The Perfect Speed

Seeing Santa Barbara on a Segway Tour

by Matt Kettmann

After more than a decade of having friends and family come visit, it wasn’t until recently that I discovered the perfect method for touring Santa Barbara. I’d led visitors on drives around town, but while we covered a lot of ground and grabbed some great views, all the exotic shrubbery, ornate architecture, and friendly faces along the way got lost in a 35 mph blur. I’ve walked tourists through town too, at a pace that allows for intimate encounters and easy pit stops but is too slow to really cover all of the town’s highlights. And then there’s the bicycling option, which was my favorite for a long time because visitors can cover more ground, see more sights, park easily when they want, and breathe the fresh air. But biking has it flaws too, as emphasis is often put on speeding downhill, pedaling hard uphill, and worrying about getting somewhere rather than enjoying the ride.

My dilemma was quashed a few weeks ago, however, when I joined the folks down at Segway of Santa Barbara for one of their new tours around town. A Segway, if you haven’t heard, is the two-wheeled, gyroscope-­stabilized contraption that was billed as the next generation of transportation when it was released a few years back. So far, it hasn’t lived up to the revolution that was promised, but there are small pockets of life where the Segway is the right way. And touring Santa Barbara is exactly one of those pockets.

The three-and-a-half-hour, $90 “Mission Tour” begins at Segway of S.B. headquarters, located on Mason Street in the Funk Zone, a neighborhood that’s got both a storied past as the hub of the early shipping industry and a healthy future as a hub of artistic activity. (Other tours range from the shorter “Old S.B. Tour” and a “Sunset Special” to the coastal tours to Butterfly Beach and through Gaviota.)

After a helmet fitting and brief indoor/outdoor training on the Segways — where the mother/daughter pair joining me on the morning tour and I learned to stop and start, weaved through cones, and got comfortable atop our 21st-century steeds — we were off, under the expert guidance of Trish Caron, who owns the rental/sales shop with her boyfriend, Jerry Mahoney.

The first stop was the train station and the nearby Moreton Bay fig tree — the world’s largest, of course, where hippies once got their mail delivered — before heading up State Street’s bike lanes and sidewalks to the grins of pedestrians. The tour meanders through our town’s considerable and colorful history all the way to the mission, including everything from the Chinatown shootouts and the Upper East’s massive estates to the proper semantics of the Alice Keck Park Memorial Gardens and the stuffed grandmother who tends a garden a few blocks away from Garden Street. But unlike those stereotypical tour guides that deliver too much rote information without context or humor, Trish’s delivery was light-hearted, funny, and friendly, as she’s able to poke fun at our town’s curiosities and quirks. But she didn’t shirk on the tour guide-y info either, providing fresh anecdotes and solid historical information the entire time.

Touring aside, the two most common concerns for Segway neophytes are safety and style. Safety is a pretty easy one — crashes only occur when riders get freaked and let the wrong reflexes take over, so just stay calm and follow instructions. The Segway style, on the other hand, is still gaining acceptance, so baffled looks, more pointing fingers than if you were wearing a clown suit, and the occasional cat-call from teen punks can be expected. But for the most part, these reactions are rooted in jealousy, for who doesn’t want to ride this millennium’s transportation revolution?

By the tour’s end, the bulk of Santa Barbara’s highlights are bagged, and you’ve still got plenty of time to enjoy the rest of the afternoon. The Segways are more extensive than trolley riding or car touring, less exhaustive than bike riding, and cover far more ground than merely walking. Finally, we’ve got Santa Barbara at the perfect speed.

4·1·1 Segway of Santa Barbara’s tours range in cost, length, and destination; visit, call 963-7672, or stop by the store at 24½ E. Mason St. for more info.

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