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“Janus Halcyon 250 vs Dong Feng DF250 RTG”
By Mark C. Zweig
I got my new Janus Halcyon in November of last year. Like many current and prospective Janus owners, I thought about buying a Janus for years before actually ordering one. I am a lifelong rider. I got my first motorcycle at age 12—and by age 63, I have owned more than 300 bikes with at certain points in time as many as twenty at the same time. I worked in bicycle and motorcycle shops from age 12-24, and even owned my own Indian moped and used motorcycle shop with another guy in grad school. I also restored many Japanese and European bikes, and had some prize winners at the Larz Anderson Classic show in Boston several years. And I also wrote some articles for Motorcyclist Magazine when it was still a real magazine back in the day.
I thought it might be interesting to compare the Janus Halcyon to another retro single-cylinder 250cc street bike, the Dong Feng DF250 RTG. I have the new Dong Feng in my garage currently—it was purchased by a friend of ours who lives here in Fayetteville part-time and wanted to get into motorcycling. So she ordered it and had it shipped to our house so I could set it up for her, and then teach her how to ride it in our quiet, spread-out suburban neighborhood. It’s been in my garage for months now—sitting in a lineup of bikes that includes my new Halcyon.
While both bikes are retro in their design and each has a very similar, simple Chinese 250 pushrod single—they are completely and entirely different.
Let’s start with the ordering, shipping and customer delivery. Janus—as most of you know—is a great company. I got to pick out everything on my Halcyon and got exactly what I wanted. It’s a simple olive green bike, with gold pinstripes and medium brown leather. Extras were kept to a minimum, and all I ordered was a sprung passenger seat and fishtail exhaust. The process was super-easy. The bike was done in less than four weeks and shipped to me. Shipping took too long (about 20 days), but the bike arrived in perfect condition in an enclosed trailer. Before the bike landed, I already had the bill of sale, MSO, keys, manual and more. Total cost was $7395 plus shipping—a lot for a 250 cc motorcycle. But I really wanted it!
The Dong Feng, on the other hand, was quite a different story. It was ordered about the same time as the Janus from gokartsusa.com. Its cost was only $2200–less than a third of the Janus, and you can get them for as little as $1995 today. My friend really liked the Janus herself, but we didn’t think it would be smart to spend that when she could be falling off and scraping things up a bit as she learned to ride. We also thought the Dong Feng would be a low-risk choice for her as a first bike, as she may not even like riding once she experienced it. The first time my friend ordered the bike she did so online and used a credit card. She was supposed to be able to do that per their website. A week later she hadn’t heard back from them, so she called. After calling multiple times and waiting and waiting, someone finally helped her on the phone and told her that her order had been cancelled (with no explanation), and that she would have to reorder and pay by bank draft the next time. So she did that. There were no choices of any kind and the bike came in one color—red. After many, many calls and emails, the bike finally arrived (with no explanation for delay) a couple months later.
While the Dong Feng was sold as new and supposed to be in a crate, it instead arrived fully assembled, sort of loosely strapped to a broken wood pallet, and with 31 kilometers on the clock (speedo is in KMs, not miles). Clearly, whomever shipped it didn’t know what they were doing. One plastic side cover was smashed to bits, and the other side cover cracked because of the way it was tied down. The tank was dented in three places. An emblem was missing off the front end. The forks were tweaked in their triple trees. Every nut and bolt was either loose, missing, or completely over-tightened. The handlebars were significantly bent (about 2-3 inches). One turn signal had broken off and was hanging by a wire. Three of the four mirrors it was supposed to have (yes, I know that is crazy!) weren’t there. The throttle had a ton of slack in it (reminded me of an early Honda Z50 Minitrail), and the cable adjustments were all the way out. The crazy heel and toe shifter was bent. There was no manual or paperwork of any kind. The MSO was a real nightmare. It took months to get after the bike arrived, and required countless calls and emails threatening attorney involvement to finally receive it. We never got a manual of any kind.
I told my friend about all the damage to the bike. She immediately filed a formal claim for the replacement parts. We never got any. I ordered some new signals for it on Amazon, glued the one side cover together, and slapped some decals on the dented tank. I swapped out the handlebars that came on it (they looked like a part from a children’s swing set purchased at Walmart) for some new, real bars also bought on Amazon. I also replaced the missing nuts and bolts and went over the whole bike with a wrench.
So now that the buying experience for the two bikes has been spelled out, let’s take a look at the bikes themselves:
Styling. As I stated earlier, both bikes are retro. While the Halcyon is a hardtail and styled from the 1920s, the Dong Feng looks more like a 1969-1972 Japanese bike. It is a “standard,” and sort of cafe-racer inspired, even though the Chinese copywriters who wrote up a description for it online called it a “chopper!” It comes with flat bars, (spindly) gaitered forks, and a tiny humped seat. It has wire wheels with black painted rims. The tank has no name or emblems of any kind (smart, because who would actually want a motorcycle with the name “DONG” on it?), and it looks like it was taken from a ‘72 Yamaha Enduro and painted with rattle can in Rustoleum red. And the exhaust is all painted black with a low muffler.
The Janus is a real throwback. Having spent my entire career working with architects and engineers, the fact that it was designed by a real design professional (Richard is an architect) is readily apparent in every detail. Nothing else on the road that you can buy today at any price looks anything like it. I most of all appreciate the tank design—it is the heart of the motorcycle—and I like the Earles forks—which remind me of a Sachs, or Greeves, or DKW from the early 70s more so than those used by BMW on their early airheads. There’s little I would change on the Janus if I could. Some of the wiring routing seems a little awkward near the tank. But that’s about it. No complaints at all. I will add that I am a sucker for anything in green with a fishtail exhaust. I personally prefer the looks of the bike without saddlebags or rack or passenger seat.
