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New Wheels on Campus Turn Heads

The green flash that you see out of the corner of your eye on the Lefton Esplanade is not an alien pod or an insect on steroids.

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New Wheels on Campus Turn Heads

Posted April 21, 2014 | Cindy Weiss
enter photo description
Paulette Washko, director of research compliance in
the Division of Research and Sponsored Programs, and
a student in the executive master of public health program
at Kent State University, drives an ELF – an “electric, light,
fun” vehicle to work. The vehicle is powered by pedals that
push its 26-inch bicycle tires.

The green flash that you see out of the corner of your eye on the Lefton Esplanade is not an alien pod or an insect on steroids.

This “sun-powered trike,” as its inventor calls it, is an ELF – an “electric, light, fun” vehicle driven to work by Paulette Washko, director of research compliance in the Division of Research and Sponsored Programs, and a student in the executive master of public health program at Kent State University.

It is the only one in Ohio so far, and one of the first 400-or-so made.

The green machine flying past you down the hill is powered by pedals pushing its 26-inch bicycle tires. Uphill, the ELF hums as its solar-assisted battery kicks in.

For her four-mile commute from Stow, Washko drives her wasabi-green ELF past horse farms on bucolic back roads or down Main Street in Kent. The ELF meets the federal standards for a bicycle, even with its 600-watt electric motor, so it can go anywhere a bicycle can go.

If at first it reminds you of an overgrown Cozy Coupe or Fred Flintstones’ footmobile, check that thought. Its sleek composite shell sheds water, protecting the rider from the weather. The founder of the company that makes it, Organic Transit of Durham, N.C., once designed Porches and BMWs.

It has disk brakes, operated by bicycle-style hand calipers, and smooth, synchronized internal gears that can be shifted when the ELF is stopped.

Besides contributing no carbon waste to the air – the reason Washko bought it -- the ELF radiates fun.

“You can’t be sad when you’re driving it,” she says. “You get to experience the outdoors with the convenience of not being exposed to the elements, and you get some exercise, all while commuting to work.”

It has its disadvantages.

“Unfortunately, you get a much closer view of road kill,” Washko says.

And when she straddled a pothole with the front two wheels, the centered back wheel hit it square on.

Locked to a bike rack outside of Cartwright Hall, the ELF attracts a lot of attention. “What is it?” is the usual comment as cell phone cameras are whipped out.

When she drove the ELF to Bed, Bath, and Beyond and Giant Eagle, a crowd surrounded it. They watched as she loaded into its cargo hold six bath towels, six hand towels, six wash cloths, a 16-pound bag of dog food, milk, grape juice, a carton of eggs and a package of buns.

If everyone had an ELF for everyday errands, think how much energy we would save, Washko says.

“It could change the world if people would just consider it.”