HARLEY-DAVIDSON PAN AMERICA SPECIAL (2021 - on) Review

Highlights

  • Harley-Davidson, and America’s, first adventure bike
  • New 150bhp, 94ftlb, Revolution Max engine
  • Semi-active suspension

At a glance

Power: 150 bhp
Seat height: Tall (35.2 in / 895 mm)
Weight: High (569 lbs / 258 kg)

Prices

New £15,500
Used N/A

Overall rating

Next up: Ride & brakes
4 out of 5 (4/5)

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.

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.

Harley-Davidson Pan America UK launch

Jon Urry was the first of our regular contributors to get hold of the Pan America in the UK, here's what he had to say:

The bottom line is that the Pan America isn’t as good as a GS, however that is to be expected for a machine in its fledgling stages compared to one with over forty years of development under its belt.

However the Harley certainly shows promise and is a really good machine that, a few rough edges aside, has heaps of potential and has already entered the market at a very high level.

The tech is impressive, the ride quality good, the price attractive and although the look is odd, there is a certain appeal due to the fact it doesn’t blend into the hordes of other adventure bikes in a car park.

Ride quality & brakes

Next up: Engine
4 out of 5 (4/5)

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.

Harley-Davidson Pan America front brake

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.

Harley-Davidson Pan America off road

Jon added: At low speed the Pan doesn’t feel as instantly natural or balanced as a GS, which is down to weight distribution (a boxer engine has a low centre of gravity compared to a tall V-twin) and also development - BMW have had a long time perfecting the feel of their GS’s chassis.

Through tight bends the Harley feels long and requires more effort to turn while at speed it feels a bit sat down at the rear, taking the edge off its agility. Which is where the modes come in...

Swapping to ‘Sport’ mode from ‘Road’ alters the Showa semi-active suspension’s response and with firmer settings takes this feel away, resulting in a pleasingly sporty ride.

Again, it’s not quite as quick turning or sure-footed as the GS but it is really impressive and the ride quality delivered by the Showa semi-active suspension is excellent over gentle bumps if a touch unforgiving over harsh ones.

And if you add the adaptive ride height (£600) the way it drops the seat height at a slow speed is genius and a real confidence-booster for shorter riders.

The angle-sensitive ABS and TC systems are excellent and should your venture off-road there is an off-road mode (there are actually several...) that softens the suspension as well as deactivating the rear’s ABS if you require.

Engine

Next up: Reliability
4 out of 5 (4/5)

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.

Harley-Davidson Pan America on UK roads

Jon added: The Pan is powered by Harley’s new Revolution Max motor, which is a 60-degree V-twin with a 30-degree crank off-set. Why does this matter? Aside from the fact it has a cam chain, DOHC and water-cooling, this engine configuration makes it sound like a 90-degree V-twin and is therefore aurally far removed from the traditional ‘potato, potato’ synonymous with Harley’s 45-degree V-twins. And it doesn’t feel like one either.

On the road the Max motor is remarkably refined. There are two balancer shafts tucked away within the engine as well as variable valve timing (with infinite adjustment, much like Ducati’s DVT system) and the engine is fed through a ride-by-wire throttle with variable power modes.

Ignoring the ‘wet’ mode, which is truly horrible as it makes the first quarter turn of the throttle do nothing before the muted power arrives, and opting for ‘road’ mode instead the Max engine is really impressive.

It’s a kind of back-handed compliment but in ‘road’ mode the V-twin is as smooth as a Suzuki V-Strom 1050’s twin and the throttle connection is so precise you would imagine you are riding a Japanese bike.

There is no thump of a twin as you got on the old V-twin Multistrada models (which were actual 90-degree V-twins) and no instant smack of power as you get on a GS, instead it is a really progressive build-up of drive that is easy-going and very manageable.

The headline figures of 150bhp and 94.5ftlb of torque may sound a lot but they are delivered with such a lovely feel that even in torrential Welsh rain they were far from intimidating. Unless you wanted them to be...

Another switch of power mode and in ‘Sport’ the engine’s character changes, gaining a harder edge and a lot more enthusiasm when it comes to picking up speed.

