Harley-Davidson Pan America Review (2021)

 

Take any and every preconception you have about Harley-Davidson and park them in the corner. Good or bad, you won’t need them for this. We’re looking at a company founded in 1903, recognisable the world over even to those who have no interest in motorcycling, with as much brand recognition as Coca-Cola (almost), and with this motorcycle it has dramatically changed its future. For a manufacturer known for its ‘chapters’, this is a whole new one.

Meet the long-awaited Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250. There are two of them, the standard model and the Special which has no additional power but plenty of extra goodies for the £1500 price difference. It’s a brave new foray into a hotly contested segment for a brand renowned for making big cruisers with excess chrome and rattly motors ever since Noah was counting animals in pairs. Like I said, park those historic notions because the Pan Am (I’m certain they won’t like that nickname over in Milwaukee) is an adventure-tourer designed from the ground-up to take on BMW’s stranglehold in this market with the GS and GSA range.

A new motorbike means new ideas, new chassis, new engine with variable valve timing in a 150hp Revolution Max V-Twin, new technology and new market focus. And the Milwaukee team have created somewhat of a talking point. Had unveil day been 1st April, you’d have been excused to think it was a wind-up. Thankfully for the forward-thinkers among us, they were serious, and they’ve served up an absolute treat. We head to Wales for some on-and-off road action.

 

For and against
  • Excellent pound-for-pound value
  • Strong, versatile engine
  • Technological advancements
  • Tyres
  • Versatility
  • Lacks several modern-day aids like a quickshifter or ACC
  • Needs to decide if its keyless or not
  • Front brake feel
Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 2021_80

 

Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 (2021) Price

How much is the 2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250? Of the two models, the standard bike starts at £14,000 while the Harley-Davidson 1250 Special starts at £15,500.

Those prices are applicable if you chose the Vivid Black colour scheme. For the standard bike, the only other option is River Rock Grey and that’ll be an extra £250. On the Special model, Gauntlet Grey Metallic or Deadwood Green (the bike I’m riding in these photos) are an extra £250. Or the two-tone Baja Orange/Stone Washed White Pearl is £450 extra. They’ll be in UK dealerships from the beginning of June and 40% of the allocation has been sold. 90% of those are the Special edition.

For the extra £1500, the Special comes with some top-notch kit: semi-active front and rear suspension, two additional riding modes, centre stand, heated grips, steering damper, hand guards, adaptive forward lighting, skid plate, brush guard, tyre pressure monitoring system and a quick adjust brake pedal (if taking 258kg off-roading is your thing).

And the below PCP example shows the Deadwood Green Pan America 1250 Special at less than £150 per month: 

On The Road Price

£15,750

Customer Deposit

£4,000

Term

37 months

Monthly Payment

£149.89

Annual miles

4000

Optional final repayment

£8,774

Total Amount Payable

£18,170.04

APR

7.9%

In short, the prices are bang-on when it comes to competing with the undisputed king of the adventure class, BMW’s R1250GS (which starts at £13,705), you could say the same about the other two main rivals; KTM’s 1290 Super Adventure S (£14,999) and the Ducati Multistrada V4 (£15,665), but how does Harley’s offering stack up in other respects?

 

Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 2021_29

 

Power and Torque

The new Revolution Max 1250cc 60-degree V-twin is a liquid-cooled 1252cc engine designed pretty much on a capacity par with the 1254cc BMW boxer in terms of capacity but punches harder, with 150hp at 8750rpm compared to the German bike’s 136hp at 7750rpm. The tables are turned when it comes to torque, with the Pan America peaking at 94lbft and 6750rpm, the BMW at 106lbft and 6250rpm.

That surge of low to mid-range as well as roll-on power depends on the selected rider mode, with one of the biggest differences between Road and Sport I’ve known on any bike. Road mode soaks chunks of entertainment away but suits those longer motorway stretches or the occasions where aggressive riding isn’t required (on the wet and pinecone-laden single-track roads south of the Snowdonia National Park, for example, which happened to be those used on our press ride). Sport is rather obviously the more energetic in terms of throttle connection while dampening technological intervention which demonstrates the performance versatility of the new motor.

