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A vehicle to pedal off your carbon footprints

Mark Stewart purchased his ELF as “a spur of the moment thing.”

The Cambridge resident and avid bicyclist heard about the solar- and pedal-powered vehicle one day while listening to an NPR interview with Rob Cotter, founder and CEO of Organic Transit, and creator of the ELF.

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ELF, which stands for Electric Light-Fun, has an electric motor fueled by a solar-powered lithium battery, weighs about 130 pounds, and provides enough room for one person and several bags of groceries or other cargo in its egg-shaped enclosure. Using just one of these vehicles on a regular basis in place of a gasoline-powered car can prevent six tons of CO2 from going into the atmosphere, said Cotter. On electric power alone the ELF can go about 20 miles per hour, and faster when the operator is pedaling.

Stewart was intrigued. After finding out more about the invention over the Internet he purchased his own wasabi green, three-wheel ELF for $4,000 through Organic Transit’s Kickstarter campaign, and in July traveled to Organic Transit, in Durham, N.C., where the vehicles are designed and built, to pick it up. With shipping costs of about $1,000, Stewart figured driving his ELF home would not only be cheaper, but would count as the long bike trip he likes to take in the summer.

“People don’t know how pleasurable cycle touring is,” he said, “It’s a wonderful way to travel.”

Mark Stewart’s ELF brought him home over 18 days and 1,000 miles from Durham, N.C.

Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

Mark Stewart’s ELF brought him home over 18 days and 1,000 miles from Durham, N.C.

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Stewart has bicycled all through Northern Europe, including a thousand-mile, three-week trip from the Netherlands to Germany, Denmark, and Sweden. On his travels he often finds places to stay with cyclist-friendly hosts through the nonprofit website www.warmshowers.org instead of spending money on hotels.

The 1,000-mile trip from North Carolina to Cambridge took Stewart 18 days, which included two rest days. Average mileage was 62.5 miles a day, said Stewart, following the East Coast Greenway, a 3,000-mile bike trail that starts at Key West, Fla., and goes all the way to the Canada border. He got offers of places to stay from people responding to his blog, orasfar
asiget.com.

Stewart did need to have his ELF serviced a couple of times on his way home, once for tightening nuts and bolts that had loosened during the ride, and also to repair the vehicle’s rear assembly, damaged when he inadvertently drove away with the anti-theft lock still on.

The reception he got from people he met along the way was often positive. He recalled an occasion when a barber came out of his shop and showed him two thumbs up and said, “I love it, I love it.”

In addition to being eco-friendly, the ELF appealed to Stewart as a more effective mode of transportation in the winter, offering more protection than a regular bicycle from weather and road conditions.

And then, of course, there is frugality. On average, the annual cost of owning a car can be more than $9,000, if driven around 15,000 miles yearly, according to the American Automobile Association. The ELF requires little maintenance, and needs no gasoline.

Plus, you get great exercise.

“A new car is a minimum of $20,000. The ELF makes sense economically and physically,” said Stewart.

Anyone can now order an ELF directly from Organic Transit. There is a wait time of up to four months, according to its website, www.organictransit.com.

Vanessa Fernandes can be reached at vanessa.fernandes
@globe.com.
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