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The Janus Motorcycles Feature List

At least in the United States, where motorcycles are rarely used as a sole means of transportation, the reason most of us ride motorcycles is something beyond a desire to get from point A to point B. We ride because we want to find something that is inaccessible in the insulated cabin of our modern automobile. By and large, unmitigated experiences such as riding a motorcycle have fallen victim to an ever-increasing concern with safety and a disassociated drive for comfort and efficiency. That this sort of activity involves a certain level of competency, preparation, gear, and confidence is all part of the attraction. At Janus, we believe that this desire for participation is precisely why we ride motorcycles–and this stands in stark contrast to the offerings of many modern manufacturers.

Trying out the new supercharged Kawasaki H2.
1972 Kawasaki H2 Mach IV "widowmaker". Image, Kawasaki.

Big Numbers

In 2015, Kawasaki launched their H2 “hyper sport” motorcycle. The original H2 was a groundbreaking 750cc 3-cylinder, two-stroke that quickly won the dubious title of “widowmaker” for its raw power delivery, lack of sufficient chassis rigidity, and resulting difficult handling. The new H2 is the first production motorcycle to be supercharged, featuring a variable-speed centrifugal supercharger that contributes to the claimed 230 horsepower and recorded top speed of 209 miles per hour. In addition to these staggering numbers (and to retain rideability), the H2, like most other high power motorcycles, is packed with electronic rider aids to assist with traction, acceleration, braking, shifting, and steering. It also features smartphone connectivity and small wings to keep the bike from becoming airborne.

One way to understand the modern motorcycle industry’s fascination with large figures is through the same lens as Kawasaki’s original H2 Mach IV model of 1971: a quest to put up the highest top speed for a production motorcycle. In effect, this is really a quest for a number that has somehow come to represent a means of judging a motorcycle’s value. It is difficult to deny that the current recipe for making a new motorcycle the “best” seems to be to have the specification sheet add up to the highest number. Want to convince customers that your motorcycle is the “best”? Make it the fastest, quickest, with the most features, and for the most part, the job is done! Add to this that media outlets loved to use such figures to attract attention and you have a vicious cycle- no pun intended.

The June 1999 Cover of Cycle World Magazine is all about the numbers.

In this sense, the H2 and most other “high-performance” motorcycles marketed today are engaged in a war of specifications using a vocabulary that the average customer cannot speak. I am not trying to pick on Kawasaki here (I love my KLR)- the same fixation has affected the entire industry for the past 30 years. Our conversations with reviewers, journalists, and countless riders has reflected a similar observation: each year brings out a new cohort of faster, more powerful motorcycles loaded with more and more features that promise to make each iteration better, leaving reviewers not much more than numbers as a valid comparison point. That these numbers often represent speeds or situations that all but a very few highly qualified riders will ever actually experience can tend to seem insignificant in the absence of better metrics to describe the “value” of a motorcycle.

Diminishing Returns 

Muddying the waters of powersports marketing and product strategy is the fact that it appears this is also what most consumers think they want. The “performance” section of the typical specification sheet lists power, torque, top speed, acceleration, and technical features, but there has yet to be a specification number for what adds up to the best motorcycling experience. This is of course in large part because what makes a “good” motorcycle is subjective and motorcyclists are a uniquely opinionated bunch. Ask a sampling of motorcyclists what the best motorcycle is and you are almost certain to come up with as many different answers. Yet this doesn’t negate the argument that we have reached a point of diminishing returns when it comes to motorcycle “performance”. There is not much more we can have a motorcycle do when it comes to speed or power. We are quickly reaching a threshold where these experiences involve Formula 1 level acceleration and top speeds! At what point are we still going to think we need a motorcycle capable of 300 miles per hour? When will we want a motorcycle that can accelerate to 60 miles per hour in a half second? Consider for a moment what either of those experiences would entail–that kind of acceleration would be roughly 5.5 multiples of gravity, or enough to induce a blackout.

