Organic Transit ELF

The organic transit ELF (Electric, Light, Fun) is a highly evolved electric-assist vehicle from accomplished race car designer, Rob Cotter. With some impressive people on the team and board, a successful Kickstarter campaign, and lots of customers with millions of miles between them, the ELF has evolved into a mature and successful vehicle.


There are two basic models, but tons of optional extras. The ELF solo is the single-person version, and starts at US$7,995 (NZ$12,000). The ELF 2FR can hold an extra passenger behind the driver. That one will set you back at least US$8,495 (NZ$12,700).  Those prices are about the same as a used, reasonably late model small car, such as a Suzuki Swift, so you’re looking at people stepping down (or sideways?) from a car, rather than up from a bicycle.

There is also a specialised version, called ELF tactical, that is aimed at law enforcement, security and event patrolling.

There is a lot to like about the ELF:

  • Very well engineered alloy chassis
  • Can carry 150kg (that’s an 80kg rider plus 70kg cargo or extra person), or 250kg for the Tactical ELF
  • Room for 8 shopping bags in the cargo area
  • Easy to ride and maintain
  • Full auxiliary electrical system (lights, brake lights, indicators)

So with so much to like, why would I not copy the ELF blueprint for the Velopetta?

  • The ELF is large. Although possible, at 1.22 meters wide it is very big for bike lanes (typical recumbent trikes and velomobiles are 0.75m – 0.8m). It’s also 1.5m tall, and it is 2.7 meters long.
  • It doesn’t look great. Well, it doesn’t look bad, either, but I would describe it as ‘utilitarian’ at best.
  • It is not fully enclosed. You can buy optional doors for US$250 (NZ$375), but there are still no side windows.

It would be a waste not to take any learnings from the ELF, though. I’ll be adapting a version of it’s very well designed aluminium alloy chassis for the Velopetta, and may look at in-boarding the hub motor for better sprung/un-sprung weight ratio, too (for non-techs, that means better ride comfort).

ELF chassis

ELF in-boarded hub and motor

Here are some pics of the ELF. Note that with a rider in the shot you can see just how large the vehicle actually is.

ELF 2FR with passenger

ELF in inclement weather

Brütsch Mopetta

It’s rather obvious that the 1956 Brütsch Mopetta is the main inspiration for the Velopetta.  Here is some information about that rare little microcar.

Info from Wikipedia:
Production 1956–1958
Assembly Stuttgart
Designer Egon Brütsch
Class Microcar
Body style Convertible
Wheelbase 3 ft 4.5 in (1,029 mm)
Length 5 ft 9.5 in (1,765 mm)
Width 3 ft 0 in (910 mm)
Height 3 ft 9.25 in (1,149.3 mm)
Kerb weight 1.75 long cwt (89 kg)

Brütsch Mopetta Front

Brütsch Mopetta Side Brütsch Mopetta Rear

Images from Sotheby’s RM Auctions

This great excerpt about the creation of this vehicle is lifted from the Microcar Museum website:

Egon Brütsch decided he would build “the world’s smallest car” for the 1956 IFMA (International Bicycle and Motorcycle Exhibition in Frankfurt, Germany).

The Prototype was apparently created overnight and the next day he leaned some wheels against it, had his Secretary sit in it and he took One Photograph of it.

While he had time to attach the wheels for the IFMA Exhibition, he did not find time to sort out the mechanicals, so the Mopetta was placed high up for display so that this was not an issue.

After much interest at the IFMA from several countries, Brütsch began to actually set about to make the Mopetta work and fitted a 50cc ILO motor with kickstarter to it.

There were ever only 14 Mopettas produced, and only 5 are known to survive today – although a manufacturer in the UK is producing modern replicas (yet to find link to replica manufacturer).

Interestingly, at the time they sold for £200 (whereas bicycles cost £150), so that seems they were very well priced! Converting to USD at the 1958 exchange rate and adjusting for inflation gives us a value of around US$4,700 (NZ$7,000) today.

A real Mopetta from Bruce Weiners microcar museum was sold at auction in 2013. It was estimated to be worth between $25,000 and $35,000, but ended up selling for double that at US$66,125 (NZ$98,000).


My Velopetta will keep the basic shape of the Mopetta, but will swap the wheels for a single driven rear wheel and two front steered wheels.

Like the Mopetta, the Velopetta will also have a convertible soft top and an upright windshield. Although that will increase air resistance a bit (especially under pedal power), I’m willing to make some sacrifices in the name of style 🙂

Mopetta with soft top

And just a few more images for your viewing pleasure:

Brutsch Rollera 1956

Large and small

Mopetta, scooter and bus



Velopetta Logo

Wow, I’ve actually completed (and/or started) a ton of projects since the last was added here. That’s probably a good thing – more time in the garage and less inside 🙂

Following on from the electric scooter project, as well as several unrelated projects,  I’ve added an electric motor to my commuting bicycle.  I then built a full curved windshield/roof which curves right over the bike to protect from the rain, though I’ve been too afraid to use it because of the strong, gusty winds where I live 🙁  I’m starting to get a little tired of arriving at work (or back home) cold and wet!

