HARLEY-DAVIDSON PAN AMERICA SPECIAL (2021 - on) Review
- Sporty engine
- Comprehensive electronics
- Distinctive looks
At a glance
Overall ratingNext up: Ride & brakes
Times change, and those who want to sell new motorbikes have to adapt rapidly to what the market wants – which is particularly true for Harley-Davidson with their cruiser and tourer-heavy portfolio.
- Latest news: Harley-Davidson Pan America tech explored
But what’s surprising is the direction in which H-D are expanding. Anyone expecting a brutish naked (sadly the Bronx project is ‘paused’) will be surprised that the all-new Pan America 1250 Special was chosen to come first.
Harley are venturing into a highly competitive segment here – but riding their first serious foray into GS-land reveals an impressively well resolved bike that thankfully bears no resemblance to the failed Buell Ulysses which was released under H-D’s ownership.
As the first big adventure bike released directly under the Harley-Davidson banner, there were still bound to be quirks, and there are.
And then there’s the styling. Of course, this is always subjective – but with the Pan’s refreshingly unusual rugged aesthetic, Harley are very elegantly and cleverly not copying their rivals – there is no question of this being just another BMW GS clone. And that’s a good thing. The Pan Am still has a Harley uniqueness and delivers on its promise very well.
Apart from a few minor flaws, the Special edition in particular is a good all-round adventure bike that pleases off-road and, more importantly, its thoroughly sporty character shines through on-road.
And with innovative features like the Adaptive Ride Height System, it could also tempt riders intimidated by the usual suspects. It will give some of the class leaders a real run for their money.
Ride quality & brakesNext up: Engine
While the Pan Am can hardly be described as a handling miracle, Harley’s engineers have managed to achieve a centre of gravity that makes it easy to muscle around.
The Special weighs in at 258kg (kerb), while the standard model’s lack of engine guards, main stand, electronically adjustable Showa suspension, Daymaker Signature headlight with cornering lights, steering damper and tyre pressure monitoring system sees it shed 13 kilos to tip the scales at 245kg. So it’s on a par with most of its key adventure bike rivals.
And if you’re shorter of leg, you can add the clever Adaptive Ride Height System (for £600), which lowers the seat height to just under 800 millimetres when the bike comes to a stop. The system is only available for the 1250 Special, because the lowering kit relies on its more advanced electronics package.
The Special’s electronically adjustable (and really rather impressive) suspension, comes from Showa, while the braking hardware comes from Italian manufacturer Brembo. But, despite 320mm double discs at the front with radially mounted four-piston monobloc calipers, they lack bite and you need a lot of lever effort to stop quickly.
The screen can be adjusted but lacks rigidity in its highest position, meaning it wobbles distractingly – although in the penultimate to top position, it does remain stable.
Nose it into the dirt and it tackles off-road with aplomb. The standing position, the handling, the off-road ABS and the off-road traction control all work together extremely well. Selecting the ‘Off-road’ mode also gives very smooth power and torque delivery, meaning the electronics don’t have to intervene too much.
EngineNext up: Reliability
As the V-twin rumbles into life, it’s still got a distinctly Harley vibe to it, but also feels different from anything Harley have released before.
The new Pan Am is all about its 30 degrees of crank pin offset (which is why it doesn’t sound so typically Harley), magnesium covers, variable valve timing and sodium in the exhaust valves for optimum cooling - to name just a few of the innovations.
It’s saturated with state-of-the-art features that mean this newly developed 60° V-twin powerplant is immediately competitive within the big adventure bike market with 150bhp on tap at 9000rpm and 94lb.ft torque at 6750rpm, Harley are most definitely playing with the big boys.
The ultra-modern Revolution Max engine wants to be revved, and thanks to the well-honed ride-by-wire system, it feels really sporty to ride. But the Pan America engine also works well at low revs, where it’s impressively smooth.
And the different riding modes, which can be selected at the touch of a button on the right handlebar, do actually make significant changes to the engine’s characteristics. The step up from Road mode to Sport alters the throttle response to instantly feel more aggressive.
The step back to Rain mode is another dramatic change in character, which will prove useful for more inexperienced riders. And Harley are desperate to attract new customers with the Pan.
Reliability & build qualityNext up: Value
As a completely new model from the ground up, time will tell the Pan Amerca’s build quality and reliability.
Value vs rivalsNext up: Equipment
Potentially the biggest challenge for the new Harley is the illustrious competition it faces in the market. Big adventure bikes from major manufacturers have been duking it out for many years and are well-established in the sector.
The top spec Special is chock-a-block with fancy tech including the clever ride height adjustment that lowers the bike automatically as you slow to a halt. This feature can only be added to the special as it relies on the semi active suspension system.
The standard bike still gets radial Brembo brakes, a 6.8in TFT dash with Bluetooth connectivity, riding modes and cornering ABS and traction control.
The most glaring omission is the lack of quickshifter/blipper, either as standard fitment or as an optional extra. While this doesn’t detract too much from the ride, it’s an odd hole in the spec amidst enabled key competitors.
|Engine type||Revolution Max 60° V-twin|
|Frame type||Tubular steel|
|Fuel capacity||21.2 litres|
|Front suspension||47mm USD fork electronically adjustable semi-active damping control|
|Rear suspension||Showa shock with automatic electronic preload & semi-active damping|
|Front brake||320mm twin discs, radial 4-piston calipers with Cornering ABS|
|Rear brake||280mm disc, single piston cali-per and C-ABS|
|Front tyre size||120/70R19|
|Rear tyre size||170/60R17|
Mpg, costs & insurance
|Average fuel consumption||43 mpg|
|Annual road tax||£96|
|Annual service cost||-|
How much to insure?
|Warranty term||Two years|
Top speed & performance
|Max power||150 bhp|
|Max torque||94 ft-lb|
|1/4 mile acceleration||-|
Model history & versions
The Pan America has been on our radar since 2018 when it made a public appearance at Eicma.
It was then thrown into doubt by changes in Harley’s structure but was confirmed in 2020 for a 2021 release.
There is a standard model and a Special (tested here) that has electronic suspension.
Owners' reviews for the HARLEY-DAVIDSON PAN AMERICA (2021 - on)
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