The ELF Solar Bike-Car-Hybride Thingy: Another Vehicle That Makes Me ask “WHY?”

January 31st, 2014
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The Organic Transit ELF has been getting a lot of attention recently.  It’s another vehicle that claims to be poised to revolutionize the way we get around.

Granted, in this day and age of global warming concerns, congested cities and high gas prices, it might seem natural to go looking for alternatives to automobiles.  Using human power also seems like a good idea, given the way to go, since many of us can use exercise anyway.

Via the Wall Street Journal:

Elf Electric Pedal Car: When 1 Horsepower Is Enough

Mr. Cotter is the founder and CEO of the Durham, N.C.-based Organic Transit, which makes the Elf: an ovoid, semi-enclosed, solar-chargeable, plug-in, bike-lane-legal, electric pedal car. Got that? With a 1-hp (750-watt) electric motor in the rear wheel hub and a lithium battery pack, or two, snugged into the center frame rail aft of the front wheels—and a plastic canopy to keep the weather off drivers—the Elf proposes a solution for urban commuters who want to leave the car at home but can’t quite hack the rigors of a conventional bicycle.

“We’re creating our own consumer product category,” said Mr. Cotter, whose operation in a downtown storefront in the former tobacco capital is bustling. The company has 1,500 orders in hand—more than enough to reach profitability, said Mr. Cotter, a TED talker who Kickstarted much of the original funding—and soon the company’s retinue of bike gurus and production staff (including some volunteers) will be moving to larger quarters downtown. Prices just went up: the Elf costs $4,995, more if you want the backup battery, the continuously variable transmission rear hub or the better solar panels.

The Elf’s capacity is 350 pounds; top assisted speed is 20 mph (it goes faster downhill); and the 10-amp-hour batteries offer a range of up to 30 miles, but the batteries last longer the more riders pedal. It takes one whole sunny day to charge a fully depleted battery with 60-watt roof-mounted solar panels.

Mr. Cotter and I took a couple of Elfs for a tour of Raleigh recently, and according to the vehicle’s smartphone-app instrumentation, I traveled 15.4 miles at an average speed of 15 mph; burned 586 calories (by pedaling) and displaced 15 pounds of CO2 (using solar watts). It’s a start.

elfbikecar

The vehicle has gotten a huge amount of press and attention. It even managed to raise nearly a quarter of a million dollars on Kickstart – apparently from a large group of people who are genuinely convinced this is an amazing and revolutionary concept.   It’s even touted as the “Cleanest, most efficient vehicle on the planet”

 


I do not mean to rain on this parade, but I just don’t get it.  Not only is it not revolutionary, game-changing or the next big thing, but it seems to me that this is just a vehicle which serves the same roll as the bicycle, while being inferior in most respects and considerably more expensive.

Let me know if I am missing something or just wrong…

 
BIKE
ELF
 Cost  About 200
to 800 (for a high end model) US Dollars for new.Second hand
at significantly less.

 

 5000 US
Dollars. Possibly additional shipping costs.
 Maintenance and
Ownership costs:
Chain should be lubricated.Tires will need replacement every few years.

May
occasionally have mechanical problem and need repair of chain or brake
mechanism.

 

 

As with bike, will need periodic tire replacement. Also will need maintenance of chain, peddles and brakes. Additionally, has large lithium ion battery which will need replacement every two to five years and will be significant cost.

Solar panels do not have unlimited lifetime.

 

Hybrid CVT drive train is likely to require more maintenance than simple chain drive. Likely beyond the capabilities of most owners.

 

Headlights: Optional but available. Inexpensive

 

Yes
Passengers:

 

1

(multiperson bikes do exist)

 1
Cargo:

 

A standard bike can hold about one to two to three shopping bags by placing them in sidesaddle storage, a basket or in a back pack.

 

If cargo transport is necessary or desired, accessories like bike trailers or cargo-optimized tricycle-style bodies can be used and allow upwards of 10 shopping bags and more than 350 lbs to be transported.

 

 About 5 shopping bags.

