A cue from history, a view to the future
Richard Worsham had a childhood dream. He drew pictures of it in notebooks, in the margins of worksheets at school, in drawing pads while in his room late at night. The dream wouldn’t let him go. It was always there, sometimes lurking in the background as he grew up, other times rising to the forefront of his imagination again to fill note pads as drawings and doodlings.
Richard dreamed of building and selling motorcycles.
Richard Worsham is the founder and CEO of Janus Motorcycles, a small bike building outfit in the northern Indiana town of Goshen. Founded in 2011, Richard and company build one-off bespoke single thumper motorcycles that look a century old, but sport modern components. The motorbikes have a design and vibe that hearkens back to an earlier time not only in motorcycling, but also in America. Reminiscent of motorcycles from the 1920s-30s (think Brough Superior, early Indians, etc.), Janus Motorcycles garner attention everywhere they are ridden. And being HQed in Goshen, a region rich in good old American manufacturing yet with a classic small town spirit, Janus Moto is successfully marrying the best of the new with the tried and true.
And Richard is realizing his childhood dream.
Welcome to Janus Motorcycles HQ, in the heart of Goshen, IN.
Janus operates with a unique model of direct communication and collaboration with their customers, whom they prefer to refer to as “Janus Family”. Folks go online to the Janus site, choose and build their bike in the configurator, then place their order. When their bike is finished, buyers either go pick it up to much fanfare at the facility, or the bike can be shipped to them, anywhere in the lower 48. With a model base of three bikes- the Halcyon 250 and 450, and the Gryffin 250 Scambler- buyers choose the model online, pick their color, graphics style, even the pinstriping, add the accessories they prefer, and place their order with a deposit.
“We want to not only build great motorcycles, we want to build great community with our Janus Family,” Richard quipped. As our man Ted has said before, “It’s all about relationships.” With Janus, indeed it is.
The Halcyon 450 I built and downloaded in the Janus configurator.
Originally from Virginia, Richard came to Indiana to study literature and history at nearby Notre Dame U, so when he and a friend named Devin decided to create a motorcycle company, Richard found inspiration from ancient Roman literature for the name. In Roman mythology, Janus was the god of old-new transitions, new beginnings and even the god of road traveling. Richard had bought a small scooter while in college, and fell in love with riding and wrenching on it. He and Devin decided to build little 50cc motorbikes in the back of an old dry cleaning building in Goshen, and chose the name of the Roman god with the two faces- looking back and looking forward, and apparently down the road, the god Janus. Seemed fitting.
The three models currently in the Janus lineup- Halcyon 450, Halcyon 250, and Gryffin 250.
In keeping with their love of ancient Roman literary mythology, Janus models have all been named after famous mythological birds- Phoenix (no longer in production), Gryffin, and Halcyon. And with their design inspirations drawn from early 20th century motorcycles so clearly evident, I can imagine bikes built a hundred years ago with classic names like these. So they are building motorcycles that look 100 years old, and they build them with a 100 year old model as well- one hand crafted part at a time, one bike at a time, with passion and precision.
From childhood drawings to hand-built motorcycles, Richard and his team are living the dream.
The very first motorcycle Richard and friend built, now hanging in the front lobby. The place I stayed, Inn on South Fifth, down the street.
I had the opportunity to spend three days with Richard, GM Grant Longenbaugh, and their dedicated team, touring their fabricating and assembly facilities in Goshen, and riding several of their motorcycles around town and out in Amish farm country. This is an absolutely beautiful town, in a beautiful part of the Great Lakes region. Life is slower here, people are friendly, and the pace of life is moderated by a “take time to smell the roses” attitude. Janus Motorcycles reflects their hometown vibe. “We like to describe the purpose of our bikes, and the way we love to ride them, as ‘rambling’. You hop on the bike, fire it up, point it in some random direction, and just go for a ride. It’s not about the tech, not about the specs, not about the performance. Riding a Janus is about the experience, the pure enjoyment of riding, and the visceral connection to the machine.”
