- Three wheeled recumbent style ebike with a UV resistant plastic body that improves safety and guards against weather
- Built in lights, mirrors, horn, adjustable seat, locking cargo hold and integrated solar panel for charging off the grid
- Lots of upgrade options but some seem overly expensive, heavier, bulkier and noisier than a traditional bike
The Organic Transit ELF (which stands for Electric, Light, Fun) is part recumbent trike, part velomobile and part cargo bike. Borne on Kickstarter in 2013, the first generation ELF reached more than double it’s funding goal and has turned heads and hearts all over the world with some owners scooting to the grocery store and others crossing continents (Montana to Argentina to be exact). In short, the ELF is a custom made aluminum frame with three 26″ wheels, a high power centrally-mounted hub motor, a Trylon composite canopy with built in solar panel and LED lights and a battery pack. It’s simple in some ways but feels durable and maneuverable because it’s relatively light at ~150lbs depending on the options you choose. Because it’s so unique, the ELF can feel a bit out of place but the attention it gets is almost universally positive. It adheres to US bike regulations by limiting the top speed to 20mph, keeping the motor under 750 watts and adding pedals with gears. You can actually enjoy this thing on human power alone but that doesn’t make locking it up at the bike rack any easier.
powering this unique electric bike is a custom build 600 watt direct drive (gearless) hub motor mounted near the middle of the chassis. Most hub motors on ebikes serve as the hub in one of the wheels but Organic Transit chose to integrate it separately in order to step up the torque while simultaneously protecting it from the elements and vibration. It’s smooth, powerful and a bit quieter than the first generation ELF which used a geared motor design. I’d like to say it’s quiet too but the plastic body amplifies the noise so this bike is louder (at least to the rider) than a traditional bike would be. When the motor spins it pulls a chain on the left side of the rear wheel and when the rider pedals it pulls a separate chain on the right side of the wheel. Both freewheel so you don’t have to worry about cogging (magnetic resistance from the direct drive motor) and the chains are kept out of the way with PVC tubing that will keep your pants clean.
The ELF leverages standard bicycle components and has solid platform pedals, heavy duty chains and traditional 26″ wheels. While many recumbent bikes use 20″ wheels the ELF benefits from improved road clearance which also makes getting in a bit easier (you don’t have to bend down so far). The wheels also feature a higher attack angle making it easier to overcome bumps and span cracks and you’ve got the option to upgrade the tires for improved cushion as well as add wheel covers that are said to strengthen the wheel but mostly just improve the look and add “visual real estate” so cars can spot you easier when riding. The coolest part of this v1.5 ELF is that it comes standard with suspension bumpers. They don’t have the travel of a suspension fork and there’s no rebound adjustment or lockout but they do improve the ride and reduce the rattling of the frame when riding on rough terrain. Another option that reduces the jitters are larger tires made available as an upgrade.
The battery pack making this thing go offers 48 volts of power, 11.4 amp hours of capacity and a Lithium Manganese Cobalt chemistry that will hold up for over 1,000 charge cycles if properly cared for. It’s small, easy to access (sitting just below the captain’s seat) and light weight. Organic Transit sells extra packs and replacements starting at $600 but you can keep yours going by storing it away from extreme temperatures, charging it after rides and topping it off every few months if you haven’t ridden. The cells inside are 18650 which is becoming the standard in electric cars so they benefit from high volume manufacturing that adds consistency. Compared with some ebikes that have metal packs or fancy integrated designs the ELF battery is pretty simple but it works well, stays out of the way and is light.
Riding in the ELF feels different than riding on a bicycle. You’re protected from headwinds, rain, and direct sunlight (when overhead) but you also feel exposed because there aren’t really doors. I’ve been told you can order doors separately but I can see why most people don’t. In the same way that a convertible or Jeep feels open and lets you hear, smell and even touch your surroundings the ELF immerses you and this makes it fun, friendly and safe in a way. The seat is adjustable, sliding forward or back to let you reach the pedals comfortably. A standard handlebar lets you steer the front wheels and there’s a thumb throttle on the right as well as a bell and grip shifter on the left as well as a horn, light and turn signal switch. They packed a lot in but it feels simple and comfortable. If you plan to use the mobile app they offer with your phone or tablet there’s a rubberized holder that mounts in the center of the bars. You can also set your device on the dash and the screen will bounce off of the windshield giving you a neat heads up display (I think this is still a work in progress and they may sell a separate mount in the future).
The ELF is a special creation, inspiring and artistic but also functional. It’s real, it works and the guys who are making it are doing a good job. The metal chassis is aluminum alloy and won’t rust, the plastic frame has UV protection to resist fading and windows and other components are modular so you can repair it over time. While the ELF isn’t for everyone it’s amazing to think just how life changing it can and will be for some. Organic Transit introduced a program in 2014 called the 100th ELF that donate’s one of their ebikes to a school, non-profit or community in need ever time 100 ELF’s are sold. This thing can carry 350 pounds ~15 miles and will charge itself in a day! Imagine if you had to walk five miles to carry a 10 pound bucket of water back to your township and now you had this? Imagine having no driver’s license and needing a way to get to work. Imagine living in a small community and wanting to save money on insurance and gas but still needing to get to the grocery store once a week. For $5,500 this thing offers a lot of versatility and the company is responsive and thorough in their support. They also practice sustainable business and have been retrofitting the workshop with LED lights, skylights for employee health and a water garden to grow their own food. Nice.
- Built in solar panel will charge the bike in ~6 hours (with ideal conditions)
- Strong custom designed 600 watt direct drive 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
- Rubber bumpers act as shock absorbers on front wheels, improves ride quality and reduces noise
- 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 “security cover” if stored outside
- Have to pay extra for different colors… The options are nice but add up quickly