Build quality. There is absolutely no comparison on build quality. The Janus is beautifully detailed. Everything is powder coated or stainless. The aluminum tank won’t ever rust—a huge problem with old bikes as anyone who has owned them can tell you. The leather is real. There’s no chrome on it. The spokes are stainless steel. Nothing is loose or missing or falling off. The switches have a positive feel to them. Everything works. And while it looks super beefy with its double cradle frame and leading link front end, it is also ridiculously light. The exhaust system welds are artful. The speedometer has all kinds of info on it and is set up for miles vs kilometers. The only thing I had to do to mine was turn up the idle a tad.
The Dong Feng, on the other hand, won’t impress anyone with its quality. The fork triple trees are poorly made—there are actually voids in the castings. I had to put nuts on the other end of the fork tube pinch bolts because I don’t trust the clamps to hold up, especially with the fact they are threaded and have super cheap bolts holding the tubes to them. Besides everything being loose or falling off, the tank is poorly painted, with little paint on its underside and visible runs. The plastic side covers don’t fit right and won’t stay on. Some wheel spokes were loose. The clutch switch that is supposed to keep you from starting the bike while in gear with the clutch out isn’t there—but the wire and plunger switch for it are, so it was designed to have that but doesn’t. The plastic signals cannot be tightened down, so they are heading off in all directions. I would be shocked if the lenses didn’t fall off in the first hundred miles. The brake light is barely detectable, and the high beam switch—while giving a high beam indicator light on the speedo—doesn’t work. The speedometer is in kilometers. The fenders are made with the flimsiest sheet metal you can imagine. You get the idea!
Size. The Janus feels big and spread out. I’m 5’11” and it fits me perfectly. I’m not cramped at all. The seat height is perfect. The bars are wide. Two-up riding is a breeze, because unlike many other bikes I have owned—old and new—most with larger displacement engines—your passenger isn’t driving your crotch into the fuel tank. The Janus is really comfortable!
The Dong Feng feels like a 9/10 scale motorcycle. Size-wise I would say it is similar to an older Yamaha 90 Enduro—not even as big as a Honda CB/CL100. The pegs are kind of high, so your knees are in your chest. Combined with its low narrow bars, it is pretty awkward for anyone taller than about 5’3”. Even someone that height will have their knees bent a lot with their feet on the pegs. The heel-and-toe shifter is only good for accidentally putting the bike in gear when you go to put the kickstand down. And even though it has passenger pegs, the tiny humped, poorly-padded seat is only usable for one rider.
Performance. The Halcyon isn’t going to set any speed records. My guess is the emissions regs have mandated the bike be set up to run really lean. It is also geared pretty high for the horsepower it has, so if you want to ride it on busy streets you need to wring it out pretty good in each gear. That said, it will go 70+ and feels fine doing that. It also has good brakes. Being the first-ever hard tail I have ever owned, it is a lot stiffer than what I’m used to. Pushing your butt back in the seat so the seat springs can work really helps. The bike is a little too quiet for me (not that I believe loud pipes save lives!), and I may make some exhaust mods at some point. Two-up riding with my 125 lb. wife doesn’t seem to affect its performance much, which is nice. It is really slow to warm up, again probably related to emissions. I put non-ethanol fuel in it and it starts faster and idles better than it did with regular ethanol-containing fuel in it.
The Dong Feng feels really quick. Besides its diminutive size, it is geared much lower than the Janus and would probably top out about 55. But because of that, it accelerates a lot faster. It is fairly loud but not obnoxious. Also, this bike, while purchased new, is a 2018 model and can’t be purchased in California. It fires up immediately and warms up almost instantly, IF you can find the choke lever that is absolutely buried on the carburetor. The suspension feels decent and the handling isn’t bad if you can deal with the riding position. The brakes are weak compared to the Janus. The front disc is smaller and the rear is a drum brake similar in size to a typical 90-100 cc bike from 50 years ago. But overall, it’s not bad for the price paid.
So there you have it. As the old adage goes, you get what you pay for! The Janus is a work of art you can ride, and one that will last a long, long time. When I’m too old to ride and done with it, we can put it in our living room on display as an art object, next to my original and beautiful ‘66 Benelli 250. The Dong Feng is a good tool to learn on if you are short, handy with a wrench and on a tight budget. I doubt it will hold up very well — I have read on Chinese bike review boards that the wheels fall apart—but it’s just about the cheapest new 250 street-only bike you can buy out there. Depreciation-wise—if you kept both bikes for three years—my guess is you’d probably lose more on the Dong Feng than the Janus—and it would be harder to sell. I’m thrilled with my Janus, and wish I had one of every model and color sitting in my garage right now.
As it is, I’m lucky I have ANY bike. I totaled a brand new Triumph Thruxton 1200 and broke my left hand pretty badly in 2016, when a kid pulled out of a side street right in front of me. Didn’t even fall off the bike but there it sat in the middle of the road leaking fluids—as my crushed left hand was also leaking its fluids! My wife had to take me to the hospital and my hand never fully recovered. She wasn’t wild about another bike but relented only because she knew I really wanted that Janus. I’m glad she did!
Mark C. Zweig