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The Capital's Cycling Cabbie

By Mark Cheater

Kathy Wimbush is a rolling contradiction: a cab driver who not only respects cyclists, but is an avid one herself. "The traditional relationship between bikes and cab drivers isn't a positive one," she says, laughing. A lifelong resident of Washington, D.C., Wimbush thinks she might be the only taxi driver in the city who would prefer to be on two wheels rather than four. We recently asked her to share some of her experiences and advice to both cyclists and drivers.

How did you get started as a cabbie?
I've been driving a cab for 12 years; it started out as a dare with an ex-boyfriend who had a license. We were in the cab together--he was taking somebody somewhere, and I felt the route was out of the way, and he said, "If you think you can do better, I'll pay for you to get a license." So I did it just to prove to him I could get a license. I'm also a freelance tour guide, but the market for that is very unpredictable, with the economy and wars and 9/11. So eventually the cab became my main source of income.

When did you start cycling?
When I was in college, I had a boyfriend who liked to bike, so we rode together and it was lot of fun. He had never been to D.C. before, and one July 4, we went on a bike ride from D.C. to Mount Vernon [in Virginia] and back. It was great. So that's really how I got started. I rode off and on after that. Then one year I went on vacation with some friends to Cape Cod [in Massachusetts]. I rented a bike and did the Cape Cod Rail Trail for the first time--it was really nice. That was my first rail-trail. 

When the price of gas started going up a few years ago, and city officials decided to double the parking rates downtown, I started using my bike more--going to the bank and the grocery store and the health club. It's kind of silly to drive around and hunt for a parking space and pay double the price when I can just ride my bike from home, lock it up right outside where I need to go, take care of my business and ride home. 

Do you know of any other cabbies who cycle?
I haven't met any others! [laughing] The other cabbies see me on my bike when I go to the Yellow Cab lot to pay our weekly bills for the cab. Some of them are surprised--they think there's something wrong with my cab. I say, 'No, the car is fine, it's just easier to ride the bike.'

How do your customers react?
Last year I had to pick up a cyclist on the Capital Crescent Trail who got two flat tires and had to get to work. He was surprised that I was bike friendly. He called someone on his cell phone and said, "I actually got in a cab with a driver who rides a bike--I feel like I'm with family!" [laughing] That was nice to hear.

What do you like about cycling?
The last two years I've tried to do some weight-loss programs, and the bike actually is my best workout. Before I cycled regularly, I used to plateau a lot--I'd lose a few pounds, and then I couldn't lose anymore. I can do lunges and whatever till doomsday, but the bicycle is the only thing that can break through the plateau. Since I've been riding the bike, I've lost at least 25 pounds.

My mother's side of the family is horrible in terms of health. My cousins on that side have had big health problems--heart attack, stroke, diabetes. But I don't have any of that. I have great blood pressure--the doctors are surprised, given my family health history. And I'm 46. I can lose a lot more weight, but I know I'm going to get there because of the bike.

The only thing that's not so positive about bike riding for me is, because I don't look like I'm getting ready to ride the Tour de France, I don't think I'm taken seriously in bike shops. I had to go to several stores before I finally got the customer service I was starving for. The salesperson at that store was real pleasant to talk to. He was surprised I drove a cab and wanted to help me even more when he found that out.

Do you use rail-trails regularly?
I just recently rode the Metropolitan Branch Trail--that was great. I ran some errands for a cab customer and used that trail, because it starts near my home in northeast D.C. I can see where I will be on that trail a lot more. I also like the Capital Crescent Trail, but that's mostly for recreation. And the Mount Vernon Trail--but that's for work. If I'm meeting a tour group at Mount Vernon, I'm riding my bike down there. That's an income trail for me!

What do your friends think of your cycling habit?
Honestly? [laughing] My closest friends, they think I'm kooky--but they have noticed that I've lost weight!

Do you treat cyclists differently than other cabbies do?
Absolutely! The traditional relationship between bikes and cab drivers isn't a positive one [laughing]. I do get annoyed when I see a cyclist being irresponsible, but I'm not trying to kill anybody. Just today, I was driving near the Kennedy Center, and a cyclist was riding in the road, and the other drivers were being hostile. But I said, 'It's just somebody trying to get from point A to point B, and they just happen to be on a bike. That's no reason to try to kill them. Just move your car over.'  

Has your experience as a cabbie made you a better cyclist?
Oh yeah. One of the things I watch out for is cars pulling over and people opening the doors. I almost got into one of those tumble-over-the-door accidents last year, but I anticipated what the cab was going to do, and I was able to adjust for that. I usually ride my bike the way I drive--looking ahead and trying to anticipate what people are going to do. I also have mirror attached to my helmet so I can see what the traffic is doing behind me. If I see someone is getting impatient, I stop and let them go by me. It's an ounce of prevention.

What advice would you give to urban cyclists?
I'd say, you can stop [at an intersection] just like everybody else can stop. Jumping off your bike for a second is not going to ruin your day. Don't put your life in jeopardy. As a person driving, I don't want to run over someone--and it can be prevented if everyone follows the rules.

What about drivers?
I'd tell them, wherever you're going is not so important that you need to kill somebody on a bicycle to get there. A little patience will go a long way. We should be happy more people are out biking, because that means they're using less fuel. It's also good for their health. We've got to coexist, and it's not a bad thing to coexist. 

Photos by Heather Wimbush.   

Posted Wed, Aug 3 2011 3:45 PM by Karl Wirsing (RTC)


Wreckfish wrote re: The Capital's Cycling Cabbie
on Wed, Aug 10 2011 11:06 AM

Kathy rocks!  Not only do we need more cabbies like her - we need more humans like her!  Bravo!

Cat wrote re: The Capital's Cycling Cabbie
on Wed, Aug 10 2011 11:12 AM

Love this article! Every time I'm in a cab, I ask what they think about people on bikes...and alw3ays hear some interesting responses. We will take care of you at our bike shop, Kathy! We are primarily a tour and rental company with a bike shop at our Union Station location. We strive to make everyone feel comfortable - from the newest rider to Lance himself! Come and see us if you have the chance...

Shahid Raki wrote re: The Capital's Cycling Cabbie
on Sat, Oct 22 2011 10:23 AM

I don't get to ride cabs at all in Dayton, but I do get out and ride and am seeing a few more black women riding in Dayton. The most I have seen have been at the local community college I attend. One woman was probably in her 20's and another was probably 40's to 50's, which was good to see. I think that more people are riding bikes here because of the economy. I hope that they keep riding once the economy gets better. That would take more cars off of the roads.


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