Van Est was born in the town of Fijnaart[?], in North Brabant. Prior to his cycling career, he used to smuggle tobacco by bike, but was eventually caught and served several months in prison. He started his cycling career (as an amateur) in 1946, after a professional runner had seen him race in a local competition as part of a wager. His first major victory came in 1950, when he won the 600-km Bordeaux-Paris race.
In 1951, Van Est was part of the Dutch team for the Tour de France. In the 12th stage, from Agen[?] to Dax, he escaped with a small group. He won the stage and gained 19 minutes on the leader, enough to move up to first place overall. As the first Dutchman to wear the accompanying yellow jersey he was praised by the public and media at home.
The next day, in defence of his position, Van Est was chasing the leaders in the descent of the Col d'Aubisque[?]. Due to a flat tyre (according to Van Est himself), he slipped away and fell into a 70 m deep ravine. Miraculously, he survived the fall and had no serious injuries. Using a chain of tyres, and helped by spectators and his manager, he managed to get back to the road. Van Est wanted to continue, but was persuaded to go to the hospital.
At home, Van Est's fame grew even more when Pontiac, which had supplied watches to the Dutch team in the Tour de France, started an advertising campaign "His heart briefly stopped beating, but his Pontiac kept ticking".
Later in his career, Van Est wore the yellow jersey again in 1955 and 1958, placed 8th in 1957 and won two more stages. Also, he won Bordeaux-Paris two more times, two national road titles, 4 national titles in the individual pursuit on the track, as well as three medals in the pursuit at the World Championships. Nevertheless, he remained most famous for the two days in the 1951 Tour de France. To remember this event, a monument was placed on the mountain 50 years after the event, on July 17, 2001.
Wim van Est died in his hometown Sint Willebrord[?].