Look on the road! It's a car! It's a bike! It's ... an ELF?
It hasn't made its debut yet in Key West, but the first Organic Transit light electric vehicle, the ELF, has been purchased, by well-known local environmental horticulture extension agent Kim Gabel.
Looking like a cross between an Egg car, and a reversed trike, the mango-colored ELF combines the ease of a car with the benefits of a bike. It's a solar/pedal hybrid that allows the rider to pedal or cruise on battery power, or both at the same time. The base price is $5,000, the company website states.
The lithium iron phosphate battery can be charged with the rooftop solar panel or via an electrical wall socket. The ELF can travel 1,800 miles on the energy equivalent of a gallon of gas, or 20 to 30 miles on one battery charge, at up to 20 mph.
Drawbacks include the lack of windshield wipers and the fact that the motor cannot be charged while in use.
The idea of purchasing one came to Gabel last year, as she was trying to find a more environmentally friendly way to commute from her home on Big Pine Key to her office in Key West.
"I first heard about the ELF last year," Gabel said. "And I kerplunked my money down in January. I took possession at the factory in Durham, N.C., and brought it home last Sunday."
Since returning home with the ELF, Gabel has practiced riding around her neighborhood, past the ubiquitous Key deer, which mostly don't look twice at her colorful, alien-looking vehicle. She also hasn't received many comments from passing motorists and cyclists.
"It's more like I get stares from people who try to get their whole family to look at this thing going down the road. You can tell they're wondering how it operates."
Part of the attraction of the ELF, for Gabel, is its simplicity. She doesn't need a motorcycle license or other type of permit, and can ride on both bike paths and roads.
"When riding on the road, I usually see what the speed limit is. If I can keep up with traffic, I'll ride in the middle of the road. If I can't, I stick to the side of the road so that I don't frustrate the motorists behind me."
"We always encourage biking whenever possible as a healthy activity that's fun and good for the environment," said Chris Tittel, spokesman for the Florida Department of Health in Monroe County. "Statistics show that approximately 6 percent of Monroe County residents bike to work. It would be great to see that number increase."
Other features of the ELF are its three-speed transmission, LED headlights, taillights, brake lights and turn signals. It has side and rear-view mirrors and disc brakes.
Between the seat and the floorless "trunk," the ELF can carry up to 350 pounds, which works for Gabel.
"The important thing is, there's room in the back to carry beer," she said with a laugh.