President's tumble off a SegwayPresident's tumble off a Segway seems a tiny bit suspicious By Kevin Maney President Bush meant to fall off his Segway. Oh, I'm sure of it. What we've got here is a clever conspiracy -- a pre-emptive strike to save the oil industry from a technology that could sap its power. Over the weekend, while on vacation, Bush looked like Chevy Chase doing a Gerald Ford imitation as he stepped onto the platform of a Segway personal transportation scooter and went flying right off. The first U.S. president to try a Segway supposedly forgot to turn it on, so the gyroscopic stabilizers couldn't automatically balance him. But maybe Bush wanted to fall. Maybe he understands in a way few do that society is on the verge of a debate that could mold the future of transportation, much like the debate 100 years ago when cars first suggested that horses weren't the only way to travel. And if the future veers toward little two-wheeled electric-powered personal transporters, where does that leave ExxonMobil and Halliburton and the rest of the oil industry President Bush adores? Probably in the same sad league as the old Pennsylvania coal-mining companies, with Houston as the next Wilkes-Barre. Bush knows the possible effect of an image of the nation's commander in chief nearly doing a face plant because of an odd new contraption. In 1899, William McKinley became the first U.S. president to try an automobile. Freelan Stanley took big ol' McKinley for a spin in a Stanley Steamer. Imagine if McKinley fell out. The pro-horse contingent would've been in PR paradise. The conspiracy theory is bolstered by this: It's nearly impossible to fall off a Segway. Seventy-nine-year-old George H.W. Bush didn't fall off the one he got from his sons for Father's Day. Barbara Bush also got one, and she didn't fall off hers. John Goldsmith, a former TV commentator who lives in Naples, Fla., lets just about anyone try his Segway -- and dozens have. ''The learning curve to become Segway savvy is somewhere between 6 and 60 seconds,'' he reports. ''I've never had anyone get so much as a scratch.'' Heck, I rode a Segway down the halls of venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, which helped back the scooter's development. Staying on a Segway really is a no-brainer. I had fun, too. There is plenty of room to zoom around Kleiner's offices now that the piles of money from the 1990s are gone. Vice President Cheney -- Mr. Oil Guy himself -- has had a Segway for some time now. I heard Dean Kamen, the Segway's inventor, talk about how Cheney called his company's office and asked to buy one. Kamen personally delivered a Segway to the White House. Cheney, in his suit and tie, jumped on and started riding it around the White House driveway, with a panicked Kamen running alongside him. Bush saw them through the Oval Office window and came outside to watch, recalls Kamen, who has photos to prove it. This doubtlessly is when Bush first saw the potential of falling off one. Cheney might have planned all along to fall off his in front of the cameras. In fact, being the vice president, and thus more expendable, he could've tried something more dramatic, like running into a wall at the Segway's top speed of 12.5 miles per hour. That would've made the Segway look super dangerous, considering all the teeth Cheney would've lost. But Cheney probably felt conflicted. There's a high-tech stent in his heart that keeps him alive. It was invented by -- oddly enough -- Kamen. So maybe Cheney couldn't bring himself to fall off and hurt the image of Kamen's Segway. So Bush had to do it. And, sure enough, the photo and story have appeared in just about every news outlet in the world. Why would the Bush team want to derail the Segway? Well, the scooter is one of the most inspired pieces of technology this country has produced in years. It looks like it should be as unstable as a unicycle. But step on, and the smarts inside it keep you balanced. Lean forward and you go forward. Lean back and you go back. Twist a handle to turn. It is as intuitive to use as a coffee cup. The Segway is powered by a rechargeable electric motor. A Seattle owner who commutes on his Segway and keeps a Web journal (www.bookofseg.com) says it costs him $1 a month to charge. Kamen likes to compare the Segway to the earliest autos, like the Stanley Steamer. When McKinley took his ride, autos were a curiosity only the rich could afford. They seemed to have no discernable place in a world of horses and trains. As Richard Tedlow of Harvard Business School points out, ''Nothing would've been less predictable in 1900 than the fact that by 1925 there would be no horses in cities.'' It's outlandish to think that 25 years from now, Segway-like transporters would replace cars in cities. But Kamen asks: Why not? Instead of taxis crawling at 8 mph in city traffic, why not Segways moving at 8 mph? They'd use a fraction of the energy and spew a fraction of the pollution. Maybe Kamen is the Freelan Stanley of this story. Maybe the Segway needs a Henry Ford, who will make a people's version that costs $500 instead of the current price of $5,000. Unlikely as Segway domination may seem, history shows it's possible. And if it happened, the oil industry could kiss its profits and power goodbye. Put it all together, and Bush had good reason to fake a fall off a Segway and stir up anti-Segway sentiment. Which makes me wonder: Do you think he had something against pretzels?