You might expect an almighty heave from the mid-range and while it doesn’t hang about with a fistful of throttle, it’s silky smooth in its application with all sorts of balancer shafts calming the lumps, thumps, and bumps one associates with a Harley engine. One thing to note is the amount of throttle grip rotation required - from zero to full, you’d almost need two grabs at it.

 

Above: The cockpit: easier than it looks to understand

 

Engine, Gearbox and Exhaust

Although the angle between the cylinders is 60 degrees to keep it compact, the firing interval is a more traditional 90 degrees thanks to crank pins that are offset by 30 degrees. That means you won’t be hearing the traditional Harley noise from this twin, although the company says it’s put efforts into making the engine sound distinctive nonetheless. The V-Twin is of course core to Harley’s identity.

The Variable Valve Timing is something of a surprise. Although not as sophisticated as BMW’s ShiftCam system, which alters the valve lift as well as its timing, the setup is on a par with the variable valve timing used on Ducati’s DVT twins. Like the Italian engines, the Revolution Max features a cam phaser on for each of its four camshafts, allowing the shafts to be rotated in relation to their sprockets to advance or retard the timing. The cams are chain-driven, so there aren’t any belts to be replaced, and servicing worries are also likely to be lightened by the inclusion of hydraulic tappets to make valve clearance adjustments a thing of the past.

Twin spark plugs per cylinder promise a better burn across the wide 105mm bore of each cylinder, and the engine’s balance is improved by a main balancer shaft in the crankcase and a secondary balancer in the front cylinder head, between the camshafts. Drive goes through a slipper clutch to a six-speed manual box which then uses a chain-drive which, for some, will be a disadvantage away from the relatively maintenance-free but far heavier shaft drive. It was considered, said the engineers.

A small push button ignition on top of the right-hand switchgear brings the motor into life with little shake, rattle or roll but more of an impressive, 21st century rumble. It’s modern, neat, bare and clever too. Chief Engineer, Alex ‘Boz’ Bozmoski took 18 minutes of scripted video to explain the engine’s components from concept, purpose, material and location. It really is a new era for the Harley twin all in a neat package considering is size, but also the proximity to an EV age. Perhaps a LiveWire and Pan America offspring will emerge one day soon. Back to engine, and the Revolution Max provides its noise via a side-slung R1-esque silencer. Optional Screamin’ Eagle versions are available, though the standard pipe is hearty enough.

When in off-road mode and trekking through the single track, shale-covered forest stage, the gearbox was torquey enough, but I needed first gear and its accompanying mid-range revs to get anywhere as opposed to the momentum and low-down grunt in second. On the road and only when cruising will 6th be in contention for your attention. The long, tall gearing makes for minimal gear changes which are light enough with a slipper clutch in place although an up/down quickshifter would have been another contemporary (and pleasing) addition. “It’s being considered (for future models),” said one of the engineers. I half expected a full-on clunk between shifts, but this is no old-school Harley, instead you’re respectfully tapped on the shoulder and asked politely to observe the quaint rocking motion of a gear change – all in about a quarter of second.

 

 

Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 (2021) Comfort and Economy

The peg to seat gap is actually quite short for a bike pitched at being an ‘adventure tourer’, a distance:comfort ratio accentuated when you arrive back on the tarmac having ridden off-road and therefore been stood up on the pegs. You fit snugly back into the seat, and it seems a little cosy, my knee was higher than my hip, just. On the press ride we only ever spent a maximum of around 40-minutes in the saddle at a time so comfort over a great distance is still tbc. The stretch to the ‘bars is nothing too outrageous given the length of the bike and its overall stance, and for potential big miles the width of those handlebars, accessibility to the plethora of buttons, inc. standard fit cruise control, are spot on for comfort levels. An additional 2” can be found with the accessory bar riser. Levers are span adjustable as is the four-position screen via your left-hand lever operation, and it’s sturdy too even in the highest setting which, at 6ft tall, I found pleasingly protective as the rain lashed down.

