ELF (by Organic Transit) Repairs and Service

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If you’re reading this with any keen interest, you probably already know what an ELF is.  I recently had a chance to work on this one, and thought it might be kind of helpful to post some shots and explanations in case you need to dig into yours or a friends.  Hopefully, soon, the folks at Organic Transit will have some documentation and service information, but at this point it’s still in progress.

Let’s start with basic maintenance.  The only thing I have had to do is to adjust the motor chain.  I haven’t had to adjust the “human chain” yet, so I’m not too sure how to do that, but here’s the motor in it’s mount:

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Any of these photos will get big if you click on them, by the way.  Here you can see the big nuts holding the motor’s axle.  It’s a modified bicycle hub motor (750W, brushless) that you mount a small sprocket to, which you can see here.  There are 6 (I think) allen bolts that hold that sprocket on.  You’ll also see, above and left, a bracket that clamps onto the square tube frame, with three nuts showing.  These have an allen on one side and a self-locking nut on the other, of the three you see there.  Loosen those on both sides and the motor slides (with a little persuasion from a mallet) back and forth to adjust the tension.  I assume it needs to have about 1″ play, like most chains of that size, to be healthy.  Tighten all six nuts (3 on each side), and you’re good.

Removing and replacing the motor is simply a matter of loosening that big axle nut you see, on both sides, unfastening the master link on the chain, and sliding it towards the front of the bike until it’s free.  Unhook the electricals and you’re out.  Mind you, in this one I had to remove the battery tray (four bolts) to allow the motor to move far enough forward to get it out.

Troubleshooting

OK, let’s assume your ELF doesn’t go.  What’s the first thing to check?

First, and don’t skip this step, make sure the battery is fully charged, and securely connected.  I know, I know.  But do it anyway. It should test out at about 56V give or take when fully charged.

Second, let’s test the throttle.  The throttle on the ELF is a standard Hall-sensor throttle, but the connector is kind of hard to locate.  It’s stuffed into a hole they call the “dashboard”, here:

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See it?  Just follow the wires right from the throttle, you’ll find it.  The connector should be just inside, but it’s a total bitch to get out.  Be VERY careful you don’t yank, and damage, that little connector or the other little connector in there that goes to the horn and the lights.  Once I got it out, it was pretty obvious it wasn’t going to last too long, so I repaired the connections on both, and mounted them outside the “dashboard”.  Here’s what that looks like, with shrink tubing and before I zip-tied it:

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Here’s how to test the throttle via Electric Scooter Parts’ troubleshooting page:

Test The Throttle
(Tools Needed: 4.5-5V DC Power Source, Multimeter) Testing a hall-effect throttle requires a 4.5-5 Volt DC power source (3 AA batteries will work) and a multimeter. Apply 4.5 through 5 Volts DC positive(+) to the throttles red wire, and apply ground(-) to the throttles black wire. Attach a multimeter set to read DC Voltage between the black wire(-) and the green, blue, or white wire(+) and engage the throttle. The output Voltage should vary between 1 through 4 Volts DC as the throttle is fully engaged. If the throttle has under 4 Volts DC output at full throttle that indicates that the throttle is defective.

Throttles are about $20 – nickel-dime parts, and they fail.  A lot.  I’d consider having on on the shelf just for testing purposes, if this got serious.

Now, the controller.  Here’s your controller:

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It’s a Kelly “mini” 48V brushless controller, only slightly modified.  Full documentation is here, on the Kelly support page, and it’s a KBS model, if you feel like diving into the deep end.  The controller is backed up on a coroplast bulkhead to the wiring box, here:

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You can get a look at this by opening the rear cargo hatch.  See the two lights?  Those are your status lights, and they’re helpful for trying to diagnose system problems both with the controller and the motor too.  The red light will flash in a two-digit sequence.  Here’s the Error Code key from Kelly:

1,2 OVERVOLTAGE ERROR
-Battery voltage is too high for the controller.Check battery voltage and configuration.
-Regeneration over-voltage. Controller will have cut back or stopped regen.
-This is only accurate to +/-2% upon overvoltage setting.

1,3 LOW VOLTAGE ERROR
-The controller will clear after 5 seconds if battery voltage returns to normal.
-Check battery voltage & recharge if required.

1,4 OVER TEMPERATURE WARNING
-Controller case temperature is above 90 degrees C. Current will be limited; reduce controller loading or switch off until it cools down.
-Clean or improve heatsink or fan.

