Segway riverfront tour more grueling than gratifying


I have to admit that I have long been skeptical of Segways, and in particular, the Segway tours down by the river. When I ride my bike by the Minneapolis waterfront, I often encounter an annoying train of middle-aged tourists on the slow-moving devices. There are usually at least 20 of them, and they always take up the whole damn path. “Good Lord,” I think. “Can’t they walk?”

Segways seem so American to me. Instead of walking or riding a bike, activities that involve “exercise” and little to no expense, a Segway costs $5,000 and only requires that you stand there. I mean, it’s no secret that Americans are incredibly lazy. We have the highest rates of obesity in the entire world, but we have a plan to deal with it. Simply kick back and crack open a Diet Coke to offset the two liters of Dr. Pepper we just drank.

My point is that Segways seems to embody the great American compromise. We want to be thin and look hot, but we don’t have the time to cook healthy food and do a few crunches. We want to go on a walking tour of the historic Minneapolis waterfront…but we don’t want to walk.

My Segway-related disgust was so intense that I realized it probably wasn’t fair. Who was I to judge so harshly? Clearly, I needed to check it out for myself. So I found the local Segway tour website, and learned that it would cost $80 per person for a two-and-a-half hour “magical history tour.” What a bargain! Whittier Globe columnist Nurse Missy and I went to check it out.

We arrived at the little storefront down on Main Street half an hour before the tour began and sat down with our group to watch a safety video. Industrial video actors smilingly demonstrated the proper way to handle one’s Segway. Then they’d cut to scenes depicting irresponsible riders hot-rodding their way to terrifying crashes. Sometimes the crashes were so gnarly that they could only show animated reenactments. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard. Missy was crying. The other people who sat through it stoically made it all the funnier. It was better than those dated sex-ed videos from junior high.

After the video, the collegiate male tour guides set us up with our Segways. We choose our helmets (red for me; Missy brought her very own nurse-approved white one), and glided out onto Main Street. We “practiced” maneuvering our Segways for about 15 minutes, and then set off on our magical history tour. “What makes it magical?” muttered an older gentleman. “There’s nothing magical about it,” stated Josh, the good-natured, red-headed tour guide.

We stopped by the Pillsbury A Mill. Kipp, our knowledge broker for the day, gave a speech about the guy who built the A Mill. Apparently, he was a raging alcoholic who went on a “four-year bender” when he finished up with the mill. Although the delivery of the speech was a little rote, I appreciated that it was gossip-based.

We then crossed the Stone Arch Bridge. “I’m really embarrassed,” Missy said to me as we weaved through crowds of pedestrians. I rolled up alongside a middle-aged couple. The woman made eye contact. “If you don’t mind me asking, how much does it cost to do that?” she asked me. I admitted that it was $80 a person. “Wow,” she said.

Soon we stopped at the Stone Arch Bridge for another history lesson, this time about James J. Hill, the rich guy who built the bridge to show off his wealth. Kipp explained that Hill was a real eccentric—for example, he carried a key ring with 200 keys on it everywhere he went. His quirks, apparently, have led historians to believe that “something was wrong with him,” and that he was probably “obsessive-compulsive” or “had syphilis.” “Because they’re pretty much the same thing,” quipped Nurse Missy.

We moved on, going past an opening-day celebration for the new Guthrie. We passed a family of liberals. A little kid asked his mom what our deal was. “Oh, those people just don’t want to walk,” said Mom. It’s funny—that’s how I felt about it too, but I still wanted to punch that kale-eating, self-righteous soccer mom in the face. It’s like the minute you step onto one of these silly machines, you immediately lose your humanity. It’s like you’re in the circus, or an animal in the zoo. People point and laugh and wave and make editorial comments as if “they can’t hear us, they’re on Segways!”

All this was really starting to take a toll. Luckily our tour guides gave us an extended break at the Mill City Museum. We were offered our choice of “cookie, brownie or Rice Krispy bar” and a “fountain drink” or water. This break gave our tour guides an opportunity to conduct public relations on behalf of Magical History Tours in the Mill City courtyard. Finally, revived and ready for more, we re-mounted our rides.

