The Elf lets riders effortlessly switch between 100% pedal-power, 100% motor-power, or some combination of the two.

It recently raised $225,789 on Kickstarter, more than twice its goal of $100,000.

It runs on a 480-watt lithium battery that recharges in two hours when plugged into the wall or over the course of the day, with roof-mounted solar panels.

It can go 30 miles on one charge.

Its recycled aluminum frame supports a whopping 350 pounds of cargo in a rear compartment.

The Elf is technically a bike because its top speed is 20 miles per hour so you can use it anywhere else bikes are allowed.

It’s being manufactured in Durham, North Carolina, but the goal is to expand to a network of workshops and dealerships across the country and the globe.

A spokesman says: "“We also see huge potential for these vehicles in developing countries. We think the ability to ship in one shipping container all the components to manufacture 50 vehicles … has some pretty major implications for a lot of NGO work.”

2013-01-17

Is This Solar-Powered Half-Electric Bicycle With A Roof The Future Of Transportation?

The Elf, which just finished a massive run on Kickstarter, combines the best elements of an electric car, a motorcycle, and a bicycle, and it’s manufactured right here in the U.S. There’s something for everyone to love.

It’s part bike, part car, part solar power, part human power. And--thanks in part to a massively successful Kickstarter drive that ended this week--it’s headed to a street near you.

The Elf is what’s called a velomobile, a pedal-powered mini-car, typically in the design of a recumbent tricycle with a shell over it to protect you from the elements. While they’re fairly popular for commuting and biking with cargo in bike-obsessed parts of the world like Northern Europe, if you haven’t heard of them yet, don’t sweat it.

“The U.S. market is really unaware of this type of vehicle--of velomobiles--and we are kind of bringing it to the masses,” explains Alix Bowman, director of communications at Organic Transit, the startup behind The Elf. The novelty--combined with the high price of gas, and need for more diverse solutions to environmentally friendly commuting--made the Elf a hit with the Kickstarter community who threw $225,789 at the product, more than twice its goal of $100,000.

The design boasts a bevy of features that could have persuaded urbanists, design enthusiasts, environmentalists, and cyclists to open their wallets. Like other electric bicycles, the Elf lets riders effortlessly switch between 100% pedal power, 100% motor power, or some combination of the two. “I like to get going a little bit with the motor, and then I start pedaling, and let the pedaling takeover,” says Bowman. Or, you might let the motor kick in if you’re headed up a hill or “if you don’t want to arrive looking like you just biked there,” she adds.

While the pedals work just like any old bike, the motor is activated by a hand throttle similar to a motorcycle. And it runs on a 480-watt lithium battery that recharges quickly--in two hours when detached and plugged in to the wall--or slowly, over the course of the day when left in the sun, thanks to the Elf’s roof-mounted solar panels.

A fully charged motor will move the Elf 30 miles. Its recycled aluminum frame supports a whopping 350 pounds of cargo in a rear compartment. And since the Elf is technically a bike under federal law--its electric motor maxes out at 20 miles per hour to meet the definition--riders can use it on bike lanes, trails, and anywhere else bikes are allowed (although your state or city might have its own rules).

Produced by a team of designers led by CEO Rob Cotter, The Elf will be made in downtown Durham, North Carolina-- for now. “What we’re trying to do here in Durham is develop a model … ‘a-bike-factory-in-a-box’ model, where we are trying to design a facility capable of producing 1,000 units a month. Once we see what that looks like, we want to be able to replicate that anywhere," Bowman says. From Durham, the goal is to expand to a network of workshop-cum-dealerships assembling Elfs (Elves?) across the country and possibly the globe.

It’s an unusual business model, and the financial details haven’t been worked out yet, but Bowman says the Elf is easy enough to assemble, that “you don’t need big robots and huge assembly lines for it to work. And the components are all easy to drop ship to any place.” Other parts come off the shelf at a bike shop.

“On a daily basis we get letters of interest from people who are interested in setting up those dealerships,” everywhere from Oregon to Florida to Australia to Denmark, says Bowman, adding that “we also see huge potential for these vehicles in developing countries,” where, in remote areas, the Elf could help shave hours off tasks like collecting water. “We think the ability to ship in one shipping container all the components to manufacture 50 vehicles … has some pretty major implications for a lot of NGO work.”