If you do opt for the full luggage, you can be safe in the knowledge that even when full, plus a pillion, the bike is still homologated to 135mph! The standard seat has two height settings: 868mm / 894mm on the standard 1250 or 850mm / 875mm on the Special. It’s interchangeable by removing the pillion seat and moving the rider’s seat up or down into the relevant lugs. For which you need a key. On a keyless bike. Oh, why do we have this key/keyless battle with so many modern bikes? If it’s going to be keyless then scrap the key altogether, don’t make it partially keyless. On the Harley you still a key for the seat removal, fuel tank access and for any luggage. Anyway, we digress. With the Special there’s the pièce de resistance – Adaptive Ride Height. Sensors work out when you’re stopping and lower the front and rear pre-load hydraulically to make getting off the bike easier. Equally, it recognises as you pull away to increase that height again, though the system disengages when in Off-Road mode for obvious reasons. Clever stuff that’s almost unnoticeable. It takes the bike’s seat height down to 825mm / 856mm. And here’s a tip to know which setting the seat is in – there’s an inch tall bump on the end of the fuel tank in front of the seat that resemble a gentleman’s parts right in front of where the gentleman’s parts would be if sat on the bike. If you can’t see them then the seat is in its higher position.

The tank is said to hold 21.2 litres and with a claimed economy of 43mpg that would return a range of 225 miles.

 

 

Handling, Suspension and Weight

The Pan America is a whole lot of bike, weighing in at a mighty 258kg (wet), yet even with an Öhlins steering damper fitted to the Special there’s an vagueness to the front end at the initial tip-in. Understandable, considering the bike’s size and purpose, you might say. Electronic suspension and quite a stiff front brake feel battle with the weight transfer as you change from braking to steering and even though the Harley-developed Michelin Scorcher Adventure tubeless tyres are ace, there’s a limit to how much you can trust initial turn on your first ride. The Pan Am is long too at 2265mm (GS: 2207mm) with a 1580mm wheelbase (GS: 1500mm) and even though the centre of gravity is well-engineered, and the bike doesn’t feel as top heavy as the German counterpart (despite a v-twin having taller cylinder movement than a boxer), the consequence is the aforementioned confidence in the front end having to be earned rather than immediate. That said, look at what it’s been built to do. Hustling around b-roads ‘aint its forte. 

The engine is mounted low, so low in fact I started to compare ground clearance as soon as I saw the bike in the flesh thinking it’s going to get a proper bashing off-road. However, while it’s only 10mm shy of the BMW, it’s 45mm off the Ducati. On the Special you get an aluminium skid plate to protect the crankcase and throughout our romp around Mick Extance's Welsh forest-based motorcycle assault course its humps and hollows, I didn’t feel the bike bottom-out once. Our bikes were fitted with the optional extended skid plate. Considering the amount of engine, chassis, and electronics on the Pan America, as well as the murky and mucky conditions on the Welsh roads, after my initial concerns, I began to feel comfortable trying to boss the bike a little. Pushing on at each corner exit to see if anything untoward would happen, yet it stayed composed courtesy mainly of the excellent Showa 47mm BFF forks. The Special’s semi-active setup automatically adjusts the damping depending on conditions and riding style, governed by five profiles incorporated into the riding modes and even altering the rear preload automatically to account for the weight of the rider, passenger, and luggage. Ironing out the (very few) blemishes on the Welsh valley roads seemed a simple task.

