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Common Tread

MotoKofe: A Ural-powered mobile espresso maker

Oct 26, 2016

Nowadays, most motorcycles function as recreational vehicles, so it is a little unusual to see someone using a motorcycle as a commercial machine. That's one reason Jonathan Stevens' Ural-powered mobile espresso bar gets so much attention.

In the early days of of motorcycling, companies like Harley-Davidson were eager to expand their sales outside of just basic transportation, leading to a variety of interesting vehicles. In 1912, Harley began testing their first commercial model with the U.S. Postal Service in Milwaukee. This new machine was dubbed the “motorcycle truck” and rode on three wheels, two of which straddled a large box mounted on the front of the motorcycle. Power came from Harley’s standard F-head V-twin motor, which was mated to a beefed-up two-speed transmission geared for heavy loads (10:1 ratio low gear and a 5:1 ratio high gear). The carrying capacity for the front-mounted box was 550 pounds, so it could actually haul quite a lot of cargo for a machine that barely put out more than 10 horsepower.

Harley-Davidson motorcycle truck
The Harley-Davidson motorcycle truck was an interesting idea that never really gained much traction with the commercial sector and was only produced for two years. Harley-Davidson photo.

After two years of production, Harley replaced the motorcycle truck with the more practical “package truck,” which was basically just a box mounted on a sidecar frame, which meant it could be used on any of Harley’s models and removed when not in use. This design was much more popular and package trucks were produced until 1957.

No need to ride to the coffee house. MotoKofe comes to you. You can book MotoKofe for your own events in and around Dallas. MotoKofe photo.

A century or so after those first commercial motorcycles, Jonathan Stevens and his friend Shannon Neffendorf were sitting on the porch, drinking beers and dreaming up ideas for the world’s smallest coffee shop. Shannon was already the owner of a brick-and-mortar coffee shop called Oak Cliff Coffee Roasters, but was looking for something a little bit different to invest in. Together, they came to the conclusion that a mobile solution would allow for the smallest possible footprint, and with Jonathan’s background in motorcycling, the method of transporting the cart was obvious. Just like with Harley’s package truck, they planned to build an espresso cart on a sidecar frame.

Have coffee, will travel. Motocollab photo.

Jonathan took his ideas to Don Ross Fabrication in Garland, Texas, and after about a month and half of meetings and negotiations, Don agreed to take a break from building dragsters and set to work creating the espresso cart. The result was a custom sidecar that is six feet long, four feet high and three feet wide (these are the standard pushcart dimensions regulated by most cities' health departments). It weighs in at about 550 pounds fully loaded, which includes everything you need to make 250 espresso drinks. The cart holds 11 gallons of water, has a double basin hot and cold sink, an ARB fridge, a power inverter to run the coffee grinder and a few storage compartments for cups, tools and other supplies.

The mostly manual Bosco Expresso machine relies on leverage and arm strength to make a shot of expresso. MotoKofe photo.

The heart of the cart is a two-lever Bosco espresso machine, which was handmade by a small family-owned Italian company, using designs that have changed little over the past 100 years. The Old World charm of the machine fits right in with the vintage styling of the cart. Relying on manual levers and springs instead of computers and electronics, the Bosco machine not only brings a certain level of artistry to each cup of espresso, but also limits the cart’s dependence on “shore power.”

Getting the cart through the streets to its destination is a 2014 Ural T. At first glance, you might mistake it for a BMW, which only makes sense because the first Urals were based on designs and production techniques that the Russian company acquired from BMW in 1940. There have been a lot of changes since that first BMW clone 75 years ago, but the overall design remains very similar to a vintage BMW and gives the Ural that old-school look that Jonathan wanted for his rig. The Ural T is equipped with a 750 cc OHV opposed-twin engine that puts out a reasonable 41 horsepower. Since the Ural T is designed for sidecar use, it features a four-speed transmission with reverse, which I am sure comes in handy when trying to muscle the rig in and out of tight spots around town. Completing the drivetrain is an enclosed shaft drive which drives the rear wheel of the motorcycle (some Urals have both the rear wheel and sidecar wheel powered). Disc brakes are mounted on all three wheels, providing enough braking power to help compensate for additional weight of the espresso cart.

Side by side with a standard Ural sidecar rig, you start to realize what 550 pounds looks like. The additional headlight in the sidecar provides better nighttime lighting. MotoKofe photo.

The real question is how does it handle? Jonathan admitted he had a lot of sleepless nights during the build wondering if the Ural would be able to haul around 550 pounds of coffee and supplies. To his relief, the rig handles quite well. According to Jonathan, if you are already used to the push-pull riding style of a sidecar-equipped motorcycle, the only real difference is slower acceleration and braking (sounds like most of the old motorcycles I ride). Top speed is around 60 mph and even with all that extra weight the Ural still gets 30 mpg.

The MotoKofe rig is definitely not something you see on your typical street corner, so I asked Jonathan about people’s reactions.

“The word I use most often in describing MotoKofe is whimsy," he says. "Its presence brings delight. When I'm set up on a busy downtown sidewalk during the morning commute I'll see everyone — from grown men in suits to students walking to school — grin when they catch sight of the rig. It brings color to the city landscape normally dominated by concrete. People just want to come up and look at the bike and sidecar, and some at the espresso machine. And some of them buy coffee.”

If you live in the Dallas area, then you should definitely check out Motokofe. During the week, you can find Jonathan set up in the West End district and on the weekends he can be anywhere from farmer’s markets to private events. If you're thinking of following his example, you can purchase a complete MotoKofe rig for $30,000 (including the motorcycle) and start selling coffee in your hometown.

I’m thinking a hot dog cart called Panhead Jim’s Motodogs would be a hit…