About this project
Here comes the cleanest, most efficient vehicle on the planet.
The ELF is a solar/pedal hybrid vehicle suitable for commuting, deliveries, and other local transportation needs. This three-wheeled electric assist velomobile fills the niche between a bicycle and a car and offers advantages over both.
The ELF is just the vehicle you need.
Are you tired of spending money filling up your gas tank every week? Are you plagued with nagging guilt over your personal contribution to climate change every time you hop in the car for a short trip to the store? Do you think about riding a bike to work, but don't want to show up sweaty? Does it make you nervous to see cars crowd cyclists out of the lane and hesitate to put yourself at risk in that way? The ELF is for you!
The ELF is designed to carry both rider and cargo inside a weatherproof shell that comes fully equipped with lights, signals, and mirrors. The electric motor can be fully engaged for a cool and quiet ride to work or can be used just for a boost when pedaling up hills. The lithium battery pack can be recharged using the roof top solar panels or by plugging in to a standard outlet. The tadpole configuration of the three wheels offers outstanding stability and control. The ELF is a high visibility vehicle that allows you to claim your space on the road while still fitting neatly into standard bike lanes.
- Solar and pedal -- two unlimited resources derived from the sun and you.
- 60 watt solar panel (standard, upgrades available)
- 750 watt permanent neodymium magnet motors
- 480w lithium battery
- PWM controller
- CVT drivetrain (continuously variable transmission)
- Vacuum formed Trylon (composite of 85% recycled ABS and Solarcote)
- Windshield made from UV resistant polycarbonate
- LED lighting including headlights, brake lights, markers, and turn signals
- 45% recycled aluminum
- 26" high volume wheels front and rear with 20mm through axles and 36 spokes
- Disc brakes
- Coroplast wheel covers
- Storage compartment with room for eight bags of groceries/350lbs cargo
- 1800 MPGe (gets 1800 miles for the energy equivalent of 1 gallon of gas)
- 30 mile range with each 8 pound battery pack
- Potential to mitigate 28,000 lbs of CO2 per year per unit
- Classified as a bicycle in all 50 states
How they are made
We have been building these prototypes with a small team of dedicated people in a former furniture warehouse in Downtown Durham, NC.
The frames and body panels are original designs that we employ local fabricators to produce to our specifications. The bike parts and motors are off the shelf components that we source from reputable manufacturers through our in house staff and a through a member of the original design team who has decades of experience importing standard and custom bike parts. The creation of each ELF is currently a labor of love, but we are collaborating with industry experts to streamline the assembly process. Our goal is to create a small scale production facility capable of producing 1,000 units a month that can be easily replicated in cities across the globe. Or as we like to call it, "a bike factory in a box".
Why we are coming to you for support
We were fortunate enough to find like minded investors who provided the seed money that got us this far. We are also serious enough about what we do and have demonstrated enough progress to attract the attention of more significant investors. However, not all money is created equal, and when you are as passionate about your ideals as you are about your product, finding investors who share the whole vision (not just the profits) can be tricky.
When we started talking about Kickstarter, we were motivated and excited by the spirit of the community. We are building vehicles that make the world better for everyone, from the rider whose waistline whittles away, to the worker who gets a new job building something sustainable, to the city dwellers who breathe a little easier with less particulate matter in the air. We feel that since getting these vehicles out in the world can have such a big impact on everyone, why not give everyone the opportunity to support the idea and help make it happen.
We are raising funds to produce the first 100 production models of the ELF. The money will cover the cost of materials and pay employees to build them. We want to make these vehicles affordable and accessible for as many people as possible, and funding the first 100 through Kickstarter will help us achieve that goal.
We Know We Can Do This!
Designing and building a new class of vehicle from the ground up is extremely challenging. From finding capable workers to persuading suppliers that you can pay them to convincing fabricators that yes, you do want those exact dimensions; nothing happens without the help of a silver tongue and a steel spine. As a company, we have already encountered and conquered numerous bumps in the road so we can say with confidence that we are ready and able to take on whatever obstacles lay ahead.
To convince you that we are prepared to tackle future challenges, allow us to tell you about some of the hurdles we have already cleared in creating one of the most original aspects of the ELF – the body.
Challenge: How do you build a model when your team spans four time zones?
Solution: Use your passion to land funding for an onsite design marathon.
Before there was Organic Transit, there was a man named Rob Cotter who dreamt of a world in which people and goods could move from place to place cleanly and efficiently. He pictured a vehicle powered by humans and the sun that would revolutionize transportation as we know it. He called on his talented group of friends, who between them had more than 100 years experience designing and building solar cars, bikes, and other human powered vehicles. Together they set about putting ideas to paper. Over the course of a year, they came up with a design that was both stylish and efficient and brainstormed ways in which such a vehicle could change the world.
Pictures and renderings are great, but can leave a lot of questions unanswered. What is the visibility like? Will it fit in a bike lane and still be comfortable? How long should the wheelbase be? Most importantly, how do you make it tall enough to be comfortable and visible in traffic without sacrificing stability (something that had never been done before).