These bikes aren’t fast, they vibrate, they shift a bit clunky, the carbed 250s can be fickle when cold, their exhausts are noisy, but they are so nostalgic and fun to just ride. I took off in the morning with Richard on one of their Halcyon 250 bikes while he rode a 450, later swapping. We lit out of town, and in minutes were in the rolling countryside of the Amish and Mennonites, passing horse-drawn buggies, throttling by furrowed farmland, and past miles of horse and cow pastures. The ride was like time travel, especially on these little vintage-looking and feeling motorbikes.
It’s a different world outside of town.
In 1903, George Wyman left San Francisco and rode across the country to New York City on a 200cc, 1.4 hp California Motorcycles bike, officially the first person to cross the continent on a motorized vehicle. He made a stop in Goshen, and a plaque adorns the corner of the main Janus building commemorating his trip stop in town. Motoring through the open, old lands outside town with Richard, then later on my own, I could almost feel the history, feel George’s spirit, riding roads he once traversed through here so long ago, then unpaved. The 2023 Janus Halcyon 250 is only marginally larger than George’s bike, and the weight of connection to history was palpable for me. I breathed deeply and putted along, taking my time, enjoying the ride, the sights, sounds and smells, and the legacy Janus is conveying. Rambling.
Richard in fact retraced Wyman’s route back in 2018, riding his personal Janus Halcyon 250 from San Fran to NYC as well. It obviously didn’t take Richard the 50 days it took George to complete it, with modern roads and a more reliable machine, but it was a monumental achievement for Richard personally, and for Janus Moto. He’s working on sharing that journey with us at Road Dirt, in a series of stories from his travels. More on that soon.
A legend passed this way.
I got to sample all three models in the Janus lineup, starting with the Halcyon 250. Being a carbureted machine, the 250 is a bit cold-natured, needing some choke until fully warmed up. Once heated up and the choke off, the 250 mill howls as you wind up the revs between shifts, with enough “giddy-up” and accompanying exhaust bark to force smiles. It’s not a 2-stroke, but acts like one, wanting to be throttled high in each gear. I was more than willing to oblige. “These 250s are my favorites,” quipped Richard at a stop, “as they are just so fun to run up hard through the gears. And their single cylinder engines are hard to break yet easy to work on, they just hold a special place in my heart.”
Like Ted also once said, it’s often more fun to ride a slow bike fast, than a fast bike slow.
Chasing Richard over hill and dale. He’s on a Halcyon 250, while I was riding a Halcyon 450.
The Halcyon 250 is a true hard tail, with no rear suspension save the seat springs, which actually serve the bike well, whereas the Gryffin 250 and Halcyon 450 ride on rear shocks as well as sprung seats. The bikes brake on Brembos, run on Ikon Suspension rear shocks and in-house forged, leading-link forks up front, all excellent quality. The leather craftsmanship of the seat, saddlebags, accessory tool kits, and battery cover are gorgeous, the seats provided by Sargent and other leatherworks done locally. Janus cuts and creates their own frames, handlebars, swingarms, triple trees, rims/wheels, fenders, and so many other parts, I was quite floored. They ship in other parts and materials from across the country, with the actual engine and carb being among the few elements they import from abroad.
These bikes are more American sourced and made than today’s Harley-Davidsons and Indians.
Halcyon 450, in Inland Sea Foam Green with black leather. Sharp looking bike.
Riding with Janus prez Richard, we soon swapped bikes out by a remote country crossroads. I was now on the 450, and it felt entirely different. The 450 is EFI, so no feathering the choke when cold. I stalled the bike at first, as the clutch engagement was so much more immediate than the longer throw of the 250. Once acclimated, I was good, except when I somehow missed 2nd and found myself in neutral the first few times running up through the gears. Wasn’t sure what I doing wrong, but I soon found the sweet shift point to avoid the embarrassing roar of open throttle in neutral.