The electric scooter itself has been a great success. I’ve modified it to lower the seating position, add a more comfortable seat and increase the foot well area. I’ve also added a 12v electric system for lights, indicators and horn, and started looking in to the process of certifying it for road use.

That’s where I’ve hit a steep incline.

Legal requirements for mopeds have changed and become a lot more restrictive over the past several years. Getting the electric scooter to full legal status is going to be a lot of work and a lot of expense. For example, the wheels are still standard bicycle issue – though up-rated somewhat – and would need to be motor-vehicle approved items to be certified. Not only would this involve swapping out the wheels, but the frame would need to be widened to accommodate them, and then the whole thing strengthened to support the extra weight and forces, followed by bigger, stronger brakes because of the increased weight (also motor vehicle approved), and so on…

That’s were Velopetta comes in. Velopetta is the next evolution of the electric scooter and my ebike. Velopetta builds on some older and some newer examples of covered bi/tricycles, but adds a huge dash of style.  The goals are:

  • Looks great
  • One rider with storage space
  • Comfortable, adjustable for different riders
  • Fully weather proof with soft-top up
  • Looks great
  • 1 rear electric assisted pedal drive wheel, 2 front wheels
  • Small enough for bike paths
  • Fully legal as a bicycle with no additional certification
  • And looks great 🙂

A big inspiration for the body and overall look of the Velopetta (and also the name) is the 1956 Brütsch Mopetta micro car. Only 14 of these sexy babies were ever produced, and only 5 are known to survive in captivity (though there is a replica being produced).

Brütsch Mopetta 2

I really love some of the existing projects, but they just aren’t quite right. I’ll be covering some of these in coming posts, analysing them, and what I’m doing differently.

p.s. The font for my Velopetta logo is modified from an amazingly gorgeous font called Milkshake by  Laura Worthington, an extremely talented font designer.

Velopetta Logo white on blue

Caravan fun

I haven’t posted in a while – mostly because I’ve been busy on all my other projects – so here is a very quick update of progress with some pictures 🙂

First job was installing the roof.  Carbonised bamboo on either side, with a panel of Lawson Cypress in the middle and remote-controlled 12v LED down lights.

Roof raised ready for work on ceiling
Roof raised ready for work on ceiling
Working on the electrics for the downlights
Working on the electrics for the downlights
New ceiling is in!
New ceiling is in!
Roof raised under carport to work on ceiling
Roof raised under carport to work on ceiling

After a few camping trips, Wife and I were ready for a better bed. We decided to put in a a permanent (almost) full-size double bed to replace the folding table and squabs.  The mattress was made to order by a local bed manufacturer and is only 3cm shorter and the same width as a full double.  We also removed the wardrobe to get extra room for the bed.

The bed folds upwards to allow access to all the storage room underneath.

The kitchen was removed because we never used it and we always cook in the awning.  This allowed room for the bed, too, and I’m making new cabinets to fit the smaller space.

Out with the old table and bed
Out with the old table and bed
Half-way through making the new bed
Half-way through making the new bed

The next job were a few interior modifications. I added a shelf at one end for baskets (clothes etc) that folds up against the wall. We’re removing the wardrobe, so we need extra storage. Another shelf is planned for the other end, but hasn’t been done yet.  Also added a side for one of the beds – our girl was only 1yr old at this stage and we didn’t want her falling out!

Folding shelf - up
Folding shelf – up
Folding shelf - down, with baskets
Folding shelf – down, with baskets
Side on bed for baby
Side on bed for baby

Next up was a new floor to match the ceiling.  The old lino floor looked pretty horrible compared to the ceiling!

Out with the old floor
Out with the old floor
New floor cut to shape
New floor cut to shape
New floor glued down
New floor glued down
New floor finished
New floor finished

Currently I’m building the new cabinets to replace the kitchen that was removed (kept the fridge) and prepping the interior for painting!



Repairing a loose knot

Unfortunately the thicknesser knocked a large knot right out of the timber. The hole is not just unsightly, but may let water and dust enter the caravan from the ceiling space.
Large knot missing

Rather than try to fill the hole with bog, I made a fake knot to fill the hole, and then fixed that in place.  The first step was to cut a small piece of timber from the same plank.  I also removed the loose bark and other material from the hole – note that I didn’t shape the hole in any way – to keep it looking natural.

Cutting the blank

I placed the blank over the hole and roughly marked the shape (oversize!) with a pencil.  Then using a saw, wood file and bastard file the blank was shaped to fit the hole.  The process involved cutting/filing a bit, returning to the hole and marking more pencil, then returning to the vice for more cutting and filing.  Eventually the new fake knot was almost the right size.

Almost the right size

After some final filing the knot fit perfectly into the space left by the loose knot – not too loose and not too tight.  The edges of the knot are not vertical – they are sloped at about 30 degrees so be careful to account for this if you are replicating this process.

Perfect fit

The fact that there is a little space around the edge of the knot doesn’t matter – it makes it look more authentically like a knot 🙂  The final step was to use wood coloured putty to fill all the gaps around it.  On hindsight I should have glued it in place first before using the putty, but I’m hoping the putty will be strong enough to keep the new fake knot in place!

