Far from the Sons of Anarchy clichés, motorcycling in the UAE is mostly a somewhat more civil pursuit, chiefly revolving around leisure excursions on weekends, with a few riding clubs thrown in for good measure. It is more easy-does-it than Easy Rider. But one person who misses the rough-around-the-edges thrill of the scene is German expat Marco Möller, the man behind new bike-centric cafe and workshop Möto, which opens soon in Al Quoz, Dubai. He walks it as he talks it, too: 13 years deep into living in the UAE, he no longer owns a car and his daily driver is of the two-wheeled variety – a customised 2007 Triumph Bonneville.
Tucked away in a little side street across the road from the Courtyard Playhouse theatre, Möto’s warehouse space has been transformed into a double-headed enterprise. There is a two-floor coffee shop/cafe at the front, with a small stage for live rock bands, and a fully functioning bike workshop at the back, the latter housed in a repurposed shipping container replete with large windows to allow visitors to see the oil-under-the-fingernails toil beyond the barista element. The vibe in the cafe is pleasingly unpretentious and unrepentantly not glossy, with bare brickwork and lots of natural wood finishes.
“It’s all about the workshop,” explains Möller, who grew up in pre-reunification East Germany. “It’s all about making things by hand; making things in-house. But also it’s a community thing. You want to create a place where people can meet. We have our own coffee. We’re building a brand and we have a lot of things we’ll put our stamp on.
“Speciality coffee came to Dubai and it’s something really amazing. But now I cannot ask you: “Let’s grab a coffee and talk business” – it’s like I’m asking you for a date. We go to a coffee shop and you and I are going to sit there and have a coffee with a flower and a heart on it. We want to have the best-quality coffee with no drama. But it’s not just a masculine hangout for guys, it’s also for women who don’t like that bull anymore.”
While acknowledging forerunners such as Café Rider and Bikers Café, Möller is also aiming to create something, in his words, more “authentic”. He has hand-crafted furniture for the cafe and spent every day for the past 18 months putting Möto together with his own hands.
His personal relationship with riding has been an interesting journey, having temporarily drifted away from the scene. He came to Abu Dhabi, then subsequently moved to Dubai, to work in the kitchens industry. That was until the fuel was put back in his tank, so to speak, by an almost-tragic turn of events.
“My dad never had the money to buy me a bike, so I didn’t own one when I was a kid,” he recalls. “But I had my licence, so I used to hang out with friends who had bikes. I was a teenager. When I was I think 14, I had a moped licence, then when you were 16 in Germany back in the day, you were allowed to ride motorcycles.
“Then I didn’t ride for 20 years. I had a boat accident and I was nearly done. I bought this bike from my boss – he gave it to me more or less to give me something to work on, to recover. That’s how it started. I got into test riding it, then you meet people, you ride with them, then you ride every weekend, and now I’m riding every day.”
The “this bike” in question also brought Möller to prominence in the world of bike customisation. His Indian-themed “Hind Ki Rani” Royal Enfield, which takes pride of place atop the shipping container, is indicative of how bikes are used almost as installations around Möto. When I visit, a fully restored 1972 Honda CB350, a rebuilt 1978 Yamaha XS650 and a customised 2015 Royal Enfield Bullet that won the first Bikers Cafe' build-off competition in 2015 are dotted around the space, but expect a revolving cast of two-wheeled eye candy.
“I’m all into cosmetics,” he explains. “Giving the bike a certain unique look. The appearance. So far, we are lucky and we have people who are passionate about their own motorcycles. It’s not about cutting a fender or a seat. We have customers who want something amazing, something special. Customers who can afford it and who have the time to actually wait for it.”
And for anybody wondering about the umlaut on Möto, there is a simple explanation – and it is nothing to do with famed bikers’ favourites Motörhead.
“No, no. Motörhead has it on the second ‘o’,” he laughs. “My second name is Möller; Möto stands for motorcycle; and my nickname [in Germany] used to be Mö, with the dots, although when I came here, everybody was Mo, so I dropped it.
“But there is a connection. I grew up as a heavy-metal kid and I have some AC/DC kind of writing for Möto. The thing is everybody calls it ‘mow-toe’ but it’s actually pronounced ‘mur-toe’.”
However you say it, Möto promises to be a welcome addition for bike enthusiasts and those looking to avoid the airbrushed shiny side of UAE life.
“I’m not doing this to be like: ‘I’m in Dubai now, I want to be a millionaire’,” Möller laughs. “It’s going to be a place hopefully that’s real and brings real people in and connects them.”