Indiana motorcycle manufacturer relies on Amish craftsmen to build components for their products
GOSHEN, Indiana — When Richard Worsham and Devin Biek founded Janus Motorcycles in 2011, they knew they could get just about anything machined, welded, or crafted for their bikes in this part of the world.
The two started building small 250cc motorcycles with a reliable engine made in China that is used on motorcycles across the globe. These aren’t massive motorcycles that embody the notion that more is better.
If anything, they embody the “more with less” notion that combines style and function in a vehicle produced by a company that is not only focused on growth, but also doing it right.
Janus’s production facility and showroom are located in a former dry cleaner in downtown Goshen, across from City Hall and near The Electric Brew. The employees build the motorcycles by hand with components that come from Italy and China, but from also nearby shops operated by Amish craftsmen.
The founders of the company have come to rely on half a dozen shops near Nappanee and Syracuse in southern Elkhart County to make leather and metal components such as the exhaust, frame and fenders. They have a wealth of knowledge and skills, said Worsham.
Like other businesses, Janus shut down most production for six weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the company leadership was concerned about what would happen.
The start of the year had strong sales. They had started going to trade shows and continued with Discovery Days, a weekend experience for the potential buyer that brought people from out of state to Goshen to visit the shop, test-ride the motorcycles and experience the city.
Worsham had started seeing issues with suppliers delivering components from other parts of the world because of Covid-19. “It was impacting us. We didn’t know if we would get engines in on time,” he said.
They worked harder to find alternate sources for some parts, but sometimes just waited. An order of shock absorbers sat in a shipping container in Los Angeles, taking double the usual amount of time to find its way to Goshen.
Janus, like any start-up that lasts and grows, has been resilient. It’s now built and sold more than 600 motorcycles. It went through a long process, with the help of a vendor in nearby New Paris, Indiana, helping craft the intricate carburetor parts to achieve certification from the Environmental Protection Agency.
The strong sales in the early months of 2020 didn’t last, as Covid-19 became more real in the United States. “And then the bottom fell out,” said Longenbaugh.
Their staff had grown to 17 people, including part-timers. The service department includes John Swartzendruber and Ron “Woody” Shoemaker, who were floormates at Goshen College in the 1970s. Shoemaker restored a wrecked motorcycle in the Yoder dormitory and he and his floormate were known for enjoying their motorcycles in a variety of mischievous ways on campus.
For six weeks, during Indiana’s stay-at-home order from the governor, employees worked from home if they could and the company paid them even if they couldn’t do their normal roles.
There were two weeks with few sales, but then people were spending a lot of time online and found Janus, a small company that keeps getting attention from big outlets.
• Google sent a photo and video team to northern Indiana in 2017 to feature Janus for how it uses online tools to sell motorcycles. The weeklong visit resulted in a video that Google used to promote Janus in a series picking one business from each US state. You can watch it at this link: meda.org/google
• In September 2019, Biek and Worsham appeared at a “Made in America” event at the White House, meeting President Trump, and then appearing on Fox News. Watch at this link: meda.org/foxnews
(Worsham said he got grief from both liberal and conservative friends about that trip but had productive conversations on why a small company would accept such invitations.)
• In December 2019, Biek and Worsham visited Burbank, California with a motorcycle for a taping of “Jay Leno’s Garage.” The former late night talk show host is a motorcycle geek who rode the Halcyon 250 for the episode, which aired on February 16, 2020. See it at: meda.org/Leno
Those appearances didn’t hurt a company that has put a lot into how it markets itself online but has no dealers.
In early April, a bevy of orders started coming in and the wait for someone who ordered a motorcycle grew to three months. By mid-July, it had fallen back to six weeks as production grew from five finished motorcycles to six. Worsham hopes that by September, the team will be producing seven a week in the small shop.
Steve Brenneman, a serial entrepreneur who has been helping Janus as a business consultant, said the company is still in start-up mode. “Their strength is they understand the product really well and the customers they sell to,” Brenneman said. “They’re product guys. They’re designers of cool things, not just motorcycles but backpacks and leather goods.”
Biek told Google that they dreamed of building motorcycles but doing it their way. They loved the idea of building these bikes and over time have built that into a business that employs more people and offers more work to their suppliers.
The unique downtown location and a team that goes next door for coffee every morning is part of the cool factor that attracts customers, Brenneman said. The challenge is how to ramp up production of a personalized product to be able to sell more bikes, he said. “That push and pull is at the heart of a lot of entrepreneurial companies.”
Longenbaugh said the company’s goal is simple. “We just try to get as many people as we can on our bikes.” The company canceled in-person events such as Discovery Days, but was able to hold a worldwide rally digitally in July with videos, meetups, and scavenger hunts.
The company leaders want to do more than sell motorcycles. “The end goal of the business is more than a financial transaction. It’s about creating a community, even a family,” said Worsham, who added, “Our faith is present in the business through our actions and our desires to do right by people and the world.”