The ELF – a cheaper, but not quite perfect velomobile

2 08 2013

The ELF is an interesting little electric assisted pedal trike. It can charge in an hour from the grid, or in 7 hours with the 60W solar panel on the roof. It’s chief innovation is that it is US$4995 which is about half that of the European built velomobiles. It has turn signals, brake lights, LED headlights and wing mirrors, plus it mostly keeps the rain off with a polycarbonate shell. It is open to the elements in the floor and in the sides.


It has a 750W electric motor, so yes it would be illegal under current New Zealand laws, but it is an excellent example of why that law (250W max electric assist on a bicycle) is not a good law and is stifling innovation. In the US it apparently is a legal bicycle.

It has a max speed of 32km/hr under electric assist (to comply with US law) and a range of approx 30 kms. Having an extra battery pack that doubles the range is an option. Windscreen wipers, a better performing solar panel, and doors are all future options.

It’s chief disadvantages are its weight which is just under 150lbs or 70 kilos, making it double the weight of a velomobile. And it only has 3 gears, so when the battery ran out it would be a very heavy trike to ride up a hill.

For electronics in the dashboard add your own smartphone and an appropriate app.

The ELF, being built by a company called Organic Transit,  was started by a kickstarter campaign and is being built in Durham, North Carolina. The guy behind it, Rob Cotter, gave a Ted talk about it:

Here’s a nice blog, called Orasfarsasiget from someone who bought one in North Carolina and rode it home to Massachusetts .

Although there is really nothing all that new, that other people aren’t already doing, it is a nicely designed package.

Sometime a design like this is going to reach a tipping point and be widely adopted and then our cities are going to be fundamentally changed. We aren’t going to need new billion dollar motorways. We’re going to need safer places to ride our bikes and trikes. It is time that we were bold. It would be completely within the capabilities of New Zealand companies to build similar machines. We will be able to decouple transport from burning oil. The sooner the better. It’s time to think smart.




5 responses

2 08 2013
Rob Edward

Nice looking machine.

The top speed would be an issue though. I’d not be wanting to take up twice (?) the width of a person on a bike and only be able to do 32 max, especially in Wellington!

Has anyone, or is anyone looking at getting the wattage limit addressed?

24 05 2016
Segue Fischlin

Rob, an excellent point, and the reason that I am actively advocating worldwide for electric-assist bicycles to be permitted a top speed of 25mph/40kph. It simply doesn’t make sense to force bicycles to go slower than the rest of city traffic and the 5mph/8kph difference in speed is not going to create a huge safety issue. I also advocate for removing wattage limits entirely, as all they are doing is preventing clean transport from replacing cars for local trips. 250W is useless in any terrain with hills if you are a large person and/or are carrying significant cargo loads (over 100lbs), which many cargo bikes (and trikes) are capable of doing.

2 08 2013

The 32 km/hr max is where the electric assists cuts out. It’ll go faster down hills, but being so heavy I don’t think it could be pedalled faster than 32 km/hr even by the super fit. The company’s website doesn’t have a convenient specs page to get the actual width. To me it looks a little wider than a standard recumbent trike too.

As for wattage limit laws being looked at in NZ. That’s hilarious. We’ll be followers not leaders on any of this. I can’t see why you’d need a helmet in one of them either. The politicians, lawyers and policy wonks here aren’t ahead of any curve on anything that’s for sure.

2 08 2013
Frank Peters

I’ll ride my electric bike with a raincoat when necessary

5 04 2015
Deb King

Hi folks,
4 ELFs are coming NZ’s way next week. The vision is to be making them in Raglan (land of innovation, environmental awareness & social change!)
To remain a cycle, Organic Transit has tuned the wattage to reflect NZ rules, they even had to add reflectors, even though lights & signals are part of the bike-or-trike-or velomobile (what ever name you’d like to use).
I believe these are Change Makers, not cheap but are a true alternative if you are prepared to swop your car and shift into sharing a car with a few other like-minded people.
I have purchased four and have included a number of accessories including a Fallbrook Nuvinci N360 Hub. The carbon fibre panels were also extra and $500USD.
I look forward to seeing them on NZ roads, a revolution is about to take place!

Deb King

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