BY KELLY KENDALL
If you’ve seen one, you’ve probably smiled or, at least, looked twice at those contraptions that resemble big, bright eggs cruising around city streets. They’re called ELFs (Electric, Light, and Fun), and they’re essentially motorized three-wheeled bicycles inside lightweight polycarbonate shells that sport headlights, taillights, and turn signals while also providing protection from the elements.
With a 100-watt flexible solar panel on the roof, the vehicle can run on nothing but sunshine and sweat, making it an environmentally friendly alternative to a car.
“I think it’s way ahead of its time,” says Woodie Bessler, who looked into the ELF after hearing an NPR podcast mention a Kickstarter project to raise funds for ELF development in early 2013.
“It looked so cool!” the Bloomington resident says. “I was just delighted at the idea that there was this product out there.” He ordered the 66th ELF from its maker, Organic Transit, a Durham, North Carolina, company and received his mango-colored vehicle just before Thanksgiving 2013.
Today, the company has sold more than 500 ELFs, which the manufacturer describes as “a solar and pedal hybrid vehicle.” You can pedal it like a bicycle, use the motor alone to travel at speeds up to 20 miles per hour, or pedal with the motor engaged and reach a top speed of about 30 miles per hour. The ELF is legally considered a bicycle in most jurisdictions, so it can travel on bike paths and park on sidewalks.
Jack Brubaker, a blacksmith who lives near New Unionville, prefers to stay around 15 mile per hour in his bright green ELF. “It’s safer (at that speed) because it has no cushioning or shock absorbers,” he says. Like Bessler, Brubaker uses his ELF to run errands or get to meetings without dripping with sweat upon arrival.
Organic Transit is continually refining the ELF. It now makes a version with a seat for one adult passenger or two children, and new models provide “dynamic dampening suspension” to soften the ride.
A standard, one-man ELF starts at $5,495 with larger, deluxe models costing up to $10,195. The vehicles can be custom-ordered at organictransit.com.
Both local ELF riders warn that new owners should be prepared to make a lot of new acquaintances whenever they take their vehicles out on the road. “It’s hard to go anywhere without being stopped and asked questions,” says Brubaker.