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For most users, the good outweighs the occasional battery problems (a six-hour charge can give you 12 miles of gliding), the falls that can occur in reckless gliding (yes, abrupt turns and excessive speed can cause wrecks), and the public scorn (some pedestrians can't resist hurling insults: "Get a bike!", "Start walking!"). Being rich or geeky (or both) are typical Seg-owner stereotypes. Add to all that the problem of looking manly - if you're a guy - while gliding. Many Segways have a man purse-like bag strapped to the handle, and gliders are a droll sight sporting helmets on moving platforms eight inches above the ground.

"It's like high school," Hopper says, laughing. "Gliders are more on the nerdy side than on the jock side." But when they show up to their first Seg gatherings, they park their transporters, step down and ask: "Where are the girls?"

Speaking of which, there aren't that many women on Segs yet - although Hopper says they relax faster once they step on the platform. By contrast, men get on it and try to manhandle it into balance themselves, though there is nothing in the Seg that needs taming. (Through gyroscopes and computer, the device self-balances - and acceleration is achieved simply by leaning forward.)

In terms of marketing, the machine is the kind of invention the majority of the public will jump on only after it's vetted by early adopters, which, in the case of the Segway, include groups ranging from police officers to Segway polo players. If a drop in price won't help the Seg mainstream, the network effect of the groups might.

"Certainly the desire to have an alternative way of getting around is gaining popularity," explains Tim Kanaley, a D.C. commuter who glides five miles roundtrip to his government job. "I think that with rising gas prices and more people taking responsibility for their immediate environment, [Segways] and other mobility devices will continue to grow in number," he says via an e-mail interview.

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