Celebrating a New Set of Wheels

Segway enthusiasts from around the world tour Washington as part of SegwayFest 2005, which has included lectures and demonstrations and ends tomorrow.
Segway enthusiasts from around the world tour Washington as part of SegwayFest 2005, which has included lectures and demonstrations and ends tomorrow. (Photos By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)
By Nia-Malika Henderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 24, 2005

Itsi Atkins, who brags that he was the second person to own a Segway in Manhattan, came to Washington yesterday with five of the battery-powered two-wheelers. Not just any Segways, either.

He covered one in pink fur and another in black leather. He designed yet another to look like a taxicab. As if that weren't enough, Atkins uses Segway wheels to create art, tools for splotching paint onto a canvas. And so, even at SegwayFest 2005, a conference attended by about 100 Segway enthusiasts, his devotion to these human transporters stood out.

"I'm the only one using Segways to create art," said Atkins, a handbag designer, as he stood in front of his painting at the SegwayFest's headquarters in the Hotel Washington. "I concentrate on the acceptance of the Segway in popular culture."

That is the point of the conference, which runs until tomorrow -- to show how easily Segways fit into daily life.

Attendees included self-described Segway evangelists like Dick Segar who think that the Segway will replace cars in urban areas. And there were self-described computer geeks like Jonathan Gleich, of Brooklyn, who uses his Segway to commute into Manhattan. As his Segway, purchased on eBay for $2,500, gently rocked back and forth, Gleich gleefully showed off his tricked-out ride.

"I have custom wheels, custom tires, custom fenders -- chrome, of course," he said as the song "Disco Inferno" blared from his iPod-equipped Segway. Gleich also can hook a computer to the Segway.

"Using the Segway, I meet people. It makes you go outside. It makes you sociable," he said. "People stop and talk to you."

Many conference participants glided about Washington yesterday on guided tours, floating through Capitol Hill, Chinatown and Dupont Circle and eliciting stares, giggles and questions from those they passed. Similar tours are scheduled over the weekend.

"How do they balance?" asked Jeff Engelhardt as he and his friends watched a caravan cross the street. "Witchcraft?"

Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) has called the District "the most Segway-friendly city in America." Dan Tangherlini, the District's transportation director, is scheduled to address the conference today. Segway riders can take their transporters on Metro, except during rush hours, but the machines are not allowed on the Mall, pending review.

The first SegwayFest took place in 2003 in Chicago. This year's features demonstrations, a workshop on maintenance and repair, lectures and social activities.

The conference isn't the only venue for guided rides. About 80 people -- tourists and residents -- take guided tours of the District perched on Segways each week, said Craig Davidson, general manager of Capital Segway, a store in Northwest Washington.

About 400 people own Segways in the District, according to William Hopper, president of SEG America, a national group that has about 3,500 members.

Although President Bush famously fell off a Segway before its gyroscope-like balancing mechanism was activated, Segways are fairly easy to ride. A slight lean backward or forward gets it moving, and it can go about 13 mph.

"It takes about three minutes to learn how to ride it, and it's a totally different experience," said Karl Sagal of Boston, who has a large U.S. flag hanging from his Segway. "It's like it reads your mind."


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