Clearly a life sized model was needed, but how do you build and refine it when your team is spread out across Maine, Oregon, and North Carolina and your company bank account is non-existent? Answer: use your passion to ignite others and secure seed funding.
Rob took his passion, ideas, and the team’s designs and used them to secure a place in the Durham Stampede – a local startup incubator. This landed him in a donated office inside local architecture firm Alliance Architecture. Once there, Rob found a few like minded individuals who believed in him and his crazy new bikes (namely John Warasila, his wife and partner Vandana Dake, brother Pete, and father Robert). Hands were shook, deals were struck, and soon Organic Transit was launched with enough funding to bring the team together for a marathon week of designing, building, refining, and fun. By the time the team headed back to the airport, the ELF had gone from paper to 3D, and the first frame took its inaugural ride down the nighttime streets of Durham.
Challenge: Laying fiberglass is a lost art.
Solution: All hands on deck
Making a model out of foam core and wooden struts is one thing, but making a body that can be used on a moving, functional vehicle is a whole different story. Once the team had convened and constructed and adjusted and tweaked it was time to turn the refined design into something more substantial.
We hired an industrial designer named Ermanno who took advantage of his membership at Tech Shop Raleigh-Durham to turn the CAD renderings into a full sized foam plug on a ShopBot. Hundreds of hours of shaping and sanding later, the plug was coated with auto body paint to give it a smooth glossy finish that would be easy to pop out of a composite mold.
Now all we needed was someone with experience laying fiberglass. This should be easy in a region full of boat building companies… or so we thought.
It turns out the boat building industry died out in our neck of the woods long enough in the past that it proved impossible to even find a former composites worker who was up to the task. There was no option left but to throw on some old clothes, strap on masks, and do it ourselves. If you ever worked with fiberglass, you are probably itching just reading this part of the story. If you haven’t, don’t let anyone tell you that it is easy or fun, because it is neither. This was the stage in our process that broke the most would-be employees. Those of us left standing when the haze of resin cleared and the molds pulled red and gleaming from their plugs were forever changed by the experience (over 800 hours of it!).
Challenge: We needed it yesterday; they’ll send it next week.
Solution: Waste not, want not, but sometimes progress is still expensive
With the molds ready, the time had come to create the first body panels. We continued to search for talented fiberglass workers without much luck, but we had come to accept that reality and were prepared to make do with the experience we had. What we didn't expect to be difficult was procuring both the light weight composites and the resin to bind it. It was an early lesson in sourcing in which we learned that the lowest price may not actually be the best deal when time is as important as money.
As the days counted down to the planned debut of the first functional prototype at the Raleigh Maker Faire, the phone calls to our materials supplier became ever more frequent and frustrating. After paying a premium for a rush order that didn't arrive as promised, we learned that the distributor didn't even have the glass in stock or have any idea when it might come in. When at last it arrived, very little time remained to get a body built and onto a frame in time for the event. In the end, a dedicated team of enthusiastic friends lost a lot of sleep in order to get the ELF rolling with only hours to spare.
Glass is nothing without the resin to hold it in place, and the resin is nothing without the catalyst that activates it. The tricky thing about fiberglass resin is that it has to be consumed within minutes of adding the catalyst or it becomes unusable. We at Organic Transit believe strongly in using every last bit of material available, but unfortunately not everyone who passed through the shop came with that ethic. The resulting waste was inherently bad enough, but it also compounded the costs and increased the delays of the whole project. We ended up burning through the bulk stock of all the stores in a 50 mile range of the shop.
Challenge: Taking fabricators, welders, engineers and suppliers out of their comfort zone.
Solution: We know what we’re doing but going into production with a design that’s never been done before takes some convincing.
After a few more iterations, including one version that incorporated bamboo and one made from cardboard, carbon fiber, and Kevlar, we were ready to take the big leap and find a fabricator who could make rugged body panels at production volumes. We were fortunate to find a company in our own state who has the right equipment and expertise.
We toured their factory, they toured our shop. They showed us their machines and their products and we showed them our plugs and our prototype. We shared barbecue (this is North Carolina, after all) and shook hands and a partnership was born.
Of course, every partnership comes with conflicts. The secret to building a successful relationship is in learning how to work through disagreements by turning them into opportunities to make the relationship stronger. Mutual respect is key.
When two companies come together to create something that has never existed before, differences in opinion on how to go about it are bound to arise. One side has the expertise in the material, the other side has the expertise in the design, and somewhere in the middle lies a finished product that does what it is meant to do as efficiently and effectively as possible. Finding that sweet spot for the ELF body panels required a lot of negotiation and a big leap of faith for both sides. As the customer whose finished product was on the line, however, it was up to us to push us both off the cliff. The result? Now a composite body panel that took two days to lay by hand can be made from recycled ABS plastic in an automated process that takes only twelve minutes. And they are more beautiful than ever.
Risks and challenges
If you read through our story above, you can see that we have already met and conquered a number of significant challenges in getting this far. We have dealt with employees who weren't the right fit, suppliers who couldn't deliver on promises, collaborators who didn't share the same vision, etc., etc... In other words, the experiences we've had over the past year have made us stronger as a company and as a team.
