Harley-Davidson, the biggest name in motorcycling, has entered the building. No matter what you think of Harley, many have wondered what would happen if The Motor Company decided to put its might into a different kind of motorcycle than just the cruisers it’s so well known for. Well, that time has come.
The Pan America 1250 and the Pan America 1250 Special arguably represent the biggest departure for Harley-Davidson in its history.
Some might argue Harley has already dipped its toes in the ADV scene with the Buell Ulysses, but other than using a Sportster powertrain, it’s hard to carry the argument that the Buell counts as the first Harley adventure bike. Regardless, Buell is no more and the Pan America is getting all the attention.
So, has Harley created a contender or a pretender? Let’s take a closer look.
- A truly all-new motorcycle. It’s hard to imagine the Pan America shares any parts with other Harley-Davidsons – because it doesn’t. The frame was designed for adventure, which is a far cry from the paved roads and mellow speeds a cruiser sees. Then you’ve got an all-new engine (more on that in a minute), chain drive, and a suite of electronics never before seen on a Harley-Davidson. If you weren’t sure how serious Harley was taking this category, you can erase those doubts now.
- The Revolution Max 1250. No lumping, heavy, pushrod, air-cooled V-Twins here. As you could guess from the name, Harley’s latest engine is a thoroughly modern 1250cc, 60-degree V-Twin with liquid-cooling, DOHC with variable valve timing, and a 13.1:1 compression ratio. Harley says it makes 150 hp and 92 ft.-lbs of torque. More importantly, that power is spread broadly across the rpm band so it’s actually usable. The Revolution Max 1250 itself is also a stressed member of the chassis, saving weight and adding to the structural rigidity of the bike.
- Let’s talk styling for a minute. Take a look at the Pan America one more time. It’s striking. Whether or not that’s a good thing is up to you, but there’s no doubt it attracts eyeballs. Harley being Harley, it had to incorporate a little bit of tradition in the P-A’s styling, and you can see a little bit of the Road Glide weaved into the fairing, along with the rectangular Daymaker headlight. What you won’t see, however, is a beak. Being the rebels they are, Harley designers figured that just because nearly every other adventure bike has a beak, they were going to go without one. Staying true to form, however, the design clearly showcases and exposes the Revolution Max engine for all to see.
- Electronics. The Pan America is full of them. Utilizing a six-axis IMU (you have to these days to stay with the competition), there are functions for lean-sensitive ABS and traction control, linked braking, and lift control for both wheels. But there’s also another function worth its own bullet point…
- Adaptive Ride Height. Adventure bikes are tall and sitting at over 31 inches, the Pan America is no exception. The $1000 factory-installed ARH option helps alleviate the intimidation those with shorter legs always experience on tall bikes. As you slow down and come to a stop, ARH lowers the bike up to two inches so you can place your foot firmly on the ground. How clever! In addition, while the bike is moving ARH keeps front and rear preload adjusted so the motorcycle always has the right amount of dynamic sag. It does this while taking into account fuel load, luggage weight, and/or whether you have a passenger. It truly is an ingenious feature.
- Back to the electronics. Today’s motorcycles have advanced electronics, and the Pan America is no exception. With five pre-programmed ride modes (Rain, Road, Sport, Off-Road, and Off-Road+), there are also three more ride modes the user can customize to their liking. You can have one mode for the street, another mode for slow, technical terrain, and the third mode for faster, hard-packed dirt sections. The huge TFT display is full of color and is easy to read, too. In case you’re wondering, yes, the rear ABS can be turned off.
- Suspension. Showa provides the suspension on the Pan America, and if you opt for the Pan America 1250 Special and you’ll get an electronically adjustable version of the BFF (Balance Free Fork) and BFRC (Balance Free Rear Cushion). There are five different suspension settings that tie in to the five different Ride Modes.
- Hydraulic Valves. No, the valves themselves are not hydraulic, but their adjustment is done hydraulically. What this means to you is a maintenance-free valvetrain, so you can focus more time on riding and less time on wrenching.
- 5.6-Gallon Fuel Tank. Adventure riders don’t want to worry about running out of gas in the middle of nowhere. With a capacity of 5.6 gallons, the Pan America holds roughly the same amount of gas as many of its competitors. This should amount to 200 miles of riding, depending on your skill and riding conditions. Other manufacturers have at least offered optional fuel tanks that are even larger, bordering on 8 gallons(!). Will Harley follow suit?
We always knew Harley-Davidson could build a comfortable and competent street bike, but looking at what the Pan America has to offer, it looks as though The Motor Company really has developed a true adventure bike.
It’s clear there’s a focus on off-road legitimacy here, but considering how stacked the field is in this big bruiser of a category, Harley can’t just be content with legitimate – it had to focus on being the best.
Time will tell if the Pan America 1250 actually reaches that height, but there’s no reason to believe it can contend straight away with the established players in the big-displacement adventure bike market. If you see yourself in the market for one, you now have another model to consider.