Local architect Jeff Krieger in his solar ELF. (Photo by Sue Ann Rybak)

Local architect Jeff Krieger in his solar ELF. (Photo by Sue Ann Rybak)

by Sue Ann Rybak

Don’t be surprised if you’re walking down the Avenue and see a bright, orange bike-mobile. It’s just Chestnut Hill resident Jeff Krieger riding in his ELF, a tricycle that runs on sunshine and sweat.

Krieger, president of Krieger + Associates Architects Inc., said he was visiting in his father in Oxford, Md., over Thanksgiving when he saw “this orange bike fly by.”

“I had no idea what it was, and I just caught the three letters ELF on the side,” he said. “I was fascinated by it. And when I got home, I Googled it and started reading about the company that makes them.”

The ELF is the brainchild of Rob Cotter, founder and CEO of Organic Transit, who said he became fascinated with pedal powered technology after Dr. Paul MacCready built the Gossamer Condor, a pedal powered aircraft.

“When I saw that I became enamored with the pedal-powered technology and built a small pedal-powered tricycle that went about 60 miles a hour,” said Cotter, an auto technician and design expert who used to work on Porsche and BMW race cars.

“I had a desire to do something like this for several decades,” he added. “But, I didn’t feel like there was a market until I was contacted by New York City Bike Share and asked to review the different technologies available. Then, it dawned on me. If New York City is putting in 300 miles of new bike lanes and trails, there is a viable market for an ultra-efficient, environmentally friendly vehicle.”

ELF, which stands for Electric, Light and Fun, moves by pedal or electric power. It’s one-horsepower electric motor is powered by a lithium iron phosphate battery, which requires seven hours of sunlight to charge or one and a half hours when plugged into a standard household outlet.

According to organictransit.com’s website, The ELF, which weighs 150 pounds, is “the most efficient vehicle on the planet.”

The website states, “When used regularly, it can prevent as much as six tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere each year.”

Cotter, a former vice-president of the International Human Powered Vehicle Association, said the ELF can travel 1,800 miles on the energy equivalent of one gallon of gasoline.

He added that according to data from the the U.S. Department of Transportation, one third of all trips people take are three miles or less, but the majority of people still use their automobile for short trips.

“Many people are foregoing a second car in favor of a ELF,” Cotter said. “A lot of people are getting it for their own personal health issues.”

He said several of his customers have physical disabilities that make riding a regular bike difficult. For example, one woman, whose doctor said she would never be able to walk without the help of crutches or a cane, used the bike for therapy and now walks frequently without a cane.

Cotter said, the tadpole-like polycarbonate shell not only shields riders from the elements, but many riders say they feel safer thanks to features like headlights, taillights and turn signals.

Jeff Krieger, 59, who teaches architectural design at Drexel University, also bought the ELF to help him stay healthy and active.

“I have always been active,” he said. “It’s great for commuting to and from work.”

Krieger added that the vehicle, whose measurements are 8 feet long, 4 feet wide, and 5 feet tall, is regulated as an electrical-assisted bicycle.

“The company intentionally installed a motor whose speed can’t exceed 20 miles a hour, so it’s classified as a bicycle and not a moped,” he said.

Krieger noted, however, that the ELF can reach speeds of 25 to 30 miles an hour when the driver is pedaling downhill.

But its price may stop some people it their tracks. At $5,495 to start, it’s a bit pricey.

Cotter said it’s not when you consider that the average car-owning household spends more than $9,000 a year for things like fuel, registration, insurance and basic maintenance.

The company recently celebrated selling its 500th ELF.

Krieger, who is an avid bicyclist, said he is happy to be one of Organic Transit’s 500 customers.

“I teach the design studio that focuses on sustainability,” he said. “So, it seemed like a natural thing for me to do [buy an ELF] – to set an example. Lead instead of follow.”