A version of this article originally appeared in the Craftsmanship issue of Gear Patrol Magazine with the headline “Wayback Machines.” Subscribe today
Janus Motorcycles grew out of a moped gang. Founders Devin Biek and Richard Worsham were both riders of the small, oft-maligned two-wheelers when they met in 2017 in Elkhart, Indiana. Together, they began building custom mopeds, but the desire for something more kept tugging at them.
“Everyone wanted us to take a moped and turn it into a tiny motorcycle,” Biek says.
When the Great Recession crippled the market for fancy mopeds, the duo relocated down the road to Goshen (population: 33,000) where they found success designing exhaust pipes that unlocked extra sound and power from the engine- and pedal-powered machines. That led them to craftsmen within the local Amish community, who could build the parts more efficiently than they could themselves.
This, in turn, gave them the manufacturing base to push into building their own motorcycles, starting with a run of 43 50cc bikes. Today, the company makes three separate models — a scrambler, an early 1900s Gran Prix-style bike and a classic motorcycle reminiscent of a Brough Superior — all powered by the same 229cc single-cylinder motor.
The Halcyon 250, seen on one of the roads used to test almost every Janus.
Richard’s background in architecture is clear in the clean, straightforward lines and minimalist forms that define Janus designs. While the bikes may seem retro, that’s due more to convergent evolution than homage: just like motorcycles of nearly a century ago, Janus’s models only recently matured from simple pedal-powered machines. That design not only makes them light (the best-selling Halcyon weighs in at 263 pounds), but easy to maintain.
“Everyone wanted us to take a moped and turn it into a tiny motorcycle.”
Unlike giants like Harley-Davidson or Indian, Janus lacks the resources to go big, with a design “just as influenced by our manufacturing limitations” as anything else, according to marketing head Grant Longenbaugh. The company’s small-town headquarters, a former drive-thru laundromat, is roughly the size of a one-story house, and the shops that make its various components are not much larger.
Janus’s headquarters is compact, but shockingly tidy in spite of everything that happens there.
Janus found most of its suppliers the old-fashioned way: word of mouth. One recommended another, who recommended another, until they’d assembled a team capable, together, of producing a bike. As a result, the vendors are all located within roughly 20 miles of the factory, in the heart of Indiana’s Amish country. While some also crank out matériel at impressive scale — the welding and laser cutting shop also slices out parts for pontoon boats and buses — they’re generally small family concerns; some are as small as a single worker. Many have been building out their own operations specifically for Janus.
One of the Amish machine shops. We can’t show the business’s sign out of respect for the family’s privacy.
The Amish guard their privacy religiously; they won’t be named in print, and they won’t be photographed—not their faces, at least (hands are fair game). Those hands stay busy, too: one family uses a generator, located beside the chicken coop in an oversized garage, to churn out the aluminum and steel pieces that will puzzle together into the bike’s skeleton. (Church law forbids a connection to the power grid.) Another cuts the leather for the saddles, by hand, in a one-room shop heated by a wood stove. Yet another machines fine parts on decades-old analog equipment, the acrid sting of burning metal mixing with the sweet smell of grass drifting in from the lawn beside the cornfield just outside the open door.
One of the Amish craftsmen at work.
The finished pieces are brought to the shop, where they’re stacked alongside similar components in a tiny room the team calls “the supermarket.” Here, the small assembly team — the entire Janus workforce is just 11 strong — turns 150 to 200 parts into a single, cohesive machine.
Not everything is Hoosier-sourced. Due to federal regulations around motor vehicle parts, a few pieces—electronics, wheels, the engine—can’t be made locally, or at least not affordably. The motor, a 229cc single-cylinder that can trace its roots back to a Honda motor half its size from the Seventies, comes from a no-name supplier in China; it’s a simple, durable power plant designed for developing markets where its 14 horsepower is more than sufficient.
Painter Kelly Borden applies pinstripes to a fender.
Painting the details onto the aluminum and steel of each bike falls to Kelly Borden, the tattooed artist who must balance speed and precision when applying the fast-drying pinstripe paint.
Final assembly is done by Ryan Roberts and Kevin Hathaway on a simple stand in the middle of the shop floor. The facility, rich with gun-store odors of wood, metal and oil, is spotless, a testament to twice-weekly afternoon cleaning sessions.
Once assembled, each bike is taken for a quick spin along the local country lanes (except in winter, when a dry run through the speeds in the shop suffices) before the machine is handed off to its new owner. And there are more new owners than ever. Last year, the company sold 160 motorcycles; by the middle of July 2019, Janus had already moved 94 bikes out the door.
The finished product.
The Janus Halcyon 250 classic motorcycle seen here is the company’s best-selling model, accounting for over 80 percent of orders since the company started building the larger-engined bikes. All three motorcycles start at the same $6,995 price, but the options list runs long. Longenbaugh says most buyers wind up adding $800 with amenities like LED headlights, pillion seats or polished exhausts.
“We’ve had so many people help us along the way.”
There’s no dealership network—“our YouTube channel is our dealership,” Longenbaugh says, only half-joking—so buyers either have their motorcycles shipped to them or come to Indiana to pick up their rides in person. When the bikes require maintenance, Janus refers riders to trusted mechanics in their area. The small community of owners also takes care of one another; there’s a private Facebook group for Janus buyers, and for the last two years the company has held an annual rally for owners in Goshen.
Dawn in Indiana is its own kind of beautiful.
According to Biek, the company has considered venture capital to help them grow, but has so far largely avoided it; VCs are hungry for short-term returns more than sustained growth, he says, and they have no intention of flipping Janus for a big payday. Instead, the company has leaned on local connections; besides Amish builders, Janus counts a homegrown ally in the form of an ex-Honeywell engineer who helped design the fuel-intake system, leaning on his prior experience working on the afterburners for the supersonic SR-71 Blackbird aircraft. “We’ve had so many people help us along the way,” Biek says.
Janus will be profitable at the 250-bikes-per-year mark, according to Biek; at double that sales pace, the company might expand beyond motorcycles.
“Rich and I want to do cars,” Biek says. “We want to do three-wheeled vehicles.”
A tall order, sure. But considering how far they’ve come in the last decade, don’t be surprised if, in another 10 years, you pass a striking and elegantly simple Janus automobile on a road somewhere far from The Maple City of Goshen, Indiana.
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