Buck Ward, a Midlothian businessman, careens across his showroom floor, cable-knit sweater billowing, listing the virtues of the Segway Personal Transporters. He stops short of slamming into the back wall, demonstrating the scooter's sensitivity.
Next month, Ward will open Richmond's first Segway dealership in Shockoe Slip. (Yes, the scooters can handle the cobblestones, he says.) The battery-powered, gyroscope-balanced two-wheelers haven't exactly overrun city streets since their much trumpeted roll-out in 2002. But Ward says with rising gas prices and the early-adopter market giving way to more practical applications -- they are becoming a popular law-enforcement tool the time is right for the upright scooters to take off.
The Valentine Richmond History Center plans to offer guided Segway tours of downtown, a new trend in tourism, says Lesley Bruno, the museum's marketing director. The Web site segwayguidedtours.com lists Segway packages for exploring Africa, Alaska and Disney in California. "Evidently they're really popular," she says.
Ward offers custom packages for golf courses complete with club racks and score-card clipboards on the Segways.
Ward, 52, first came across Segways while researching robotic platforms for his robotic floor-cleaning business, Intellibot Robotics, which he sold in 2003.
Retail sales of the scooters never lived up to expectations, but fire and police departments in big cities such as Chicago and Philadelphia found them useful for patrolling special events, says Lt. Michael Oprandy, spokesman for the Richmond fire department. "We found that the Segways can go indoors, get in tighter spots than bikes and you can go into the Coliseum with them," he says. And a scooter squad sure would have been perfect for the Easter Parade last weekend.
The fire department would like to acquire a few Segways, but right now it's not in the budget. Oprandy did get to take a test drive with other fire officials. "We probably looked like nerds," he says, "but they actually were really fun."
Assistant Police Chief Ray Tarasovic says the Richmond Police Department is in the process of acquiring two scooters at $5,000 to $7,000 a pop.
The true test for the new dealership may come with one of Richmond's most high-profile Segway riders. Thomas Evans, veteran lobbyist who has represented firearms, hunting and breeding interests for 34 years, cruises between his Grace Street office and the State Capitol on Broad Street in his business suit and bicycle helmet when the General Assembly is in session.
He bought his street model two years ago because he has difficulty walking, but getting the Washington, D.C., dealership to respond to his complaints about a broken kickstand and battery charger has been frustrating. He hopes having a local dealer will help but warns "either he will make me happy or I will make him pretty sad."