This whole process took maybe 20 minutes.

More middle bit

After tear-out problems preparing the ceiling panels with the thicknesser, I changed the router blades. The difference is remarkable – the finish is now so smooth it almost doesn’t require sanding. I couldn’t be happier.

The three central sections of ceiling panel were run through the thicknesser and honed down to 8mm. I then used the table router to create a sort of shiplap of about 15mm width along the edge of the sections. This allows the sections to overlap when glued instead of simply butting up against each other and triples the area to be glued for a better hold.

The central section is now completely glued up ready for cutting to length and cutting the circular holes for the spotlights.



photo showing the routed overlap. The boards are 8mm thick, the overlap is 4mm x 15mm.

The middle bit

I planned for the ceiling to be carbonised bamboo. This requires 3 sheets of bamboo, with some sort of join between each sheet. After a rethink I’ve decided to split the ceiling and add a central section of Lawson Cypress. The plan is for it to provide some contrast (it is light whereas the bamboo is darker) and tie in nicely with the kitchenette. This way I only need two sheets of the bamboo – one either side of the Lawson – and no panel joiners.

The section of Lawson will be around 700mm x 2000mm. To ensure that it doesn’t end up weighing too much, I am using very thin timber – the finished thickness will be around 8 or 9mm.

I started by selecting a few nice straight 2m lengths of Lawson ex. 100×50, finished. I cut 12mm slices on the table saw off the thinner edge for a size of 44mm x 12mm. I then ran these through my new (second-hand) thicknesser to get them down to 10mm. I was not impressed by the tearout – almost every piece has some tearout damage. I presume its due to the soft wood, but I haven’t checked the blades yet. They may require some honing.

I then glued the finished pieces side by side in three sections around 240mm wide each.

The next step will be to glue the three sections together and finally sand the entire surface to get a nice, smooth finish (hopefully getting rid of all that tearout) and bringing out the grain. I fear there will be a lot of sanding ahead…

Preparing the lid

Once the roof of the caravan (after being removed) was all squared up on the jig, the next part was to prepare the roof before any future work can commence.  The old covering was pulled off, and the foam insulation was removed using a paint scraper.  It was going mouldy in places, and also covered areas that need access to the fibreglass later, so it had to go.  The glue holding the foam to the roof did not lift with the foam, so this will be removed with acetone later.

The fittings, which were very worn, buckled and oxidised, were also removed.  Some needed a spray with CRC to get them moving – but first I carefully measured and recorded their original location so that the replacements will be mounted in the same place!

Total time around 2hrs for this part (so far) without removing the old glue.


Detail of one of the fittings

Removing old insulation in progress

Removing old insulation (in progress).  The water damage and rot is apparent here.

Taking stock

After spending an hour or so taking key measurements of the inside and outside of the caravan and sketching the dimensions out, the next step was to take the roof off and take stock of damage.

The roof has rails along the inside of it’s length on both sides.  The two end walls have runner wheels attached that move inside the rails.  Removing the roof was a case of removing some rubber stoppers from the ends of the rail and letting the roof slide right off the end walls.  Covering the caravan with a tarp is critical at this stage, as it is open to the elements.

The roof removed from the caravan

It then took me a good hour to clean enough of the accumulated grit off the fiberglass (mostly moss and algae) before I could see the sort of shape that the fiberglass was in.  The outer (gelcoat) surface has many small areas of mostly cosmetic damage, but nothing that I can tell that really needs structural repair (see the photos below).  Because of that i’ll be leaving the repair until the final stages of this renovation. as I don’t want to re-damage the gelcoat after putting hours into restoring it!

Rust stain Paint-over botch repair Holes through the gelcoat Nasty botched repair Algae damage Damaged rubber washers

The next step will be making a jig to support the roof as I work on it. Most of the time the roof will need to be upside-down, and without some sort of jig the fiberglass could very easily be structurally damaged.

The plan

Here is the plan for renovating the 1979 Liteweight poptop caravan:

Happening now

(i.e. Wife has approved)

  • Replace the peeling wallpaper ceiling with carbonised bamboo ply.
  • Install 12V recessed lighting (MR11), 230v driver circuit and wireless switches.
  • Attach small 12v winch and hidden pulley system to automate raising/lowering the poptop.
  • Add railing to one of the pop-out beds for 1yr old baby.

Happening soon

(i.e. Wife is thinking about it)

  • Replace hanging cabinetry with bespoke bamboo cabinetry.
  • Add LED strip lighting for reading lights and kitchen illumination.
  • Thicker foam squabs with new coverings.
  • New window coverings to match squabs.

May be happening (or not)

(i.e. Wide doesn’t know yet)

  • Replace damaged linoleum floor with something stylish.
  • Replace convertible seating/bed with permanent double.
  • Add fold-out table to other end of caravan.
  • New kitchen.
  • Re-paint interior.
  • Re-paint exterior.

Opera camper

The Opera camper has got to be my favourite folding caravan design EVER.  Sad to see it’s no longer in production.  Poor timing with the GFC.