It’s very rare that changing power modes actually makes a tangible difference on a modern bike but on the Harley it most certainly does and in this mode the Max motor feels like a proper spirited engine with impressive performance, if a touch quiet exhaust note.

And it has to be said, also a few tingles of vibrations that the rubber pegs do their best to damp out. The only major annoyance with the motor is the fact there is no up/down quickshifter option, however this gripe is likely to be righted soon enough...

Reliability & build quality

Next up: Value
4 out of 5 (4/5)

As a brand new bike, reliability is hard to judge but in terms of build quality the Pan America is a typical Harley machine. From afar it looks good however when you get close there are a few details that let it down.

The steering head lock is an embarrassment and looks like something from the 1980s and the plastics around the screen as well as the screen itself are flimsy and wobbly.

If you want to add accessories, Harley are happy to oblige and there are some really well thought out extras. You get a choice of three luggage systems (hard metal, plastic or soft) with the hard ones tested and certified (top box and panniers) to 30kg in total weight at 135mph while also being fully waterproof.

Jon Urry rides the Harley-Davidson Pan America in the UK

You can add spoke wheels (for £400), a bigger bash plate, protectors, fog lights, different screens, off-road biased Michelin Anakee tyres and even a Screaming Eagle exhaust while there are also two options for both male and female adventure riding kit.

Most of the kit isn’t made by Harley and instead the firm has re-branded kit from recognised adventure manufacturers such as REV’IT! and SW-MOTECH, which is a smart move as it gives instant access to quality gear that is fit for purpose.

Value vs rivals

Next up: Equipment
4 out of 5 (4/5)

Details are yet to be announced about the cost of insurance etc, but in terms of its price tag, the range-topping Pan America Special is £15,500 in black (£15,750 in colour, £15,950 in two-tone) but you need to add £600 for Adaptive Ride Height (ARH) and £400 to get spoke wheels.

This compares to £13,705 for a base BMW R1250GS, £14,985 for a GS Adventure (both require extra spent to match the Harley’s spec), £18,605 for a Ducati Multistrada V4 S, £14,999 for a KTM Super Adventure S or £11,599 for a Suzuki V-Strom 1050 XT.

So while a premium product, Harley have priced the (Thai-built for European buyers it has to be noted) Pan America Special at a competitive point.

The base model Pan America, which lacks a few gizmos and the semi-active suspension, starts at £14,000 – although Harley aren’t expecting many riders to want one!

Equipment

4 out of 5 (4/5)

Harley-Davidson Pan America dash

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.

Harley-Davidson Pan America steering lock

Jon added: In terms of the headline electronics, the Pan America Special is right up there. It’s 6.8” TFT dash is superb, wonderfully clear (it can be angled) and has not only a great use of colour but also interacts well with the rider and the bike’s functions.

The cornering ABS and TC are hard to fault, the heated grips are warm (but not nuclear), the power modes make a genuine difference, you get cruise control and hill hold and the semi-active suspension impressive in its functions and feel with the AHR system (if fitted) excellent. However there are a few annoyances.

While the ignition is keyless, the fuel cap and steering lock require a key and there is no option of an up/down quickshifter (currently). Harley claim that they ‘complex managed’ the bike, which is technical speak for trying to ensure things didn’t fail, but these are obvious omissions.

The indicator switch (it’s just a single switch unlike Harley’s traditional two switch set-up) is a bit tricky to locate, the adjustable screen wobbles and its plastic surrounding air deflectors feel cheap and flimsy, which is a shame. 

Specs

Engine size 1252cc
Engine type Revolution Max 60° V-twin
Frame type Tubular steel
Fuel capacity 21.2 litres
Seat height 895mm
Bike weight 258kg
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 -
New price £15,500
Used price -
Insurance group -
How much to insure?
Warranty term Two years

Top speed & performance

Max power 150 bhp
Max torque 94 ft-lb
Top speed -
1/4 mile acceleration -
Tank range -

Model history & versions

Model history

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.

Other versions

There is a standard model and a Special (tested here) that has electronic suspension.

 

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