350 lbs of cargo. (about 160 kg)

 Electric Power Assistance:  Generally no, but optional after market systems are available.

Given that bike riding is pretty easy to begin with and that the power assist systems tend to add significant weight, expense and complexity, they have tended not to be very popular.

 Yes.Up to 30 miles (48 km) under ideal conditions using an 8 pound (3.6 kg)* battery pack and 750 watt motor.

 

(weight is only battery, not hybrid transmission, charge controller, motor etc)

 

 Areas accessible:  Roadways, trails, paths and mountainous areas.
Depends on type of bike.   Most bicycles can easily deal with dirt roadways and smooth paths.

Mountain biking can be done even in harsh
terrain.

 

 Paved roads and paths.
 Maneuverability:

 

 Excellent.

Can be used to avoid traffic, dodge obstacles, weave between cars and stay on narrow paths.

 Appears to be fair.  More stable than a bike, but comes at the expense of much less nimble turning and maneuvering.

Narrow enough footprint to be used on bike paths, but certainly not passing others with the same clearance.

 

 Protection from Weather:  None.

A raincoat or jacket can be worn, but that’s about it.

 Some.

Cabin will provide protection from some
level of rain. No heat or cooling.

Likely to be unpleasant in very heavy rain. Bottom is open, so water could splash if wet enough.

Like a bike, there is no heat or air conditioning.

 Security:

 

 Bike theft is a major problem. However, security can be well maintained with a sturdy locking mechanism.

Many locations provide bike racks and other kinds of structures can be used to secure the bike.

 Not easily attached to bike rack. Possibly attachable with large long chain, but this would be less secure.

The solar panel presents an obvious target for thieves to remove and could be removed.

Theft of entire vehicle may be deterred by the fact that it would be conspicuous.

 Transportability and storage:  Excellent.

Easily lifted and carried. Can be brought indoors for storage easily.

Transportable by car.

Bike racks are readily available.

Public transport accommodates bikes.

For even greater portability, folding bikes exist.

 

 Poor.

Large and bulky. Would require a truck, van or cargo trailer.

Not easily lifted.

Won’t easily fit indoors.

Public transport is not an option.

Stored outdoors unless a dedicated garage or shed exists.

 Safety:  Well
established as being reasonably safe when used properly.

Hazards do exist because of the open nature of the vehicle.

By far the greatest hazard is head injury, but this can be nearly negated by proper helmet usage.

Most dangerous for serious injury is aggressive bike riding in city traffic. Riding on paths and more cautious ridership reduces risk.

Risk of injury remains relatively high, as compared to other transport modes, but serious injury or death is very rare with helmet usage.

 Safety is not well established because of the very limited number of such vehicles that
have been produced and used.

The enclosed passenger compartment may provide minimal protection, but would not prevent serious injury in a major accident.

It may also reduce visibility and situational awareness.

The design is less likely to tilt over but also less maneuverable. It can’t as easily stay out of the way of cars.

It is claimed that it is more visible to cars than a bicycle. This claim is unproven and questionable.

So the ELF comes up as being superior, albeit marginally in a couple of areas and vastly inferior in most others. Also, it costs thousands of dollars more than a bicycle. Which one is really the cleaner, more viable and usable form of transportation?


This entry was posted on Friday, January 31st, 2014 at 8:52 am and is filed under Bad Science, Just LAME, media, Misc. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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23 Responses to “The ELF Solar Bike-Car-Hybride Thingy: Another Vehicle That Makes Me ask “WHY?””

  1. 1
    DV82XL Says:

    The bottom line on all these is that they are, short range, impractical in inclement winter weather, and afford little to no protection to the rider. They are useful only in a limited number of situations, and can be a viable replacement for cars/motorized public transit in even fewer. In those nations where the bicycle is a major form of transportation for a large fraction of the population they are generally far too expensive to serve as a replacement, and far too limited in performance to serve as an upgrade, as compared to a scooter, or light motorbike. As such they can never live up to the ‘revolutionary’ hype that seems to surround each breathless announcement when one of them shows up on the market or more often as a prototype and are, in fact, more toys for the well-healed served up with a side of moral ascendancy than practical modes of transport.