But first, the Elf will ship in March to Kickstarter backers who gave more than $4,000.

Add New Comment

20 Comments

  • drdugger

    I am very interested in your bike, motorcycle, solar, car ....  I own a trike shop where we built three wheel motorcycles and we would love to branch out into something special like the Elf.  If ou are looking for a dealer/assembler in Illinois please give a chance to talk to You     When will the Elf be available to the public to purchase?  I drive the Mitisbutsi i electric car and would love to purchase an Elf.  

    Are you looking for investers?  

    Dr Tammy Dugger 

  • ElliotyrukJ

    Hi, I would love to purchase an ELF as soon as possible. How can I get invovled with this Great Invention?   Thanks,  Jane

  • Cecilia Rooke

    In South Africa bikes are often stolen while you are driving. Could you make them secure so that someone won't be able to push you off the bike? Something like doors with windows at the side.

  • Cecilia Rooke

    Would love a bike like this. In South Africa it will need to be secure because of crime. Will it have a door and windows. Bikes often gets stolen from people when they drive them here.
     

  • Dan West

    Thats a cool little machine there, im not sure if its still called a bicycle though? more so an electric vehicle of some sort

  • Whothrupoo

    I still cant contact or get information on this product. How does this company make any money on this product if no one can buy it. I'll buy one. How? If anyone can tell me how I can get one, please let me know! 

  • Rkwhitesides

     being a  disabled man in cali. how can i findout more info on elf bike to buy and possiably help sell them in cali.??? rkwhitesides@snowcrest.net

  • Rose A. Bergeron

    Can it be driven in winter?  And what would be the average cost?  ( I didn't see a price) 

    I
    have been thinking about a mode of transportation for my almost teenaged son suitable
    for winter that would give him some independence and wouldn't turn me
    into a taxi service. Of course, we live in an urban area.   This sounds exciting if it can be driven in
    winter too (living in Canada)

  • dr2chase

    What I did for my kids (though not before their teen years) was bicycles, with dynamo hubs connected to LED head and tail lights that are always on (no batteries to forget, no switches to leave in the wrong position).  For the winter, studded snow tires (Nokian Hakka W240 on the front, W106 or a worn W240 on the rear).  Wald basket in the front for carrying stuff.  Also, red retroreflective tape decorating most of the rear-facing parts of the bicycle (back of the seat, fender, back of the seatpost, etc).

    Unfortunately, the accessories will cost more than many bicycles you might buy.  W240s are $85 each, cheapest wheel built around a dynamo hub is about $100, plus the cost of the lights.  And the studded tires, you have to be careful with them because they will scratch *anything* softer than carbide -- like paint on a car fender, and the metal of the fender itself.

  • richard

    do you help  people that has disabilties as far as price and would help promote bike???  coz if peple with disabilities cant afford 400 dollars at a lump some??

  • Robert Schreib

    Does the Elf recharge its batteries when it rolls downhill like a conventional electric car does? If not, it should, as that would greatly increase its range between rechargings. Perhaps if they collaborated with the electric experts at that Rocky Mountain Institute they could find some inexpensive parts to adapt the Elf for that option.

  • Penny

    We need these type of vehicles for older people and people who can't afford to drive too. Unfortunately, the designs usually don't accommodate older people. I'd love to do a lot of my errands in something like this, but I've only seen one electric vehicle with a seat I can sit in. Recumbant seats are too low and recline at an angle that hurts my back, not to mention many older folks can't get up when sitting too low. In terms of ergonomics, it also strains the back and knees of younger folks to get up from low vehicles, often in a bent over position to miss the door frame. Brakes that have to be squeezed or bicycle type controls don't work well with arthritic hands, especially if there a problems with using the thumb or pinch grip strength. Maybe after it gets off the ground, there could be some adaptability options added.

  • Lidio

    I love the idea.  But I don't know where it will fit on the roads here in the states.  It makes sense for the urban areas, but it would be a bit dangerous sharing the road with cars and a bit too big to drive on a sidewalk.  In the Netherlands they have bicycle roads next to the car roads.  These bike roads are really nice and wide enough for this type of vehicle.  The US doesn't have this type of road.  I see that as a challenge to mass acceptance.