2,1 MOTOR DID NOT START
-Motor did not reach 25 electrical RPM within 2 seconds of start-up. Hall sensor or phase wiring problem.

2,2 INTERNAL VOLTAGE FAULT
-Measure that B+ & PWR are correct when measured to B- or NEG.
-There may be excessive load on the +5v supply caused by too low a value of Regen or throttle potentiometers or incorrect wiring.
-Controller is damaged. Contact Kelly about a warranty repair.

2,3 OVER TEMPERATURE
-The controller temperature has exceeded 100 degrees C. The controller will be stopped but will restart when temperature falls below 80 C.

2,4 THROTTLE ERROR AT POWER-UP
-Throttle signal is higher than the preset ‘dead zone’ at Power On. Fault clears when throttle is released.

3,1 FREQUENT RESET
-May be caused by over-voltage, bad motor, intermittent earthing problem, bad wiring, etc.

3,2 INTERNAL RESET
-May be caused by some transient fault condition, like a temporary over-current, momentarily high or low battery voltage. This can happen during normal operation.

3,3 HALL THROTTLE IS OPEN OR SHORTED
-When the throttle is repaired, a restart will clear the fault.

3,4 NON-ZERO THROTTLE ON DIRECTION CHANGE
-Controller will not allow a direction change unless the throttle or speed is at zero. Fault clears when throttle is released.

4,1 REGEN OR START-UP OVER-VOLTAGE
-Motor drive is disabled if an over-voltage is detected at start-up or during regen. The voltage threshold detection level is set during configuration.

4,2 HALL SENSOR ERROR
-Incorrect or loose wiring or a damaged hall sensor.
-Also can be caused by incorrect hall angle configuration (60 degree or 120 degree)

4,3 MOTOR OVER-TEMPERATURE
-Motor temperature has exceeded the configured maximum. The controller will shut down until the motor temperature cools down.

The RED LED flashes once at power on as a confidence check and then normally stays off.

Here’s a better look at the bulkhead and the wiring box, pulled out and resting on the back deck – by far the easiest way to work on it:

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It’s velcroed in place with a few zip-ties you’re going to need to cut.   If you need to remove the controller, the 4 nuts on the back side of the screws are shown here, nicely hidden by the wires:

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If you can undo those nuts and get them out, along with the washers, while the bulkhead is in place?  You’re a better man than I…

OK, here’s a view of all of the wires and connectors:

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We swapped out the motor, and it didn’t solve the problem.  After swapping out the controller and testing the throttle, I found that the new motor wiring had a swapped color in the Hall sensor connector.  Here’s the connector:

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It’s one of only two that come from the motor – the other one being the big power connector.  Now, here’s how the wiring should look:

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Note, the big yellow on the left goes to a little green on the right.  Big green goes to little yellow.  If it looks like that, it should work fine.

Don’t even ask me why.

A couple of observations.  First, the connectors they’re using are really not too, uh, robust.  They’re a far cry from even a small automotive or motorcycle connector, which strikes me as odd considering this thing is going to be subjected to most anything a car or bike will.  If something’s not working, my first hit would be the connectors.  The horn and lights on this ELF were intermittent, and fixed by just bending the pins to the tiny little connectors.

Second, the machine is clearly a work in progress.  Things are changing, including connectors and colors.  I’m not sure if they’re going to set up any sort of customer service contact information or service on their site, but if you bought one or are working for someone who did, you or they know how to contact them.  I’d touch base with them before you dive in, and get the current information.

Finally, the Disclaimer.  I’m just some chump wrenching in my garage trying to help.  I don’t work for Organic Transit, though I do fix these things when I get lucky.  You’re on your own, don’t hold me responsible if you blow something up.  If I can answer any questions, I’d be happy to try…  start by posting them here, in the Comments, so others can see them too.

Update: I just found an ELF wiki, here: http://bfer-velo.wikispaces.com/Organic%20Transit%20ELF

Also, this wiring diagram (click for full-size):

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I’ll update here with more as I (if I) get more hands-on with the things…  but for now, this is a Happy ELF again, and heading home.

