"You show people around, you get exercise while you're working — there's really so many cool things about this as a job,” says Lehmann, who launched the service in July.
The 35-year-old says she got the idea after seeing the way tourism has grown in Asheville. She’s lived in the area since the mid-1990s, when she attended Warren Wilson College to study environmental philosophy. “I've done everything you could sort of weirdly think of in Asheville — I play West African drums, I taught middle school, I did wilderness therapy, I’ve been a server, a painter of houses. Seeing the way Asheville's changed over the last couple of years, I figured I’d try to get into the tourism industry.”
Lehmann says it took about two years to get the business off the ground. She even sold her car and spent three months learning the ins and outs of traveling on two wheels around Asheville. Sparing no expense, she purchased a $7,000, bright yellow pedicab with an electric-assist motor (a necessity because of the downtown’s steep hills). Lehmann says she’s one of the first people to try out this new battery-powered model, made by Main Street Pedicabs, a manufacturer in Broomfield, Colo.
“I got the Rolls-Royce of pedicabs,” boasts Lehmann. “This thing is amazing. It has golf-cart hydraulic disc brakes, and it's welded like a beast."
Asheville Bike Taxi received final approval from the city on July 3, so Lehmann was geared up for a busy July 4 weekend, but the weather did not cooperate. Since then, the rainy weather — or “monsoon season,” as Lehmann terms it — has presented challenges for her company.
Lehmann says she’s used the time to practice more routes, troubleshoot issues and build up her stamina. The rates are straightfoward: $5 minimum for two people or $7 for three, which will basically get you anywhere downtown. So, say you’ve finished a concert at the Orange Peel and need a lift back to Hotel Indigo — $5 will get you there. For longer hauls, Lehmann says it will be about $1 a minute, though she’s willing to negotiate.
“The goal is very soon to be open Thursday through Sunday, afternoon to late night,” notes Lehmann. She’ll also be available for morning tours. Asheville Bike Taxi will have “Waldo sightings” Monday through Wednesday (if you see the pedicab, you can flag it down for a ride).
Lehmann eventually hopes to hire more drivers to fill all the time-slots, sell advertising for the side of the cab and add another yellow beast to the fleet. The idea is for Asheville Bike Taxi to be everywhere people are, including West Asheville and the River Arts District.
Lehmann wants to spread the word that her bike has enough juice to pull some of Asheville’s toughest grades, and those it can’t, like Walnut Street, she avoids.
“I'm learning the flattest routes of Asheville, so to speak. The big thing I really wanted to let people know is we can pretty much handle you. You see me and I'm little. Don't worry, I can get you up the hills."
On top of expanding her fleet, Lehmann also wants to be a biking advocate.
“Part of my mission, secretly, is kind of like, ‘Pedicab drivers of the world, unite!’” Lehmann says. Pedicabs, or rickshaws as they often are referred to, have been around for more than a century.
In fact, the bike taxi sports two hand-painted mud flaps given by a friend who bought them from a rickshaw-artist district in India. Says Lehmann of pedicabbing: “It's fun, it's friendly and it's eco-friendly. It's got a vibe that can be honorable. ... One of my goals is to do bike advocacy and to promote multimodal transport and environmentally friendly ways to get people around without the carbon footprint."
For more information or to book a tour with Lehmann, visit ashevillebiketaxi.com or call 777-5115.
— Julia Ritchey can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 122, or email@example.com.
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