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  2. 2
    BMS Says:

            DV82XL said:

    As such they … are, in fact, more toys … than practical modes of transport.

    From a marketing standpoint, however, this toy hits all the right buttons for its target consumer: human powered, electric, solar panels, small, “urban,” and an excuse to push for more bike paths. It’s even colored a shade of green.


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  3. 3
    DV82XL Says:

            BMS said:

    … and an excuse to push for more bike paths.

    Not always, as many places do not allow such vehicles to use the bike path network. I know that’s the case here.


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  4. 4
    L.Long Says:

    Not worth the effort or cost. If I lived and worked such that these could be used I’d be better off with my present bike. the main problem is they are too big for most bike lanes IF there are any, and to big and slow for use on the road. And after spending money for one of these I would still need a real car.


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  5. 5
    Dogmug Says:

    Lose the expensive fripperies, like the solar PV system, and it’s fine.

    In ten years, solar panels might just be cheap enough to be cost-effective for small vehicles like this. I’d welcome it. But opposing it because it may be “Green” is culture-war stuff. And culture wars have given us various fundamentalisms — and the anti-nuclear movement.

    Of course, I may be biased. I can’t ride a bike — my inner ears are damaged, and I no longer have enough balance to ride a “two-wheeler”.


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  6. 6
    DV82XL Says:

            Dogmug said:

    Lose the expensive fripperies, like the solar PV system, and it’s fine.

    Well that’s the whole point I would think. It’s not electric bikes/trikes per se that are being criticised, it is the conceit that slapping on a few solar panels, a funky-looking fairing and a cute name makes this vehicle any more ‘Green” than several others in its category, which necessarily includes a number of assisted mobility products. It’s these claims of being ‘revolutionary’ and particularly eco-friendly that we take issue with.


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  7. 7
    Mitch Says:

    Like they used to say with foil-armored greenie-thingies like these on city streets; just put two brass handles on both sides and you save the cost of a casket!


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  8. 8
    illumined Says:

    This is all part of the sustainability fad. I’m not worried, fads inevitably pass and much like the last big enviro fad in the 70′s this one will not be any different.


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  9. 9
    illumined Says:

            DV82XL said:

    Well that’s the whole point I would think. It’s not electric bikes/trikes per se that are being criticised, it is the conceit that slapping on a few solar panels, a funky-looking fairing and a cute name makes this vehicle any more ‘Green” than several others in its category, which necessarily includes a number of assisted mobility products. It’s these claims of being ‘revolutionary’ and particularly eco-friendly that we take issue with.

    Most people think solar panel fabrication is clean. The eco-brainwashing in our school system has conditioned us to believe anything solar must be clear and futuristic. Sad really.


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  10. 10
    DV82XL Says:

            illumined said:

    This is all part of the sustainability fad. I’m not worried, fads inevitably pass and much like the last big enviro fad in the 70′s this one will not be any different.

    The problem is not with the idea of sustainability per se, it is that most of the proposed solutions are ludicrous: a global calamity is not going to be averted adult by adult pedal-cars, eating vegetables and sorting our rubbish. The root of the fetish with soft energy is the Green ideal of minimizing man’s impact on nature. This is borne out by the fact that the only scalable renewable source of energy, hydroelectric, is widely opposed by the Green movement for interfering with ‘free-flowing rivers.’ That movement prizes solar and wind despite their horrendous track record for ideological, ultimately religious reasons: the idea of a society only relying on the sun and the wind is congenial to their ideal of a world in which man tiptoes on the planet. If we cast aside the Green religion, as a false ideal that has no place in a rational discussion of energy then the only question that matters is what sources will best advance human life now and in the relevant future while not killing the planet.


