Special gravel coverage

Velomobile maker Organic Transit to set roots in Portland

Posted by on November 19th, 2013 at 12:57 pm

Coming to Portland

Durham, North Carolina-based Organic Transit is currently shopping for office and warehouse space in Portland.

The company is known for their “ELF” solar and pedal-powered vehicle (which stands for Electric, Light and Fun) which they bill as the “most efficient vehicle on the planet.” The company is the brainchild of Rob Cotter, a former engineer who worked on racing projects for Porsche, Mercedes Benz and BMW. Cotter then moved into the human-powered vehicle scene in the late 1980s as a race promoter and vice president of the International Human Powered Vehicle Association. As CEO and founder of Organic Transit, Cotter steered his latest invention into a hugely successful Kickstarter campaign last year that raised over $225,000 from 547 backers.

With proof of market validated the company is now at the front end of a major growth curve.

A shot of the company’s new manufacturing facility in Durhan.
(Photo from Organic Transit Facebook page)

Organic Transit currently makes the ELF in downtown Durham but they’re looking to set up regional warehouses for manufacturing, assembly, distribution and sales. With Portland seen as a “key market” for the ELF, Cotter has hired former president of (now defunct) Kinesis USA/Mountain Cycle Michael Nover to set up the local operation. Nover tells BikePortland that the company hasn’t found a Portland location yet and they’re open to working with partners who might be able to help them fill out a larger manufacturing facility.

ELF production has been going on in Durham since March and Nover says the company has sold a few hundred of the units thus far. The need for regional manufacturing and shipping hubs is due to the relatively high cost of shipping (an average of $1,500 per unit) and the ability to customize builds based on the needs of each market.

The appeal of the ELF, according to the company’s marketing materials, is that it offers the perfect blend of benefits between a bicycle and a car. “The spacious interior keeps you out of the elements and in view of other drivers,” reads their website. “It’s the perfect vehicle for people who want to reduce their car usage but want more than a pedal bike can offer… Our vehicles are designed to make bike commuting accessible and affordable for everybody.”

The ELF ($4,995 base price) fits on bike paths and sidewalks and it’s also at-home in standard vehicle lanes. Its 750 watt motor has a 14 mile range and can power up via solar panels or from an electrical outlet. You can also pedal it with 100% human-power. The ELF weighs 150 pounds, can carry 350 pounds of cargo, can go up to 20 mph.

Learn more via the video used in their Kickstarter campaign (pasted below) or read this detailed profile of Organic Transit and Rob Cotter in Indy Week newspaper.

If you’d like to connect with Michael Nover of Organic Transit drop him an email at michael [at] organictransit [dot] com.

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  • Gumby November 19, 2013 at 1:31 pm

    I saw these a few months ago. The price point is well below any velomobile I’ve seen out there.

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  • Martha Shaw November 19, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    Welcome to the future… finally a solar powered vehicle to everybody

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  • dan November 19, 2013 at 1:53 pm

    Pretty cool…I wonder if there’s any room for further price drops as they scale up production. While $5k is a pretty good price, it’s still on the rich side for me…I will still have a car for driving to see family in Bend, snowboarding, etc.

    In the $2-$3k range I could see this replacing most /all of my in-town trips that aren’t already by bike. Think you’ll be able to park it at a staple rack? 😉

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  • Scotty November 19, 2013 at 2:06 pm

    A former engineer? Looks like he still has the gift, and perhaps even the stamp.

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  • Bill November 19, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    I didn’t see and door-type option on the website. On a cold, wet, windy Portland day, you would still need to wear rain gear in this.

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    • Jon November 20, 2013 at 8:48 pm

      I have a Veltop attachment (from France) for an upright bicycle.Yet although it’s open from the sides I don’t get very wet riding in the rain.That’s what the Veltop was designed for -riding in inclement weather.It’s not perfect but I can attest to it working very well (though not recommended on very windy days- just rainy with slight winds).
      The ELF also is open from the side and the rider similarly would probably be in the same circumstance as a Veltop user rider in wet weather.Now if there was a day with lots of wind and rain perhaps a person could just purchase some coroplast (corrugated plastic) sheeting and make their own door fairly easy.

