Tipping Point

Yesterday in Kennebunkport, Maine, President Bush managed to tip over a Segway while attempting to ride it -- despite the fact that the recently invented motorized scooters are equipped with tilt sensors and five high-tech gyroscopes, which are supposed to prevent them from tipping over. So how did Bush manage to nearly fall flat on his face? After seeing photos of the gaffe today, I tried to find out by speaking to a number of Segway enthusiasts.

The possibilities were numerous: The ground could have been slippery. Maybe Bush impatiently got on the machine before waiting the few seconds needed for the Segway to warm up. Could the battery have run out? A spirited discussion raged on the chatboards of SegwayChat.com. One Washington resident and Segway enthusiast -- who compared the Segway's effect on his life to "having kids" -- told me he would "put money" on the theory that Bush had thought the machine was in "Power Assist Mode," not the "Balance Mode" that is required to ride it.

The true explanation, it turned out, was far simpler.

"You have to turn it on," explained Segway spokeswoman Stacy Ferguson, whose office had spoken to White House officials after the incident. In all likelihood, she said, Bush "didn't see the display." (That display is green, with a smiley face, if the unit is ready to go. Maybe the president didn't see the blank screen.) The president was holding a tennis racket when he got on, so perhaps he was distracted. "We have been saying that the Segway is great on the sidewalk, but it's not meant for the tennis court," ventured Ferguson -- though the president was on a driveway.

The White House did not return a call for comment.

The "I series" Segway that the president was using was a gift from the Bush daughters to their father, Ferguson said. Earlier yesterday morning, Segway inventor Dean Kamen had delivered two Segways to Bush Senior and Barbara Bush at the compound. Luckily Kamen, among the world's most accomplished inventors, left before having to witness the most powerful man in the world fall off an idiot-proof invention.

In any event, it's now clear that Middle Eastern policy isn't the only area in which Bush can be unbalanced from time to time.

Eli Kintisch is a writer living in Washington, D.C.

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