The first Janus model, the Halcyon 50

Specifications

Here I want to make it clear that I am not arguing that there is no place for jaw dropping acceleration in the production highway motorcycle market. If you have ever ridden a fast motorcycle, you probably know at least something of the thrilling feeling of sudden, face-melting acceleration that predictably follows a twist of the throttle. Acceleration and speed are both integral parts of the motorcycle experience and in some way tied to why we ride, even if we are law abiding riders who just like to putz along scenic byways. Inside every motorcyclist there is, at the very least, an appreciation of speed, and given the right ingredients, a certain instinctual twist to the wrist. But that experience of speed and acceleration has less to do with any actual metric than we realize. The thrill of riding a motorcycle cannot be distilled to a 1/4-mile time or a specific mile-per-hour. Similarly, modern advances in motorcycle safety features have done much to make the act of riding dramatically safer. Anti-lock brakes, traction control, as well as advances in protective gear are all helpful in limiting the rider’s exposure to risk. Yet, the essence of motorcycling is to be exposed and much as we can all appreciate the benefits of ABS, it is not a characteristic that is essential to the experience of riding.

Specifications provide us with a means of describing how the motorcycle is capable of certain tasks and how we can expect it to perform in various situations. It is the language the engineer uses to evaluate, improve, and arrive at new designs, the language the rider uses to describe the material characteristics of the motorcycle, its maintenance requirements, etc. However, this is not all there is to motorcycling. These contingent realities are necessary for the proper functioning of the motorcycles, but they are only the groundwork for the greater purpose of the motorcycle. The perpetual risk of the spec sheet is its tendency to serve as a complete picture of the motorcycle when in fact it can only serve as a description how the motorcycle works entirely from a quantitative perspective. This in turn leads us to evaluate motorcycles based on a limited viewpoint that places significance on performance figures and safety features to the detriment of our qualitative reason for riding in the first place.

The Janus Gryffin 250

The Black Box

Fortunately, motorcycles are to an unusual degree inoculated against this technological obsession with optimization and safety by the very nature of their design. Not for nothing do I hear the common refrain of riders who have given up their motorcycles in the wake of children, or similarly, of their return to riding after offspring have left the nest. This is by no means to say that motorcycling is a reckless activity. Responsible riders can mitigate risk, much as we do to varying degrees in almost all areas of life. Yet the inherently exposed nature of motorcycling sets it apart as a pursuit for those who are not afraid of taking full responsibility for their decisions.

The modern car has essentially become a black box concealing a labyrinth of wires and components that provide heightened levels of safety and efficiency. That what lurks behind the bodywork is not only ugly, but unintelligible to the average owner [and] has long ago been forgotten in the expectation of comfort and convenience. By contrast, the essence of the motorcycle is to balance precariously on two wheels, exposed to the elements, with every aspect of the motorcycle carefully routed, fitted, and designed for maximum aesthetic as well as functional effect. The engine, brakes, suspension, wiring harness, all are required to perform the double duty of their purely functional rôle while simultaneously looking good. There simply isn’t room to conceal much.

The Halcyon 450

Why We Ride

Matthew Crawford, philosopher/mechanic, and most recently, author of Why We Drive: Towards a Philosophy of the Open Road, describes in the opening of the book, the experience of riding a dirt bike among the rutted trails and obstacles of an abandoned plot behind a supermarket:

“Riding a dirt bike on a narrow, meandering trail that is rocky and muddy, with protruding roots and fallen limbs, creek crossings, steep descents, and tight switchbacks, at a mere fifteen miles per hour, I might be taxed to the very limit of my mental ability. Picking lines, making imperceptible decisions of throttle, clutch, steering, braking, and body English, revising them on the fly as surprises arrive at my front wheel–all this demands total concentration. When I push beyond my current level of confidence in response to some challenge of the terrain, it is a leap of faith.”