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14 responses to “ELF (by Organic Transit) Repairs and Service

  1. Nice, I am sure this will come in handy for me. I ordered one of these.. I would be interested in emailing with the owner to get his/her take on it. I’m looking forward to getting mine.. But It probably will not be delivered for another 2 to 3 months.. they say 12 to 16 weeks.. it’s already been 5. I have book marked this page for future reference. If you would be so kind as to share my info with the owner.. and ask if they would email me so I could ask some questions.. pertaining to things like getting in and out of the vehicle.. how they like the way it drives.. Is it difficult to steer.. those sorts of questions. I’m very excited about getting mine. I plan to use it more to rehab from leg injuries as Recumbent biking was recommended by my Orthopedic Surgeon. And I wanted to be able to use it for shopping locally etc.

  2. Hi, I’ve read your article with great interest. We have the same issue with intermittent lights and horn, can you explain exactly what you mean by “bent the pins”? I’ve messed with the pins a little but I haven’t managed to fix the problem.

    • Sometimes pins will be out of alignment enough to not make the connection. Simply bending the pins to line up with the receiving connection can solve the problem. If in doubt, or if tweaking the pins a bit doesn’t help, I’d suggest using a tester to verify the connection and voltage.

  3. My front wheels are out of true after only 30 miles. How in the heck does on take off the wheel and bearing without prying and pounding for hours?

  4. For the sake of future readers, the wheels don’t have to be removed in order to true them. For the front wheels, put blocks on the other wheels, prop up the frame to lift the wheel to be trued, and true it up. All you need is a spoke wrench and chalk.
    For the rear wheel I use an exercise bike stand to hold the wheel off the ground while truing.
    There are several YouTube videos on truing bicycle wheels.

  5. Thanks everyone for the information. I bought a version 2, 2014 ELF off of Craigslist. I have driven it everywhere, and in below zero weather to buy groceries, etc. I have ridden it on Gateway Trail with partial snow/ice, 6 inches of snow, washboard dirt roads, for about 2 hundred miles so far. Other than the squeaky brakes and one rollover from putting my 120 pound son on the rear deck while riding uphill and turning too fast at the same time, this thing has been 100% flawless. I was able to fix the mirror by drilling a hole above the broken part. The glass didn’t break. It’s full of mud, salt, dust; it looks like something from Road Warrior. I have even taken my 7 year old daughter and her friend through the snow. It comes with two pliable baskets for groceries, so you don’t need bags; just remove them with the food and bring it inside. If they get full, don’t worry about closing the rear coropast(sp?) compartment. Just jam as much as you can in there and close the rear window with the 2 knobs. It won’t go anywhere. Anyway, I haven’t spent a dime on maintenance. Wait. I oiled the chain and put air in the tires. By the way, RainX doesn’t work too well on slightly frosty mornings with the plastic window; it seems to make the frost worse. Just scrape what you can off and drive it.

  6. Anyone have ideas on the headlight, turn signal, horn cable wire colors from the back to the front? I’m installing LEDs on the mirrors and would like to tap in at the steering support rather than at the lights.

    • I discovered that OT followed a consistent color code. The colors match with the turn signal switch’s colors. ELF 166 has a fragile plastic combination turn signal, headlight, and horn switch housing. Inside the switch housing, the turn signal has three wires. Green to the flasher, white to the right turn signal, and blue to the left turn signal.
      Some of the cable’s colors are:
      Black is (-)
      White is right turn signal lamp
      Blue is left turn signal lamp
      ELF 166 now has turn signal LESs on the mirrors!

  7. Hi there. Can anyone tell me the main sizes of the square tubing on the ELF? The tubing that runs either side of the rear wheel, the tubing that runs forward with the bottom bracket mounted to it, and the perpendicular piece that joins them? I’m building my own trike and am interested in what OT consider a suitable strength/size.

  8. I inherited an ELF from my big brother. He let it languish because the rear sprocket on the SRAM I-Motion 3 hub came loose and chewed up the gear shift cable. I’m looking for help on 3 (current) items:

    1. replacement shifter cable. all those that I see online are 1700mm in length. I think the ELF needs more like 2600mm. Is there a ready source for these or do I need to get my bike shop to make one?
    2. replacement battery. big bro can’t find the one he had. nor can he find
    3. charger for the battery pack.

    grateful for any help. thanks.

    • Organic Transit sells the batteries and chargers. They probably have the cable as well.
      There are several companies that offer less expensive options for the battery and charger.
      There is a private Facebook group for ELF owners. You will have to provide proof of ownership to join, but it is a good source of information.

  9. Love the Elf, but I have a problem with the seat support (c-shaped aluminum plate), I’m 180 lbs + or – and the right supporting side has snapped off. Need a replacement, heavier duty if possible. Any suggestions?

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