Royal Enfield 350 vs. Janus 250 — a First-hand Comparison
March 1, 2023
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Deciding between a Royal Enfield 350 and a Janus 250? I own them both.
By Tom Neel
Life is all about choices, and one of my favorites is Janus’ Halcyon 250. But I hear many talks about Royal Enfield as an alternative when looking at the Janus models. So I bought a RoyalEnfield Classic 350, just to see how it compares to my Halcyon 250, and the Halcyon 450, which I’ve tested and reviewed. With over 2300 winter miles on it now in 3 months, along with several back-to-back rides between the two, my conclusion on Janus vs Royal Enfield may be of interest to those in the market for a motorcycle with a vintage feel.
Choosing a motorcycle “out of the gate” is usually done in two basic ways, aesthetics or segment. Those attracted to Janus, are almost always enamored by its looks, so it’s a good place to begin. Simply put, there’s just nothing else new like it on the market or road, and trust me, your eyes won’t be the only ones taking notice. I’ve never owned anything that others had so much interest in. It’s adored. It’s also very customizable from the day you order it, which makes the look of yours even more suitable to, well, you from the get-go! But when searchers get searching, at least one other motorcycle brand seems to pop up, Royal Enfield.
Long after most American brands shuttered their doors, British brand motorcycles ruled the world through the fifties and sixties. Until that is, the Japanese put a head squeeze on the whole bloody thing. Every British brand… gone. Oops, except one, Royal Enfield which never stopped. Now an old fart like me can’t remember 1955, even though I was born that year. This was the same year the British manufacturer Royal Enfield built a factory in India, of all places. By about 1970, when the poo hit the fan in the UK, and the whole British motorcycling banana got peeled by the likes of Honda, Royal Enfield shuttered its British factory with all the others. But not their factory in India. That factory not only remained open, but it’s also still alive and well today. Yet it’s now 100% India-owned and operated by Eicher Motors.
The thing about Royal Enfield is that its bread and butter was the Bullet, which remained basically unchanged for decades. So it wasn’t so much a retro motorcycle, as it was a continuously built classic. Even though Triumph and a few other old British brands eventually reopened, it’s my opinion that Royal Enfield still makes the most authentic British motorcycle, though again, from India. Go figure. But when riders go looking for classic or vintage styling, Royal Enfield, especially the current refreshed models, naturally gets some attention.
I mention new models because in my opinion (and I’m not alone), Royal Enfield hasn’t been thought of so highly in the area of reliability. They have put their best foot forward to change this. But we can’t forget, these are motorcycles designed and built in a highly populated, less robust economy. Poverty is everywhere. As such, while India has a very enthusiastic motorcycle culture, they also in many cases, use motorcycles very differently than here in the states. There, they can be a serious mode of transportation. They will in some cases be overworked like a mule would be here a hundred years ago. So really trying to grab worldwide motorcycling market share is something more recent for them, and I have to give at least a little credit where it’s due. They have progressed, which brings us to today.
Now comparing the likes of Royal Enfield to Janus Motorcycles is a little bit like comparing a hammer to an Exacto knife. One is heavy, plentiful, and subjected to worldly duty. The other is light, exceptionally rare by comparison, catering more to a skilled hobbyist. Where paths cross between these two brands is both appealing to those of us who love how motorcycles used to look. The bygone days. While their approaches to chosen era, overall design, and so forth, is quite different, both offer a classic or vintage feel, though the Halcyon is so Americana, circa 1930, while the Classic 350 is very British 50s and 60s. So how do they compare, and does one have the leg up? I may have your answer.
Right off the bat, the biggest difference is in the area of weight. A bare-bones Halcyon 250 is a featherweight of a motorcycle. It’s easy to move, easy to balance, and has wonderfully light handling, requiring almost no steering input. Some Halcyons will only see urban use, but its rural escapades are spot on through twisty country roads. Even with semi-full saddlebags, it’s well under 300 pounds and feels even less. In the world of motorcycles, this is a helium balloon. It should be noted that the Halcyon 450, at well under 400 pounds, offers much of the same lightweight characteristic feel of its little brother. You ride it a bit differently, but the distinct Halcyon feel remains.
Now compare these numbers to the Classic 350’s porky-ness of 430 pounds, and you can see you have your hands full. Just moving it from the garage commands the respect of moving something which needs to be kept balanced. I’ll also add, that while some heavy motorcycles are light on their feet, the Classic 350 is not. To me, it feels even heavier than its weight. That weight translates into slow steering, requiring leveraging in counter-steering when pushed. It’s such a contrast to the Halcyon’s featherweight prowess and narrow tires and rims, which make it razor-sharp when ridden with expertise. But it will teach newcomers motorcycle dynamics in a way heavy, more powerful motorcycles simply cannot. Slow and easy goes the Classic 350, which it happily does.
While the Classic 350 isn’t really quicker than the Halcyon 250, its top speed is truthfully at least 7 miles per hour faster… though it can be a slow ascent. The top end of its engine is rather anemic, and not what I would describe as exciting. I’d say if it was a dog, it would be a good old hound, whereas the Halcyon 250 would be a Fox Terrier, and again, the 450, its bigger brother. All in all, the Classic 350 is a very reasonably priced, classically styled cruiser. This is not to say it’s a bad motorcycle. In fact, it has a few notable merits which include, a very attractive, well-functioning, and readable gauge layout. It has good ergonomics and it is unquestionably comfortable. I never nicknamed my motorcycles, but I’ve done so with this Classic 350 by calling it, “Fleetwood”… like the old Cadillac.