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    • joy February 11, 2014 at 3:36 pm

      For an additional price they will add doors. This is what Mr. Cotter told me when I emailed him about that very problem.

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  • Zaphod November 19, 2013 at 2:43 pm

    We like the concept

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  • Bill Walters November 19, 2013 at 2:50 pm

    The 20 mph limit is via electric power only, right? Any reason it couldn’t exceed that under dual power and, say, a tailwind?

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    • Worth Swearingen November 23, 2013 at 2:58 pm

      That’s right. The 20-mph battery-only limit means it’s still bicycle under federal law.

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    • Julia Rose March 21, 2014 at 10:14 am

      The 20mph limit is required by law so that it can still enjoy the same rights as a regular bike. However, what it applies to in Motor power only on flat terrain with a 170 lb rider. Of course when you pedal you can legally exceed this limit. How fast you go will depend on your weight, terrain, pedal assist power. 🙂 E-bikes are awesome and the ELF looks super cool. Can’t wait to ride one!

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  • Scott November 19, 2013 at 2:54 pm

    Is there an option for the “ELF” to play “ELO” while you a rolling?

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  • Andrew K November 19, 2013 at 3:43 pm

    I absolutely love the concept.

    I would really like to see what door options will eventually be offered as I think that is what would make this an all weather vehicle that I could still power myself and yet dress in suit for those fancy parties I like to go to.

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  • dmc November 19, 2013 at 4:18 pm

    Would there be an issue with fogging the windows if there were doors? If not, duct tape and plastic wrap babeh! 😀

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  • daisy November 19, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    How much sun do you need for solar batteries to charge?

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  • Chris I November 19, 2013 at 5:25 pm

    Where would you park it? This is bigger than a bakfiet, which can be difficult to park in standard bike racks.

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  • mabsf November 19, 2013 at 5:30 pm

    Kid seating?

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  • dwainedibbly November 19, 2013 at 5:39 pm

    Take a parking space, like a motorcycle!

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  • wsbob November 19, 2013 at 5:59 pm

    That thing looks real nice. 150 lbs seems heavy compared to a road bike, but with electric assist, especially for 2-3 mile trips, 4-6 mile round trips, it could have some fairly broad appeal. A tandem would definitely be interesting.

    Doors? Maybe something sort of old school sports car like, using carbon fiber tubing and fabric with plexiglass windows.

    For a production or distribution facility, lots of space for lease or buy out in Beaverton too. Maybe near Habitat for Humanity’s, Re-use Center on Millikan Way. Just down the road from the big mall. Lots of flat terrain in the Beav.

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  • Paul Smith November 19, 2013 at 9:17 pm

    With doorage, and small kid friendly options, I’m so in!

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  • Paul Smith November 19, 2013 at 9:39 pm

    Hmm, the FAQ seems to dodge the passenger question, instead saying this:
    “We currently do not offer a child carrier seat. Some owners and bike shops have made simple modifications to carry child seats.”

    Heh?! OT people, what’s the answer, for adults?

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  • q`Tzal November 20, 2013 at 8:52 am

    I’m really surprised that this business survived this long in NC.
    Not that there aren’t a few people with civilized views on human powered transport but that they are so few in number in “Dodge Tough” country to sell enough of these to pay for even a website.

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    • Camel City Cycles November 20, 2013 at 9:29 am

      I’m not trying to come off as harsh, but your statement isn’t really based in reality. I live in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and our city council meetings are routinely packed with people dressed in green as a show of support for expanding our network of greenways and making human powered transportation and pedestrian facilities a priority. There is not only an exploding population of people commuting by bike in this state, there is an enormous number of people involved in cycling, from bmx racing to extended touring. This is just the tip of the iceberg, especially in other cities such as Raleigh, Charlotte, Greensboro, Durham, etc etc. Some smaller cities are playing catch up and have just installed their first bike lanes recently, but the movement is growing with significant force on a daily basis.

      A group of us actually traveled to Durham a while back and test drove these vehicles. I can say that they are definitely a lot of fun. I love riding my bikes too much to ever justify the purchase of one, but I definitely support what the company is trying to do.

