New wheels on Kent State University campus turn heads

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The green flash that you see out of the corner of your eye on the Kent State University campus 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 at the university's Kent Campus.

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

The green machine flying past Kent State students and employees 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 people 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 disc 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 said. "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's not without disadvantages.

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 Kent State's 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 & 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 every day errands, think how much energy we would save," Washko said. "It could change the world if people would just consider it."

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