Janus Motorcycles Is Reviving The Simpler, More Enjoyable Tradition Of American Motorcycling
When George Wyman finally reached Albany, his engine sputtered, went silent, and wouldn’t start again. It was rendered completely useless, the 3,500-plus miles of harsh roads had rattled and wrecked the 1902 California Motorcycle Company 1.25-horsepower bike. Wyman continued the last leg of his unprecedented cross country journey to New York by pedaling under his own power, and on July 6, 1903 he became the first person ever to complete a transcontinental crossing of North America on a motorized vehicle.
Even today the thought of crossing the country on a modern bike seems daunting, but for Richard Worsham it’s a dream. It’s a way to recapture the spirit of early pioneers like Wyman, and in fact, Richard is planning to retrace Wyman’s route this month. And he’s doing it on a bike that he designed.
A few years ago, Richard moved to Indiana to pursue an advanced degree in architecture, but when the recession hit and jobs became scarce in just about every field, his passions guided him down a different route in life. The small Garelli moped he bought to putz around campus needed some work, so he turned to the community known as “Moped Army” for advice on how to get it running right.
The Moped Army connections led Richard to Devin Biek, a local mechanical whiz who was known throughout the community as the man who could take a 1.5-horsepower motor, work his magic, and squeeze 13 more ponies out of it. As a master craftsman of expansion chamber exhausts, he could weasel and charm minuscule two-stroke engines into propelling old bikes and mopeds to a cool 70mph.
The two got on well, and between semesters Richard would get into projects with Devin. Working on the Garelli had laid the groundwork for an even bigger idea: building the “perfect moped.”
And that build was the birth of what would become Janus motorcycles. The Paragon (shown above), as it was named, was an exercise in what the team could do when put to the task of building said perfect moped, but it was more than that of course, for it turned into a rolling showcase of what Janus was all about: fast, light, and fun machines. In other words, minimalist bikes.
The beautiful Puch-powered moped oozed elegance through simplicity and highlighted just how beautiful small bikes could be. In creating the Paragon, the pair not only galvanized the Janus name, but built a relationship with amish craftsmen around Indiana’s Goshen community, an important part of the brand’s ethos. The artfully fabricated fuel tank was created by a local amish fabrication shop, and it serves as the visual centerpiece of the build.
After a few bikes, the business model evolved into something reminiscent of early American manufacturing: a company focused on perfecting a quality product that could reach medium-scale production, for an honest profit, that benefits the community it was made in. Janus isn’t about one-off, custom-built high-dollar machines, they’re about hand-building a bike—and a business—around the idea that there’s a market for a well made 250cc motorcycle that’s actually achievable to own, and built for people to enjoy daily; Janus bikes are not aspirational products in this sense. The company sold a total of 100 bikes last year, and what they’ve found is that the market is made up of diverse riders: Vietnam Vets, Harley guys, and a growing demographic of female bikers all ride Janus.
It’s the kind of philosophy you’d expect from a business born in Goshen, a town that Richard says has an “openness” and distinct lack of pretense. “It’s a place you’d only find in the heartland,” he says. Horse-drawn vehicles still cruise down to the hardware store in the center of town; people know each other by name. Here, a 250cc bike is a novel way to interact with the surroundings. Out in the open, there’s room to take in the bold and dramatic landscapes and genuinely have fun on a small, quick, and nimble piece of kit.
Over time, mainstream motorcycles grew plump and heavy. The focus started shifting to power and technology rather than simplicity and pure enjoyment. Richard says that a 250cc engine feels much different than you’d imagine when it’s mated to a frame of mild steel with an aluminum tank. It’s a formula that has unfortunately been forgotten in the modern motorcycling era, but didn’t they always have more fun back in the day?
If anything can bring the forgotten era of reasonable displacement motors back into modern riders’ imagination, it’s capturing the spirit of the Wyman by retracing his route on a Janus 250cc bike. And Richard is already on his way. You can follow along with the progress of the trip here.