February 3, 2010

The Sweetest Ride on Campus

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You’ve noticed him riding around campus, zooming from class to class and around the Arts Quad. “The Segway Kid”, who is actually freshman student William Wagner ’13, has drawn so much attention because of his unique mode of transportation that he now even has his own fan page on Facebook, with a following of almost 3,000.

Segways, although available for purchase since 2001, are still a novelty and — as is evident from Wagner’s widespread fame around Cornell’s campus — they have not ceased to fascinate people.

So who is the student on the Segway you see every day going to class?

Wagner, originally from Palo Alto, Calif., is a student in the College of Arts and Sciences where he is studying economics and philosophy in hopes of one day becoming an investment banker.

Although he’s only in his second semester at Cornell, Wagner has already joined the Cornell Repub­licans, the debate team, The Cornell Review and MICC. What does he think about life at Cornell so far? “I love everything about Cornell … except the weather.”

So why the Segway? “I’ve had it since the summer before senior year [of high school],” he said. His father also owns one, which his mother sometimes uses as well as a way to get to work.

“It’s better than a bike, because while going uphill you can just stand there and enjoy the view,” he explained. “It’s also far easier to maneuver, especially when going at slow speeds and around pedestrians. You can go from top speed (12.5 mph) to a complete stop in a foot and a half.”

As for the cost, “It’s comparative really,” he said. “If you choose to get one over a car, it’s much more cost efficient.”

If you go to Segway’s official website (www.segway.com) you can read testimonials from many happy owners celebrating how their Segways have saved them thousands on gas and the expenses that come with owning a car.

Segways don’t require fuel, but they need to be charged at least once every 24 miles. “I live in a high rise,” Wagner explains, “so I charge it in the basement bike storage room.” Officially, Segways follow the same laws as bicycles do on the street, except that Segway riders are required to wear helmets at all times.

Before bringing his Segway from home, William had to contact the transportation department at Cornell, and was even told by a police officer in the first few weeks of the semester that he was not allowed to ride it.

This issue was soon cleared up, and William has continued to glide across campus unhindered ever since.“I have ridden it up the slope,” said William. “The only time I’ve fallen off is trying to ride it up the slope off of the paths.”

Since the weather has been so mild, he has yet to find out how it will handle the harsh and snowy winters of Ithaca. However, if the Segway proves unable to cope with the weather this semester, he is considering upgrading to the off-road X2 model.

The Segway’s mileage and maintenance is tracked by a small key, similar in appearance to a stopwatch, which is also needed to start the Segway. Also necessary in order to start the vehicle, the key helps prevent theft — without the key, the Segway will start beeping loudly, lock and prove very diffcult to drag away.

With such anti-theft measures in place, Wagner only need lean it against a wall or a bike rack while he is in class. The Segway’s footpads can sense which way the rider leans, thus enhancing safety by making it very difficult to fall off while riding.

The response to the Segway’s presence on Cornell’s campus has been varied. Some scorn ownership of such an unconventional machine; for example, when someone stopped Wagner to ask how the vehicle worked the inquisitive student then scoffed after hearing the Segway’s price.

Others think the Segway might be a publicity stunt and yet others are fascinated, as evidenced by the many students who stare as Wagner glides past them on his way to class. And then there’s the fan page, which proclaims: “There’s that kid on the Segway, gloriously segwaying across the Arts Quad every day and we’re jealous … Screw podcars, Segways are the way of the future.”

After a lesson on how to operate the machine, William graciously let me take a quick ride on his Segway. It turns out they are as easy to ride as they look, and pretty soon I was zooming around the Arts Quad like a pro.

I’ll admit I was skeptical of Segways before I was actually allowed to experience one. Although I don’t think I’ll be out buying one anytime soon, it was very cool to feel like I was hovering above ground, gliding in whatever direction I turned without worrying about balance. Those who dismiss or scorn the Segway have obviously never ridden one.

Back home, Wagner has even played in a game of Segway-Polo (Polo without the hassle of a horse) with Apple co-founder, Steve “Woz” Wozniak.

“It seems by far the best form of transport for a college campus,” Wagner said. “I leave my room at 10:03 and am always on time for my 10:10 class. It saves a lot of time and it’s very easy to use.” It seems the real question is why would William ever not use his Segway? “I don’t use it when I would have to leave it for long times,” he said, “and I enjoy a good walk as much as the next person.”

Original Author: Rebecca Velez