“Or perhaps it is a query. I can’t say to what entity this question is addressed–myself? the obscurities of the trail? a loving providence? It is a position of utter exposure to contingency: let’s see how this goes. If it goes well over the following seconds (meaning without mishap, maybe even with a glimmer of some new finesse), this faith redeemed is the sweetest vindication I know of. For a moment, I feel existentially justified. In pursuit of that feeling, I once took four trips to the ER over the course of twelve months: two broken ribs, a broken heel, what I feared was a separated tendon, (it was a muscle strain), and a case of heat exhaustion.”

What Crawford is pushing at is the reason we ride in the first place. On one hand, health and safety proponents would have us believe that to be ferried to and from our daily activities–to relinquish our accident-prone rôle as drivers–is the only logical step forward in a world of self-driving cars, virtual interactions, and artificial intelligence. Why would anyone choose to expose themselves to the risk of riding a motorcycle in traffic? On the other hand, motorcycle marketers would have us believe that the specifications and feature set of our motorcycles are what give them value and define our experience and that the faster and more technologically advanced they are the better. If acceleration is thrilling, why not be able to accelerate faster? If there are electronic rider aids which allow us to ride a 1/4 ton motorcycle with more horsepower than the average car like we are on the racetrack, doesn’t that dictate the features we should look for in a motorcycle?

Two Halcyon 250 at the halfway point of a 1,000 mile ride from Goshen to new Orleans in 24 hours

Our Philosophy

Our philosophy and feature list at Janus stand in stark contrast to either of these positions. We believe that the reason we ride has less to do with getting from one place to another, or whether that transition occurs faster or slower, than it does with something very like the experience Crawford describes. It is scarcely an exaggeration to think that to venture onto the highway equipped with nothing more than a two-wheeled contraption and your wits and experience amounts to a statement of defiance. We believe that this statement, this desire for participation in something truly meaningful is the real reason why we ride: The lazy beauty of a calm midwest summer evening, carving through a western canyon on an early weekend morning, kicking up dust on a gravel road miles from the nearest town, pulling into a little gas station or cafe for a bite to eat and a fresh tank of gas, meeting people, answering questions about your bike, exchanging a quick wave to passing riders- these are the moments that most of us remember most vividly in our motorcycling history. Or our memories sharpen around that time we had a flat tire, or were caught in a downpour– moments that test our ability and our resolve.

Halcyon 450
The Halcyon 450 is designed to slow time down, not speed it up.

“Optimized” For Experience

We strive to create capable machines whose feature set is “optimized” for just this experience. What engine will reliably allow you to explore every revolution per minute of its capability and offer straightforward and simple maintenance? What materials are the most beautiful, appropriate for their task, and long lasting? What designs are the most timeless and best channel this ineffable experience of riding? And what level of craftsmanship, refinement, and detail is demanded of a machine capable of transporting us into such proximity with existence? In other words, we believe that while the specifications of the motorcycle are what define it physically, those specifications serve something else that is much more important: our innate urge to participate in something meaningful. Even for the least philosophic, the choice to ride is at its core an existential statement of our desire for agency, or the ability to act for and as ourselves.

We have worked tirelessly over the past decade to design and manufacture beautiful, reliable motorcycles whose particular engine size, weight, materials, speed, finish, and performance are carefully crafted to answer the purpose of motorcycling. Our motorcycles are not the fastest, the most technologically advanced, or the best known. They lack all but the most essential instrumentation and they are unable to pair with your smartphone. Instead, they feature a lightweight, classic and time-tested design that changes little with every new model year; simple, easy to maintain, small-displacement engines; striking hand-formed aluminum and steel bodywork; hand-painted pinstriping; full grain leather seats and luggage–the very best materials available for each application for both beauty and durability. 

While the existing specification-obsessed market pressures us to relegate any motorcycle with less than 1,000 cubic centimeters to the “budget” or “beginner” bike category, Janus seeks to build motorcycles that transcend the specification sheet and reconnect the rider with the reason we ride in the first place. As our friend Jack Robinson of the Four Stroke Single National Owners Club says, it’s better to have a good time than to make good time”. We couldn’t agree more.