Eco-commuters, behold the solar-savvy $4,000 Elf tricycle

The startup hopes bicycle-phobic people will like its lightweight three-wheeler, whose battery gives it a 30-mile range before pedaling.

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Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Organic Transit's battery-powered tricycle at CeBIT 2013
Organic Transit's battery-powered tricycle at CeBit 2013. Stephen Shankland/CNET

HANNOVER, Germany--Some vehicles don't fit easily into one category or another.

Organic Transit's Elf -- a battery-boosted, solar-powered, covered tricycle -- is definitely one such device.

The North Carolina startup has begun selling the vehicles through Kickstarter and now directly on its Web site. It's now built 12, and it's showing off the $4,000 machines at the CeBit trade show here.

"This is targeting commuters," said Alix Bowman, director of strategy for the 15-person company. One possibility: People can go to work on battery power so they don't arrive sweaty, then can pedal their way home.

The 92-pound vehicles have an aluminum frame with a lightweight cover attached to keep the elements off the rider and whatever is in its modest trunk. On its roof is a 60-watt solar panel that can be used to trickle-charge its lithium iron phosphate battery.

That battery is good enough for about 30 miles of range, though people can travel farther if they pedal. The company also offers an optional upgrade with a second battery for longer range.

With that option and others such as a higher-powered solar panel or continuously variable transmission, the price rises to somewhere between $5,000 and $6,000, Bowman said. The 60-watt panel can charge the battery halfway after eight hours in the sun; plugging it in charges it fully in two hours.