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Apr 27, 2010 7:36 PMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Green commuter hopes to inspire other South Fork residents

Apr 27, 2010 7:36 PM

SOUTHAMPTON—As Larry Lillie drives into an empty parking lot near his house on Majors Path, a child and parent playing at a nearby playground stop and stare.

“This is what happens all the time,” he said from inside his curious-looking vehicle, his feet perched on metal crossbars and knees nearing his chest in the small compartment.

It’s not quite a car that Mr. Lillie drives and not quite a motorcycle, though technically that is how it is registered with the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, and that’s the license Mr. Lillie needed to be able to drive it on the open road. It looks more like a small spaceship that never took flight and instead grew wheels, or a side car that’s missing its bike.

It’s a Twike, a zero-emission, pedal-electric vehicle made in Germany and one of only a few in the United States. Only 
1,200 have been produced, Mr. Lillie said, and his Twike is the only one he knows of in the tri-state area.

The Twike is a completely enclosed, three-wheel vehicle that is powered by an electric motor but also has two sets of pedals, for both driver and passenger. It’s charged by plugging it into a 220-volt outlet. The vehicle also charges itself when the driver hits the brakes. It’s steered by a joystick in the center console of the car with two buttons positioned for the driver’s pointer and index fingers, one to accelerate and one to brake. The Twike battery, Mr. Lillie said, is powerful enough for fast acceleration and hill climbing.

Still, a new Twike is not cheap. The vehicles cost about $35,000, plus the cost of importing them from Germany, according to www.twike.us. That’s more than twice the cost of a Smart Car. Mr. Lillie bought his secondhand from a woman in San Diego.

Mr. Lillie drives his Twike, which is both green in color and in terms of its environmental impact, from his home in Southampton to his irrigation business in East Hampton almost daily. He said his Twike can drive up to 50 miles before it needs a charge and has a maximum speed of 55 miles per hour. The 2010 models, he said, have an increased range of about 100 miles on a charged battery.

“It would be great for a place like Southampton or Sag Harbor or East Hampton,” he said, because many residents commute short distances between East End towns.

Mr. Lillie grew up on a farm in southern California and said he has been driving tractors and the like since he was about 7 years old. He has always been environmentally conscious, he said, with a focus on green transportation. He bought the first generation Prius in 2001, a second-generation Prius in 2004 and a hybrid Toyota Highlander in 2006.

Before he found the Twike, which he discovered through online research, he was driving a pedal surrey that he fitted with a hub motor and a lithium iron phosphate battery. He called it “the Behemoth” and also used it commute back and forth between Southampton and East Hampton until winter encroached on his plans, and Mr. Lillie started searching for an enclosed vehicle.

Mr. Lillie said his Twike attracts attention everywhere he goes, and has even been pulled over by a Southampton Town police officer once, who “just wanted to take a look.” But that’s nothing new; as an early owner of a Prius, Mr. Lillie said he learned the power of the intrigue when he found he was inspiring others to consider buying a Prius. Now, he said, he hopes he can do the same with the Twike.

Mr. Lillie started the website www.twikerider.com to give people more information about his own car and his story, and had at one time hoped to start a showroom of zero-emission vehicles locally. But he’s downsized his plans, he said, and now just hopes he can educate people on zero-emission vehicles and said he is willing to help anyone interested through the process of ordering and importing a Twike.

Mr. Lillie said he’s not an “ideas man” and so sees his own role in the sustainability front as a simple one.

“I’ve just always tried to do the world right, I guess,” he said.

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Very cool. I have seen this vehicle around town and I think it is an excellent alternative to driving locally
By dagdavid (646), southampton on Apr 28, 10 1:37 PM
2 members liked this comment
great attention getter doesn't hold much for repairing irrigation systems though.
By asurest (117), easthampton on May 1, 10 7:58 AM
I commend him on standing up for his beliefs, but that is not a safe motor vehicle, especially with the seasonal traffic beginning to build up.
By reality 101 (137), East Hampton on May 3, 10 6:10 PM
Larry for President
By youknowme (1), East Hampton on May 17, 10 9:21 PM