Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Segwaying through the Parks of Tel Aviv

“All you have to do is lean to the right, and the Segway will go to the right; lean to the left and the Segway will go to the left. You lean forward and you go forward.”

“How do you stop?”

“Just lean back and the Segway will come to a stop.”

These were the directions my coworker and I received just before we put on our helmets and stepped onto our two-wheeled self-balancing personal transport scooters. We were at the Tel Aviv Port, and our guide was Liran. He wasn’t wearing a helmet.

“There is no law stating that you have to wear a helmet,” he explained. “There used to be such a law for bicycle riding, but they canceled it when they launched the bike rental stands all over Tel Aviv.”

We did some practice circles in the parking lot, gaining confidence in the balancing maneuvers. It wasn’t difficult at all. You just stood in place, leaning in the direction you wanted to go, and you went there. It was almost as if we were directing our movements with thought control.

We left the port area and scooted in a line over to the green expanses of Park HaYarkon, riding alongside the Yarkon River. We stayed on the designated bike paths, taking care not to bump into the many young mothers pushing strollers along the route. Going under a bridge we steered to the center of the path; we didn’t want to fall into the river on our left or bump into the wall on our right.

“The cyclists think they own the path,” Liran told us. And soon his statement proved to be correct. A fast-pedaling cyclist raced towards us, shouting, “Move out of my way!”

Our speed was limited to no more than 13 kilometers per hour. We had no problem staying on the Segway and we managed not to bump into each other. This was important as we were informed that falling off a Segway is not a pleasant experience.

We continued through the park, passing the rowing center and the sports fields. We passed the petting zoo and the playgrounds. We crossed a few bridges over the Yarkon, leaning forward as far as we could to encourage the Segways to make the ascent on the wooden planks. At the top of the bridge, we leaned slightly backwards, slowing our descent to the other bank.

It was an enjoyable, effortless ride. The only strenuous part of the outing was dealing with the growing heat and humidity of a July morning. Soon our one-hour trip had come to an end and we were back at the warehouse in the port where we had started.

Liran helped us get off our Segways. Our movement had ended, but it felt like we were still coasting ahead, similar to the feeling you get when stepping off an escalator. The muscles in our legs gave notice that even though they had not been utilized, the effort of standing still on a moving Segway had taken a toll.

A ride on a Segway is an interesting way to stroll through the parks of Tel Aviv. Segways are available for rent on different routes, and they can be rented for short tours in Jerusalem as well. It’s not clear if they will ever become more than an oddity on the streets and sidewalks.

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