Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Organic Transit plans Portland test drive event for solar/pedal-powered trike

Posted by on January 21st, 2014 at 1:37 pm

Coming to Portland

If our story back in November piqued your curiosity about what some call the “most efficient vehicle on the planet”, you’ll want to mark your calendar for a chance to drive one yourself.

Organic Transit (based in Durham, North Carolina) is bringing their ELF solar and pedal-powered tricycles to Portland for three days of test rides. The company that says its missions is to “get more cars off the road” knows that the Portland region’s biking and transit-centric demographic makes it a great marketing target. In fact, the company is considering opening an assembly plant in Portland.

In a press release about the Portland-area test ride events, company founder Rob Cotter said the ELF gets the equivalent of 1,800 miles per gallon. Far from a recumbent bike, the vehicle itself comes with side and rear mirrors, head and taillights, and a fully protective enclosure while still being legal to operate in bike lanes, paths, and in standard traffic lanes.

The ELFs are currently assembled in Durham; but Cotter plans to be in Portland next week where he’ll meet with city officials, investors, and business leaders to explore the opening of a manufacturing operation here.

“Portland is the mecca of the bicycle community and is environmentally conscious,” said Cotter in a statement. “Building vehicles locally, creating local jobs and using no fossil fuels that damage the atmosphere, it’s a virtuous cycle. We are looking to Portland to support our mission.”

    ELF Test Drives
    Saturday and Sunday January 25th and 26th
    10 am to 4 pm
    McMenamins Edgefield (2126 SW Halsey St, Troutdale)

    Tuesday January 28th
    11 am to 2 pm
    35 SE Main St, Portland

To schedule a test drive, email TestDrive@OrganicTransit.com and write Portland in the subject line and indicate date and preference for morning, noon or afternoon. You can also call (919) 908-1599.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are productive, considerate, and welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Thank you — Jonathan

  • Alan 1.0 January 21, 2014 at 1:46 pm

    What do they do for windshield wipers? Rain-X? How about de-fog/frost?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Patrick January 21, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    Do bike riders get front of line privileges?

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Patrick Barber January 21, 2014 at 2:30 pm

    1800mpg! I wonder how that compares to MY trike.

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • MaxD January 21, 2014 at 3:02 pm

    From the FAQ: “the ELF is 105″ long x 48″ wide x 5′ tall”

    Would Portland really allow these in bike lanes? Bike Portland just ran an article about Interstate Ave and how the bike lane shrinks from 5 feet to under 2.5 feet with no warning! The City of Portland clearly does not consider anything over 2.5 feet wide a bike, otherwise they would an advisory sign for motorists and cyclists informing them that the lanes narrow and cyclists will be using the road. Allowing something like this on the road seems so unfair to the operator of the ELF or the Semi that creams it. And what about crossing the Steel bridge? If 2 of these met in opposite directions, could they physically get past each other? THese do not appear to have reverse.

    I love the look and concept of this, and if I have a discretionary $5K I might be tempted. However, I do not relish the idea of sharing our skimpy bike lanes and paths with these things.Especially if they became popular enough to fulfill the company’s goal of getting some cars off the road. Am I just feeling grumpy/possessive?

    Recommended Thumb up 11

    • Todd Boulanger January 21, 2014 at 4:17 pm

      I would assume they would have similar permits/ regulation as the 4 wheel pedal surreys operating for rent all over the waterfront trails and Hawthorne and Steel Bridges or the pedicabs in the Pearl.

      yes it is difficult to share the [bike lane] with overside pedal carts, but this then just calls out for the justification for wider bikeways.

      Recommended Thumb up 5

      • dwainedibbly January 21, 2014 at 5:13 pm

        A three-wheeler is usually considered the same as a bicycle. When you get more than 3 wheels is when special legal considerations kick in, I thought. (Sort of like a 3-wheeled motor vehicle is considered a motorcycle.)

        Or, I could be totally wrong.