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      • q`Tzal November 20, 2013 at 11:57 am

        And I appreciate that the cities are a bit more liberal & tolerant but of all the states that I’ve commuted and bike toured in North and South Carolina are the only ones where I’ve had heavy items like full drinks, tools and glass beer bottles and rotten food thrown at me. The fun thing about rotten food is you have to intentionally NOT throw it away and keep its stinkyness nearby premeditatedly as wait for your target. Also the only state where I got a half full bottle of beer thrown at me; cheap stuff
        It’s the only place where I’ve had drivers make threatening maneuvers at me AND THEN circle around for another try.
        It’s the only place were I’ve had the police physically threaten me and promise to run me over if he ever sees me on “his roads” again.

        This would all be moot if you never leave the confines of the urban core but these proud rednecks come in to the city sometimes and they bring their intolerant driving attitudes. Combined with the average overworked city police force and the ole “I didn’t see`m” excuse makes cyclists effectively a justifiable homicide.

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        • Camel City Cycles November 20, 2013 at 4:34 pm

          Geez man, I’ve logged tens of thousands of miles in every nook and cranny of this state and never received anything near that kind of treatment. But I’ve also done multiple cross country tours passing through most of the lower 48 and never had incidents like that either. Sorry to hear you were treated that way, not only is it criminal, it’s truly inexcusable.

          That being said, your experience is not the norm, and it’s not really fair to say that there isn’t a very large population of extremely devoted cyclists trying to push for better facilities and trying to expand human powered transportation because there’s a lot of them here. Are there some morons here? Sure. Are there morons everywhere? You bet. Hopefully if you ever choose to ride a bike in this state again (I can understand if you don’t) it will be a completely different experience. Have a good one.

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          • Mossby Pomegranate November 21, 2013 at 7:23 pm

            I don’t believe people here who make fun of that part of the country have even been there. Stereotyping is ugly no matter who it comes from or who it’s directed at.

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      • Rebecca in Portland November 24, 2013 at 8:20 am

        Good to hear!

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  • Chris November 20, 2013 at 9:26 am

    I saw one of these a couple months ago at the monthly meeting of the Oregon Electric Vehicle Association (http://oeva.org/). It felt a lot more like a prototype than a final production piece. Some parts were a bad fit and some features like splash-guards were nowhere to be found. It definitely has potential, just needs some polish!

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    • wsbob November 20, 2013 at 12:39 pm

      Splash guards or some kind of full undercarriage cover may be very appealing to some potential buyers. Possibly, to manage drafts rather than to stay dry. I think some of the people buying wouldn’t be the type that would be looking for the kind of heavy exertion that can keep a person vigorously pedaling, warm.

      These would be perfect for short trips traveling within Portland’s close-in neighborhoods with flat terrain. In the Pearl, for example. Plenty other neighborhoods too though, probably. Their shape kind of reminds me of those GE electric cars, some of which are around town.

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      • Chris November 20, 2013 at 2:24 pm

        Well, if it’s wet at all out and you turn left or right, the way it is designed you will get road-spray on you, given your distance from the wheel.

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        • wsbob November 24, 2013 at 12:45 am

          I checked out the FAQ page: http://www.organictransit.com/faq/

          Some good info there, pics and video. The rig appears to have relatively wide fenders, which may handle tire spray through the turning radius. Answering the question of lack of a floor and doors, they say, in testing it, they’ve found that the fenders and shell kept them “…quite dry.” For riding in inclement weather areas, doors will be offered as accessories.

          The thing is 48″ wide though, which, as John Liu commenting just below, noted: “…will take up an entire bike lane or cycletrack …”. Bike lanes often being 4′-6′, they could potentially be an obstacle for other bike lane users to contend with…or vice versa, given the ELF’s potential for 20 or more mph. Not to mention the door zone issue for an ELF driver debating about the suitability of the bike lane for travel in. Really though, I think of these as likely to be mostly used in the main lanes of off-thoroughfare streets, rather than the bike lane…but time will tell.

          The ELF’s size, and relatively large lights will be in its favor in terms of relative ease of being visually detected by road users. Lots of surface area too, upon which to mount additional reflectivity and lights as needed. Here’s another question someone here besides me must have thought of but didn’t mention: Will hand turn signals displayed from within, be visible to road users? Or will the ELF have front and back turn signal lights…(self canceling would be nice.)?