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  11. 11
    illumined Says:

    Your analysis of the sustainability movement is pretty accurate, but ultimately it will not last. I like to compare the social dynamic to another decentralized popular movement, Intelligent Design. They operate in a similar fashion with a hard core at the center which promotes the agenda (and grossly misrepresents it) while there’s a shell that forms around it of people that buy into it but are not totally invested in it. Once the shell comes to understand what the core is really up to, it will often defect to the other side. The sustainability movement, much like Intelligent Design, is a house of cards for this reason. We’re already seeing this in Germany and even California where the green agenda has become increasingly unpopular as people are starting to realize its true costs. http://www.npr.org/2013/12/17/251781788/environmentalists-split-over-need-for-nuclear-power


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  12. 12
    PsihoKekec Says:

    I see this as cynical ploy to get (parents) money from the naive SWPLs, by offering a frivolous toy that reaffirms their status within their ideology of the moment. Sort of like bigger, more expensive Che shirt.


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  13. 13
    Anon Says:

            PsihoKekec said:

    I see this as cynical ploy to get (parents) money from the naive SWPLs, by offering a frivolous toy that reaffirms their status within their ideology of the moment. Sort of like bigger, more expensive Che shirt.

    SWPLs?


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  14. 14
    BMS Says:

            Anon said:

    SWPLs?

    Stuff White People Like


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  15. 15
    drbuzz0 Says:

            Dogmug said:

    In ten years, solar panels might just be cheap enough to be cost-effective for small vehicles like this. I’d welcome it. But opposing it because it may be “Green” is culture-war stuff. And culture wars have given us various fundamentalisms — and the anti-nuclear movement.

    I have no problem with those who want one buying it. Go right ahead. But I would not bet on this going annoyware.

    I would not bet on solar panels getting much cheaper. It’s a mature technology. The costs are basically inherent to the material at this point.

            Dogmug said:

    Of course, I may be biased. I can’t ride a bike — my inner ears are damaged, and I no longer have enough balance to ride a “two-wheeler”.

    There are already three and four wheel peddle-driven vehicles, much cheaper than this.


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  16. 16
    Anon Says:

            drbuzz0 said:

    I would not bet on solar panels getting much cheaper. It’s a mature technology. The costs are basically inherent to the material at this point.

    Hasn’t China for some silly reason been selling panels at a loss?


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  17. 17
    PsihoKekec Says:

    It’s not a silly reason. They are destroying their competition through dumping prices, gradually establishing monopoly on the market.


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  18. 18
    Anon Says:

            PsihoKekec said:

    It’s not a silly reason. They are destroying their competition through dumping prices, gradually establishing monopoly on the market.

    Spending a lot of money to obtain dominance of a small niche market isn’t exactly wise. China are basically gambling on:
    1. That the solar power industry will stay at its present size.
    2. That other countries won’t impose tariffs in retaliation.
    3. That other countries will stay out of the market long enough for them to earn monopoly rents.

    Those assumptions are not likely to be very true.


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  19. 19
    illumined Says:

            PsihoKekec said:

    It’s not a silly reason. They are destroying their competition through dumping prices, gradually establishing monopoly on the market.

    They aren’t the first ones to do this. Japan did this in the late 1980′s with DRAM chips and LCD panels. It’s no accident that it happened during Japan’s credit bubble, it’s only possible because of access to super cheap financing. But it didn’t last, once the cheap credit dried up their market dominance collapsed really quickly. Today many of Japans once vaunted electronics giants are mostly also-rans. Once China’s credit bubble collapses we’ll see the same thing.


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  20. 20
    Krigl Says:

            Anon said:

    2. That other countries won’t impose tariffs in retaliation.

    Already happening.
    Plus, considering the subsidised nature of solar bussiness, there’s also the assumption that gravy train will run uninterrupted for long enough time.


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  21. 21
    Neil Craig Says:

    The Indians recently unveiled a no frills mass produced car at about half the price of this motorised trike. It looks a lot less “3rd world” than this too.


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  22. 22
    Andy Says:

    I could see this being useful in inclement weather. 2 wheels on the snow is difficult.


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  23. 23
    DV82XL Says:

    For snow you use a Snow Bike


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