Head to most forests and fun involving wheels usually extends to cycle hire. Which means paying for the privilege of a sore bum, a grazed knee and a puncture.
But head to Thetford Forest in Norfolk and there’s a much more exciting two-wheeled machine to hire: the Segway.
I must admit I’ve never quite got the idea of a Segway. It’s one of those products that is a solution for a problem that doesn’t exist. But it arrived in 2001 to much fanfare; the ever-reliable Wikipedia says excitement was so great, the late Steve Jobs said the Segway was “as big a deal as the PC”. How’d that one work out?
In the 11 years the Segway has been around, I’ve only ever seen them used in two situations before: by journalists riding them at the vast Frankfurt motor show to cover the ground between the show halls, and by police in San Francisco.
Those were the more conventional road-biased model (not that you can use them on a road or a pavement…), but the off-road version with chunkier tyres is the Segway on offer to ride around Norfolk’s very own Green Hell.
To begin with, I was quite apprehensive about getting on the Segway. The fear was that it would overbalance or I’d react to it initially pulling forward by instantly pulling back, thus making a fool of myself.
But it’s remarkably simple to control, and intuitive at that. Lean forward to move forward, lean backward to move back, and move from side to side to move from side to side. The more you do any of these things, the more the Segway responds; up to 12mph is possible, which feels a lot faster in practice than it sounds.
Your knees act as the suspension, so you can pretend your Segway is anything from a Citroën to a Renaultsport depending on how much you want to bend your knees.
There are four initial prepared courses to take the Segways around Thetford Forest. Once you’ve mastered them, the instructor takes the speed restrictor off (you’re limited to 7.5mph initially) and you go off on the main forest tracks where passing cyclists and dog walkers cast enviable glances.
And then your hour’s hire is up. Your legs are wobbly when you first get off, but this soon goes. And then you start to walk and think: “This would be much faster on a Segway.” But these thoughts of abolishing walking soon go too, and you’re still none the wiser as to what the point of the Segway is, even after an hour having fun riding one.
The world is probably a better place for having the Segway in it, it’s just a shame its legacy looks like being as a Norfolk tourist attraction.