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Tourism segues into effortless era

It should be quite a sight.

Starting this week, you may witness a batch of people standing on what resemble old-fashioned push lawn mowers and progressing along the waterfront at 6 mph.

Bill Doyle, who has operated the Whimsical Wheels pedal-powered surreys at the Pier for three years, will rent the battery-powered "personal transporters" for guided trips up and down the Pier, along Bayshore Drive, into Vinoy Park and through Demens Landing.

The 90-minute tours will cost $45. Tours will include safety helmets, water and a local history lecture, Doyle said.

"People can take pictures and see the scenery," he said. "There'll be potty stops."

The self-balancing two-wheelers, Segways, are manufactured by a New Hampshire company, which touts the product as a transportation alternative to scooters for students, urban business people and folks just looking for a fun ride or a new way to get around.

The models Doyle has can traverse curb cuts and negotiate ramps like those at Demens Landing. It won't climb stairs, but otherwise it works indoors with tires that won't leave tracks.

State law has recognized the Segway as a "personal mobility device," said city transportation planning director Joseph Kubicki.

"They can ride on roads and sidewalks under certain conditions. Roadways have to have a speed limit of 25 mph or less, and cities have the right to regulate them," Kubicki said.

For the time being, Kubicki has recommended no regulatory action.

Segways contain gyroscopes and tilt sensors to monitor a rider's center of gravity at about 100 times per second, according to company literature.

"The biggest problem a person has when they first approach it is they think they'll control it. It controls you," Doyle said.

There is no accelerator or brake. The device's maximum speed is set at 6 mph, Doyle said.

To move forward, you lean forward.

Lean back on your heels to back up.

To turn, you rotate grips that resemble bicycle handlebars.

Straighten up and you stop.

"The thing is," said Doyle, "if you're on it for a half-hour or more, your mind says I need to make a left up there, and you don't even have to tell your hand, it reads your body so well."

Doyle said he has purchased nine Segways for $4,500 apiece. The tour guide will ride one of them.

He said he first thought of adding Segways to his concession a couple of years ago. In February, he tried one in Sarasota, even crossing the Tamiami Trail, U.S. 41.

The experience persuaded him to follow through on bringing some to the Pier.

"It's a perfect place," he said.

Doyle is not phasing out the pedaled surreys. He said his fleet of 12 has produced 15,000 rentals in three years. Concession manager Steve White will supervise the surrey fleet and back up Doyle as the Segway tour guide.

The name Segway, by the way, was derived from "segue," which means to continue without a break or make a smooth transition.

The devices "transform a person into an empowered pedestrian," the company's Web site says.

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