        Recommended Thumb up 1

        • q`Tzal January 21, 2014 at 8:51 pm

          Oregon legal definition of “bicycle”:
          801.150 “Bicycle.” “Bicycle” means a vehicle that:
          (1) Is designed to be operated on the ground on wheels;
          (2) Has a seat or saddle for use of the rider;
          (3) Is designed to travel with not more than three wheels in contact with the ground;
          (4) Is propelled exclusively by human power; and
          (5) Has every wheel more than 14 inches in diameter or two tandem wheels either of which is more than 14 inches in diameter. [1983 c.338 §22]

          Emphasis mine

          814.405 Status of electric assisted bicycle:
          814.405 Status of electric assisted bicycle. An electric assisted bicycle shall be considered a bicycle, rather than a motor vehicle, for purposes of the Oregon Vehicle Code, except when otherwise specifically provided by statute. [1997 c.400 §4]

          814.410 Unsafe operation of bicycle on sidewalk; penalty:
          814.410 Unsafe operation of bicycle on sidewalk; penalty. (1) A person commits the offense of unsafe operation of a bicycle on a sidewalk if the person does any of the following:
          (e) Operates an electric assisted bicycle on a sidewalk.

          I did not find anything in ORS 801 nor ORS 814 suggesting that an electric assisted bicycle is not allowed on a bike lane. Sidewalks are definitely prohibited; I’d be curious to see where MUPs fall legally.

          Recommended Thumb up 1

    • paikikala January 22, 2014 at 9:34 am

      2.5 feet is a ‘shoulder’ not a bike lane. Portland’s narrowest bike lanes are about 4.5 ft.

      Recommended Thumb up 1

    • Brian January 22, 2014 at 11:53 am

      MaxD – Portland is on track to become a “car-free” city! The ELF just might be the vehicle of the future in the Portland Metro area!

      Recommended Thumb up 0

    • wsbob January 23, 2014 at 10:35 am

      Having electric assist, the ELF may be able to easily maintain 12-15 mph, which is fast enough that it likely wouldn’t impede the easier going type riders using the bike lane. Quicker riders have the option of taking the lane to go around slow traffic in the bike lane.

      Maybe though, except for on higher traffic volume, higher speed thoroughfares, use of the ELF, generally in the main lanes of the road may work out. People driving motor vehicles would be obliged as a result, to reduce their speed somewhat; since this seems to be an objective of many people, maybe that’s a good reason for vehicles like the ELF to be in use.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Mike January 21, 2014 at 4:17 pm

    Instead of another bike manufacturer/fabricator opening up in Portland, why don’t they choose a mid-Valley location. That way they could spread the biking “gospel” to other parts of Portland instead of preaching to the converted. And it could help spread economic opportunities too. If they want they can open a small store in Portland.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

    • q`Tzal January 21, 2014 at 9:00 pm

      Open up a shop on the Springwater Trail somewhere around 82nd st. Convert the eastsiders.

      Recommended Thumb up 3

    • q`Tzal January 21, 2014 at 9:21 pm

      The more Portlandia hipsters hate on this trike (it’s not a fixie) the better chance there is of Clackastanian adoption.
      And while that comment is mostly a joke on stereotypes there is some truth to suburban communities in Portland choosing not to like some things if only because it is loved in the downtown core.

      Recommended Thumb up 2

      • JCV January 26, 2014 at 2:13 am

        Maybe that goes along with the “downtown core” looking down on everything outside itself.

        Recommended Thumb up 0

  • wsbob January 21, 2014 at 4:22 pm

    I’d love to take the ELF for a test drive, but being on the west side, probably won’t happen. The company should maybe consider a longer visit, bringing it out to more locations than the two listed in this story.

    Bring it out to Beaverton, Nike, Intel. Thousands of hi-tech workers that like clever, functional gadgets. For people living close to, or fairly close to either of those two huge campuses, and working there, this pedal vehicle could be a very good alternative to motor vehicle travel.

    Recommended Thumb up 5

  • Humongous Ed January 21, 2014 at 5:00 pm

    Im curios about these, but I feel like they’re going to be too awkward to be practical. They’re too wide for most bike lanes, too slow for a highway, too heavy to go uphill much,too bulky and standard bike parking, and too expensive for most people. Especially in a city with as much bike theft as portland. Its nice that they keep you dry from the rain, I guess, but a raincoat is a lot easier.

