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Saturday, November 29, 2014

Peddling Overweight Elf's

Stopped in Performance Bikes on Saturday to see their ELF, a solar-recharging electric-pedal vehicle in a plastic pod from North Carolina's Organic Transit. This is such an interesting thing to me.

With delivery fees, it's about a $6,000 base model and $9800 as shown. This would be such an awesome vehicle to use to scoot around town; a sheltered pedal-bike with electric assist and solar recharging. I could so see myself enjoying one of these.

When you ask, what are the rules? Is this street-legal? the answer is, "this is a bike. It's legal anywhere it's legal to ride a bike".

Is it really that simple? Or is this really is an electric car without any of the safety factors required for cars? And because it's a bike there's no passenger safety investments (crumple zones, seat belts, etc) of any kind (because those are car things, silly goose). So it's a $9K e-car that you can get killed in and nobody's responsible.

The little voice in my mind wonders if the Elf isn't another Uber-Lyft-AirBnB, an attempt to avoid safety, regulation, liability, and insurance through concise miswording?

The Elf spec sheet includes these parameters: (note the weight of 150 pounds, please)

The ELF website FAQ says, our bikes meet federal e-bike standards and you should check your own state's requirements. Funny thing there. The PA ebike requirements (see legislation) include:

On October 22, 2014 PA house bill 573 passed into law, which is Act 154, which changes the definition of "pedalcycle" (bicycle) in the PA state vehicle code. "Pedalcycle" is now defined as a vehicle propelled solely by human-powered pedals or a "pedalcycle" (bicycle) with electric assist(a vehicle weighing not more than 100 pounds with two or three wheels more than 11 inches in diameter, manufactured or assembled with an electric motor rated no more than 750 watts and equipped with operational pedals and travels at speeds less than 20 mph). This bill allows the usage of pedal assisted bicycles in PA that follow the adopted state guidelines.
and it would seem that the ELF's weight of 150 pounds exceeds the PA pedalcycles-with-electric-assist definition of 100 pounds. So the manufacturer and sales team say: "it's a bike and weighs 150 pounds" and the state law says an electric-assist bike has to weigh 100 pounds or less. awkward!

I want to like this vehicle. I'm not sure that Performance Bike selling these gizmos in Pennsylvania is completely honorable, since they don't meet the PA definition of a bike or an e-bike, and the manufacturer asserts that it's not a car, it's a bike. It needs a placard: NOT STREET LEGAL IN PENNSYLVANIA.

It would be great to have these in Pittsburgh. They'd probably increase pressure to reduce speed limits to 25 (which I'm good with). But I don't see how they're selling them as bikes without identifying the Pennsylvania definition of a legal bike or addressing that they're outside the range.

If I had yielded to my impulse and dropped $9500 on a Elf because the staff assured me it was legal anywhere a bike could go, and then found out it didn't fit the categories of bikes (normal or e-bike) or cars - so that when a police officer stopped me and asked me what I was thinking, I'd be in a jam - I'd be kind of mild-to-middling flustered.

For me the ELF name conjures the audiotape of David Sedaris when he tells about working as a Macy's store elf at Christmastime. One of the Santa's who is seriously into the role play would say, Oh little elf, little elf, sing a Christmas song for little (child's name) here. David Sedaris would resist, and the Santa would continue: oh little elf, little elf, of course you know the words... sing for the child" and then David Sedaris delivers the best version of "Away In A Manger" ever. Just brilliant.


  1. There was a response from Performance Bike that was deleted when I updated the post. To be fair and include their report: They said, federal law trumps state law when the state law is more stringent. and they provide a link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electric_bicycle_laws#United_States

  2. However, that resource cited does not support their assertion. This section shall supersede any State law or requirement with respect to low-speed electric bicycles to the extent that such State law or requirement is more stringent than the Federal law or requirements." (Note that this refers to consumer product regulations enacted under the Consumer Product Safety Act. Preemption of more stringent state consumer product regulations does not limit State authority to regulate the use of electric bicycles, or bicycles in general, under state vehicle codes.)

    In other words: PA can't legislate the e-bike requirements, but they can certainly ticket you for operating a something that doesn't meet their definition of a bike on their roads.