          I’m looking forward to seeing one of these rigs first hand…maybe take one for a few times around the block.

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  • Frame Builder November 20, 2013 at 9:36 am

    Are they going to weld the aluminum frames here? If so, who??

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  • John Liu
    John Liu November 20, 2013 at 10:09 am

    I like the look of these and would love to see them running around Portland. With enough electric range, they could be very useful, the next step from a SmartCar.

    The velomobile concept is a natural for this wet but fairly flat city, but almost no-one will pay $8,000 for a standard velomobile w/o electric assist, which is why you see approximately zero velomobiles per year in actual use. Maybe ELF can hit a workable price point.

    A couple perhaps-obvious thoughts: 150 lb means hard pedaling when the electric assist is “off”; need internal fenders to be a civilized ride in the rain; will take up an entire bike lane or cycletrack.

    Bigger topic: when does an 20 mph electric-assist velomobile become a Neighborhood Electric Vehicle (NEV)? NEVs are legal on city streets (in most areas), but not pemitted in bike lanes (in most areas). In Portland, where will ELFs be operated, in the traffic lanes or in the bike lanes/cycletracks? Where “should” they be operated?

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    • Chris November 20, 2013 at 2:28 pm

      Legally, these would become motorcycles if they exceed 20 MPH or if a motor larger than 1 KW is installed. They would become NEVs if a fourth wheel is installed.

      As designed, these are legally considered bicycles and can be ridden anywhere a bicycle can be.

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  • Rob November 20, 2013 at 7:39 pm

    saw one today on the I-205 MUP near Division, photo at https://www.facebook.com/PortlandWheelmenTouringClub . The Owner loves it.

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  • John Liu
    John Liu November 20, 2013 at 8:42 pm

    And “should” they be?

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  • Mike December 6, 2013 at 7:17 pm

    Find a way to allow two abreast seating and two person power without changing the price or “bike status” and the “interested but concerned” demographic everyone’s been chasing may finally get riding!

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  • Mike December 6, 2013 at 7:20 pm

    In fact, maybe providing a subsidy for these bad boys gets us towards the 2030 goal quicker than more cost-effectively than physical infrastructure (read: parking removal) investments??

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  • Bruce in Portland, OR January 1, 2014 at 3:17 pm

    I’m not your typical bicyclist, but stumbled onto this blog while reviewing the ELF. I am concerned about burning fossil fuels using my vehicle for too-frequent “short errands”, so my comments may offer a different and perhaps insightful perspective from most here.

    1) They need a 2-person option. Based on payload capacity, it could be done using the storage space in a front-rear driver/passenger alignment.
    Maybe offer an interchangeable scenario (storage box-out, passenger seat-in) with the same cam-locks used for adjusting the height of my bike seat.

    2) While I don’t use a bike to commute, 4 feet wide is a problem in my opinion. Could you see an ELF being used downtown? Yikes!!! I agree with the above comment suggesting the need to be selective in its use.

    3) All that said, I was considering a 50 cc Moped, but functionally, this ELF is a more environmentally-friendly and more utilitarian. I like it…

    4) …But cost is a detractor–even vs the moped. My wife says she will put panniers on her bike and call it good for her grocery runs before she lets me plunk-down $5K+ (freight and options). I tell her that I want to watch her ride in the Portland rain, and of course, the Moped does not solve this issue, either. I do watch with admiration (?) at those who bike in the rain, but I’ve been there/done that: I collided with a pedestrian–who stepped into the bike lane from in-between parked cars in urban West LA (yes, it does rain in LA)–and came too close to a serious injury. Perhaps this could happen with the ELF, but I now know that wet brakes do not stop a bike quickly when @ 20 mph.

    In sum, from a non-biker viewpoint, I really like this ELF, but I think I would want the 2 person option before I bought one, as opposed to trying to “jerry-rig” a second seat.

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  • Sara May 15, 2014 at 1:54 pm

    Durham, NC is near the Research Triangle Park which is a growing area with lots of people moving there from everywhere.

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  • Larry in SoCal September 10, 2014 at 1:40 pm

    Did this ever happen? Did Organic Transit get set up in Portland to build and sell these?

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