This time we got to use the yellow key, which meant we could go eight miles an hour instead of just five. However, once we got out on the path, we were going as slow as ever. “Let’s pick up the pace!” Missy pestered Evan, the guide in front of her. Evan got his walkie-talkie out and suggested to Josh (the guide at the front of the line), that we speed things up. At this moment, an older gentleman from Texas toppled off his segway, flopping over into a bush.

Everyone stopped, choking back giggles and arranging looks of concern on their faces. Unable to dismount her Segway without it rolling away, Missy segwayed to the front of the line, offering her nursing services. “Are you okay?” she asked the man. “I’m fine!” he said. “No, I mean, I’m a nurse…maybe I can help you out?” He wasn’t having any of it, insisting he was fine. We moved on, but soon the man took Evan up on his suggestion to head back to the storefront. “I don’t give a rat’s a** about history,” he said to Evan. “I’m already an hour past drinking time.”

We had a final history lesson over on Boom Island. Kipp sat us down in the blazing sun, so I have no idea what he talked about—I was too distracted by thoughts of getting a horrible suntan. After what seemed like eight hours (I guess it was about three), we finished the tour.

Should you go on the magical history Segway tour? I tend to think no. Although Segways are the world’s laziest mode of transportation, they are also strangely excruciating. “I’m getting a blood clot!” Missy said to me as we slowly crossed the Stone Arch Bridge. Segway riding forces you to stand in a static position for hours, which is physically agonizing—but perhaps strangely comforting to anyone who works in a cubicle. For your money, I’d suggest walking the trails down by the Mississippi, and reading those little historical signposts if you want to make it educational.

14 thoughts on “Segway riverfront tour more grueling than gratifying

  1. Shannon: I’m not sure what to think about your commentary, but I’m a “sort of fit” 57 year old who just took her first Segway tour this weekend. I love to walk – and hike even! – but this was something fun and new to try. It was great! Our objective was to learn to ride them but also get a little city tour and explore areas we may not have otherwise, due to overall time restrictions. I would encourage anyone who wanted to give a Segway a try to do so – regardless of the motivation!

  2. Bravo! Great work, as usual, from the Whittier Globe. I thought motor vehicles were prohibited from our parks and trail system. Hmmm. Down with Segways! To the guillotine!

  3. How unfortunate that a review of this tour was written by someone who already had their mind made up to trash the concept before starting. This was a biased, anti Segway diatribe, not a fair review of a unique way to see Minneapolis. This tour seems like a fun opportunity to combine learning interesting Minneapolis history with trying out one of those Segway scooters that you may have seen, but wouldn’t have another opportunity to try. My wife and I are going to give it a whirl after hearing from one of her friends that her and her husband had a blast when they took it. This is a young, fit local person, not a middle-aged tourist that the writer enjoys bashing. The author of this article reminds me of Katherine Kersten, columnist for the Strib, whose recent column demonstrated that she could suck the joy and fun out of a Rolling Stones concert by wallowing in her preconceived notions. I’m going to try the Segway tour with an open mind, rather than an axe to grind. Gosh, I wonder who will have more fun.

  4. Thanks for the comment, Mike. In response, I would like to point out that my Segway article was an installment of my regular Whittier Globe column, Don’t Knock it Till You Try It. The thing about my column is that I go and check out activities/places/performances/etc. that I do, in fact, have preconceived notions about (e.g. the Catholic church, Starbucks, the Scientology storefront, Triple Espresso). I admit that my biases are often on the negative side; however, the whole point of the endeavor is that my mind is not made up in advance. If you read any of my other columns (available at, you will see that I do not “bash” everything that I write about.

    Furthermore, your “fun opportunity to combine learning interesting Minneapolis history with trying out one of those Segway scooters that you may have seen” is another man’s wasted opportunity to get some exercise and read a book. Your fighting words that I remind you of Katherine Kersten because I do not heap praise on the segway tour because it might be “fun” uses the same kind of warped, circuitous logic that Ms. Kersten is famous for. I remind you of Katherine Kersten? You remind me of the kind of man who demands that a woman “smile more, it makes you look prettier”.

