Elf, Truckette and Otto look like they rolled off the pages of a fantasy novel. But they're super-efficient solar-electric tricycles. A group of designers and sustainability advocates calling themselves Organic Transit plans to develop and market these buggies in Durham, N.C., a city they envision as the national hub for a three-wheeled brand of transportation virtually unknown outside a small cult following in this country and Europe.
Organic Transit doesn't have a prototype available for test-riding, but that has not stopped the startup from generating about 200 pre-orders, not to mention a write-up in The Atlantic Monthly magazine. The waiting list includes the city of Durham and the Greater Durham Chamber of Commerce, both interested in enhancing Durham's green reputation.
The buzz comes in part from the ultra-sleek appearance of the vehicles, technically called velomobiles. As depicted in Organic Transit's computer-generated images, they're a futuristic cross between a bike and a car, encased in an aerodynamic shell and suitable for commuting, recreation, racing, making deliveries or just showing off.
They run on a combination of pedal-power and a rechargeable electric motor, boosted by 250 watts of solar cells embedded throughout the polycarbonate shell.
And they're cheap -- for a solar-electric trike, anyway. The two-passenger Elf is expected to cost $3,900, while the Truckette cargo would cost about $3,400. Velomobiles sold today cost as much as $20,000.
"We had a directive: They had to look cool, and they had to be inexpensive," said Organic Transit founder Rob Cotter.
It remains to be seen whether Organic Transit can appeal to more than just experimental bike fanatics.
Cotter assures the vehicles will require less effort to pedal than a conventional bike, and they will travel about 30 miles on an 84-volt battery. Pedaling would be part of the experience, but the extra boost from the battery would make the velomobile a practical option for people who aren't hard-core athletes, he said.
Organic Transit got a big boost this year when it was accepted by the Durham chamber's Startup Stampede, a two-month incubator program to help promising ideas gain traction.
The chamber program also connected Organic Transit with the Council for Entrepreneurial Development in Durham.
Cotter, whose background includes building recumbent bikes and marketing, said the 3-year-old company has built several prototypes that have been disassembled. He expects to have his next prototypes available for public testing in about three months.
(Contact John Murawski at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more stories visit scrippsnews.com)