Are Velomobiles the Future? The Elf Thinks So


A velomobile like a small car, but it operates like a bicycle in that it is pedal-powered. The Elf is an electric velomobile/bicycle developed by Organic Transit, which allows you to switch between 100% electric power so you can relax when tired, or 100% pedal power if you want to extend your overall range and get some exercise.

It will also allow you to choose a combination of electric and pedal power, if you, for example, don’t want to have to pedal too hard, but want at least a little exercise. It is equipped with a 480 watt battery that provides it with 30 miles of range per charge, and its top speed is limited to 20 mph.

“The U.S. market is really unaware of this type of vehicle–of velomobiles–and we are kind of bringing it to the masses,” explains Alix Bowman, director of communications at Organic Transit, the startup behind The Elf. Velomobiles are much smaller than cars, but they help to bridge the gap between bicycles and cars. They offer protection from precipitation, dust, flying bugs, and other small debris which motorcycle and bicycle riders are exposed to.

Velomobiles are uncommon and, in western countries such as the U.S, even bicycles are more common. The thought of a 20 mph car sounds awful to many, but it is not a car, it is a form of bicycle (in the eyes of the law).  This vehicle may enable you to travel very long distances, as you can pedal with little or no electric power, and also enjoy the 30 mile range, so there will be no range anxiety!

With more Americans opting out of driving cars, and getting onto bicycles, is there a place in our transportation map for velomobiles like the ELF?

Source: co.EXIST

About the Author

loves attending and writing about/photographing events, and he writes on CleanTechnica, Gas2, Kleef&Co, and Green Building Elements. He has a keen interest in physics-intensive topics such as electricity generation, automobiles, refrigeration and air conditioning technology, energy storage, and geography.
  • I moved to Europe 12 years ago to enjoy more cycling, and got involved in velomobiles right away. On this side of the Atlantic there are no fewer than 8 companies that offer velomobiles or kits to convert recumbent trikes/quads to velomobiles in the last 10 years – the WAW (Belgium), , Mango (Netherlands), Quest, (Netherlands), Leitra (Denmark), Interceptor (Austria/Germany), Cab-bike (Germany/Poland). Milan (Germany), and several others. So the phrase “The U.S. market is really unaware of this type of vehicle–of velomobiles–and we are kind of bringing it to the masses,” is unfortunately quite true.

    I greatly appreciate Organic Transit’s efforts to change that perspective, but I wish they had taken the time to learn more from Europe’s experiences and mistakes. The Elf is one of the heaviest/widest/tallest velomobiles available, it’s not very aerodynamic (which is important for efficiency for the motor or the rider), there is no suspension in the models seen so far, so the ride is probably a bit bumpy or loud (from interior rattle) on all but the smoothest of roads.

    It is a good start, but I look forward to seeing improvements that take advantage of the things we’ve learned in Europe.

    • Jimm, you’ve said exactly what I was thinking – I would love to see lots of Elf’s and TruckIt’s on the road, but better aerodynamic drag would be the first thing that I hope they improve on the Elf.

      The biggest advantage the Elf has over other velomobiles is much lower cost. The Toronto builder BlueVelo has a model called the Hornet which costs $5600 Canadian and it has electric assist:

      But it has no roof, and the drag while better than the Elf is nowhere near as good as say the Quest; which you can also buy from BlueVelo, as they have licensed it. But, the Quest is much more money and adding electric assist would be tough.


      • My velomobile – a Steintrike Nomad Sport with a Leitra Wildcat fairing and Novosport luggage box – cost me about $3800. I’m fully protected from the weather, more aerodynamic, can carry a week’s worth of groceries, and can cruise at 30-35 kph (18-20 mph) *without a motor*.

        My ride in photos:

        Done up properly with a low-cost trike base and fairing system like the Wildcat fairing (nose piece and integrated luggage space) can run you from $3000-$4000. A bit more if you need to motorize it for hilly terrain. So it *is* possible to produce a decent velomobile without breaking the bank.

        That said, $5,000-$7,000 isn’t unreasonable for a vehicle that excels in several areas against the Elf. This is a case of “you get what your pay for”, and in the end the cost will be secondary to the savings you make from using less fuel, creating less pollution, and improving your health.

    • Patrick A

      @Jimm: To the contrary, I think they have very much done their homework and decided to target a very specific market different from the other velomobiles you are mentionning

      If you compare the Elf from the users stand point…
      Most other velomobiles on the market are more sleek and aerodynamic. However, they are also much lower to the ground, which among cars, in a city, is just too dangerous. Their price range is also much lower thus allowing them to target a market who can’t afford the vast majority of the other velomobiles. Some people are much better off with sleek efficient velomobile allowing people to traval long distances in suburban neighborhoods, bike paths or quiet road. This is however an urban which can be used In suburban regions aimed at the person who will more often travel short to medium distances in a suit or the corner store who wants to cheaply manage deliveries.
      This is more my situation. I’ve spent the last five years looking for a velomobile which suits my needs, My lifestyle is also just too busy to build one. Beyond the fact I can’t afford the other models, I just don’t see myself driving through the city heading to work in my suit day in day out while my head barely reaches the height of a car windows. In my case, I want a velomobile who is higher to be better seen. I also want it to be larger, heavier and bulkier to make it a little harder to steal. I don’t care if these are drawbacks for making longer trips because I know that 90% of the time, I will only be making short trips anyway using a vehicle like this rather than a car.

      From the companies stand point…
      Most other velomobile models are made with beautifully rounded molded bodies which often require more energy, time and ultimately money to build than the simple, easily built and reparable design they have opted for in the ELF. Looking on their Web site, another advantage which comes up is that they are developing the concept so that they can eventually have a mass production of kits and the possibility of shipping 50 vehicles in one container to any city where mini assembly plants can be developed. Such a choice may make it look less sleek but I would be willing to bet this gamble will pay off for them down the road.