- A semi-recumbent electric trike with a plastic body resembling a velomobile that has a built in solar panel
- Geared hub motor mounted mid-frame provides great torque and is protected from vibration and the elements
- Solid safety features including front and rear LED lights, mirrors, and strong disc brakes, optional wheel covers
This review is for the original first generation line of ELF electric bikes launched in 2013 by Organic Transit. They used geared motors, had smaller 60 watt solar panels, stiffer steering and no front suspension. This is still a great product and may be found used, you can get replacement batteries and service through Organic Transit or local bike shops. The next version is 1.5 and is reviewed here.
The ELF is a semi-recumbent three wheeled electric trike with a light weight body to protect its rider from the elements, haul cargo and charge on the go via built in 60 watt solar panel! It’s an electric bike like no other, launched on Kickstarter in 2013, the Organic Transit team raised $225,789 (over 2x their 100k funding goal). It’s heavier than most traditional electric bikes at 150 pounds and may feel a bit awkward to ride on narrow bicycle paths but it does qualify as an ebike under US laws having a top powered speed of 20mph and 600 watt geared motor. Despite the bold appearance I found the ELF to be practical, maneuverable and well priced given how many features are included and how well they’re integrated.
The motor powering the 2013 ELF is a 600 watt geared hub by BMC that’s actually mounted mid-frame. This position keeps it out of harms way and actually reduces the vibration and shock it experiences when riding over bumps. The motor pulls a chain that is connected to the rear wheel with a step up cog providing more torque for starting and climbing. It does freewheel when coasting and so does the pedaling system. The bike offers a 3 speed SRAM internally geared hub with the option of an upgrade to the continuously variable transmission NuVinci hub. The chain connected to the cranks runs through a PVC pipe that keeps it and your pants clean which is nice. The motor is activated with a thumb throttle on the right grip and changing gears can be accomplished using a twist shifter on the left grip. I like that the NuVinci lets you shift at standstill but it does add some weight and cost to the bike.
The battery pack offers 48 volts of power with 10 amp hours of capacity with a Lithium Iron Phosphate chemistry that’s stable and reliable. The cells are built into a long rectangular brick that sits just below the driver seat and is removable for charging off the bike if you like. The solar panels are setup to charge the pack in ~6 hours with perfect conditions and depending on the wall charger you get it can take 5 or ~2.5 hours to charge inside using a standard 110 wall outlet. The battery position keeps it low, out of the way and centered which keeps the bike balanced. If your pack wears out they do offer replacements in the new Lithium Manganese Cobalt chemistry for ~$600 which is pretty good.
The cockpit on the Organic Transit ELF is pretty comfortable. The captain’s chair is adjustable forward to back and made of a breathable fabric that provides some cushion over bumps and cracks. You can upgrade the tires to be extra thick (providing even more cushion) but given the three wheel design and the larger 26″ wheels (most recumbents have 20″) it rides pretty well from the start. Getting into position can take some practice and a bit of bending and crouching but they’ve got a simple brake system to keep the bike steady and overall it works fine. In addition to the throttle, grip shifter and brake levers you also get a switch for the lights, turn signals and horn (which is quite loud).
Riding in the ELF is fun but feels different than a regular bicycle because cars and people can see you much easier. It’s also very stable which is important when you start carrying stuff around. There is a sort of echo inside and the entire body shakes a bit when cruising over rough terrain. I didn’t ride in the rain but it’s clear that the canopy will keep most of the interior dry and the solar panel is such a cool way to keep the sun off while also charging the bike. I was told that the plastic holds up very well to sunlight and the elements over time but the company does offer an optional cover which even has a built in window to let the panel on top charge. It’s even built to not over-charge the battery
The trunk space is plentiful, even if you don’t stack stuff on top of the lid, and the visibility when riding this way is great. The open door areas let wind blow through without rocking the bike and also keep you alert when riding with traffic. Given then ~$5K price point of these original ELF’s I’m quite impressed with what you get. There are very few vehicles that actually use solar panels in a meaningful way (The 4th gen Toyota Prius used them to run the air conditioning on hot days). With the ELF you can literally travel anywhere as long as you’re okay doing it ~20 miles per day and waiting ~7 hours (contingent on the weather) for the pack to recharge. It’s inspiring and it’s done very well with durable components that will hold for years to come.
- Built in solar panel will charge the bike in ~6 hours (with ideal conditions)
- Strong 600 watt geared hub motor mounted mid-frame for durability and increased torque
- Canopy protects you from sun, rain and other elements but is light weight and open
- Front and rear LED lights, mirrors, turn signals and a horn improve safety when riding
- Upgradable NuVinci CVT hub lets you change gears at rest, helps when you stop suddenly when traveling at higher speeds
- Adjustable seat provides good fit, relaxed back and neck and cushion when traveling on bumpy terrain
- Lots of cargo space in the rear for adding groceries (up to four full bags) but keeps it out of sight and also from blocking your vision
- Optional wheel covers increase visual footprint of bike for safety, optional large tires for softer riding
- Three wheel design is stable, larger 26″ wheels provide high attack angle and good rolling momentum
- Made with durable plastics, aluminum and carbon fiber that keeps rust and wear to a minimum
- Heavier than most electric bikes at 150 pounds, though weight is kept low and center
- Larger than most ebikes, may feel awkward when riding on a bike path, can attract extra attention
- More limited range than similarly specced electric bikes due to increased weight
- More work to repair wheels and tires given the untraditional frame setup
- Harder to store inside given the size, they do offer an optional cover if stored outside
- Have to pay extra for different colors… The options are nice but add up quickly