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SANTA CRUZ — It’s all in the hips, according to Chappell McPherson, a 70-year-old, Segway tour and sales entrepreneur who predicts the two-wheeled, self-balancing electrical vehicle will one day overtake the bicycle as an alternative mode of transit.
“They’re going to revolutionize things,” McPherson said.
First, however, she needs local collaborators for new tours.
McPherson and her daughter, Tami Buttonhoff, opened Segway Santa Cruz about 18 months ago at the south end of Pacific Avenue. They estimate they have led about 4,900 customers on local tours, practice rides and corporate training events and enjoyed a busy summer, largely due to online coupon deals and walk-in tourists from nearby hotels.
They estimate that 80 percent of their business is made up of local customers. More than 68 percent of Segway riders are women and 43 percent of them are older than age 50 years.
They have conducted tours for hundreds of people to tour artist studios at the Tannery Art Center with a stop at Rebecca’s Mighty Muffins and a VIP tour that includes chocolate at Marini’s and coffee at the Ideal Bar & Grill.
The future, however, is about collaboration, new business partnerships with tourism-related companies and restaurant venues to expand business through the slower winter months. They have hot dogs and Robstep after-school specials for kids and recently launched a family pizza and levee tour with Kiante’s Pizza & Pasta Bar, Pacific Avenue Pizza & Grille and Woodstock’s Pizza, which will take groups gliding along the San Lorenzo levee before breaking to sample some gourmet pizza. They hope to have an international foodie tour in the works soon as well.
“I think it’s going to be a fun way for the community to get to do things,” said Emiley Stake, marketing manager at Woodstock’s Pizza. “Most of the community has had Woodstock’s Pizza but we always want to open up those opportunities for people who haven’t tried us out.”
IT’S ALL IN THE LEAN
Early this week, the mother-daughter duo tended to their newest converts — a Silicon Valley couple in their 60s who fell in love with the Segway in the summer and had talked their somewhat leery septuagenarian friends from Chicago into giving it a try.
The idea is to lean and let the machine’s internal gyroscope sensors respond, rather than direct the machine with one’s hands, Buttenhoff explained, gliding herself forward and back without hands and turning in 360-degree circles without any work at all. When she leaned back, it immediately slowed to a stop.
“The hardest thing was quitting at the end,” said Alan Breakstone from Sunnyvale. “We didn’t want to stop.”
Tom and Mary Leo, the Midwestern couple, quickly learn to maneuver the 150-pound Segway machines through a small, looping practice course in the parking lot before heading out on a guided tour of West Cliff Drive.
“You get to see so much more without being so tired,” says Buttenhoff.
Riders of the larger Segways should weigh between 100 and 260 pounds.
Youth younger than age 14 aren’t allowed to ride the Segways, but the shop recently introduced the Robstep, a smaller, slightly slower vehicle that children are allowed to ride. The tour shop was the first Robstep distributor in California.
With a full charge, the Segway travels at a maximum speed of 12.5 mph and can go a maximum of about 24 miles. The Robstep tops out at about 10 mph and goes about half as far. It is currently featured in Opera San Jose’s production of Hansel & Gretel, which features a witch on Robstep-powered broom.
Mother and daughter learned the ropes as Segway distributors in Costa Rica for several years before coming home to Santa Cruz to launch their business. Segways, introduced to the market in 2002 as “personal assistance mobility devices” by inventor Dean Kamen have been slow to find any kind of mass following although most states have now adopted laws allowing them on sidewalks. No license or license plate is required to own or drive the machines.
They envision the reopening of the train depot across the street and the completion of the rail to trail walkway that would be filled with potential customers. Next year, they expect to have Segways with seats for assisted transit and, at some point, they hope to develop an off-road environment where younger people could have a little more adventure.
“You can’t appreciate it until you’ve gotten on it,” McPherson says. She glides off quietly around the windy course of low markers in the lot.
“It’s like downhill skiing.”
Follow Sentinel correspondent Jennifer Pittman at Twitter.com/jenniferpittman
WHAT: Privately owned company provides local sightseeing tours, corporate team-building events and restaurant runs on two-wheeled electric vehicles.
HEADQUARTERS: 302 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz
INFORMATION: 831-466-0206; http://segwaysantacruz.com
HISTORY: Founded in May 2012 by mother-daughter duo, Chappell McPherson and Tami Buttenhoff.
PRICE: Varies but generally about $89 for a two-hour Santa Cruz tour.
This article on Segway Santa Cruz first appeared here.