There is no new technology behind hybrid bikes which incorporate pedal power with electric motor power but The Elf has taken this to a new level with the introduction a part electric car. Whether or not this is the future of the hybrid bike market remains to be seen but there is certainly something a little different about this piece of mechanical genius.
In reality the electric cars of today are high-tech, often very complicated and can certainly cost you a pretty penny if you are looking to buy one. The hybrid bike market is something which has been around for some time although in many ways it is the simpler ideas which catch the attention of consumers and investors. So what do you get with an Elf?
If somebody was to offer you a vehicle which was part bike, part solar power and part good old-fashioned human pedal power, what would you say? The opportunity to sit back and relax during the uphill sections of your journey while pedaling as fast as you can on the easier climbs?
Well there is no doubt that The Elf, which is manufactured in the US, offers something different, looks very different and while at first glance may look more like an electric car than a hybrid bike, it is by definition (taking into account US laws) a bike. These vehicles are sometimes referred to as velomobiles which effectively means they are part physical power and part electric power. You may even mistake it for something out of Only Fools and Horses where the three wheeled Reliant Robin is forever in the headlines!
Who is Behind The Elf?
The Elf is a start-up company supported by an organisation called Organic Transit which initially orchestrated a $100,000 investment programme that actually managed to raise in excess of $225,000. The very fact that there has been such interest in this very basic but very useful model perfectly illustrates the risk of bringing a hybrid bike, which on the surface looks more like a three wheeled Reliant Robin, to the market.
The plan is to create a factory in Durham, North Carolina which should be able to produce around 1,000 units a month when running at optimum capacity. The idea is that once this particular vehicle has taken off in the US, the factory set-up will be replicated across Europe and the vehicle will be introduced into new markets in the future. There is likely to be great interest from governments around the world, many of whom are now moving towards more environmentally friendly transport arrangements in the face of criticism about global warming and the harmful emissions from traditional fuel vehicles.
What do you get for your money?
While many people will balk at the idea of paying $4,000 for The Elf the fact is that it has the potential to save you an enormous amount of money in the long term. The vehicle itself runs on a 480 W lithium battery which has the ability to travel for 30 miles on a full charge and hit a top speed of 20 mph. Due to the fact it is defined as a bike under US laws this means you can use it in bike lanes and any other areas where bikes are permitted.
Even though the 30 mile journey capacity on a full charge may not seem excessive it is also worth taking into account that you can pedal at any time, there is a slow recharging solar panel system fitted to the vehicle and the simple plug-in recharging system will ensure that the battery is back to full capacity in just two hours. When you take into account the relatively light frame and the relatively small size of the vehicle many people will be surprised to learn that The Elf also allows you to carry a substantial 350 pounds of “luggage” in the rear compartment. This would be perfect for adventures into the countryside where you may need to carry a tent and provisions.
The fact that the vehicle itself looks slightly different to your traditional bike and traditional electric vehicle will likely “put some people off”. It is not difficult to understand why some people may not be overly adhered to the look and the style of The Elf but the fact remains that if you take a step back and look at the technology built into this very “basic” bike you will be surprised.
A number of northern European countries are already “bike crazy” and this type of system which effectively allows you to switch between manual and motor power is likely to be well received. There will no doubt be a number of variations on the original Elf style in due course but at this moment in time you get what you pay for – a simple, energy-saving and highly efficient vehicle which also allows you to carry a significant amount of luggage.
Is this the shape of hybrid bikes in the future?
The fact that the vehicle itself looks more like a car than it does a bike has not gone unnoticed by the consumer. However, when you take into account the various different forms of energy available, pedal power, electric battery power and solar power, does this vehicle not take a little bit out of every vehicle you have ever come across?
It will be interesting to see whether the vehicle takes off in the US and indeed whether the investors behind The Elf decide to venture out into Europe. One major factor in their favour is that electric cars and other electric vehicles have never been more in the news than over the last couple of years. Could you see your local government or your local council using an Elf for short urban journeys? Could you see The Elf on a college campus near you? If the answer is yes, then the likelihood is that this unpolished gem could be a surprise hit in the future.