Segways: “they could do things that would make us shit in our pants.”


Jeff Bezos said that in 2001 when he saw a Segway demonstrated to him and Steve Jobs.  We now know that Bezos understands a whole lot more about retailing than he does about transportation.

Dean Kamen said he was thinking about a green alternative a person could use instead of a car when they just needed a carton of milk from a grocery.  He came up with a Segway.  We should be thankful he did not think of some battery operated Sherman tank though the tank might have been safer for its drivers.

We all know how successful Kamen was at solving the getting the carton of milk problem. I can say I have never seen a Segway parked at my neighborhood Safeway in the last 10 years.  But I have been run off sidewalks and bike paths and park trails countless times by Segway riders mindlessly enjoying the outdoors on their expensive little toys.

Ask yourself what purpose do they serve?  Write it down on a piece of paper.  Still looking at a blank piece of paper?  Well cut your losses and admit it – there is no reason for them to exist.  Another clever idea that should have been let to quietly die.

Kamen was a good salesman.  He sold the the company to Jimi Heselden in early 2010 for millions using smoke and mirror sales numbers.  Jimi was probably deep into buyer’s remorse when his Segway killed him in late 2010 (he was riding trails around his house when he belatedly encountered a design flaw he should have known existed – no brakes – and as he approached the edge of the trail going too fast…. well it was oops and over the side for ole Jimi), since Kamen’s estimates of 50,000 units a year turned out to be actually less than a tenth of that when Heselden owned them.

Steve Jobs nailed the concept as soon as Kamen approached him for capital money. “I think it sucks”, said Steve trying to sugar-coat how he really felt. “Its shape is not innovative, it’s not elegant, it doesn’t feel anthropomorphic.”  That was in 2001.  Little has changed since then.

So why?  They are banned in Great Britain, the Netherlands, Denmark, Hungary, and in most of Canada and Spain.  Segways are perfectly legal in most U.S. cities (it is the old NRA matra: Segways don’t run people off the road; people run people off the road) except San Francisco, Boston NYC, and parts of Chicago.  Few individuals buy them anymore.  They were popular as a police toy when they first came out but now, over 80% of the police departments have moth balled them.  They don’t help fighting crime and they are expensive to maintain (the battery replacement alone is about half the original cost of the Segway).

The only group who benefits from Segways are those little companies in most cities that offer Segway city tours.  The only group.  And the tours are at the expense of anyone walking on a sidewalk or trail or path that in the tour’s way.

So should Segways be banned?  Ask yourself  – who would miss them?  Like no one.  Who would be impacted – a few dozen people who own tour companies in big American cities. Who benefits – pretty much every one who likes to take a walk or a jog or a bike ride on a pleasant Summer’s day.

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