It was about 1 a.m. when Will Maden witnessed one of Queen Elizabeth II’s footmen fall off a Segway in front of the White House.
The senior and Capital Segway tour guide said it was one of many “ridiculous falls” he has seen on the two-wheeled, self-balancing vehicles during rides through the city. But he insists that tumbles like the royal servant’s are uncommon.
These odd-looking vehicles have created a booming new sightseeing business in the area since their invention seven years ago, with tourists paying top dollar for a unique trip through Washington. And at Capital Segway, a company that offers Segways for tours or purchase, five of the eight employees are GW students or graduates. Alumna Stephanie Wolf began working as an assistant manager in May and works alongside four current members of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity.
“We try to keep it as much in the fraternity as we can,” Maden said, adding that he has given at least 1,000 tours since starting the job. At $70 a person, each tour is about two hours long, with an additional half-hour of riding and safety instruction beforehand.
“It’s intuitive,” he said while demonstrating how to ride one to a group of five prospective riders at the I Street shop, where about 30 of the modern machines line the perimeter of the room.
His fraternity brother and fellow tour guide, senior Aron Yuster, added that “anyone from 16 to 90 years old picks it up just fine.”
Segways work by using gyroscopic sensors to maintain balance while the riders shift their weight in different directions. Helmet-wearing riders can be seen cruising through the city, standing on the machine as it travels up to 12-and-a-half miles per hour.
Yuster said he began working in June and estimated that he has given 100 or more tours this summer. He said one of the most memorable was in July, when he guided Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) and his staff to the Lincoln Memorial, where the congressman had spoken to thousands of people before Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech 45 years ago.
As tour guides, Maden, a history major, and Yuster, a geography major, said they have acquired vast knowledge of D.C.’s history.
When he first started work, Yuster had to memorize a 20-page information packet on sites throughout the city.
But the packet was just a start, he said. He picked up other historical information by talking to fellow tour guides and looking things up online.
Thanks to his wealth of information about the city, Maden said he can share several different facts about the various sites on the tour, which include classic spots like the White House, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol.
The format of a Segway tour varies, as the guides tailor the plan according to the interests of the group of tourists. There is one guide for every eight people on a tour, and guides can lead up to five tours a day.
“Some people really enjoy riding the Segways, so we take them to more open spaces,” Maden said. “Others want to take in the sights and learn a lot more history, so we’ll go slower and give more information.”
Whatever the group’s preference, Wolf said Segways are an ideal means of soaking in the city sites.
“What you’re doing,” Wolf said, “is environmentally friendly, up-close-and-personal, and it gives you a chance to see things in a faster amount of time without getting sweaty, cranky or lost – all while having a lot of fun.”