Student zips to class on Segway

The off-beat human transporters are still rare around campus, but users love them.

Allison Wickler

People who see comparative and molecular biosciences doctoral candidate Cholawat Pacharinsak around campus probably notice he stands a little taller than most – about eight inches taller than he normally would, in fact.

When the harsh Minnesota winters retreat, Pacharinsak doesn’t bring out his bicycle like many students. Instead, he cruises around campus on his Segway personal transporter, garnering some quizzical looks from students.

Segways, two-wheeled, battery-powered gyroscopic transportation devices, usually cost around $5,000.

Pacharinsak said he bought his Segway used from a friend a year-and-a-half ago.

While the cost of a Segway is unreasonable for many students, Pacharinsak said he saved the $4,000 he paid for his because he knew it was something he wanted.

“It was fun, cool and interesting, so that was it,” he said. “It’s so fun when you’re gliding around.”

His Segway, the earlier model of two generations, can travel about 12 miles on a single battery charge, allowing him to take it on the Transitway between campuses and up to his office in Moos Tower.

According to Minnesota law, Segways are allowed in most pedestrian settings, including buildings, elevators, classrooms and work cubicles.

Jaki Cottingham-Zierdt, Segway owner and equal opportunity consultant for the University’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, said riding responsibly is an important part of Segway ownership, especially with so many people at the University.

“I can’t just have my head in the clouds, especially around campus,” she said.

To help with safety, Segways have multiple keys, each of which allows the Segway to max out at different speeds, depending on the rider’s skill level. The maximum speed is 12.5 mph.

Cottingham-Zierdt, who named her Segway “Wind Dancer,” said riding it gives her time to think and even exercises her legs and feet as she rocks back and forth.

She said a Segway is more convenient than a bicycle for her.

“I can step on a Segway with a skirt on,” she said.

Pacharinsak said he and many others also consider the Segway a green form of transportation.

Segways run on either nickel-metal-hydride or lithium-ion batteries, depending on the generation. The batteries are rechargeable and energy efficient.

According to Segway Inc., a Segway uses an amount of energy equivalent to 450 miles per gallon if it used gasoline.

Segways are popular beyond personal use as well.

Minneapolis is home to a company, Mobile Entertainment, LLC, which gives Segway tours of the Minneapolis riverfront.

Owner Bill Neuenschwander said he employs 15 to 20 tour guides from April to November, many of whom are University students.

English senior and tour guide Kelly McCarthy said the Segways equalize the riders because most people don’t have experience with them.

However, she said she wouldn’t consider buying one for herself.

“I’m an avid biker, so that’s a big part of it,” she said, “but also they’re really expensive.”

She also said she feels there is a stigma attached to them.

“Socially, I wouldn’t really feel comfortable with it,” she said.

Pacharinsak said riding a Segway is not something people can easily understand until they try it.

“I smell flowers. I get to smile at people, and people just come over to you and start to chit-chat,” he said. “To me, I think that’s priceless.”