Meet Your Maker Spotlight On Janus Motorcycles - Part One

From the heart of Amish Indiana comes 250cc motorcycles to charm and enjoy

Janus Motorcycles Halcyon 250
The Halcyon 250, the top-selling Janus motorcycle so far.Courtesy of Janus Motorcycles

American motorcycle manufacturing is seeing a slow but methodical return to its early 20th century roots, with several smaller companies deciding to carve their path by hand, one crankshaft at a time. While Harley-Davidson and Indian grab the headlines, companies like Janus, Arch, and Motus are broadening what they want to see on the roads of America and beyond. Here’s the first part of our “Meet Your Maker” series.

Devin Biek is a 35-year-old Indiana native obsessed with mopeds and expansion chamber exhausts. His pal Richard Worsham is a 33-year-old ancient Greek geek and architecturally minded designer, and their seven-year-old company Janus Motorcycles—nestled in the Midwestern town of Goshen, Indiana, about 120 miles east of Chicago—is making waves by producing 250cc four-stroke motorcycles. I spoke with Worsham recently to learn more about the symbiosis of his company and how it evolved from a shared passion for mopeds and expansion chamber exhausts.

I understand how the origins of Janus began with mopeds and two-strokes. How did you gain the confidence to go from customizer to production house in such a short period?
At the time we started Janus Motorcycles, Devin had been in business with his previous company, Motion Left Mopeds, for almost a decade. Although that business started out simply with repairs and restorations, he gradually began to take on more custom projects. Along the way, he had been consistently developing performance modifications. I moved out to Indiana in 2007 for graduate school and we quickly bonded over our love for vintage pedal-type mopeds. During the summer of 2008 I started helping him out in the shop with the customization of various bikes.

Devin Biek exhaust cone
Co-founder Devin Biek in his element.Courtesy of Janus Motorcycles

One of the performance modifications that fascinated Devin was the expansion chamber exhaust, one of the most effective ways of increasing the performance of a two-stroke engine. Up until this time, we had been sourcing exhausts for our projects from European (mostly Italian) suppliers. These exhausts were expensive and could often yield better results on different cylinders and engine setups than advertised, leading Devin to experiment with modifications. While there are many scientific principles involved in expansion chamber design, most of the best are developed through experience, intuition, and trial and error. Eventually, he developed a chamber design of his own and started testing and modifying it.

Before long he started building a handful of exhausts a year for friends and customers. His exhausts quickly met with success and over the next two or three years he established himself as one of the leading exhaust builders for vintage mopeds. Invariably, his exhausts would sell out well before he had a chance to laboriously build more. For a year or two I helped Devin build exhausts, and together we hand-hammered each cone out of either mild or stainless steel, depending on the required design. Some exhausts had as many as 17 different cones, all of which had to be hammered out around conical wooden bucks and then meticulously fitted together into the final shape.

As the demand continued to increase, Devin found that he couldn’t keep up on his own and found a local welder who could finish weld all his exhausts. He was now manufacturing intakes, clutch braces, and other unique items that miraculously enabled these underpowered vintage two-strokes to draw closer and closer to the mythical goal of 70 mph. To keep things interesting, Devin continued to take on custom builds, but the constant breadwinners were his performance parts, especially the exhausts.

Paragon two-stroke 50cc moped
The Paragon two-stroke 50cc moped, which eventually launched Janus.Courtesy of Janus Motorcycles

It was one of these side projects that was really the first inkling of Janus Motorcycles. During the winter of 2010, Devin and I dreamed up a plan to build something of our own, something that wasn’t a modification of an existing design. We were both in love with the history of motorcycling and (with our love of small two-strokes) we shared a common fascination with the 50cc Grand Prix bikes of the 1960s and ’70s. Our experience was essentially limited to mopeds, so we decided to build the bike around a platform we were familiar with and for which we had plenty of parts: a hotted-up Austrian Puch (pronounced “Pook”) moped engine.

