Artisanal Ambitions: 2018 Janus Gryffin
2018 Janus Gryffin
Engine: 229cc air-cooled OHV single, 67mm x 65mm bore and stroke, 9.2:1 compression ratio, 14hp @ 7,000rpm (claimed)
Top speed: 70mph (as tested)
Carburetion: Single 30mm Keihin w/accelerator pump
Transmission: 5-speed, chain final drive
Electrics: 12v, electronic ignition
Frame/Wheelbase: Dual downtube cradle frame/53in (1,342mm)
Suspension: Leading-link, dual Ikon shocks w/ adjustable preload front, dual Ikon shocks w/ adjustable preload rear
Brakes: 9.8in (250mm) single disc front, 8.7in (220mm) single disc rear
Tires: 3 x 18in front, 3.5 x 18in rear
Weight (dry): 265lb (120kg)
Seat height: 32in (813mm)
Fuel capacity/MPG: 2.4gal (9ltr)/55-75mpg (est.)
The last decade has seen an explosion in handcrafted, artisanal products, including craft breweries, craft distilleries, artisanal coffee, farm-to-table organic food — and now, motorcycles.
In the current climate, the idea of production, craft-built motorcycles seems a natural. As consumers gravitate to products that promise quality and a level of exclusivity, the market for goods that are something more than just another widget extruded from a factory pipeline continues to grow.
The indie build movement is an obvious reflection of this, a turn away from the boring, overhyped, hyper tech, cookie-cutter motorcycles cluttering the mainstream market. As individual expressions of what a motorcycle should be, it was only a matter of time before someone tried to extend that aesthetic beyond the single, owner-built special. In the small Midwestern town of Goshen, Indiana (population roughly 34,000), Janus Motorcycles is making a name for itself with a line of small, handcrafted, 250cc motorcycles.
Founded by partners Devin Biek and Richard Worsham in 2011, Janus’ roots are in mopeds, which goes a long way in explaining Biek and Worsham’s enthusiasm for small-bore bikes. The pair met up in 2008 when Worsham started working with Biek, who was then running Motion Left Mopeds, a small business restoring and customizing mopeds, and also supplying performance moped parts, notably high quality expansion chambers. As the business expanded and Biek took on more custom build work, the pair got the idea to build a complete machine of their own design.
In line with their moped roots and an enthusiasm for vintage race bikes, their first complete motorcycle, the Paragon, was powered by a 50cc air-cooled moped engine housed in a triangulated GP-style frame. That led to the retro-cued Halcyon, with a scaled-down Norton Featherbed-inspired frame housing a 50cc, 6-speed, water-cooled Derbi engine. After building 43 examples of that bike they decided it was time for a bit more motive power, and in 2015 they introduced the Halcyon 250, still with the same old-school looks that had made the 50cc Halcyon popular, but now powered by a counter-balanced 229cc air-cooled, overhead valve, 5-speed, Chinese-made single. That bike was joined by the café-racer styled Phoenix 250, using the same 229cc engine and leading-link front end, but equipped with a swingarm rear suspension in place of the Halcyon’s hardtail.
That brings us to the Gryffin, Janus’ newest offering. A street-enduro-styled bike, it uses the same mechanical underpinning as the Phoenix. The differences are in the details, of which there are many, including a unique gas tank and seat, an upswept exhaust set high on the left instead of running low on the right, a bash plate, and of course the requisite knobby tires for dirt duty.
Brakes are the same 250mm disc, dual-piston caliper in the front and single 220mm disc, single-piston caliper in the rear as on the Halcyon and Phoenix. The front suspension is Janus’ own leading-link design, adopted from the start of 250 production because of frustration with off-the-shelf telescopic forks. Quality fork sets for big bikes are readily available, but the smaller end of the spectrum isn’t well served, so Biek and Worsham decided to design and manufacture their own front end.
