Lee Dilley believes bicycles and cars can indeed share the roads.
But like many cyclists, Dilley has become more and more concerned about the growing safety issues that come with biking in urban areas, like not being seen by motorists.
With that in mind, the Northfielder set about looking for a bicycle that would allow him to continue his love of biking, but also provide the safety and utility he and his son, Evan, desire while traversing city streets.
He found what he was looking for one day when he happened upon the website of a small North Carolina manufacturer called Organic Transit, which started building electric-assist tricycles in 2013.
Dilley was so impressed with the company’s vehicles that runs on sunshine and sweat − called ELF (for Electric Light Fun) − he ordered it and became one of only a handful in Minnesota, and the first in Northfield, who owns the new product. The company has now manufactured and sold about 360 vehicles in the U.S. and is now producing about 10 a week, according to a spokesperson for Organic Transit.
“What I was looking for was a bike with more utility to it and that could also provide more safety for Evan,” Dilley said. “Being able to use it on the street system in Northfield was important. Crossing Hwy. 3 can get a little scary at times. With the ELF, we feel more secure.”
Dilley said the very shape and appearance of the egg-shaped vehicle is a safety feature. He said it’s hard for people not to notice the lime green trike.
“It’s appearance helps us feel secure,” he said.
According to the Organic Transit website, the ELF is legally classified as bicycle and is subject to the same laws and regulations.
“We are not aware of any current laws that require licenses for cyclists, but some states do have age restrictions for electric assisted bikes,” the website statement read. “A handful of states classify the ELF as a moped and consequently do have licensing requirements for riders. ELF riders are ultimately responsible for researching and obeying the laws in their own locales.
“The ELF can be used anywhere it is legal and safe to ride a bicycle: bike paths, bike lanes, roads with a decent shoulder, and roads with slower moving traffic.”
But for for both Lee and Evan, who is not interested in driving a car at this time, the ELF is much more than safety. The Northfield family purchased the solar-pedal trike for other reasons as well:
• Aerodynamic protective shell: While this can be considered a safety feature because it gives the ELF a car-like appearance that is hard to miss, it also provides protection from the sun on hot days, Dilley said.
• Electric motor: The Dilleys like the fact that you can engage the electric assist motor when encountering a hill or when needing to get across an intersection quickly.
The pure electric battery range is more than 14 miles, and that can easily be extended the more you choose to pedal/coast, Dilley said. And the battery will recharge in about seven hours if left in direct sunlight, or about two hours if plugged into an outlet.
“The ELF can go 16 miles per hour when the motor is engaged and you can sustain 14 miles per hour when climbing hills,” Dilley said. “It definitely serves our needs.”
• Storage: Evan especially likes the storage feature on the ELF. Each Saturday, he uses the solar-pedal trike to deliver the Northfield News to more than 100 houses in his neighborhood. He says he can pack a lot of newspapers in the vehicle’s trunk and drive the trike door-to-door.
“Delivery is much faster now because I can carry a bigger load,” Evan said. “It’s fun to drive and goes pretty fast.”
Last weekend during Riverwalk Market Fair, both Lee and Evan rode the ELF downtown, which turned a lot of heads. But despite the odd shape, the Dilleys feel like their new ELF can bridge the gap between bike and car in Northfield, which is known for its bike enthusiasts.
“I’m interested in advancing energy-efficient transportation in our society,” Lee Dilley said. “The ELF has solar panels on the roof for charging the battery and the company claims it can deliver the equivalent of 1,800 miles per gallon. That’s pretty amazing.”
Reach Managing Editor Jerry Smith at 645-1136, or follow him on Twitter.com @NewsNorthfield