 

Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 (2021) Brakes

A linked set of Brembos are controlled not only by you squeezing the lever or pedal but also via the brains of the bike, the 6-axis IMU, which has responsibilities for ABS, cornering ABS and hill hold control. On a heavier bike such as the Pan Am, I tend to use the rear brake to prevent too much weight diving forwards, though I needn’t given the linked nature of the brake set-up and the excellent suspension settings controlling such potential distortions. Though I trusted their ability to do the one thing they’re supposed to do, the feeling through the brake lever was a little too stiff. With minimal travel of the lever and barely any squeeze required, I felt the front would lock with any more pressure. Perhaps I should be applauding the harmonious work of the engine braking, electronics, and suspension combination for slowing me in comfort.

In Off-Road Plus mode the ABS on the rear is disabled and the linked brakes are disabled.

 

Above: Source of much social media jibes – the ‘Daymaker’ headlight

 

Rider aids/Accessories

Should you happen to have a list of rider aids frequenting the most premium level rivals in this class then ticking off that also appear on the Harley will be quite the task. It’s laden with the good stuff to help the usual performance and comfort-related customisation to you riding. The setting controlled by the six-axis IMU via seven rider modes all adjusted through the 6.8” tiltable and touch screen (touch only when stationary) and array of buttons across the handlebars which at first glance appear almost at Africa Twin levels of baffling but are actually far more intuitive. Except the indicator switch which hides away under the left bar.

The riding modes on most bikes are almost unrecognisably different. Not here. Rain mode is not worth checking out, it saps power and any form of engagement with the bike. Road is pleasant, almost V-Strom-esque. The bike performs competently without getting too eager, but Sport… that’s a different story. The throttle connection is on point while the suspension firms up and tilts the bike ever so slightly on its nose for a more athletic (!) position. Even though the name of the mode could be off-putting, it’s where the bike belongs and even eradicates some of those early cornering concerns.

A Bluetooth-enabled app allows connectivity from bike to phone, and if you have an accompanying headset then a whole host of music, phone and navigation widgets can be accessed. There’s even a USB-c socket to the side of the screen. While the enormity and design of the headlight may cause consternation among the armchair experts, the ‘Daymaker’ adaptive headlight (on the Special only) contains three LED’s each side to illuminate more of the road while you lean. The name is said to equate to the array of light on offer even while riding at night – something we didn’t have a chance to do yet.

Arriving at the entrance to Mick Extance’s gaff offered us the chance to simply remove the rubber bungs in the footpegs, click the ‘mode’ button enough times to engage Off Road, and away we went up the gravel roads and shale-covered single tracks. The Pan Am swept it all up in such a polished manner. TC can be switched off at the rear via another under-bar button allowing for a little more slidey-slidey but I was so impressed with these dual-purpose Michelins (Anakees are also available as standard fit) going from motorway cruiser to forest-hustler with a flick of a button. Oh, I also lowered the screen. Puddles, loose-surface corners and the minimal incline and declines were easily dealt with. It’s not a MX master machine so we didn’t get too crazy, but it was good to know the electronics, balance and controllable power in first gear were all spot on.

 

Rivals

What a class to dip your toes into. The most popular and fastest growing of the last twenty years with some superb machines with years of development under their belts already swan around with an air of grace. From the BMW R1250GS and its Adventure-spec sibling to the KTM 1290 Super Adventure pairing, Ducati’s incredible Multistrada V4 range and the existing (and soon-to-be-updated) Triumph Tiger 1200. There are many more that don’t quite match up in terms of performance or spec yet are still accomplished touring adventure types from the Japanese four of Yamaha, Suzuki, Kawasaki and Honda. Though for this chart, we settled with the European motorcycles that offer the best rivalry to the new Harley:

 

 