Not to make the task too easy, we naively (and tellingly) decided to build a batch of half a dozen of these machines for ourselves and a couple of friends. In order to do this we looked to Devin’s small network of local welders, powdercoaters, and machinists that he had developed through his work both with custom projects and his small-scale exhaust production.

Goshen is located in the heart of Amish Indiana and Devin’s Amish powdercoater recommended an Amish fabrication shop to us as they had some experience with bicycle frames, and oddly enough, race car chassis fabrication. It turned out the bicycle business hadn’t worked out for them, and the race car client had vanished, but they were willing to humor two peculiar “English” who wanted a couple of frames built. That first frame—which we named the Paragon and the resulting motorcycle/moped—became the impetus for the idea of Janus.

Halcyon frames
Halcyon frames, prepped and ready for powdercoating.Courtesy of Janus Motorcycles

The relationship with that Amish fabrication shop became the means by which we were introduced to the concept of manufacturing and the cottage manufacturing model that Janus is built around. The fabrication shop rapidly took over everything Devin and I had been doing ourselves, and did it in a fraction of the time. In fact, they did it so well that Devin’s production increased from at most 150 exhausts a year to well over 300 in their first year. Currently Motion Left produces around 1,500 exhausts a year along with over 200 other performance parts, all manufactured in the same Amish shop as the components for Janus Motorcycles.

Meanwhile, that first concept bike that Devin and I designed and built turned into a much larger project than we had anticipated. Only one was ever built, but it gained us enough local attention that we were encouraged to start manufacturing something along the same lines. The remainder of the story is a combination of rampant optimism and Amish manufacturing wisdom. So you could say that our plunge into the world of manufacturing was more of an apprenticeship to a Luddite culture of hard work and efficiency than an individual decision to move from custom work to production manufacturing.

Goshen and Elkhart County seems to offer everything a small manufacturer like Janus needs. How did you identify which small manufacturers to contract with? Tell me about those you work the most closely with.
The saying around the shop is that all our vendors are "down the road." As I mentioned, many of our local vendors are Amish and we have expanded our network almost exclusively through word of mouth. We will ask one of our vendors if they can recommend someone for the task or process we have in mind and the answer is usually something to the effect of, "Take a left on County Road 36 a couple of miles and there's a shop that specializes in that kind of work" (usually with an unassuming name like Borkholder Metal Products).

Janus Motorcycles
All the Janus Motorcycles parts made locally near or in Goshen, Indiana.Courtesy of Janus Motorcycles

Elkhart County is the capital of the recreational vehicle industry, and while RVs account for the vast majority of the local economy, there are also many trailer companies and second- or third-tier automotive vendors supplying Detroit. What this means for us is that there are perhaps more machinists, fabricators, roll formers, powdercoaters, and laser cutters per square mile than anywhere else in the country. And best of all, they are all willing to take our work. Our experience has been that when we find larger vendors, they are often an uneven match for us with our limited order quantities and borderline fanatical demand for fit, finish, and quality. Smaller, local vendors are excited to work with us and take the time to devote themselves to our often meticulous parts and processes.

In addition to this we find it impossible to control the quality of almost all our fabricated parts without the advantage of being able to visit and answer questions, make corrections, or check quality in person and at a moment’s notice. Again, word of mouth is the best recommendation, and we have learned a lot about judging a vendor not by what they say, but by what they deliver.

Janus Phoenix exhausts
Janus Phoenix exhausts, all “made up the road.”Courtesy of Janus Motorcycles

In terms of the capital—both intellectual and financial—required to foster and launch a manufacturing enterprise such as Janus, we have a network of experienced and successful manufacturing veterans who have joined our team and helped to smooth out the transition from a raw idea with a couple of prototypes to an operational motorcycle brand. We still have a lot to learn, but we know it, and we are very pleased with our products thus far and excited for the prospects of the coming years.

Which model is the most popular? Isn’t there a desert scrambler in the works? How many people work at Janus? The answers to these and more will be published in Part Two on Friday.