ELF Solar Electric Bicycle-Car Hybrid
Mark Stewart is a bike guy. But Mr. Stewart, a 65-year-old bicycle enthusiast, likes his car, too. By his way of thinking, he can keep his beloved yellow 1998 Saab convertible for a longer time if he rides his bike more. Simple math, he says: drive the car less, and it’ll last longer.
The trouble is, riding a bicycle in his hometown of Cambridge, Mass., can be a bit dicey when winter descends, turning normally quaint lanes into an icy mess. So Mr. Stewart found a solution to his problem. In a move that has surely upstaged electric car drivers in his town, he decided to buy a bicycle that’s like a car.
I had a chance to chat with him as he rested in Midtown Manhattan toward the end of a 1,200-mile trip along the East Coast Greenway, the bicycle-friendly route that meanders in the same general north-south direction as Interstate 95.
The bike-car Mr. Stewart bought for $4,000 is called an Elf. Like a car, it has a chair-like seat, a roof, front and rear windshields, lights and a place to stash luggage. Of course, unlike an automobile, the Elf, built by a company called Organic Transit, has no gasoline engine and no doors. But it does have pedals and an electric motor to propel it forward, and even laden with two extra batteries, chargers and some luggage, Mr. Stewart said he didn’t have too much of a problem riding his about 60 miles per day.
If you catch yourself wondering why he was riding his Elf that far, it’s because when he bought it, he decided to ride it home from where he picked it up at Organic Transit’s Durham, N.C., headquarters. Mr. Stewart was on the road for over two weeks, having traveled along the Greenway and enjoyed the hospitality of strangers.
“I stayed at a couple of hotels, but I gained enough notoriety now that people have been texting me,” he said, explaining that warmshowers.org, a couch-surfing Web site for bike tourists, has been a boon to his sleeping situation, and has allowed him to meet some nice folks in his travels.
Mr. Stewart said his Elf, which is an aluminum-frame three-wheeler – two in the front and a driving wheel in back – is good for about 60 to 90 miles per day. Using only the electric motor, his batteries will last for about 15 miles. But, he said, if he pedals most of the time, only using the electric motor for a bit of assistance now and again, he can go about 30 miles before he has to swap in a fresh battery. Not bad for a bicycle-based vehicle that, as loaded as Mr. Stewart had it for his journey, tips the scales at about 200 pounds.
It’s not the quickest way to travel long distances, but neither is the East Coast Greenway, a Maine-to-Florida route that Mr. Stewart said isn’t quite finished. The route is designed to reduce interference from traffic, as well as plug its travelers into more pleasing environs than the typical interstate highway offers.
If you think about it, Mr. Stewart’s trip isn’t unlike the very first long-distance automobile excursions: he said he’s traveling at about 15 miles per hour, and the sides of the vehicle are open like a phaeton. What he’s missing from the century-ago motoring experience is gasoline and exhaust fumes, breakdowns and a lack of exercise from sitting for too long. Plus, the roads now are much better than they were 100 years ago when people were still figuring out how to travel in cars.
ARTICLE AND IMAGES FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES
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