Published Date Written by David Carkhuff
A bicycle that looks like a car, or a car that looks like a bicycle, the solar-powered, three-wheeled Electric Light and Fun has rolled into Maine.
Davis Carver, owner of Bath Cycle & Ski in Woolwich for 37 years, has been spending every other week down in North Carolina, working in an old abandoned furniture warehouse. He and business partner Rob Cotter are filling orders for the ELF, an "organic transit vehicle" that features solar electric assist, disc brakes and sheltered interiors that resemble the cab of a car. Each vehicle can go 1,800 miles on the energy equivalent of one gallon of gasoline, according to the Organic Transit website (http://www.organictransit.com/about-the-elf).
In contrast to their surroundings in a defunct furniture warehouse, what he and Cotter have been building look like something from the future, dreamed up for a science fiction movie.
Plenty of engineering, design and hard work went into the ELF's development, Carver said.
"It's amazing how far we've come in a year," he said this week.
They delivered the first four of the eight ELF vehicles purchased in Maine last Thursday. The ELFs were shipped via truck to Carver's shop in Woolwich. Four more are due to arrive in Maine in the near future, he said.
Marketing hasn't been a major issue, Carver said.
"Most people just sort of get it, it's not something we really have to sell," he said.
"Most of it is word of mouth, although we've had a lot of media inquiries. The Today Show came by, we had the Wall Street Journal come by," Carver said.
Sharon and Derek Wilbraham lined up to be one of the first ELF purchasers in Maine.
Sharon Wilbraham works for Carver at Bath Cycle & Ski, but she said the couple stumbled upon this unique vehicle via the Internet.
"We had noticed that they had put these ELFs out on a Kickstarter, the website where up-and-coming inventions need to raise money, and the price point was right. We went after it," she said.
Sharon Wilbraham said her husband uses their ELF to commute from their home in Bath to his work at LL Bean in Freeport.
Sharon Wilbraham said she considered alternatives. Options such as recumbent bicycles seemed not quite right — recumbent bikes ride too low to the ground, she said. The ELF seemed ideal for her husband's commute.
"This was visible, you're sitting up higher in an upright position, and it's stable, and it could give him an extra boost to get to work," she said.
Carver, who also runs Carver Bikes, a custom bicycle business, out of his Woolwich shop, took on the ELF as a third venture.
Cotter, formerly of Waldoboro, talked to him about a year ago. Carver attended a design session, or charette, to flesh out the idea.
"Really, he's always had this dream," Carver said, and the idea prompted Carver to travel to Durham, N.C. to the base of operations.
"They're all built here, we're sourcing out all the parts locally," he explained.
"We're trying to use just as much local talent as we can," Carver noted.
About 90 of the pedal- and solar-propelled bicycles have been built so far, all custom ordered, Carver said.
"Each one is individually made, we're running about a four-month backlog right now," he said.
The ELF comes in four colors — silver, white, green and orange — with two or three hub types, and six or seven different choices.
"It's aimed more at someone who is not an avid cyclist," Carver said. The ELF is well suited to "someone who wants to be able to ride, but they want the comforts and security of a car."
A solar panel on the roof charges the battery, which can take 14 hours to charge by sunlight or much less time if the unit is plugged in. An ELF features a range around 25 miles with a combination of pedaling and using the power supply, Carver estimated.
"Logically you'd think gated communities in Florida would be all over these," Carver said, but in fact, people in colder climes such as Maine, Washington state, Oregon and Minnesota have shown the most interest.
Carver said he would love to see the business expand, but right now they're filling orders and dealing with challenges — one obstacle is shipping cost.
"These are very difficult to transport and expensive to transport, typically to have one shipped to Maine is about $1,000," Carver explained.
One customer just flew down, picked up his ELF, and plans to ride back to Boston on an East Coast Greenway.
For more information, visit http://www.organictransit.com/about-the-elf or see the business on Facebook.