Half Bike, Half Car and Half Baked. The ELF by Organic Transport

Another day and another next best thing to solve our future transportation worries is trying to get its start-up money from Kickstarter...


Another day and another next best thing to solve our future transportation worries is trying to get its start-up money from Kickstarter, the crowdfunding website. Today is the turn of the Electric Light Fun Vehicle or ELF from Organic Transit Inc based in North Carolina, in the good old US of Americaland. Described as the very first velomobile (a word that has not made it to the dictionary yet) by its inventor Rob Cotter, the ELF is said to represent the arrival of the first practical pedal/electric, bike/car hybrid.

‘We saw the space available between the bicycle and the car,’ says Rob Cotter, founder and CEO of Organic Transit ‘It's a great big hole in there.’ There have of course been other pretenders that have tried to fill this gap, such as the motorcycle, moped and various scooters, but don’t tell this to Cotter - you may disillusion him.

Looking a little like a recumbent bike and the old BMW bubble car, the ELF is aimed firmly at the millions of local commuters who won’t ride bikes because they are worried about little things like the weather or life expectancy, or arriving at work sweat-soaked and disheveled. Here is the clincher - Cotter could have a point. The US Department of Transportation claims that half of all the domestic trips taken in America are of less than three miles yet 72% of these are taken by car.

Although the ELF is classified as a bike across all of the USA, it comes equipped with some very car-like features, such as LED headlamps, tail lamps and turn indicators which should add immeasurably to operator safety. The rider/driver sits in a polycarbonate shell that is very reminiscent of a pod and is thus protected from the worst of the elements. The vehicle is powered either by an electric motor, which will take you up to 32kph, or by pedaling, or both, which then gives you a top speed of 48kph, allowing you to mingle easily with commuter traffic. Charging of the battery is by either a 100 watt solar panel on the roof, which takes seven hours, or by plugging it in which takes 1 ½ hours.

One nifty thing about the ELF is that the 150lb vehicle actually has a 350lb payload, which of course suddenly starts to make it a very versatile vehicle. ‘Wherever the Elf goes, users become healthier. Cities become more livable and environments improve,' Cotter says 'We call this environmental prosperity and that’s part of our mission.'

The ELF differs from other velomobiles in the world, which are based on designs for human-powered racing vehicles. The ELF is designed specifically for the local trip market - for commuters, grocery shoppers and errand-runners - not racers. Hence the high and comfortable sitting position, large wheels, easy steering and shifting mechanisms, tall frame for traffic visibility, and other practical choices. However, the US$5400 price tag, and that is before you visit the options list, may prove a little rich for all except for the truly committed eco-warrior...until, that is, you consider that the average US household spend some US$9000 on little things like fuel and insurance and so on.

Organic Transit, which raised US$225,789 through Kickstarter, produced 350 ELF cars in the last 14 months and hopes to soon boost production to 1,200 a year. The speed at which these new solutions to our future urban transport problems keep hitting the Kickstarter merry-go-round is a bit reminiscent of the Dot.Com bubble that sparked a mini recession in the year 2000 when it burst. Let us hope the future treats them all a bit more kindly because as Organic Transport will remind you...


Not Many People Know This... 

The 1947 Honda A-Type
In a way, one of the largest car companies in the world started off as an alternative mobility company. The founder of Honda Motor Corporation in Japan, Sochihiro Honda, originally built racing cars before World War II. After the war, with Japan in ruins, he launched his own company selling retrofit motors that transformed the ubiquitous bicycles into mopeds.

After the war, the bicycle was the most common form of transportation as most of the population lacked the funds to buy anything larger. Honda saw an opportunity for low-cost motorised transport. He did it by modifying the Mikuni Shoko two-stroke engines from surplus generators used to power military radios. Honda launched his company in 1946, stripping the motors, rebuilding them and fitting them with a drive system and mount for the bicycles.

In 1947, Honda launched his first offering, the A-Type, which was the company’s first fully built moped, followed by the D-Type in 1949, which was the first motorcycle engineered and built by Honda. I guess you could say that the rest is history.

images: organictransit.com, bikebandit.com

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