    But who knows, maybe this is what some “interested but concerned” people want.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

    • Gumby January 22, 2014 at 8:38 am

      They have an electric assist motor so it should be able to keep up with bike traffic (maybe ecospeed will be an option?). Too bad it’s not going to rain while they’re here. I’d like to see how it does in the rain.

      Recommended Thumb up 2

    • Mike January 22, 2014 at 10:50 am

      This trike might not be for everyone, but EVERYONE wants cleaner air, less cars on the road and safe clean transportation. Hating on this because it doesn’t (yet) perfectly suit your needs to backwards thinking, we need to support ALL types of non-combustion powered vehicles. The more we do, the more the city and the green vehicles will adapt to our needs, think positive! PS – Do you currently ride a bicycle on the highway? And, yes, it flies uphills, has a CVT and powerful electric motor and your legs! 🙂

      Recommended Thumb up 6

      • JOH January 29, 2014 at 4:01 pm

        Mike, I agree with most of your points, but to say that “EVERYONE wants … less cars on the road …” is a bit of an overstatement. Example: consider auto dealers and oil companies. (Personally I’d rather not consider ’em, but they’re there.)

        The big issue I see with the ELF, as mentioned above is the 48″ (wheelbase) width. Most older bike lanes were built to the old AASHTO guideline of 5′. This is simply too narrow to allow for safe operation of the ELF, and it will be many years if ever for older bike lanes to be widened enough to safely accommodate such a vehicle. Even the new AASHTO guideline of 6′ is barely adequate. Regarding use on older MUP’s with 2-way traffic, the picture’s even bleaker. The old guideline was 8′ minimum in lightly traveled rural areas (Somehow an awful lot of city MUP’s seem to have been built in “lightly traveled rural” areas). Even the new guidelines call for a minimum of only 10′. These are based on a 3′-wide 2-wheel vehicle with 6″ clearance on either side, but the 2-wheel bike has its wheels on its centerline allowing for more clearance at the edge of the MUP. A trike has its wheels on the outside. The right side wheel needs more than the normal 6″ clearance; I’d estimate 12″ to be conservative. With 6″ clearance on the left side one is now talking about a 66″ sweep width which would occasionally put the ELF partially into the opposing traffic risking head-on collisions. Being inside an enclosed vehicle, the ELF driver would have less risk, but assuming both vehicles were moving @ 15MPH someone on an upright 2-wheel bike would suffer a 30MPH impact. That’s enough to occasionally cause death from internal injuries alone. Ouch!!

        I’m delighted to see that ELF’s working on a narrower vehicle. I’d recommend a 36″ wheelbase width. I’d also consider making it shorter. 105″ seems a bit long to me, particularly for some of the tighter turns on older MUP’s, so I think shorter as well as narrower would work better. This would have the added advantage of reduced weight & material usage, increasing battery life and “energy efficiency”. Personally, the ELF seems to me to be a great concept which simply needs some refining to make it practical for use on older facilities. Mike, I agree with you that rejecting a fundamentally sound concept based on narrow objections is counterproductive. Rather than rejecting it, I think Portland should embrace the ELF. I hope that even “as is” it will appeal to many. Let’s see them get into the marketplace, possibly making some improvements and then our capitalist economics will determine the outcome. I wish ELF nothing but the best.


        Recommended Thumb up 0

  • dbrunker January 21, 2014 at 7:00 pm

    A few months back I saw a guy riding in (on?) one of these, westbound on Burnside, west of the 205 path.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • q`Tzal January 21, 2014 at 9:16 pm

    This is rather un-streamlined to be a velomobile.
    Perhaps it would be more useful to call it something like “people mobile” or some other name equally evocative of the intended demographic of people who wouldn’t mind riding in something that looks like a little like a car.

    If I owned or had access to one I’d sure as heck use it as much as possible but I’d still be pining and lusting for a fully faired low resistance velomobile that looks like it was designed in a NASA wind tunnel.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

    • Alan 1.0 January 21, 2014 at 9:32 pm

      Oh, are you wondering about an ELF drivetrain in a Qwest, too? ‘Though for lots of quick in’n’out errands, ELF looks convenient.