    Sincerely, Shannon “not-afraid-to-sign-my-last-name” Keough, Whittier Globe columnist

  5. Well …. I thought it was funny!

    I’ve always wondered about those segways tours. And unlike the previous reader who thought you’d bashed the poor segway tour to smitherines, after reading this column, I actually thought I might check it out on my own just to see if anyone falls off on my tour.

    Then again, I am probably a biased reader. I’m a fan of Don’t Knock It Till You Try It.

  6. Funny article! Yet another ridiculous pastime for the New SuperProgressive Elite! Did they stop at Panera and get an iced-latte-to-go in a non-biodegradable plastic cup while blathering self-righteously about environmentalism?

    My advice? Have a beer or two (in a glass) and take a WALK around those historic houses in the pretend park – slash – boondoggle for the SuperConnected living for a dollar a year on park land on Nicollet Island. Do, however, stop at the facilities after the beer and before the walk, as – unlike real parks – there are no restroom facilities in the pretend park.

  7. This is a very cool bit of technology, that looks fun as hell. I can ride my bike anytime, I love it, but wow… one more fun thing to do before I tip over.

    Everyone should try it once.

  8. Shannon, I wouldn’t call your attitude negative, as much as childish. Let people have some fun. You don’t have to bring your preconceptions to the plate and masquerade it as a review. Your attitude is reminiscent of a coworker I have to put up with. Mid-twenties and still more brash than honest.

  9. If you’re trying to cover distance, there’s no better way than by Segway. Short distances: walk. Long distances: drive. Between those two extremes is where the Segway fits in perfectly. Why be stuck in a bus if you can ride a Segway right up to the landmarks? It’s a terrific experience and those of you with negative feelings for the Segway … well, I’d wager that the vast majority of you have never even been on one! And those who have, have maybe stood on one very briefly and never got to ride it any distance. Open your mind! Segways are fun, and practical.

  10. I am planning on taking a Segway tour this week. My philosophy is to always “TRY” something once before picking it apart.

  11. Actually, the use of segways is more of relaxing and enjoyable especially in big island tours .  I may suggest that healthy and old age people and handicapped people may use this in traveling to places with assistance and tour guide.  But The purpose of using other forms of transportaion is the comfort of it.  Maybe others were used to travel via airplane, boat or helicopter, depending on ones capabilities and status.  While others do prefer to use bike or even just walk for health reasons. We have different habits, likes  and dislikes but I do like and respect what you’re suggesting others to use in traveling.  Thanks for the share.. . maybe I can avail one for my parents and grandma for them to use while me and my family go on a hiking tour this weekend.

  12. I’ve read the various comments. I have a different point of view. My husband has diabetes with neuropathy in his legs, making it difficult to walk any distance. I have COPD, which also makes walking a effort. I found these comments because I am on the Segway Tours site…to sign up for the tours! We are very excited about taking one. All you younger people don’t realize the problems that come with aging. Gasping for breath, for one. While I applaud you for “walking” and making those recommendations, not all of us are able to do that. It doesn’t mean that we are “lazy”, as the writer insinuated. I found the denigrating tone of her article, regarding middle-age people, rather insulting. Because she didn’t like the tours doesn’t mean that she should try and diminish the good times that are out there for us seniors.

  13. There’s always a cynic.  And by the way, your little attitude is replicated by about 5000 other young hipsters that are desperate to critique anything that moves, but have never tried anything because it actually takes getting off the couch.

    You know what sounds fun?  Getting hammered and riding a segway. 

  14. A Segway tour is a fun and novel way to see the sites, especially if you have already spent 5 hours crawling Mall of America and 2 hours hiking up and down the trails at Minnehaha Falls. It’s fun for the teens, keeps them interested in sight seeing and is relaxing for the adults. If the description of the actual tour is accurate, I have to agree that there is a problem with this particular program. The value of the sights and history sounds questionable. But I can tell you from personal experience that Segways are a lot of fun and allow you to cover a lot of ground, get up close to the landmarks and leave the huge fossil-fuel burning buses behind.

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