While the Halcyon 250 is supremely flickable, as in it almost falls into corners, the 450 has a longer wheelbase and front rake, so it feels more planted rolling through the few curves we rode out here in Amish and Mennonite land. Much of what Janus learned in the development of the Halcyon 250 over the years has been incorporated into the 450, as it’s a more refined ride. It’s still a mild vibrator and shifts clunky solid (part of their charm), has a pair of entertainingly loud exhaust pipes, and loves being revved, but fuel delivery is seamless. Of course, brakes and suspension are more than adequate for this bike, but I noted that you need to shift well up in the rev range in each gear, or the 450cc engine will lug and chug until you downshift or get up higher in that gear’s rpm. The 250s can be lugged along in too-soon shift points, but not the 450. It likes higher revs. Which I’m quite cool with.
These Halcyon 450 machines are beautiful, down to the hand-painted and pinstriped tanks and fenders. Photos by Janus.
I think I prefer the 450 a bit more than the 250, mainly because of its suspension and more punch at the throttle. Although Richard took off on the 250 and just left me behind, pinning it to try and catch him. He’s a tall guy folded up on these little bikes, but he knows how to ride them hard and fast, and clearly enjoys his job.
Back at Janus, after touring their fabrication facility and final assembly (videos forthcoming), they gave me the key to one of the Gryffin 250 Scramblers and pointed me out of Goshen again, this time to ride and explore on my own. I choked the Gryffin and let it warm, then throttled out again into open farmland. The suspension is obviously taller than the Halcyons, and a bit stiffer, so I veered down a couple of short dirt/gravel roads with the Gryffin. Standing on the pegs, the bike can easily be maneuvered and moved around beneath the rider, and honestly feels like a large mountain bike off-road. With a little motor in the frame, of course. Gryffin owners have used them in hare scrambles, desert races, and shorter off-road endurance events, and the bike seems to excel in these environs.
A cool and capable scrambler, for sure. Now if we could see a 450 Gryffin at some point…
The Gryffin 250, out in its natural habitat.
Over a late lunch with Richard and Grant, Richard stated, “We really want to convey the simple joy of riding motorcycles with Janus. We all love and live with high-tech devices, cars, even in our homes today. But there’s something special, almost soul-cleansing, about hopping on a simple motorcycle, with no electronic rider aids, and just throttling out into the wind.” Grant added, “Have you ever been out on a ride, on a beautiful day, and just didn’t want to turn back, didn’t want the day to end? That’s what ‘rambling’ means to us, what we hope riding our motorcycles feels like.”
After spending a day riding these unique bikes, I get it. So often, whether on a brand loaner or one of my own motorcycles, I like to push the bike and my skills, ride hard, and use the electronic rider aids available to me. But here, with these simple, unencumbered machines, I heard a voice in my helmeted head whispering, “Its a beautiful day. Slow down, feel the bike, enjoy the ride. Ramble.” So I did. And I very much enjoyed it, I will admit.
Slow down, feel the bike, enjoy the ride. Ramble. That’s Janus Moto’s essence.
Parked in front of the historic Goshen Courthouse. The perfect small town home for a company like Janus Motorcycles.
Janus Motorcycles aren’t for everyone, but they might be for you. They are planning to expand their offerings in the years ahead, and stretch out across the country with dealerships carrying their bikes. In the meantime, for more on Janus, check them out on their website (link below), and if you get up to northern Indiana at all, take a trip over to Goshen and visit their facility on Fifth Street. Meet the Janus crew, take a spin on one of their bikes, and catch their ‘Rambling’ vibe. True two-wheeled Americana.
*Rob’s gear: REV’IT! Restless jacket, Davis TF riding pants, and Safeway 2 belt, Bell Qualifier helmet, SA1NT leather gloves.