After a long run-up, it is now really happening: Harley-Davidson is launching an all-road motorcycle with the Pan America 1250. No, not a soft adventure or crossover, but a real all-road, which will enter the category where the BMW R1250GS ruled for years.
As they say within the American brand full throttle marketing campaign: “this changes everything” – even if that’s just the case for themselves.
While everyone was a bit giggly at the first announcement in 2018, that immediately changed when Harley presented the numbers at the beginning of 2021: 150 hp, 94 lbs•ft, and 534 lbs – all starting at $17,319 MSRP.
Very ambitious figures, which are only inferior to the unassailable benchmark made by the GS in terms of torque, but really score better in terms of horsepower, weight, and price.
OK, there is no shaft drive, and Harley-Davidson instead uses a chain, which helps in terms of weight, but still: read the numbers again and think how far this American brand had to come, and how much it will be all or nothing for Harley with this PanAm.
After countless prototypes, we meet the final production version for the first time in a operational German basalt quarry.
The event makes us feel very much like meeting the first KTM big adventure bike: the atmosphere is confident, but tense, in the special built Adventure Camp.
Try to think of the nightmares for the organization of the launch event for Harley’s most important model since maybe…ever: COVID restrictions in productions, getting the bikes from the factory in Thailand through a blocked Suez-canal, preparing the event in a lockdown with even more German COVID restrictions in the last week.
Even Harley-Davidson CEO Jochen Zeitz looked tired when he was addressing us live from the USA.
In terms of finish, Harley has clearly made a big step, because the build quality in the Thai factory looks fine to our critical eyes: no lumpy nuts and bolts in the picture, only a few loose cables.
Minor things, like a far too long bolt on the exhaust clamp, are easily noticeable, which says enough on the high quality of everything else.
Not everything is rosy, however. The “pistol grip” operation of the height adjustment for the windshield is downright poor in operation (a simple task that motorcycle brands always seem to hit with varying degrees of success), although the windshield does more than an adequate job in terms of wind protection.
Overall, the workmanship is at a high level. There has clearly been a significant improvement in quality at the “Rewire” of the Harley-Davidson organization.
As the title may have told you, we did our reviewing riding the up-spect Pan American 1250 Special version, which in addition to semi-active Show suspension, also has crash bars all around, a centerstand, a cleverly reversible brake pedal, skid-plate, handguards, cornering lights, and handlebar heaters.
Of course, it also had factory-optional wire-spoked wheels and adaptive ARH seat height.
Indeed, the standard version is quite bare, but that has never bothered buyers of either Harley-Davidson or BMW before.
Surprisingly, the Americans did not fall into the trap of a ‘beak’ but opted for another striking eye-catcher at the front; the gigantic headlight.
We can be brief about the appearance: the Pan America 1250 looks like a real Harley-Davidson all-road machine.
If the appearance is not your taste: remember that during the first 30 model years almost everyone found the GS functionally cool, but ugly. Losing beauty pageants has never stopped a motorcycle from success in the ADV market.
For non-Harley riders, the music player buttons on the right handlebar are a bit exaggerated and the operation of the beautiful 6.8-inch TFT dashboard, a bit too complicated, but with a little study and use of the touchscreen, you can navigate your way around.
This all makes it easy to enter in your personal choices for traction control, cornering ABS, and electronic suspension. There are still some improvements to be made there in terms of intuitive operation, but in terms of content and appearance it is all just fine.
Usually we ride in the “Sport” mode, but we dabbled with a self-selected riding mode as well, and in the afternoon we used the “Custom Off Road Plus” mode.
Indeed, there is a lot of choice and therefore a lot to do, where the app (including navigation on the dashboard) may be able to help, but it was not completely functional yet.
Where the Rubber Meets the Road
Already at the start you see and feel immediately that the 1252 cc Revolution Max 1250 engine, a water-cooled 60° v-twin, has nothing to do with any Harley whatsoever.
No potatoes, no pokpokpok, but a quiet, very quiet engine running that is more reminiscent of a V-Strom than a V-Rod.
Starting in first gear is sometimes a bit uncertain, a point of attention for further development.
However, starting in neutral and then engaging first gear goes smoothly, without the Harley-KLUNK, after which the clutch is easy to feather and the fuel-injection picks up nicely.
The Revolution Max 1250 runs super smooth and predictable from the lowest rpm to the rev limiter. Very low in revs, no injection hiccups, which is a high-point from the massive v-twin engine (and not something every brand can say).
In addition, the torque is distributed gradually over the rev range, which is very powerful, but evenly spread between 2000 and 9000 rpm.
The only really minor point in the injection is picking up at partial load: in a bend just closing the throttle just a little bit and then pick up again is still a bit too abrupt, especially in the lower revs.
