PEBL versus Elf

Give credit to the Elf for pioneering the concept of a solar-powered trike that can replace gas-guzzling cars for commuting and shopping locally.

A few years later, the PEBL was created as the Elf competitor. Last spring, however, Elf shut down their production and is currently seeking a financial rescue that may or may not come. Since over 800 Elfs were sold over the past six years, it’s not difficult to find a used one on the Internet, often at a fraction of the $10k cost of buying a new one. The Elf started at half that price, but the cost kept rising as improvements were made and features added.

Although the Elf is bigger and wider, remarkably, it weighs much less than the PEBL, which means it’s also easier to pedal. In fact, if the battery gives out, and you don’t have an outlet to plug into, or time to let the solar panel refill a completely dead battery (something that takes around 7 hours), it’s not that difficult to operate the Elf on pedal power alone, something that would be far more difficult with a PEBL.

But on just about every other feature, the PEBL blows away the Elf, mostly due to its suspension system. The Elf works fine on flat level roads with no potholes, but the ride can be bone-jarring over bumps. The antler arms can also be difficult to wrestle over bumps. Not so with the PEBL, which is easily steered with one hand. The Elf has a more recumbent position, while riders are more upright in the PEBL. I prefer upright, but some others may prefer a more recumbent posture.

You won’t often find a used PEBL for sale, which is likely a testament to customer satisfaction. I recently saw a fully-loaded model going for $7,000. At the present, there are two used Elves on the market, one for $3,000 and the other for $4,000.  Since many two-wheel ebikes cost over $5k, the used Elf is typically a great bargain. I expect these bikes to eventually start increasing in value as they become more famous.

Because it is charged while in the bike, the PEBL battery is bigger and easier to charge. It also holds more juice. The Elf battery can be removed, or left in place to charge, but the connection and position of the battery makes the operation far more difficult than it should be.

The Elf has an open floor and unfinished interior, while the PEBL is fully enclosed and carpeted. For use at the beach, the Elf makes more sense and is easier to sweep clean of sand. The PEBL is more narrow and has a shorter turn radius, but that may also make it more susceptible to rollover.

The PEBL is a four-season bike easily ridden through rain and snow, unlike the Elf which is designed for warmer weather. Remarkably, the price between the two was not very far apart, which accounts for the PEBL being a great value, even with the recent price rise.

As for modifications, I replaced the Elf mirrors with larger ones that folded in completely. On the PEBL, I put a Batman logo over the BB logo on the front. I’d urge BetterBike to explore a better logo.

The Elf logo was stylized letters for Organic Transit, but many see it just as a “T” for “Tesla.” The logo for a futuristic vehicle like this should be simple and iconic, like the Tesla in my opinion. The PEBL also needed a strip of clear tape on the rear hatch hinge because it leaked rain water into the cabin. This did not solve the problem, but PEBL was nice enough to come pick up the trike and fix the leak free of charge. I also installed a better, wider handlebar with cork handles, front derailleur, and NuVinci transmission, all of which were big improvements and now available as add-ons.

Update on May 11, 2020: I flipped my PEBL after hitting a bump while turning. I was leaning the wrong way at the time. It’s super important to lean your weight into the turns. This forced me to ride the Elf again after a long layoff. I put a backseat pad in the Elf and it made a world of difference. Makes up for the lack of rear suspension. I highly recommend this pad and ended up putting one in the PEBL as well.

After riding both trikes for hundreds of miles, I  found I prefer the Elf in summer, but need the PEBL for the cold months. I added two small mini coolers to the Elf to keep the dogs out of the wheel well, and also use small boogie boards as doors to keep them from jumping out during stops. I also put battery-powered electric fans in both vehicles. I’m currently experimenting with various tinted film to put over the windows on both vehicles in the summer. The Batbike will likely be mirrored all around, while the front windshield on the Elf will be clear but still heat-blocking.

If you are considering using this vehicle for commuting you’d probably be happier with a PEBL, but if you are using it primarily as an exercise machine, you might be better off with a used Elf, especially at one third the price.

Update July 2020, the new PEBL 100 looks amazing, and they took my advice on the front logo. This is now the model to have as it has numerous upgrades over previous models.

Update September 2020: Covid really slowed down PEBL deliveries, and some who ordered Spring of 2019 are still waiting. Meanwhile, it’s been reported that the delays are a result of difficulty getting essential parts out of Europe. The owners are presently planning to move the factory to Europe, which will likely result in a big increase in shipping charges and more delays. However, they may have a few refurbished models ready to ship now. Meanwhile, if you want either an Elf or a PEBL anytime soon, better stick with a used model. Hopefully both Elf and PEBL will be back up and running soon.

7 Replies to “PEBL versus Elf”

  1. Thanks for this article, but more specifics would be nice. What are the actual weights of each as outfitted? What are the gear ratios available with each drive train? Motors the same or different Watt rating? Both have adjustable power assist or not? Stock batteries compared by amp/hr would be great to know too. Lights are important, which vehicle has the best lighting inside and out? Thanks for all.

    1. The weight of the PEBL depends on what size battery you install, but it’s much heavier than the 150-pound Elf. The motor is bigger and stronger in the PEBL. Both have throttles (not pedal assist). The PEBL has better interior lights, but both have adequate exterior lighting. It’s a bit of a moot point since you can’t buy new Elfs, but can buy PEBLs, so you are stuck with PEBL unless looking for a used bike. I seldom see a used PEBL on the market.

  2. Personally, I think both the Pebble, and Elf are both nice Velomobiles (e-bikes). Bigger mirrors, also it would be nice to add review mirror in the side of both vehicles; just like automobile. Real doors wood be nice on both Pebble. Wider tired for both vehicles to increase hill climbing capabilities. Stronger faster rims to hold heavier weight. Plate holders, 4 wheels would be nice and make the bikes more balanced and stable so the don’t flip over. Four wheels will also make the back seat wider to hold at least to adults 3 kids. Seat belts would be nice upon request. Built in generator to help recharge the battery just like a car. 1200 watt motors for United States markets off road or hill climbing use only (off road switch Or hill climbing switch). Dual batter system with transfer switch so if one battery dies theirs a back up battery.

    1. Can’t have four wheels because then it’s no longer a bike, but a motorized vehicle. Same thing with bigger motors. They made doors for the Elf, but not wood, just the same material as the body. The PEBL already has two batteries, and they are always connected….no need for a transfer switch. No need for a generator either. Most of the time I only charge through the solar panels.

    2. Clayton, you miss the point – adding all those options adds weight and energy requirement. It is not meant to be a car, it is meant to be a lightweight vehicle that outperforms a car in many ways, but not all. It is not meant for long commutes, but there are some who might push it that way. The whole point is to reduce gasoline vehicle miles because the dominant and list polluting trips are those under 25 miles in cities. And if you want to add mirrors or seat belts anywhere on either ELF or PEBL, there are plenty of options in bike mirrors or after-market car mirrors and parts.

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