Solar-pedal vehicle draws stares, questions

FALLS CHURCH, Va. – Most people who see the lime-green ELF hybrid vehicle have the same question: What is it?

Parked in the Idylwood Plaza shopping center, the 5-foot-tall, 8-foot-long eye- catcher prompted passersby to stop, look, touch, and in most cases, smile.

“This is the ELF — it’s an electric-assisted trike,” says Pete Warasila, owner of the vehicle, and investor in the project now being produced by Organic Transit, a North Carolina company.

Behind the wheel, Warasila is used to the attention.

“I get people driving real slow behind me, trying to figure out what I am. You get people who pull up on the side of you, who look and wave, give you the thumbs up,” said Warasila.

With two wheels in the front, one in the back, with handlebars, the ELF resembles a recumbant bicycle. Its polycarbonate shell is equipped with safety devices similar to a car.

“Unlike a bike you’re very, very visible,” says Warasila.

“You have headlights, you have brake lights, you have blinkers, you have a horn,” says Warasila as he presses the horn that’s more toot-toot than honk-honk.

On the roof is a solar panel which can recharge the vehicle while parked. It can also be plugged into a standard outlet and be fully charged in two hours.

While Warasila demonstrated the features of the ELF, curious shoppers snapped photos, tapped the vehicle and wondered how it worked.

“You start by pedaling. Then you hit the throttle, then use that to give you more power to get up to speed with traffic, up a hill, or if you have heavy bags,” says Warasila.

The ELF has a rear storage area, where Warasila carries groceries. His son stows his book bag while driving the ELF to school.

Currently, the ELF is a single-person vehicle.

“We have plans to put a jump seat in back. That’s our second-biggest request. Our first is doors,” says Warasila.

Under federal guidelines, the ELF is classified as a bicycle, since it has a small motor and a top speed of 20 mph on electric power only.

Regulations vary by state: In Virginia, ELF is classified as an electric power- assist bicycle. Riders need to be 14 years old. In Maryland, classified as a moped, it requires title, registration, insurance, and a driver over 16 years, wearing a helmet. In D.C., it’s considered a motorized bicycle, requiring license, registration, inspection, and drivers have to be 18.

With a cost of $4,000, Warasila estimates ordered ELFs will be available in summer.

Naturally, I wanted to take the ELF for a test drive.

With so much public interest in saving money on gas and preserving the environment, Organic Transit raised more than $225,000 to fund the launch with a Kickstarter crowdfunding effort.

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