2015-06-18 / Front Page

Girls of the Road – Newport's Female Pedicab Drivers

By Olga Enger

Kristin Mackie, 29, who drives a cab to earn extra money for nursing school, said the physical challenges of being a pedicab driver are part of her fitness routine. (Photo by Jack Kelly) Kristin Mackie, 29, who drives a cab to earn extra money for nursing school, said the physical challenges of being a pedicab driver are part of her fitness routine. (Photo by Jack Kelly) What has two legs and carries up to 600 pounds?

If you have hailed a pedicab this season, you might have guessed correctly. A few years ago, pedicab drivers were notoriously Newport’s “men of steel,” but today, there is a 25 percent chance your chauffeur will be a woman.

For an individual weighing under 150 pounds, it is like “an ant carrying 10 times its weight up a hill,” remarked Newport Pedicab Manager Michael Kowalczyk.

“It’s not a girl versus guy thing, it’s a gross body weight thing,” explained Kowalczyk. “The bike’s weight is 200, and your passengers may be anywhere from 200 to 500 pounds. You are looking for football players and rugby stars to pedal these things efficiently,” he explained.

“I love proving people wrong,” said Paige Myatt, who is driving a pedicab for the first time this season. When a couple questioned her ability to lug their combined weight of over 400 pounds, she responded, “Let’s go!”

Her colleague, Emily Ali, is similarly challenged on every shift by skeptics, which makes her pedal harder.

“I love it. It’s like getting paid to exercise,” said Ali, who went to the University of Rhode Island on a rowing scholarship.

Ali, also a first time driver, said the occasional inappropriate customer comes with the territory, but she does not take it seriously.

“You hear things like ‘I’d love to ride behind you.’ It’s usually the older guys, 45 wanting to be 25,” said Ali. “I don’t take it to heart.”

Kristin Mackie, 29, who drives a cab to earn extra money for nursing school, said her first job was physically challenging, but she considers it part of her fitness routine.

“I had no idea what I was getting into,” she laughed.

“My first customer was a 285-pound Army guy. Thankfully, he knew how to shift gears so he coached me the whole time,” said Mackie. “As a team, we made it. With some blood, a few tears and a lot of sweat.”

Mackie admits she has yet to conquer some of Newport’s steeper hills, but her customers have helped push if needed. The most challenging route is to the Viking or Chanler Hotel, said Mackie. Pedicabs are not allowed on Memorial Boulevard before 6 p.m., so they are required to take back roads.

“At least we don’t have to go to the Atlantic Beach Club!” she said about the restriction.

Each driver must undergo a background check and obtain a $65 permit from the city. Once licensed, drivers operate as independent contractors for one of the two companies that operate in town — Pirate Pedicab or Newport Pedicab. Drivers rent the pedicab for a fee, which varies depending on the shift.

“The background check varies by state, which is an issue I am dealing with,” said Kowalczyk. “Some people who have out-ofstate licenses give up trying to get licensed because of how hard it is to get the different background checks.”

Under city ordinance, pedicabs are not allowed to charge a fare, so drivers work for tips. Tips vary, but Pirate Pedicab owner David Cass said the drivers are “treated well” by their customers and his female drivers tend to do better financially.

“It's part transportation, but also part entertainment,” said Cass.

“Aly Rego, who has been with me since I opened in 2011, is an amazing visual artist and sculptor. She also has a knack for performance.

She used to show up with a garbage bag filled with pirate costumes, which she wore while pedicabbing,” Cass recalled. The pedicab day is split into two shifts, but drivers may turn their bikes in early.

“I don't love doing the late night crowds, so I'll typically bring my bike back earlier,” explained Mackie. The nursing student said she enjoys mid-week corporate events.

“Everyone is so serious until they finish their dinner at Cooke House or 22 Bowens, then it is game on,” she said. “The men in the suits who wanted nothing to do with being in a pedicab before dinner are yelling ‘Pedi to Pelham!’ after a few cocktails.”

Ali prefers to keep the bike for a double shift, which means she is peddling for about 12 hours a day.

“It’s all about nutrition and keeping yourself fueled and fueled correctly,” explained the fitness enthusiast. “Your muscles will cramp up if you aren’t properly nourished.”

Failure to hydrate and feed your body may result in the dreaded “pedicab hangover.”

“You wake up in the morning and you literally feel like you drank an entire bottle of tequila,” explained Ali. Symptoms mirror that of a typical hangover, including the shakes, exhaustion and headaches.

“It happens because you haven’t fueled yourself correctly. I’ve experienced it and I don’t want to experience it ever again.”

Mackie suggests customers try the “Newport Loop” for a night out, which goes from Speakeasy Bar, to Bowen’s Wharf, to Midtown Oyster Bar and eventually ends up at Waites Wharf.

Although becoming a female pedicab driver is not for the faint of heart, Ali encourages her peers to give it a try.

“Everyone says they could never do it, but you could. You just don’t realize it,” Ali encouraged. “You are going to get tan, meet cool people and get into shape.”

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