KTM 1290 SUPER ADVENTURE S

BMW R1250GS

DUCATI MULTISTRADA V4

TRIUMPH TIGER 1200 XCA

Engine

1301cc, V-Twin

1254cc, Boxer Twin

1158cc, V4

1215cc, inline triple

Power

160bhp (118kW) @ 9000rpm

134bhp (100kW) @ 7750rpm

170bhp (125kW) @ 10,500rpm

139bhp (104kW) @ 9350rpm

Torque

102ft-lb (138Nm) @ 6500rpm

106lb-ft (143Nm) @ 6250rpm

92lb-ft (125Nm) @ 8750rpm

90lb-ft (122Nm) @ 7600rpm

Weight

220kg (dry)

249kg (wet)

243kg (wet)

248kg (dry)

Seat height

849-869mm

850-870mm

840-860mm

835-855mm

Fuel tank

23 litres

20 litres

22 litres

20 litres

PRICE

From £14,999

From £13,705

From £15,665

£16,950

 

Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 (2021) Verdict

As complex, and useful as a swiss army knife, Harley-Davidson’s new Pan America deserves accolades - it's well-balanced, sturdy, loaded with technology and engaging to ride particularly in sport mode. It’s a shame the weight and relevance will preclude at least 90% of owners to never take it off-road and experience what a gravel amateur such as I got to feel. A swift flick of a button and removal of those peg rubbers is all you need to take it from motorway cruiser to forest conqueror. The choice of tyre and exquisite engineering combine beautifully.

It’s not the prettiest nor most dynamic handler and the likes of a quickshifter would have been neat but even the base Special provides great value and riding reward. Add a few trinkets like the must-have Adaptive Ride Height and perhaps a smoky screen and some luggage, hook it up to your Bluetooth and you’ll be standing out from the BMW crowd with one very fine and highly capable motorcycle. It’s a long-distance hauler, it’s an off-roader, it’s a pop-to-the-shopper, a commuter, a two-up tourer. It’s the new GS.

Much more subtle in its application of power which aligns it more with a GS mixed with a bit of V-Strom than the even more tech laden and sophisticated Multistrada or raucous, racy KTM. Harley has to be heartily applauded for making such a significant step away from what the brand is regarded for and doing it so well. The Pan America is right up there and deservedly has a place at the big boys table.

 

Above: Green and Grey Special models plus the Black normal version

 

Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 (2021) Technical Specification

New price

£14,000 (£15,500 for the Special)

Capacity

1252cc

Bore x Stroke

105 x 72mm

Engine layout

60-degree V-Twin

Engine details

Liquid-cooled, DOHC, VVT

Power

148bhp / 112kW @ 8750rpm

Torque

94.4ft-lbs / 128Nm @ 6750rpm

Top speed

Homologated to 135mph with pillion and luggage

Transmission

6-speed

Average fuel consumption

43mpg (claimed)

Tank size

21.2 litres

Max range to empty

THEORETICAL: 225 miles

Rider aids

6-axis IMU

Frame

Tubular steel

Front suspension

Showa BFF 47mm inverted forks, 191mm travel

Front suspension adjustment

Electronically adjustable semi-active damping control.

Rear suspension

Showa BFRC Linkage-mounted monoshock

Rear suspension adjustment

Automatic electronic preload control and semi-active compression & rebound damping

Front brake

Brembo, radially mounted, monoblock, 4-piston calliper

Rear brake

Brembo, floating single piston caliper

 

Front tyre

H-D/Michelin Scorcher Adventure, 120/70R19 60V

Rear tyre

H-D/Michelin Scorcher Adventure, 170/60R17 72V

Rake / Trail

25° / 108mm

Length

2265mm

Wheelbase

1580mm

Ground Clearance

175mm

Seat height

Standard: 868mm / 894mm

Special: 850mm / 875mm

(with ARH: 825mm / 856mm)

Weight

Special: 258kg (Wet)

MCIA Secured rating

4/5 stars (Fitted with steering Lock, Immobiliser, Alarm and Datatag Marking but no Tracker)

Warranty

Two years

Website

www.harley-davidson.com

Photos by Gareth Harford

To learn more about what the spec sheet means, click here for our glossary

 

Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 2021_mcia
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