Pedaling the ELF to Cambridge (Our Fair City)

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Aug 01, 2013

I could hear sirens in the background. Mark Stewart, a 65-year-old family therapist and school psychologist from Cambridge (our fair city), was calling from New York City, where he was stopping on the last leg of his epic voyage from Durham, North Carolina in an ELF. He was on 54th Street, negotiating with the owner of a pedicab parking garage for a night’s lodging.

Mark Stewart's ELF en route, in South Hill, Virginia, where the pimento burgers are reportedly excellent. (Mark Stewart photo) Is the Organic Transit ELF a pedicab? Not exactly, though it kind of looks like one. It’s basically a $5,000 electric bicycle, but with a rudimentary doorless composite cab around it for minimal weather protection. The recumbent driver can go anywhere a bicycle can go, but without getting (more than a little) wet. Range is 20 miles, or maybe 30 if you pedal a lot. More range can bought with additional battery packs. It's an ideal commuter vehicle, as long as no freeways are involved.

The ELF gets the equivalent of 1,800 mpg, weighs only 150 pounds (but can carry 350) and has a photovoltaic panel that can deliver a seven-hour solar charge. (Plugging into house current takes one to six hours, depending on which charger you use.)
Stewart is having a grand old time, and figures he’ll be back in Cambridge in about a week. “People yell at me, ‘What is it; I want one.’ Every day, 20 people do that. It’s very cute, like that car Fred Flintstone drove. The ELF takes a bit of effort to learn, just as riding a bicycle does. You can’t be an idiot, and you have to think about what you’re doing.”

Stewart says he lives six blocks from the Good News Garage. “I listen to Tom and Ray all the time,” he said. “We’re neighbors in what is, more or less, our fair city.”

The ELF weighs only 150 pounds, but can lug 350. It gets 1,800 mpg, says founder/CEO Rob Cotter. (Organic Transit photo)Aside from an unfortunate accident involving a bike lock (fixed in Philadelphia), the trip has been trouble free. Stewart covers 60 to 80 miles in a day, and 90 at least once—“that was a three-charge day,” he said. The ELF wasn’t really designed for long-distance travel, but it can improvise.

Rob Cotter is the brains behind the ELF, and launched the company with a Kickstarter campaign. “I’ve been involved in human-powered transit for a long time, and realized there was a maturing market—people would pay for a vehicle that both gives them exercise and helps the planet.”

Mark Stewart samples fried herring with lingonberry sauce on an earlier bike trip through Sweden. (via hauling version called TruckIt is planned, also catering versions, a pedicab, and even a speedster. Cotter says he has orders and deposits for 220, and has built 65 to 70. A big expansion into Europe is planned. Not bad for a small business (with 28 employees now) launched from an old furniture warehouse in Durham, North Carolina.

Follow Stewart's blog here. Let's make sure he gets back to Cambridge in one piece! And finally, here's an informative video about the company and the ELF. Note the cool sign, made by reusing the old letters that spelled out "Bargain Furniture" (and making more as needed):

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