We are fortunate to be located in a city with a strong network of entrepreneurs and organizations that support them. We are hard wired into this community and know how to tap into it for advice, resources, and moral support.
One thing that will help us deliver the best possible product to our Kickstarter backers is the beta testing program we are running right here in Durham. Over the next two months we will have over a dozen ELFs running around town being tested by real people using the vehicles for real life applications. They are going to help us work out the last few kinks, find the most comfortable seats, and tell us what works and what doesn't so that the vehicles that roll off the production line and go out to our backers will be the best they can be.
Based on the rate at which we have moved from foam core to fully functioning prototype, we are confident that we will be ready to start delivering the first Kickstarter backed vehicles by March of 2013. Of course, no one can completely predict the future, but we do promise that we will keep in constant contact and let our backers know immediately if we foresee any delays in this delivery schedule.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
The vehicle is designed to go a top speed of 20 mph on electric power only (no pedaling) in order to meet federal guidelines for electric bikes (see the first FAQ). You can pedal it as fast as your legs can go. To get a sense of what is possible when you combine pedaling with a little boost from the motor, check out the driver's perspective video of Brian taking the ELF for a spin around town. You can find this video in Update #9 and on our You Tube channel (www.youtube.com/otvehicles).
We are designing a vehicle that is classified as a bicycle under the federal guidelines listed in 15 U.S.C. 2085(b) which state that they must have a 750w or smaller motor, and have a top speed of 20 mph when driven by a 170 pound rider on electric power only.
Now, some states and municipalities have created their own rules and regulations that govern electric assisted bikes and other e-vehicles that contradict the federal guidelines. As a manufacturer selling products across state lines, we obey the feds. It is up to you to read up on your own local regulations and determine if the ELF is likely to attract the wrong kind of attention on the streets in your town. Wikipedia provides a handy starting point: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_bicycle_laws#Federal_laws_and_regulations
Not happy with the laws in your neck of the woods? Then advocate to revise them! Remember, regulations are not set in stone, but takes effort to make a change. The world will be a much safer, greener, place if more bikes and vehicles like ours dominated the transportation spectrum. To find a bike advocacy group in your area that can help make your voice heard, check out this list: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_United_States_bicycle_advocacy_organizations
There are any number of convenient places on the welded aluminum frame that are suitable for attaching a lock. We are also looking into locking clamps for the wheels, tracking chips, and other anti-theft options. The battery pack is easy to remove for safe keeping.
We have not measured this yet because it isn't as pertinent to our vehicle as it is to other velomobiles that are built to aerodynamically maximize speed. The ELF is a different class of velomobile designed for people who are looking for a comfortable, safe, and highly visible ride. Our intent is not to compete with the likes of Quest, Mango, Alleweder, et al. but to provide a viable carbon free alternative for the average commuter.
The ELF is primarily designed to be a single passenger vehicle, just like a bicycle. A driving motivation behind Organic Transit is to reduce the number of single occupant trips taken in polluting internal combustion engine vehicles. The ELF is specifically designed with that goal in mind. That being said, there is space inside the shell and on the sturdy aluminum frame to attach a small jump seat behind the driver. The initial production run will not feature this option, but doesn't rule out a retrofit or some creative hacking on your part.
The open design of the ELF not only preserves the exhilarating fresh air experience of bike riding, but also minimizes buffeting by crosswinds. We know that not everyone is fortunate to live in as mild a climate as we enjoy in North Carolina, however, so we do have designs for a number of door options that can be easily attached when needed. These include clear panels that completely enclose the cabin and screen versions that keep out insects.
Kickstarter is an "all or nothing" funding platform -- if a project doesn't reach its goal before the campaign ends, no money changes hands. The payment goes through Amazon and your card does not get charged until the campaign reaches its funding deadline (January 13th in our case). We are feeling pretty good about reaching our goal, but if we don't, we will still find a way to produce these vehicles. The main difference is we won't be offering them at the same low price.
We are currently trying to determine what it looks like and costs to securely crate an ELF for shipping. Once we know that we will be able to better estimate the shipping costs. Of course, those of you with the willingness and ability to pick up your ELF in Durham are welcome to do so.
Miles per gallon equivalent, or MPGe, is a unit of measurement used by the EPA to compare the energy consumption of alternative fuel and electric vehicles. The standard for comparison is 115,000 BTUs per gallon of gasoline (that's the energy available through burning). For very detailed information on the history math, and various conversion rates for MPGe please visit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miles_per_gallon_gasoline_equivalent
The ELF does not really need a suspension system for a comfortable ride because of the high volume tires. It would also not be possible to include a suspension system and still offer the ELF at this low price. That being said, if one requires the luxury and is willing to pay more for it, we could probably add it in.
Our fans in San Francisco and Portland ask us this all the time. While we have not yet had the opportunity to try it out on a hill such as Fargo St in LA (33% grade!!), the ELF has had no trouble flattening even the steepest grades in our corner of the Piedmont. We have a configuration that employs a very powerful ebike motor and battery pack with a sophisticated controller. We also use a continuously variable transmission (CVT) with some proprietary gadgetry that makes riding in an OTV an experience like no other.
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