A Segway is physics in action and one of the most fun things you can spin on

17th August 2012 at 01:00
It brings back childhood memories of riding a bike, notably that you wobble

On an uncharacteristically warm day a couple of weeks ago, I found myself sitting at a picnic table in a field outside Oban wondering if I'd done the right thing. My son and I had signed up for a Segway experience.

Now, I'm normally a fan of two-wheeled personal transport. My idea of a good day is to trundle along the quiet roads and forest tracks of my local area on my bike. I wasn't a natural cyclist. Witness the frustrated five- year-old attempting to balance on a two-wheeler, feet slapping alternately on the ground as the bike executes an increasingly unstable sine wave on the untarmacked road outside our house.

I mastered the bicycle in the end, but a Segway is different. The two wheels are mounted either side. It is driven by electric motors. These are microprocessor-controlled, according to inputs from gyroscopic and tilt sensors. Physics in action.

The Segway instructor called us from our picnic tables. It was soon apparent that I was three times older than anyone else taking part in the activity. As such, I was probably the only one who could remember a Norman Wisdom film where the prone hero was pulled across a large lawn by a motorised mower. "Mr Grimsdale! Mr Grimsdale!" In the back of my mind, I could see the afternoon panning out that way.

I was last up for Segway tuition. I followed all guidance except for the bit that really mattered. I tensed. The device then began to perform a pirouette, in homage to a vision-impaired Dalek from an early episode of Doctor Who. The instructor patiently took control. As with the bicycle several decades ago, I got there in the end.

After our small group executed Segway Brownian Motion for a couple of minutes, it was off round the sand track. Suppressing the urge to shout "Wheeeeeeeeeeeee!", I began to have fun. Surprising myself by keeping up with the pack, I happily executed increasingly complicated manoeuvres. I went up hills. I went down hills. I groovily weaved between flagpoles. I managed not to run anyone over as I snaked through a caravan park. When we headed into the woods, I was cool about it. Man and machine working together. There was every chance I would get through the hour without my son wishing to disown me.

Among those there, I was probably the one who had the best understanding of the theory behind the Segway. Among those there, I was almost certainly the one who appreciated that the whole theorypractice gulf thing was a metaphor for my teaching experience. Among those there, I was definitely the only one who fell off and landed in a bush.

Gregor Steele dusted himself down and got back on the metaphorical horse.

Scottish Schools Education Research Centre.

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