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Leaning into Burlington’s waterfront history: Mastering the Segway with Rick Sharp

DVT-Fall-Segway-Photo-03-copyWords and Photos // Lynn Monty

In the 1980’s Rick Sharp, 62, of Colchester, envisioned greater public access to Lake Champlain, and set out to help form the Burlington Bike Path, now ranked number one of 64 things to do in Burlington on TripAdvisor.com. Today Sharp’s livelihood depends on not only the bike path, but on his longevity in the Queen City.

Sharp’s Burlington Segway Tours opened in 2013, providing him a platform to share his wealth of local political, environmental, and historical knowledge with anyone who will pay to listen. Tours start with a training session at Burlington Segways on Pine Street and proceed up the bike path to Waterfront Park. Burlington Segway tourists take in views of the Adirondacks while getting a jam-packed narrative of Burlington from its birth to present day.

Segway tours are available in hundreds of cities worldwide, and Sharp, along with his business partner and wife, Ruth Masters, introduced the machines to Burlington for the first time. “They allow visitors to see parts of a city they would never get to see otherwise,” Sharp said.

Prior to opening Burlington Segways, Sharp and Masters had taken Segway tours in cities as close as Boston, as far away as Queenstown, New Zealand, and in a dozen cities in between.

Burlington has become a destination for tourists from around the world because of its accessible waterfront, bike path, and pedestrian-friendly downtown district. Segways, electrically powered two-wheeled, self-balancing, zero emission personal vehicles, are a no-brainer for the city, Sharp said. Especially since they are well-suited for urban environments and people with disabilities.

Burlington Segways has eight employees who are trained to teach Segway operation and give tours. Unlike a bicycle, the Segway balances for the rider. It’s as simple as standing on the five-foot-tall gadget with handles and leaning in a desired direction. Lean forward and it moves forward, lean back and the Segway comes to a stop.

Sharp and his crew taught about 800 people to ride Segways in Burlington last year. Business is good. In fact, business tripled in 2014, Sharp said. And they are on track to triple again this year.

Married couple Denise and Craig Potter of Mentor, Ohio, were not at all surprised to hear of their success. They visited Burlington Segways while on vacation in July.

“Our vacation goal was pretty unstructured, the Northeast and Boston, so we tried to find cities that had a reasonable travel distance between them and had something interesting to see or do. Burlington fit that criteria,” Denise Potter said.

They had never tried Segways before. Potter said her Segway was easy to handle. “Now I wish I had known how fun it was sooner,” she said. “The experience was awesome. In our two weeks of travel, it was my favorite activity.”
Helping people enjoy time in the city is a big part of enjoying his own life, which is a top priority for Sharp these days. An unforeseen accident almost ended his life in 1996 when he ran a paragliding tour in California. He was testing conditions for a tour group and broke two vertebrae in his neck and his right leg. 

“I did damage to my perineal nerve in my leg so I can’t lift my toes on my right foot. That forced me to use a cane and it’s difficult for me to walk more than about 100 yards,” Sharp said. “I tried a Segway in 2008 and really enjoyed the mobility it gave me.” 

From there he bought his own and started using it at home and on the Burlington Bike Path. “Segways are great for people with disabilities, but they are also a lot of fun for the able-bodied as well,” he said. “They allow people to cover five or six times the territory they could on foot.”

Sharp and Masters also own two rental properties in downtown Burlington, and operate a Christmas tree farm in Milton. Sharp practiced law in Vermont from 1978 until 2013. It was a general practice with a concentration in environmental law, taxation and real estate. He gave up his law practice in order to devote his time to the Segway business. “It’s more fun to ride Segways about the waterfront than it is to spend time indoors, or in court, on a nice summer day,” he said.

Sharp still teaches paragliding with Masters at Sharp Park, a 101-acre property they own in Milton. “We enjoy the smiles on their faces as they learn, and we get a kick out of teaching high-risk recreation safely,” Sharp said.

More than 2,000 Segway tours were given at Burlington Segways and Sharp Park in 2014. The Sharps plan to be the biggest Segway dealer in the Northeast within five years with a network of ski area and recreation facility partnerships. “We expect our tour business to double or triple again in five years,” Sharp said.

Burlington Segways can be found at 277 Pine Street in Burlington. For more information call 802-489-5113 or email burlingtonsegways@comcast.net.