Ride a Segway for a speedy city tour

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Leading Segway tours is a family affair for two North Side natives who are passionate about showing their hometown to locals and tourists alike.

Sara Harper, 23, and Alan Harper, 27, both of Brighton Heights, are managers at Segway in Paradise. Leading tours around the city’s Central Business District and North Side, the pair hopes to highlight Pittsburgh as a transformed city.

“People don’t expect Pittsburgh to be as beautiful as it is,” said Ms. Harper, who began leading tours in 2009. She also has another job working as an administrator.

Segways provide easy-on-the-feet tour of city

Sara Harper of Segway in Paradise talks about the advantages of seeing Pittsburgh attractions on pedestrian two-wheelers. (Video by Andrew Rush; 7/6/2014)

She taught her brother the ropes and hired him as a guide the next year. Mr. Harper learned quickly and worked with his sister to further improve the tour’s routes and overall safety.

When Mr. Harper is not leading groups throughout the city, he runs marathons and works as an athletic trainer. He‘‍s also certified as an emergency medical technician and  emphasized the company‘‍s focus on safety. His sister echoed those sentiments, saying that safety is “the No. 1 priority, period.”

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Before a training session in the Station Square shops, riders (who must be 14 or older) are required to sign a waiver that holds them responsible for personal injury and physical damage to the Segway units. And sometimes accidents occur. One rider, Mr. Harper said, had to replace the Segway after she accidentally steered into the Allegheny River during a tour. He said the units cost nearly $7,000. She was rescued immediately.

Despite their high cost, Segways are an efficient way to see the city, the duo said. Their combined mobility, speed and convenience allow groups to cover ground more quickly than walking tours and go where buses and boats cannot. Tours range from $25 to $59 for established tours and $69 to $129 for customized tours and vary in length.

“We’re really able to go anywhere we want,” Mr. Harper said. 

Such mobility also allows guides to instantly adjust tours based on guests‘‍ interests. “We try to get a feel for the group,” Mr. Harper said. “We’re not limited to a script and a route.”

On a recent North Side tour, Mr. Harper’‍s encyclopedic narration impressed tour participants. He and his sister credit their knowledgeable grandmother with fostering their comprehensive understanding of Pittsburgh, but they say they are always looking to guests, bystanders and guides for new stories and facts.

“We’re always learning,” Ms. Harper said. 

Many tour guests are intrigued by the Segway and wonder if it possible to do a wheelie. (No.) Others ask why the PPG building resembles a castle and whether a rainy day’s cloudy skies are still filled with steel mill smog.

The siblings also answer many practical questions. “We become a mobile concierge service,” Mr. Harper joked.

The questions may change, but stopping at the Point for pictures is always a crowd favorite. Mr. Harper agrees with the attraction‘‍s popularity and appreciates its old war history, but he said his favorite spot in the city was the Mellon Arena, which was replaced by the Consol Energy Center.

Although she settled with favoring the North Shore, where she walks her dog and takes Segway joy rides, Ms. Harper struggled to choose her favorite spot. “I love everything about Pittsburgh.”

Info: Segway in Paradise: www.segwayinparadise.com or 412-337-3941.

Mary Hornak: mhornak@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1494. 

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