So, one of the most viable vehicles of this type on the market is the ELF. Made in Durham, NC, the ELF (it stands for "electric fun") is now found in communities across the country where folks are pushing the creative edge on mobility and thinking outside of the box of automobilism. Be sure that VBike is working away to start bringing more vehicles like his in Vermont. We'll have more details on this soon.
But let's give way to Dan Goossen of Burlington who was kind enough to tell us about his one and only ELF in Vermont (at least to our knowledge). Take it away Dan...
I purchased the ELF to solve a couple of issues. I was frustrated with my inability to commute with a bicycle in a safe and timely manner. I live about 8 miles from my work and the most direct route involves some dangerous riding along Williston Road through South Burlington. Every time I rode it I would ride as fast as possible to try to limit my time in the sections with limited shoulders and no bike lines. By the time I got to work I would inevitably be covered in sweat. I found myself resenting my 50 minutes of commuting each day while at the same time I was struggling to find time to stay in shape. Someone sent me a link to the ELF and my interest was immediately piqued.
How long did it take for you to find the right vehicle and what was that like?
When I first started investigating it, the manufacturer (Organic Transit in Durham, NC) was about to implement a big price increase. They were taking orders at the old price for a final month or two. I got in the queue but started looking at Craigslist to see if there were any cheaper options. The ELFs (ELVES?) come in two basic designs; a one seater with a huge cargo trunk, or a two seater with a smaller trunk area. I have a toddler who likes to ride with me around Burlington, so I was opting for the two seater version. I lucked out by finding a two seater for sale in Arizona. I contacted the woman who was selling it and found out that she'd only had it for a couple of months. I ended up getting it for about $2000 off the official price at the time. . Coordinating shipping from Arizona was a little bit tricky. I ended up hiring a piano and motorcycyle hauler. The shipping cost around $1000.
For something that's legally considered a bicycle, the ELF is very big. It's 4 feet wide, 9 feet long, and over 5 feet tall. It weighs in around 170 lbs. and can carry as much as 350 lbs. The solar panel roof can recharge the e-assist battery in about 8 hours in full sunlight.
Tell us about your first ride.
It was very exciting to see the ELF roll off the delivery truck. I became quite nervous however when I first got in and tried to drive it around the parking lot. It was incredibly difficult to move. I was expecting a big assist from the battery powered motor, but I wasn't noticing any difference when I thumbed the throttle. After a few minutes I finally discovered that the battery connection was loose. After that, things quickly got better. The ELF zips right along. For anyone already accustomed to an electric assist bicycle, it probably wouldn't be nearly as exciting. As my first experience after only ever being able to move as fast as pedaling or gravity would allow, it was pretty thrilling.
I live close to downtown Burlington and at this point, have pretty much given up using a car to drive around town. Depending on how many people we are, I either ride a bicycle or the ELF for most of my in-town trips. Mostly that's trips to the Co-op (I can easily fit 4-6 bags of groceries plus my three year old), the library, and friends houses. For in-town riding I prefer sticking to the bike lanes when possible, but also keep up fairly well when I need to take the whole lane. Riding around Burlington where the speed limit is 25 is a lot easier than on-road riding in and out of town where traffic is moving more quickly and bike lanes are inadequate.
My typical commute has me utilizing the South Burlington bike path, then meandering through a number of residential neighborhoods with only a few very short stints on the busier arteries around South Burlington and Williston. There are some hilly sections of the ride, but thanks to the electric assist, they're not too bad (apart from the couple of times that I neglected to fully charge the battery and ended up having to push the ELF up some steep hills with lots of traffic whizzing by).
I occasionally get to pick my son up from preschool in the ELF. He likes to tool around in the backseat, and his classmates all come charging to the fence for a better view whenever I pull up. Luckily he's 3 and not 13 so it's still pretty cool to have a dad with a ridiculous looking pumpkin colored bike/pod/car thing coming to pick him up.
How are family, friends and local community reacting to it?
Most of the reactions I get from the ELF are awesome. People are very intrigued and psyched to see such a different looking vehicle on the road. I am constantly approached by people wanting to know what it is, ask how it is to ride it, ask if I built it (no), wonder how fast it can go, and ask where they can get one. Generally it's been a great experience riding around town and being met with tons of smiles, thumbs up out of car windows, smartphones taking pictures and videos out of car windows, people shouting "I love it!," "Nice bike!", "Awesome", and the occasional dumbfounded look from people who are trying to figure out what they're seeing. Being the only one around is also a bit tiring. It's impossible to be anonymous and everyone knows exactly where I am when I'm out and about.
Shopping at the Co-op can also sometimes take some extra time. Most trips I'll be approached by one, two, three or four fellow shoppers wanting to learn more. I like to share my experience with everyone, but it means allotting a little more time for picking up groceries than what it used to be.
My wife has been supportive of the ELF, particularly knowing that it helps me get more excercise which keeps me in a happier state. My father who has long been a bicycle enthusiast, was coming off radiation treatment for his second bout of cancer shortly after I acquired and decided that an ELF would be an ideal way to ease back into physical activity and recreation without having to be fully dependent on an otherwise tired body. I'm happy to report that several months after getting my bright orange ELF, he found his own used ELF on craigslist and is now running errands in a bright green model on the roads of Pennsylvania (and got the clean bill of health from his doctors!).
Overall, I'm happy with the ELF. I wish my schedule allowed me to use it closer to full time It's been great interacting with a very interested community and helping traditional car dwellers see outside of the box and imagine a different way.
I'm enjoying seeing a lot more cargo bikes in Burlington. With gradual improvements in the biking infrastructure here, I'm very optimistic that we'll see more and more people spending less time in cars and more time pushing pedals (and the occasional electric assist). With ever increasing vehicular traffic in town, shifting to a bicycle can be a very liberating experience, slows the pace down, and of course has lots of health benefits.
In addition to the great cargo and/or passenger capacity of the ELF, I think its biggest benefit is visibility. It's impossible to ignore it coming down the road. I feel much, much safer piloting the ELF around town with my son than I ever do on my road bike. For folks who would like to be biking but are worried about their safety, I think the ELF can be a great match.
In my opinion, we can't move away from a world dependent on fossil fueled transportation quick enough. Anything that can make it easier for 'normal' folks to enjoy the benefits of pedal powered mobility is welcome. It may be a while before we get to the level of bicycle appreciation recognized in places like Montreal, the Pacific Northwest, and Europe, but I'm hopeful that we're picking up speed on our path to get there.