A 250 Dream: Janus Motorcycles

MotorcycleUSA Staff | April 7, 2015

Janus Motorcycles, based in Goshen, Indiana, isn’t reinventing the wheel, but it is doing some really interesting things as it readies to release its first 250cc motorcycles, the Halcyon and Phoenix. First off, Janus’ two new bikes were basically designed from scratch and each is hand-made. Janus also endeavors to source as many parts as possible from local vendors. The styling cues honor machines of the past, but they’re not “retro” in the sense of recreating something that’s already existed; these are wholly new machines.

Both share the same 229cc engine, sourced from Chinese OEM Lifan. While Devin Biek and Richard Worsham, founders of Janus, are at heart devotees of 2-stroke machines and are committed to sourcing as many parts from within the United States as possible, a number of factors led them to import the mill for the Halcyon and Phoenix. First was passing the stringent requirements of EPA and CARB emissions standards. Next was the consideration of cost, the availability (or lack thereof) of a mill made stateside that would fit their needs and the ultimate reliability of the engine. Making a production 2-stroke passable (especially in California) was nearly impossible, so to simplify things the friends decided to go with a 4-stroke. Since the mill in question has already passed EPA and CARB requirements, much of the emissions headache was gone. And as for reliability, Worsham explains that:

“It’s actually a phenomenally good motor. Not only the performance of it but the finish and hardware are nice as well. It has to not only survive the 18,000 duration miles they put it through but it also has to do so within the emissions regulations that they stipulate. They’re workhorses that are kind of designed to run forever without an oil change.”

Richard Worsham and Devin Biek  founders of Janus Motorcycles  working on the Phoenix.
Creating a leading-link front suspension allowed Janus to build much of the Phoenixs front-end locally.
(Above) Richard Worsham and Devin Biek, founders of Janus Motorcycles, working on the Phoenix. (Below) Creating a leading-link front suspension allowed Janus to build much of the Phoenix’s front-end locally.

Of course, it’s no high-performance engine, and top-speed is estimated at 70 mph. Power tops out at 14 horses at 7000 rpm and peak torque is about 11.6 lb-ft at 5500 rpm. But with the Halcyon listing a claimed 250-pound curb weight and the Phoenix a 265-pound curb weight, there’s still plenty of oomph to have some fun just about anywhere other than the freeway.

Now, terms like fun are obviously subjective, but the kind of fun Janus is hoping to provide its customers has to do with the unique experience its motorcycles provide. It’s not the thrill of passing the ton in second-gear, but about having the chance to exploit the full potential of the machine during that backroad weekend ride.

“These little bikes you can redline, you can corner fast,” explains Worsham. “They’re fun and approachable.”

This philosophy, of finding fun in low-displacements, is nothing new for Biek and Worsham. They’ve been friends for years and in 2003 Biek opened his first shop in Indiana, doing repair work on Vespas and vintage mopeds. Success there allowed him to buy up inventory from other shops and begin to tinker with the idea of customization work. Worsham came on and they started doing custom builds and restoration projects out of 70’s-era mopeds and ended up selling some of their work to some high-profile clients across the country. A few years of this led the two to imagine building their own machine and in 2010, they created a 2-stroke 50cc moped. Simultaneously, they started fabricating performance parts for vintage 2-strokes, things like clutch upgrades, intakes, expansion chambers and exhaust systems. Continued success allowed Biek and Worsham to conceive what would become the Halcyon the next year.

“Starting mid-2011 we came up with a design and started prototyping and at the end of 2011 we started Janus,” says Worsham. “We got some seed money and then basically just went right into production, got VIN numbers and the EPA thing all worked out. We’ve been building our first bike, a hard tail kind of vintage 20ish looking bike, for about two and a half, three years now. Our goal was always to add to that a full suspension bike, which is the Phoenix. More like a café racer, a 60s and 70s-era inspired bike.”

With their 2-stroke moped, Biek and Worsham sourced most of the components, the biggies like the frame, fuel tank, fenders, within 20 miles of the shop. The list of locally built components grew when they made the jump to 250s.

“With the 250 we brought even more stuff in,” continues Worsham. “Like the front suspension, we were importing from Italy and it just didn’t really do what we wanted it to do. Unless we were going to be able to invest in a higher-grade suspension, which we couldn’t get a good price on with such small production numbers, we weren’t able to find something we wanted. I love vintage bikes, so I was looking at BMWs from the 50s and we thought ‘why not do a leading link front suspension?’ We can build that ourselves and then slap shock absorbers on it.”

Another interesting find had to do with the wiring set-up. Previously, they were making wiring harnesses in the shop, but it was time-consuming work. So they approached a wiring factory up the street and it now has the contract for this item. Just a little further up the road is another factory that makes the actual wire that goes into the system.

When the raw components are complete, Janus then sends them out to more local providers for finishing, things like powder coating and polishing, before setting up a modest assembly line at the main shop to bring the bikes to life.

The frames are made from DOM tubular steel and the design takes its cues from the Norton Featherbed. The 36-spoke alloy wheels feature CNC machined aluminum hubs and front and rear disc brakes are gripped by dual piston calipers. Both are electric and kick start and come with wet, multi-place clutches and five-speed transmissions. There’s not a whole lot to the machines and Worsham estimates that a completely unassembled bike can be built to order in about three hours.

Janus is sticking with a direct-to-consumer business model for the immediate future. It’s been effective in the past, with its mopeds and performance parts, and has allowed the business to develop close relationships with its customers. This allows the company to make each vehicle unique, built to the requirements of the rider. The new 250s will be no different and there are a lot of customization options for the Halcyon and Phoenix, from different colors, lighting upgrades, saddlebag kits, rear-sets, handlebars, fuel tanks and more. Worsham even hinted that if a customer were to be so inclined, he or she could hop on the phone to outline more changes and that Janus would do its best to accommodate.

Because of its small size, Janus is able to envision this type of business/customer relationship continuing on into foreseeable future. Its first run is set at 25 vehicles, and Janus hopes to get those out starting July 2015. Aspirations are high, however, Worsham explaining that Janus is shooting for production numbers in the five to six-hundred range within the next four years.

Developing a customer base will be crucial for this kind of expansion to happen. Janus already has a modest, but devoted, following from its moped work and many of the pre-orders on file for the first-edition Phoenix and Halcyon are from the folks that already have a relationship with the shop.

And what does this customer base look like? According to Worsham, it’s not generally the hardcore motorcycle enthusiast. The approachability of the bikes has, instead, attracted lots of new riders, younger riders and people that have never imagined themselves on two wheels. The price point is also appealing to this sect, with the starting price of the Phoenix listed at $8200, the Halcyon at $7800.

Janus gets its name from the Roman god Janus, who signified many things, but one of the most important was his association with beginnings. The Phoenix and Halcyon are the start of a new chapter for Janus Motorcycles, machines that have the potential to inspire younger and newer riders to a life on two wheels, tools which will allow for those riders to take new paths and experience new journeys.

We’ve included some YouTube videos from Janus Motorcycles below charting the progress of the development of the Phoenix prototype.

(Find more videos on the Janus Motorcycles YouTube page.)