"Are you going to sell things from that?" asked Ross Foti, staring at an orange and green cargo bike outfitted to be a mobile version of the bricks-and-mortar Wash Perk coffee shop.
Urban-transportation experts say the cargo-bike business is the next wave in the food-truck movement.
The Wash Perk cargo bike, which holds about 100 cups of coffee, was hand-built by Metrofiets in Portland, Ore., a city of cycle enthusiasts that helped launch the burgeoning trend.
Relatively new in the U.S. and particularly popular in the Pacific Northwest, the cargo bike originated in Holland.
Co-owner Teri Meehan, loading zucchini bread and cookies onto the shelves of her bike's pastry case, said the human-powered coffeehouse fits with Denver's drive to promote utilitarian bicycling.
"Really trippy!" said Foti, staring at the whimsical contraption. "I love cool, new ideas. I've got goose bumps."
Andy Duvall, a self-proclaimed "bike nut" who is writing his dissertation at the University of Colorado on the public-health impact of Denver's bike-sharing program, first suggested a Metrofiets to Meehan.
Duvall has a cargo bike he uses to tote his daughter to and from kindergarten, along with other errands. "It reduces the number of miles I drive my car. I can carry my daughter, my wife and six bags of groceries."
Metrofiets cargo bikes, which range from $4,000 to $20,000, are particularly popular with small, local companies that focus on sustainability. In two years, Metrofiets' sales have more than tripled. In 2009, the company made about 30 bikes. This year, they're on track to ship 100.
"Businesses are really coming out the woodwork," said company co-founder Phillip Ross.
The website Cargobike Cult documents the long bike's use for everything from mobile bike-service shops and gourmet-soup kitchens to the delivery of farm produce to Community Supported Agriculture customers.
It was Hopworks Urban Brewery's "pub bike," however, that really put the trend on the map. It sports two kegs under an inlaid wood bar, with a rack to hold pizzas.
"That bike became iconic in Portland," said Duvall, who is vice chair of the Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Committee.
So when Meehan started brainstorming with Duvall, a Wash Perk customer, about how to raise awareness of her coffeehouse around the neighborhood, Metrofiets came to mind. "If they can do it with beer," he said, "they could do it with coffee."
Meehan and her partner, Debbi Main, liked the idea of enhancing the sustainability and community elements of their brand.
In the few days the bike has been in town, Meehan said she was struck by two key things.
First, there's a learning curve. It wasn't just getting used to the bike's length: 6 feet from seat to front wheel. To debut it on St. Patrick's Day, Meehan struggled to pump the bike, loaded with about 250 pounds of gear, over 14 miles. "It was so hard," she said.
Secondly, there was the confusion at city offices over what sort of permit she needed. "It's not a truck, because it doesn't have an engine. No peddler's license either, because I don't carry it on my back. It's not a pushcart."
Because her top goal was to often ride to Wash Park to promote her coffee shop, she called Denver Parks and Recreation, which suggested she get a business license for the bike.
Duvall is bullish on the future of this urban transport. "They're much more maneuverable and can go many places where pedestrians can go and cars can't. They open new doors, at least for commerce."
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)