Bike To The Future
The ELF is a semi-enclosed tricycle with a roof, trunk, and enough room for eight bags of groceries. And while it doesn’t require a license plate, the bike-lane-legal electric- and human-powered ELF is capable of cruising up to 30 miles per hour, thanks to its onboard rechargeable battery.
In 2012 Rob Cotter and a group of mechanics, bike builders, and engineers started Organic Transit, a Durham, North Carolina, company dedicated to manufacturing highly efficient tricycles.
One element that separates the ELF from other electric-assist bikes is its protective aerodynamic shell. And it’s that outer shell that qualifies the ELF as a “velomobile,” a class of vehicle that comes in many shapes and sizes, including some of the most efficient vehicles on the road. Most velos, as they are known, are enclosed recumbent tricycles that generate incredible efficiency, thanks to their sleek design. From his work with the International Human Powered Vehicle Association Cotter knew it was possible to design a velo that could travel at speeds that would tempt people to ditch their cars for an ELF.
According to Cotter, “Many types of technology come together and merge to fill this technological space between a bicycle and a car.”Some of the ELF’s futuristic features include its continuously variable transmission (CVT), which consists of two chains that coast independently, eliminating any friction when switching between pedal power and the 600-watt backup battery.
If and when riders get tired of pedaling, they can flip a switch, stop pedaling, and still cruise at speeds up to 15 miles per hour using the onboard rechargeable lithium iron phosphate battery. What’s more, the battery can be powered from the roof’s solar panel in about seven hours. If it’s cloudy outside, the ELF can get a charge from a traditional outlet in about an hour and a half.
These distribution goals will likely give rise to new challenges, such as how to source sustainable solar materials and batteries, how to integrate ELFs into the bike/car culture, and how to make the vehicle affordable for the masses. But for now Cotter is focused on defining a new transportation category. “For inventors or builders or designers or entrepreneurs, if they have the opportunity to launch a very green product, a product that can help lots of people, it’s the best thing you can ever do,” he said.
The "Bike To The Future" Quest video was co-produced by Stephanie Bourland and David Huppert.
Correction: the video mistakenly refers to the ELF's CVT as a contingency variable transmission instead of a continuously variable transmission.