Segway through history
Published: Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Updated: Monday, November 5, 2012 19:11
Norman and Brandon Jonas invested their entire life savings for the sake of Buffalo tourists.
There are 63 Segway tours available across the U.S., according to segway.com. Thanks to Norman and Brandon Jonas, there are now 64. The father and son duo opened a Segway touring business in the northern Buffalo area in Aug. 2011 called Buffalo Touring Company.
The idea to bring Segways to the streets of Buffalo started when the family took a trip to Pittsburg for Norman’s birthday. The pair took a Segway tour of the city. Both agreed using a Segway enabled them to see the city in a new light and gave them an opportunity to experience parts of Pittsburg they wouldn’t have seen if they had only toured the city on a bus or in a car.
When the Jonas’ got back to Buffalo, they tried to look for a Segway tour in the Queen City. Their search came up empty, so they took it into their own hands to bring the Segway business to the city.
The pair does not regret spending so much money to help their idea flourish.
“We thought this was something that the people of Buffalo would not only love, but it was something they deserved,” Norman said. “There is so much to see in Buffalo and so much to do. They needed a different way to see everything Buffalo has to offer. You can miss so many things when touring only on the roads.”
The tour starts off at the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society in North Buffalo. A half hour training session gives the members a sense of how to ride a Segway and allows them to gain confidence the machine won’t let them fall.
Norman remembers his first time on a Segway so he understands his guests may feel uneasy about riding the two-wheeled machines.
“I just didn’t want to be the one to fall off; a lot of people feel the same,” Norman said. “What usually happens in a group is they will all point to someone else saying put them on first and then they will all watch to see what they have to do. It’s a matter of trusting us to teach you and trusting the machine and knowing you will not face plant.”
The use of a Segway is simple. To move in any forward or backwards, the rider has to move his or her body in the desired direction. To move sideways, he or she must turn the handlebar. The machine works on the concept of balance.
Brandon leads the tours at an average speed of 8 mph. This is fast enough to enjoy the thrill of riding on the machine and also slow enough to absorb the history and information he presents while on the tour.
“There is a lot of history packed into a great little area but unless you get to walk it, or Segway it, you don’t really get to experience the history and you miss out on a lot,” Brandon said.
After departing from the Buffalo Historical Society, the group heads all over North Buffalo. One major stop on the tour is the place where President William McKinley was assassinated and Theodore Roosevelt was inaugurated on Sept. 14, 1901.
The groups are limited to four or five people. Norman likes to keep his tours small and personal. He thinks this allows the guests to become more comfortable and absorb more information.
“Not only do they get a great experience and they get to see the beauty of the city, but all along the way we are giving a ton of history, including the War of 1812 and the Pan Am Expedition,” Norman said. “People are just thrilled that this stuff really happened here. People sometimes don’t believe that where that thruway is running right now, boats were built there to defend our nation.”
To Brandon and Norman, the tour is more than just showing tourists how great of a city Buffalo is. It is about the preservation of history and making sure that people know Buffalo is more than just the home to the Bills and the inventor of wings.
“I think people need to understand how cool Buffalo is and I think people just get into the mindset of we only are a city that lost four Super Bowls, eat chicken wings and pizza and live year round in snow,” Brandon said. “I think people develop these, in a way, negative perceptions about Buffalo. But when you actually go and show people how cool the city we live in is, we have so much history and if you actually take a look at what you have, it will bring a different perception to the city of Buffalo.”
People have come from all over the world to take a tour of Buffalo on a Segway, including Spain, Russia, England and all across the U.S.
In the future, they hope to expand their business and include different locations in the greater Buffalo area such as the waterfront or the UB bike path. Since the reception of the North Buffalo tour has been so great, according to Norman, they are eager to see how the rest of the area will respond to the Segway tours.
The tours will run as long as the weather agrees. Normally the winter is a cause to close down the outdoor business, but if this winter is as mild as last year, Norman hopes to continue running tours into November.
“One thing about Buffalo is we are hearty people,” Norman said. “If you could get people to watch a football game in 10 degree weather, they will ride a Segway in 50 degree weather.”