The Next Backcountry Assault Vehicle?
Every so often a vehicle comes around that we simply can't pass up testing-even it isn't a four-wheel drive. Such was the case when we accepted an invitation to spend an afternoon tooling around California's Santa Monica Mountains on a new Extreme Terrain Segway XT personal transporter. At first glance, these self-balancing scooterlike vehicles seem a bit goofy by some standards, but for those who've actually experienced them, the awkward appearance quickly fades into a fun, realistic challenge.
The innovative balancing technology that makes these vehicles work has been around for years; however, it wasn't until the launch of the XT that you'd find it outside the paved confines of suburbia. The XT was designed primarily for off-pavement use. As such, it features assets from the ground up that make it ideal for backcountry travel. For instance, the XT features 14-inch-tall pneumatic tires, just like the ones found on ATVs. These tires are 7 inches wide and, when set to the recommended pressure of 4 psi, provide exceptional traction on loose surfaces. The tires also accommodate 2 full inches of bump-absorbing suspension. This may not seem like much compared to the flex found on point-and-shoot rockcrawlers of today, but we assure you that 2 inches goes a long way when you consider each tire supports only half the weight of the rider. Needless to say we were impressed with the trail manners of the XT-in fact, our editors spent all afternoon thinking up ways to purchase one.
Riding The XTInitially, Four Wheeler's Online Editor Ed Sanchez was convinced the two-wheeled XT was going to publicly embarrass him and demonstrate just how gravitationally challenged a person can be. Despite lacking confidence, he stepped up onto the small rubberized platform spanning the area between each of the XT's tires. The first thing anyone would notice is the presence of torque. As the vehicle stabilizes itself under human weight, it was hard not to notice that each wheel had a powerful electric motor attached to it, effectively performing a balancing act by pulsating back and forth rapidly, thus ensuring that the XT remains vertical. It felt like an extension of the body-controllable and responsive to the slightest muscle movement.
Operating the XT was almost too easy. It only has one control to think about: Turning, which is accomplished by twisting the left handlebar grip forward or backward. To go forward or backward, you simply lean slightly in either direction. The Segway detects your position over an imaginary center line, and instantly ushers itself in that direction. The more you lean over that center line, the faster it accelerates in that particular direction. The whole process requires very little effort. Much to our surprise, the Segway XT stopped well, too. All we had to do was lean backward, over the center of the platform.
The thing that impressed us most about the XT was its abundant supply of torque. To demonstrate this, we pulled up to a 20-percent grade and leaned forward aggressively to obtain full power from the DC motors. As expected, the XT got with the program and accelerated all the way up the hill, until it reached its maximum speed of 14 mph. The XT seemed completely unfazed by the hill.
Thanks to eight-hour lithium-ion batteries and specially tuned software, the rugged Segway XT lends itself to backcountry day trips like nothing else. We bet these things will eventually end up in places where environmental impact issues prohibit the use of motorized vehicles. Officially, the Segway XT is categorized as a "pedestrian" by government agencies, so the rules do not prohibit it from areas where ATVs and dirt bikes are restricted. The XT might not go as fast as other rough-terrain vehicles, but when you consider it's the only vehicle with access to our country's large pedestrian trail systems, the Segway XT is a fun alternative to hiking. All we need now is a portable solar charging station.
Check out the Segway video downloads at FourWheeler.com to see just how easy the XT is to ride.
Make/model: Segway XT
Motors: Twin brushless, DC servos
Peak torque: 36 in-lb
Peak hp: 2.8 @ 5,000 rpm
Battery type: Twin Saphion lithium-ion
Battery range (miles): 8-12 off-pavement
Turning radius (deg.): 0
Maximum speed (mph): 12.5
Payload (lb.): 260
Footprint (in.): 21 x 30.5
Weight (lb.): 100
Wheels: 10-inch polished aluminum wheels
Tires: Michelin 7-inch-wide low-pressure tires
Platform height (in.): 9.5
Ground clearance (in.): 4.5
Display: Multicolor backlit LCD