First Ride Review – 2020 Janus Halcyon 250
by Charles Fleming
Photos courtesy Janus Motorcycles
I first encountered a Janus motorcycle several years back during Monterey Car Week, when a Halcyon 250 sputtered down the street in front of me. I wondered, as people do when they first see a Janus bike, “What the hell is that?” It was too clean to be a vintage bike, but too weird to be a production bike. After a chat with its owner, I was determined to learn more. Somehow it was several years before I got to throw a leg over a Halcyon – in September, in Malibu, when company co-founder Richard Worsham was touring the west coast with a couple of bikes in the Janus van.
Made in Goshen, Indiana, largely by hand and almost entirely by the small Janus team, the Halcyon, Gryffin, and Phoenix motorcycles are all powered by an air-cooled 229cc four-stroke engine built in China. Some other parts come from abroad (the lighting system, front shocks, carburetor, and brake calipers) and some are domestic (wheels, tires, gauges, cables, and air filter). But everything else is built in a former brewery building in downtown Goshen.
Hand-crafted there are the frame, swing arm, fenders, forks, handlebars, exhaust pipe, axles, gas caps, and the hand-painted gas tanks that, as much as anything else, create the Janus signature look – part board tracker, part flat tracker, and 100% American.
Worsham’s accounting of the Janus origin story begins with scooters. The gleeful, slightly goofy Virginian – who stands 6’6” tall, wears his hair long and favors mutton chops — said that his mother had a Vespa, which inspired him as a teenager to buy a moped. He joined the local moped club, met the characters who would later become his moped “family,” and began customizing.
“I got the bug, real bad,” he said. Soon after, he left behind his architecture studies at Notre Dame and an undergraduate degree from Thomas More College in New Hampshire for the idea of fabricating a scooter, from scratch, with friends in Goshen.
“Good old Mom,” Worsham said, and his wife’s earnings as a waitress, supported the nascent company. After three years, the start-up had sold 43 of the 50cc machines. But it became clear in time that the moped idea wasn’t sustainable. The company started over, doing a café racer, still powered by a 50cc engine, in the form that later became known as the Halcyon. After a series of false starts, missteps, new investors and new partners, the modern Janus was born as a 250cc model and the factory began turning out its current line-up.
In 2018, Janus sold 160 bikes – about 75% of them the Halcyon board tracker model. In 2019, the total was over 200, with the Gryffin scrambler model catching up, and the Phoenix café machine slowly gaining ground. The ideal production number, Worsham said, is 250. At that point, the company is sustainable, and perhaps even profitable.
Worsham, whose co-founder is Devin Biek and whose partners include seven full-time technicians, sales people, marketing gurus and customer service reps, came to Malibu in a Janus van carrying one Halcyon and one Gryffin. We set out from the site of the bimonthly Malibu Cars and Coffee with The Rock Store as our intended destination. The three models share the same engine, front suspension, frame and other characteristics. They vary in seat height, from a low 30” on the Halcyon to a taller 33” on the Gryffin.
It took a minute to become accustomed to the Halcyon. The 229cc engine feels no bigger than 229ccs. The springer-style front suspension felt stiff, and the rear suspension – there is no rear suspension, only the springs on the hand-crafted leather bicycle seat.
In time, though, I accustomed myself to the Halcyon’s characteristics, and began to have fun. Stripped down and simple, it reminded me of my earliest days of motorcycling, when my entire world was about a 50cc Suzuki street bike, cast off by my father and all mine to customize. Soon I was working the small engine through the five-speed transmission and making the most of the Halcyon’s 14 horsepower.
In a bit, somewhere off Kanan Dume Road, we switched, and I got some time on the Gryffin. More appealing to me stylistically than the Halcyon – I am a sucker for flat trackers – it was also less comfortable. The rear shocks did less to absorb the wrinkles in the road than the Halcyon’s bicycle seat springs. But because of some experimental tuning – Worsham explained that this unit was actually a prototype – the Gryffin felt more powerful, and I liked the ergonomics better.
At The Rock Store, both bikes proved crowd-creators. Riders got off their Ducatis, Harleys and Triumphs and came gawking, most asking what it was, where it was from, and in what year it was built. Most seemed surprised to learn it was American, from Indiana, and was brand new. Some were impressed to know the Janus bikes are all priced from $6,995.
Yes, Worsham said, you can ride two up. Yes, we ship to California. Yes, you can get custom colors. Yes, they are all EPA compliant. Yes, you can order highway bars, a windshield, saddle bags and wider seats as Janus-branded accessories. No, you can’t buy one in Canada, although that’s likely to change soon – with sales in Australia, hopefully, to follow soon.
Most of Janus customers find the company through social media, and some encounter their first Halcyon or Gryffin at the company’s Discovery Days, which have become an annual pilgrimage for early adopters, who travel hundreds of miles, in some cases, to drink beer, tour the factory, take a test ride and talk bikes with their fellow Janus owners. Curious newcomers join them, paying $25 for a full day of the Janus experience.
The owners fall into two categories, Worsham said. The first are hardcore veterans, many of them Harley-Davidson folks, “who’ve been riding 30 years and want something unique that’s easy to get in and out of the garage.” The second class are “people who never thought about riding in their lives until they saw one of our bikes and got excited about the styling, and the story.”
On the return trip, once I’d re-calibrated my expectations and gotten used to the small engine, vibrating bars and stiff suspension, I understood the appeal of the brand better. The Janus bikes do harken back to a simpler motorcycle era, when the experience was more about man and machine, and about when it was personal, when hand-crafted artistry held sway over electronic intervention, rider aids and pure power.
“One spark plug, one carburetor, two valve adjustments, and a quick oil change process,” the Janus website says. “Operation is straightforward.”
In the end, I also felt there was something charmingly and almost cliché Midwestern about the Janus and its makers. Open. Simple. Honest. Dependable. American.
“We’ve tried to make beautiful motorcycles that are easy to own and a joy to ride,” Worsham said.
Check out the 2020 Janus Halcyon 250! Check out the 2020 Janus Gryffin 250!
For more on Janus motorcycles, head on over to their site or check out this video!