The Halcyons from Janus Motorcycles, assembled in an old dry cleaner’s shop in Goshen, Ind., look like machines built back in the town’s heyday.
By Mark Gardiner
Photographs and Video by David Kasnic
GOSHEN, Ind. — Downtown Goshen looks much the same as it did when American-built motorcycles from the likes of Merkel, Thor and Henderson first startled horse traffic.
With a strong Amish presence in this community, throwback motorcycles built locally share more than just the roads with their horses and buggies. Many of the motorcycles’ major components, including frames and bodywork, are manufactured and painted by Amish craftsmen.
The rigid-frame Halcyon models from Janus Motorcycles, assembled in the old dry cleaner’s shop just off Main Street, look like machines built back in the town’s heyday.
Most weekdays, Cameron Gruntman, the official test rider for Janus, takes one or two newly assembled bikes out for a final test ride, before delivery to customers across the country. Visitors here might catch a glimpse of the motorcycles and wonder how far back in time they had traveled.
Janus began as a friendship between Richard Worsham, a moped enthusiast and architecture student at Notre Dame, and Devin Biek, who ran a moped shop in Elkhart, a few miles from the university. One summer, Mr. Worsham chose to work in the moped shop rather than pursue an architecture internship in the depths of post-’08 recession.
“I graduated in 2011,” Mr. Worsham recalled. “I think one person in my class actually got a job in architecture.” Meanwhile, Mr. Biek was building the moped shop into a successful parts and accessories manufacturing business, and looking for his next challenge.
The two decided to start a motorcycle company — in spite of the fact that the state of the American motorcycle market was, if anything, worse than the architecture business. They called it Janus after the two-faced Roman god who looks into the future and the past.
Mr. Worsham drew their first model, nicknamed the Halcyon. It was inspired by board track racers from the early 1900s, and powered by a 50cc moped engine; Mr. Biek hand-built the first one in 2011.
“A lot of people build custom bikes as an end in themselves, and they want them to seem unique,” Mr. Worsham said. “Devin and I always wanted to make something that looked as if it had come from a factory.”
There is a big step between running an idiosyncratic custom shop building mopeds — which, with displacements nominally below 50 cubic centimeters, are almost unregulated — and starting a real, albeit small, motorcycle company.
With the help of a few local investors (who also became mentors), Mr. Worsham and Mr. Biek applied to the Society of Automotive Engineers for an official 17-digit Vehicle Identification Number sequence, and set out to produce motorcycles that complied with Transportation Department and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration regulations.
Getting real meant bringing in a four-stroke motor capable of being certified by the Environmental Protection Agency and — even harder — meeting California Air Resources Board standards. They chose a 229cc pushrod single, based on an old Honda design, that is made in China. (Designing and building their own motor from scratch was not feasible, and no American company makes a suitable one.)
Notwithstanding the Chinese-built motor, the rest of the bike is almost all built within 20 miles of Goshen. Janus has its choice of suppliers for needs as varied as precision machining and water-jet metal cutting, as well as laser welding and powder coating. All those shops are operated by Amish communes.
The Amish arrived in the 19th century. They were originally farmers but prized self-sufficiency, so they served as their own blacksmiths and carriage builders, and became highly proficient. Now, many local communes don’t farm at all and instead focus on small manufacturing and fabrication.
Fast-forward 100 or so years: Americans embraced the R.V., and several big motor-home and travel-trailer builders, based in northern Indiana, began outsourcing component production to those small Amish shops.
“Most of our motorcycle is made by people who don’t use mobile phones or email,” Mr. Worsham said. So he often designs a component using software, then prints the design and delivers it on paper.
Among the Amish, religious restrictions on the use of technology vary by district. The communities in northern Indiana are comparatively liberal. For example, the welding shop where Janus frames are made is not allowed to draw power from the electrical grid, but the local bishops have ruled that it is all right if arc welders, tube-bending machines and lights are powered by a huge diesel generator out behind the shop.
The guys at Janus don’t question Amish values, because those craftsmen are perfect production partners. Many of Janus’s key components are produced affordably and well right nearby. It’s not uncommon for a new batch of frames, fuel tanks or fenders to be delivered by buggy. (Driving a car or truck is still off limits for the Amish. So is riding motorcycles, for that matter.)
Janus currently has nine full-time employees and four part-timers. There is no assembly line; a technician puts a frame on a stand and turns a collection of major components into a motorcycle over a few hours.
Janus expects to sell about 250 motorcycles in 2019, which will result in revenues of just under $2 million. Mr. Worsham and Mr. Biek estimate that their current network of suppliers, and facility, could support a production run of 500 a year.
There are three models. The rigid-frame Halcyon is still the company’s best seller. The Phoenix and the Gryffin evoke ’60s cafe racers and scramblers. Back in those days, even getting a motorcycle to start involved “tickling” a carburetor and giving the motor a healthy kick. But while Janus motorcycles have a kickstarter, they also have push-button start.
Since all three models share the same unintimidating 14-horsepower motor, their performance is similar. However, they are also at least a hundred pounds lighter than most modern road motorcycles. The net effect is that they are fun to ride, even for an experienced motorcyclist.
Most of the 350 bikes that Janus has sold so far have gone to people who own other motorcycles — often several.
One common refrain among buyers is that after riding for years, they are tired of their heavy Harley-Davidson and want something that reminds them of their first bike.
There is no dealer network. Most customers find the company online, although potential buyers are welcome to drop by the workshop. The company also hosts a “discovery day” once a month, when visiting motorcyclists can take a test ride, tour the factory and then have lunch with the founders at a local brewpub.
Buying a Janus is a custom proposition. Base prices start at $6,995; most customers end up spending an additional thousand or so on options including pinstriping, polished fuel tanks and exhausts, LED headlights and smart leather luggage. Customers must put down a $995 deposit. Delivery comes two to three months later.
The nearest thing to a Janus from a major manufacturer is Suzuki’s retro-style TU250X, which sells for less than $5,000. But Janus doesn’t feel that it is competing with Suzuki, or any extant motorcycle company. When asked what companies inspire them, the Janus founders suggest the Morgan Motor Company of Britain, which makes sports cars that have hardly changed since the 1930s.
“For $7,000 you can have a luxury handmade motorcycle if you’re only willing to change your perception of performance,” Mr. Worsham said. “They go 70 miles an hour — how much faster do you want to go on a daily basis?”
Consider the Amish craftsmen who weld the frames and hand-form the aluminum fuel tanks; they drive one-horsepower vehicles. So 70 m.p.h. is more than fast enough around Goshen.