With the pair of Halcyons, you have two motorcycles that split the difference between the Classic 350, and even cross the bridge to the larger 650 Enfields, as well. Out of the gate, Halcyons are eye-catching in ways other motorcycles haven’t the chance to be. Even if they wanted to, larger manufacturers are about selling motorcycles by thousands, when Janus may have just crossed that milestone. Both Halcyons are comfortable, but the 250, with its rigid frame, is oddly so. I say this because many will see no rear shocks and instantly be put off. But between front suspension, rear seat springs, and a perfectly shaped seat pan, I find no problem doing regular rides in excess of hundred miles. This by the way is quite normal for me, and I never come home with a sore back or bum, and I’m 68. That doesn’t mean a rider won’t feel the road, but I enjoy this side of its character. You feel engaged like you’re really riding something interesting and timeless. The fully suspended Halcyon 450 has no issues in the area of road insulation, yet its ergonomics and layout are exactly like that of the 250. If not for its two larger gauges, one might think they were on the 250.
Past its coolness, the one thing I love about owning a Halcyon 250 is Janus’ minimalist approach to design. It is all one needs and nothing more. It is very mechanical in feel as well. Visceral, not only perfectly describes its characteristic feel, it is what potential owners should expect from it. This is motorcycling at its root or core. Theoretically, you could remove its engine, add a sprocket and pedals, and you could damn near ride a Halcyon to 250 like a bicycle. For those that can remember the first joyous time they got off their bicycle and onto a mini-bike, that same smile-inducing feeling can be found once again. It’s just plain fun!
There’s a petcock, a kickstarter if you like, and a little service worth learning, which brings you closer to motorcycling, not further from it. As an example though, I can honestly change the oil and adjust the valves in no more than 45 minutes. By the way, that same job on the Classic 350, with its seat, and gas tank removable, finicky gasket set up, and wiring harness in the way is more in the area of several hours. If you don’t want to do it yourself, the Royal Enfield dealer is happy to charge you around $550, and when you are buying it, it’s not likely the dealer will broadcast that it needs its first service after just 300 miles!!! In my case that was about 4 days after picking it up. Trust me too, the valves needed to be adjusted, as loose valve clearances rarely cause problems right away, but too tight is another matter, and these were in that direction. So when you buy your Enfield, you may as well just add in the price of the first service, or take the parts to do it home with you.
If suspension, the ease of fuel injection, and true top speeds of 70mph or more is important to you, well then, the Halcyon 450 is the direction you have to go when making a like comparison to Royal Enfield’s 350 or 650. The Classic 350 has a top speed of just over 70mph. The 650 will likely be near 100mph if pushed. I did around 85 on a Halcyon 450 during my test. All mentioned though, are most happy on a highway between 65 and 75mph. While the Halcyon 450’s two-gallon tank will certainly get you over 100 miles, the Enfield’s is around 150 miles or so. To be honest, my bladder is looking to be emptied before then anyway.
Looks come into play here again, because a Halcyon is a Halcyon, and nothing else is. It’s also in the area of being 50 to 80 pounds lighter than the choices from Royal Enfield. That makes a big difference to me, and it may or may not to you. One is narrow, the other two are not, and those with shorter inseams (like me), will appreciate the ease with which your legs reach the ground without having to reach around fat gas tanks, massive engines, and large footpegs. By the way, another little bothersome Classic 350 hurtle, was finding out that from the factory, you can barely get your toe under the shift lever. You might say, easy fix, just loosen, slide off and reposition it. Oh, if it was that simple. Instead, it is restricted from removal by the footpeg bracket. I mean it is really stupid. So to remove it, you have to loosen the engine’s frame cradle and push it down enough to get the lever off and reposition it. It really is silly, but you find this kind of thing all over the Royal Enfield. When doing an oil change, almost no oil comes out of the large drain plug. Instead, you have to remove two small 8mm bolts and a small plate that holds in the internal oil filter. Trust me, those 8mm nuts will be a source of newcomer nightmares with the possibility of stripping them.
When it comes time to make your decision if a Janus motorcycle is right for you or not, I think in all fairness it comes down to how you view yourself, and your purpose in motorcycle ownership and riding. If you’re admittedly not mechanically inclined, or a tinkerer of sorts, who is price conscious, and just wants something nice to putt around on, well then, Royal Enfield is probably a good direction to go. But, if you happen to be largely the opposite of this description, in search of unique machines, hand-built by a boutique American manufacturer, that supports a tight-knit community of like-minded motorcyclists, then Janus Motorcycles is likely a very natural fit. There is no wrong decision here, just the right one for you.
I began this story by stating, I currently own both a Halcyon 250 and a Royal Enfield Classic 350. I suspect I’m not at all alone, but now after about forty motorcycles owned, into my over 50 years of riding, I can never see myself without a Halcyon. As for the Classic 350, it will likely be sold soon. I just don’t see it as a long-term love affair. More of an enjoyable fling.
Want to hear more of Tom’s musings? Read his ride review of the Halcyon 450 here.
Or, watch the YouTube video of his ride with Woody here.