But really, it is unbelievable that you could ever blast through the German hills at such a speed with a Harley-Davidson.
The linear torque might miss the “kick” of a GS or a KTM 1290, but the power delivery is impressive and more than adequate, eliminating the need to say “for a Harley” for the first time in history.
For the first time in modern memory, the Americans have released a power figure for a motorcycle (normally only the torque figured would be quoted because horsepower was unimportant to Harley-Davidson’s marketing team). Not anymore.
It sometimes seems as if that 150 hp seems a bit exaggerated on the spec sheet, but when we roam the winding German roads of the Westerwald at high-speed, in a pack of ADV bikes from other brands, we can see the Pan America 1250 easily holds its own in terms of power.
This engine is a huge leap forward, putting it very far away from the current Milwaukee Eight engines of the big HD cruisers.
In terms of handling, the Pan isn’t quite where the competition is, but we are talking about a really small difference.
The steering damper on the Pan America 1250 Special seems to hinder rather than help, and in the morning, the Metzeler Scorcher tires take some getting used to at the front, so you need to be a bit more persuasive in terms of turning inputs.
But, once used to the bike and warmed up, the motorcycle does more and more of exactly what you want it to do, all with a lot of stability.
This is especially true on tight lines and long curves, even when the throttle is being twisted to the maximum.
If we imagine back a fictional ride with a group of adventure-tourers, the Pan America would not be left behind if the pace started getting quick, but you would sometimes have to work a harder in the short fast corners, which is then paid back in the longer continuous sweepers.
Another item of note: the steering lock it is also well done – this Harley turns tight laps around a stationary Ultra Glide.
In terms of seating position, the Pan America is correct, although some will want to have the handlebars just a little bit closer. In addition, the saddle is certainly not low.
To battle this though, Harley-Davidson has created an innovative automatic ride-height (ARH) system.
To be honest: the idea of the ARH is brilliant, but the development still needs some attention before shorter riders can really take it on the road.
For those not familiar with Harley-Davidson’s automatic ride-height system, the chassis clearly lowers itself when you stop, but the (optional) system doesn’t keep you informed enough of what is going on, and does not offer enough options to make your own choices on how far the bike will drop.
In terms of suspension, the pieces on our Pan America 1250 Special were fine. The Japanese Showa elements combine well with the Italian Brembo brakes, although the front could benefit from diving a little less. Indeed, that’s a standard discussion point on all of the big ADV machines.
As the speeds pick up, the Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 is well-suited on the German Autobahn.
Shifting very quickly through the excellent gearbox is easy, even with some bulky off-road boots. We just wish there was a quickshifter as an option – something the average Harley-fan will laugh at very loud.
Pushing the bike to a top speed of 140 mph, the Pan America shows itself to be very stable for a bike with such a massive fairing.
We can maintain the top speed for a long time, even in long corners, where sometimes a little bit of movement can be felt, but there are plenty of other ADV bikes that do that much worse.
With the optional panniers, or not too fancy soft luggage, everything changes for the wider, as the Pan America is already tighter on the motorway than the Pan European (that’s the Honda ST, to you American readers -JB).
In the afternoon we also dive into the off-road sections. Unfortunately, we do not do long stretches of gravel road, but are limited to some kind of trial sessions on a training course within the quarry.
The Harley proves that it can handle everything well, from jumping to sliding and from descending to climbing; it is all really possible with the large machine.
Perhaps the thing that everyone wants to know, the Pan America 1250 presents itself as a serious player in the ADV segment.
We expect that the first world-travelers that use the Harley Pan America 1250 will probably report that the bike is capable of taking very far after the asphalt ends.
Yeah, But Would You Buy One?
Through the 2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250, the Bar & Shield brand has landed in a time machine, as it were.
In one clear strike, Harley-Davidson has gotten close to the mark on what is required from a big-displacement ADV motorcycle – slaughtering many sacred cows along the way for the American brand.
Apart from the windshield adjustment and fuel injection at partial load, there are no major downsides to the machine, while the motorcycle scores remarkably well in almost all other areas, with the new engine as the main plus.
The result is a very good all-road motorcycle, which is more than capable of keeping up with any of the offerings from the top brands.
Does it outshine the BMW R1250GS, KTM 1290 Super Adventure S, or even the newly crowned benchmark: the Ducati Multistrada V4? No, but that shouldn’t stop those who are drawn to its odd looks, or have a fascination with this iconic American brand.
The Pan America thus makes a more than impressive entrance into a market where the bar is set very high. And one thing is for certain: the Harley-Davidson Pan America is much better as an ADV bike than the BMW R18 is as a cruiser. So, there’s that.
Many thanks to our friend Iwan from Testmotor.nl for providing us this review of the Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special.