      Recommended Thumb up 1

      • q`Tzal January 22, 2014 at 8:07 am

        Greenspeed’s GLYDE velomobile
        or Velocity Velos’s (in Cottage Grove, Oregon) build-your-own fairing accessories on a Catrike.
        All internal gearing.

        If money was no object I’d find a way to make a velomobile so streamlined amphibious 🙂

        Recommended Thumb up 0

    • WestCoastNut January 22, 2014 at 10:55 am

      They do not refer to this as a velomobile, it’s the ELF (Electric Light & Fun)! Not everyone wants to be crammed into a tiny enclosed bullet as you suggest, in fact, many people like these because they are easy to get in and out and very comfortable, large seat, room for your stuff.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

      • wsbob January 23, 2014 at 10:19 am

        Also, it’s higher than velomobiles and many recumbents, enhancing the ELF’s visibility to people driving.

        Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Brian K January 22, 2014 at 8:30 am

    Solar powered in Portland.

    Forgive me if I hope my tax dollars are not used to support this.

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • TOM January 22, 2014 at 9:17 am

    >> The front wheel does not even need to be removed to repair a flat!

    I need that feature on my bikes 🙂

    Recommended Thumb up 1

  • DK January 22, 2014 at 10:24 am

    How do they manufacture without “fossil fuels to damage the environment?”

    No welding or brazing? Is it epoxied together?

    Having built steel bicycle frames, I’m intrigued by their methods. Since they’re interested in the potential of opening a manufacturing operation here, perhaps bikeportland could elaborate on the details in a future story?

    Recommended Thumb up 1

    • John Liu
      John Liu January 22, 2014 at 5:05 pm

      I think the quote isn’t very clear. My interpretation is he is saying the vehicle doesn’t use fossil fuels to propel itself, not directly anyway.

      These are interesting vehicles. Sure, a velomobile is more aerodynamic but many people would prefer something more roomy and easier to get in/out of. I’m also a bit apprehensive about sharing bike lanes with 20 mph electric trikes, but if the lanes get overcrowded, that might lead to wider bike lanes. Overall, I think the world will be a better place if more people move out of cars and into pedal-electric vehicles like this, so I’m wishing success to this venture.

      Recommended Thumb up 2

  • Trek 3900 January 22, 2014 at 3:25 pm

    “How do they manufacture without “fossil fuels to damage the environment?””

    Maybe they mean it doesn’t USE fossil fuels; BUT it appears to made FROM fossil fuels: plastic.

    I’d like to see the calculation that comes up with 1800 mpg equivalent.

    Where do they think people will get the solar electricity to charge it? OR are the solar cells built into the vehicle?

    5 years ago I was hopeful these folks would come up with a good 100 mpg gasoline powered vehicle but I think they decided to go all-electric so it will have a limited market. For those above who wanted an aerodynamic-looking vehicle this is it:

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Mark January 22, 2014 at 3:55 pm

    Where would you park it? Can’t park at a sidewalk bike staple rack, can’t park it in the street. That’s a real problem.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • John Liu
    John Liu January 22, 2014 at 7:57 pm

    I guess you could park it at a staple rack with a lock/chain around a wheel or the “doorsill”. It is legally a bicycle and doesn’t take up much more room than a cargo bike or a bike + trailer. Velomobiles don’t get stolen much, I imagine same here. Trying to hock a stolen Elf is going to draw too much attention to a thief.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • Mark January 22, 2014 at 8:40 pm

      It’s four feet wide! I don’t imagine folks would take kindly to having to push their stroller out in the street just to get around it.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

      • John Liu
        John Liu January 22, 2014 at 11:41 pm

        Depends on the sidewalk I suppose, also on the orientation of the staple.

        Recommended Thumb up 0

    • wsbob January 23, 2014 at 10:15 am

      Given its’ 4’width and nearly 9′ length, if I had it, I’d use a car parking space.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

  • KC Davenport January 22, 2014 at 9:08 pm

    As a long time Zipcar member (and pre-test drive) this seems like the perfect solution for the times when I don’t want to be on my bike — because of weather, hills, time, or no reasonable transit options.