The decision gave them several benefits. For one, they could control the look of the front end. Janus motorcycles are designed to evoke memories of days gone by, of a simpler time of simple machines made for fun, an aesthetic the leading-link setup underscores. For another, Biek and Worsham are deeply focused on quality, something the telescopic forks they were getting just didn’t supply. By designing and building their own (like much of the fabrication work, the forks and swingarms are fabricated by local Amish craftsmen working in diesel generator-powered shops), Biek and Worsham have total quality control, ensuring that every set is made like the last.
Custom-calibrated Ikon shock absorbers control the front and rear suspensions, with custom aluminum-rimmed, billet aluminum hub wheels built for Janus in Washington. In fact, outside of the engine and switchgear, most of the Gryffin’s parts are locally sourced from companies in Indiana, most of them within 20 miles or so of Janus’ Goshen headquarters. The wiring and wiring harness are made locally, and the frames, gas tanks, swingarms and seats — including the custom leather saddles and saddlebags — are all fabricated at local Amish shops to Janus’ specification, with all work overseen by Biek and Worsham. Final assembly happens in the Janus shop, where bikes are certified before being shipped to customers, ready to start. There are no dealers, as Biek and Worsham want to work directly with their customers.
On the trail
So how does all this translate to the street? Or trail, as the Gryffin suggests by its styling? As we discovered in an afternoon riding the Gryffin, it is, not too surprisingly, more in its element bombing around town than down your favorite gravel road. Much of that comes down to the suspension, which we think needs to be a bit softer and with more travel for true backcountry work. Getting the suspension dialed in just right is as much art as science, something Biek and Worsham both appreciate, and it gets a bit harder working with a small and light machine (265 pounds dry) like the Gryffin. Long-travel suspension would go a long way toward solving the Gryffin’s perceived shortcomings in the dirt, but it would also result in a tall, ungainly looking machine.
Ridden with that in mind, the Gryffin works great as the occasional backroad bomber. Steering is light and direct, and the chassis feels well sorted and of a piece. Balance front and rear is excellent, and it’s easy to push your body around to get more or less weight — and traction — where you want it. The little 229cc single fires up on the button, needing only a short bit of warm up before you switch the choke off and head out. And yes, the Gryffin is carbureted, something of a rarity anymore, but hardly a negative, the Keihin pumper carb delivering crisp fueling hot or cold.
Considering its small displacement, we thought engine performance was quite good. There’s not much happening in the lower numbers, so you need to give it a little throttle for a quick launch, but once you’re up to speed and in the engine’s sweet zone — probably around 3,500rpm or so; there is no tach — it pulls readily and cleanly. In fact, get the revs moving and the little single is really fun, a nice, raucous exhaust note streaming from the beautiful handmade, stainless steel exhaust system. The exhaust heat guard is fully functional, never getting too hot to touch even with the heat of the little catalytic converter welded into the system. Top speed is a claimed 70mph, a number we can verify, and the Gryffin is surprisingly comfortable at a steady 60mph, although it definitely smooths out if you drop that down to 50mph or so.
Not surprisingly, 50mph and below is where the bike really excels, and around town it’s an absolute blast. Light, with quick reflexes and enough power to maneuver in traffic, it’s a hoot as a bar hopper or errand shopper. Stopping is a two-finger affair thanks to the Gryffin’s nicely weighted and amply powerful front disc brake, which made the rear disc brake’s wooden performance stand out. Biek took the blame for our bike’s rear brake, admitting he’d overheated the disc in an overly enthusiastic bid to bed the pads in, which registered true looking at the discolored rear disc. We wouldn’t expect that to be an issue on customer bikes, and keep in mind that the bike we rode was Gryffin No. 2, a production prototype that’s been ridden hard to shake out potential problems before they reach customers.
Biek and Worsham are satisfied with the direction they’re heading. They’ve built and sold around 150 of the 250s, with the Halcyon the most popular by far, something that has actually surprised the partners as they expected the Phoenix to take that title. We think the new Gryffin will challenge the Halcyon’s popularity, blending as it does classic street-enduro style with vintage simplicity. At $6,995 it’s priced higher than other smallbore singles like the Royal Enfield Bullet, but its handcrafted status puts it on a slightly different plane, a hand-built motorcycle rooted in the past but built for the present. MC
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