations.

"It's not a replacement for exercise," he said. "It's not a replacement for good old walking about."

Meet Segway enthusiasts

Segways are sold locally at Segway of Oakland, which offers introductory courses with three-hour use for $55. Call (510) 832-2429. Or check out Segway Polo in Oakland's Estuary Park at 11 a.m. the second and fourth Sunday of every month.

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