    Recommended Thumb up 2

  • she January 23, 2014 at 6:20 pm

    There may not be any Tuesday test drive times, I just contact ELF and they are saying Saturday and Sunday only. You may want to check with them and correct your information.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • 3 wheel scooter January 23, 2014 at 11:07 pm

    Ya its true that the test drive has been scheduled in the weekends.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Alan 1.0 January 26, 2014 at 1:29 pm

    It’s a velomobile in my use of the word (human powered cycle with a body) but certainly not a streamliner. Anyway, whatever you want to call it, I tried it out and had a blast. Some impressions:

    It’s big. They have a narrower one in the works. I think I’d like that better. I heard these won’t fit through some gap on the I205 MUP; not sure of details.

    It’s heavy, 150lbs sans 20lb battery. Between gearing and reduced wind drag, it wasn’t too hard to pedal around 10mph without assist. Longer distances and hills would be tiring; that’s what the “e” is for.

    Very nice power boost from the “e”!

    Its weight and bulk make it harder to heist, so simply locking a wheel will deter roll-away theft in many situations. The battery is vulnerable and expensive, though.

    It has considerable cargo capacity: 8 grocery bags, or a child or dog, and some additional cubby/shelf space.

    I’d be interested in a tandem; maybe that’ll come along with their cargo model.

    Excellent “be seen” factor due to its size and lights (head, tail, turn and brake). A Portland owner reports positive interactions with cars, mostly curiosity.

    Getting in and out was more awkward than I expected. You reach your foot through the door and over the seat to the cross-beam on the far side, hold onto the bars, brace your butt against the back of the seat in a chimney-type move, pull in the other leg, and then slide into position. Many different size and shape people managed it fine, though.

    Stability was very good. One tester got a wheel way off the ground (totally overcooked a corner) but pulled it back down by steering into the roll. I tried some avoidance-type swerves and didn’t have any problems…quick, agile, stable. The steering axis is almost horizontal (most bikes are closer to vertical) and took some getting used to.

    Organic Transport is considering an assembly plant in Portland.

    Portland also has the Columbia Cycleworks Tripod e-velo.

    It’s easy to imagine how this sort of vehicle could serve many of my short-range transpo needs with more ease and all-weather comfort than a simple bike, as well as a variety of commercial uses…flower or pizza delivery, meter reading, campus or mall bikeshare.

    Recommended Thumb up 0

    • wsbob January 30, 2014 at 11:46 am

      Thanks for writing about your impressions from test riding the ELF. It would be great if more of the people that tried it out, would also post their impressions here. If it had a speedometer, I’m wondering what mph cruising speed people found was easily manageable on flats and modest uphill grades.

      Though the 48″ width poses a problem for riding in bike lanes, in terms of stability, some people may find the width appealing. In some low traffic, off-thoroughfare riding situations, such as neighborhood streets, people likely will be able to ride this thing in the main lanes, where the width will not be a problem.

      Recommended Thumb up 0

      • Alan 1.0 January 30, 2014 at 12:43 pm

        I think you’re right that ELF riders would ‘take the lane’ fairly often. They’d work well downtown or denser districts, too, with slower traffic speeds. With that 20mph e-boost and big profile, even streets like Hawthorne wouldn’t feel as intimidating.

        The test ELFs didn’t have cyclometers and the test area was small, not enough to go for top speed or even a good cruise, but I got up to easily 10mph going up a gentle slope (3 or 4%?) for ~150 feet with no assist and it felt like I could hold that pace on the flats…cadence maybe 50/60ish. They’re geared low, maybe 80 gear-inches at the top of the Nuvinci’s range (just a guess).

        One of the ELFs did have a phone app display that uses GPS to estimate speed and battery use, but either he’d wisely pocketed his phone or I was too focused on riding to notice the display. While GPS picks up elevation, and speed and elevation have a direct enough link to energy consumption, and while it should measure time/speed/distance well enough, both I and another tester were a bit skeptical about how well that app actually measures remaining battery power. I don’t think it actually “talks” with the battery.

        Recommended Thumb up 0

  • Michael Nover January 26, 2014 at 6:03 pm

    The Tuesday event is definitely still on!
    -Michael from Organic Transit

    Recommended Thumb up 1