You’ve seen these contraptions before — futuristic transporters resembling souped-up lawn mowers with helmeted riders steering handlebars. The popularity of Segways mirrors the Jet Ski craze in the 1990s that inspired watersport operations throughout the world. That same vision for land application arose immediately after the invention of Segways about 15 years ago.
One such entrepreneur is Jean Varn. A Floridian raised in Tampa, Varn experienced a Segway ride on her birthday in 2007 during a job stint near Annapolis, Md. The exhilaration and easy-to-learn experience proved invigorating in spirit and provocative in thought: Why not do this in Tampa, she wondered? However, upon return home she learned that someone else had beat her to it. So, Varn instead began her company, The Segway Adventure, on Clearwater Beach.
“It’s a good thing that happened,” she said. “Nothing could be more beautiful than our beach environment for a Segway tour.”
She’s right about that. Wife Kelly and I gave it a whirl recently and loved every minute of it. We assembled at The Segway Adventure rental office at the Magnuson Hotel on Clearwater Beach prior to our 3 p.m. tour along with four genial tourists from Tennessee. A 20-minute orientation ensued from Varn and Keegan Ritz, a young man who works part time for the company as a group leader.
“Below your feet are five gyroscopes that monitor your center of gravity 100 times per second,” Varn explained. “You turn the handlebar the direction you want to go, which has a zero turning radius. To move ahead, simply lean forward and to stop, lean back slightly. Once you get the hang of it, it’s easy.”
We adjusted helmets and did trial runs in the adjoining parking area under the supervision of Varn and Ritz. For the first few seconds my legs twitched as if I was standing on an electric sander — my fault, not the self-balancing Segway’s — but that quickly dissipated with practice. The Segway can attain a speed of 13 miles per hour, but most of the time it’s kept at about half that or far less when negotiating turns, descents and sidewalk pedestrians or bicycles — a ring of a handlebar bell announces an approach. Each Segway also comes equipped with a cargo bag and drink holder.
“Stay a safe distance apart and follow me,” said Varn after she felt satisfied with our orientation and practice session. Off we went single file onto the walkway and on south toward Pier 60. The Segways glided silently with no emissions, the wheels and riding platform comfortably negotiating sidewalk breaks and small bumps.
The typical route then transverses Clearwater Memorial Causeway to the mainland with breaks at the top of the bridge for panoramic views of skylines and passing watercraft. The procession proceeds down a spiraling sidewalk to the pier at the north basin of the Clearwater Harbor Marina and turns back southward along the bay seawall to historic Harbor Oaks. The return ride over the bridge to the beach and back to the Magnuson Hotel encompasses a delightful 7½-mile round trip.
What a thoroughly enjoyable and unique perspective of Clearwater Beach. For once I took on the role of the watchee instead of the watcher, with passersby in cars and on foot ogling and snapping cellphone pics as our cool convoy moseyed by.
“We once had one of our riders surprise everyone by proposing to his girlfriend during the bridge break,” Varn replied when asked about remarkable trips. “But I’m most fond of customers who say their Segway ride with me is a wonderful memory they still talk about.”
Each Segway recharges in about two hours, which is why a tour is offered each day at 10 a.m. and another at 3 p.m. Varn owns nine of the battery-powered Segway PT (Personal Transporter) units. That allows a maximum of eight riders led by a group leader. The cost is $65 for two hours including training; walk-ons may get lucky at The Segway Adventure location at the Magnuson Hotel, 421 S. Gulfview Blvd., but reservations are recommended.
Call (813) 600-7048 or visit www.thesegwayadventure.com for more details.