Long-term Harley-Davidson CVO Pan America test update one | First impressions after 1028 miles

1 of 4

It’s rare to see a Harley-Davidson Pan America in the wild. The big adventure bike from Milwaukee just doesn’t seem to have found favour with UK buyers, which is a shame, because at just over 1000 miles in with the new CVO version, I’m very much in a ‘What’s not to like?’ state of mind. That’s not to say that there aren’t certain aspects which don’t float my boat, but we’ll come to those later on.

First impressions are all about size. With a fully brimmed tank, set of heavy-duty luggage and a host of accessories, it’s verging on 300kg before I even climb aboard.

That’s 54kg up on the standard model (which itself is 8kg heavier than the BMW R1300GS), so not an insignificant bulk when it comes to wheeling it about. Perhaps unsurprisingly it’s wide too, those cavernous 37- and 45-litre panniers taking the minimum filtering gap required to just over 108cm.

Swinging a leg over looks a daunting enough challenge in itself, but switch on the ignition and the Pan Am politely curtseys to give away an extra couple of inches in seat height. That convenience is down to the automatic electronic preload control, which is part of a clever suspension package featuring electronically adjustable semi-active damping and adaptive ride height.

Harley-Davidson CVO Pan America on the sidestand

It can be configured in a variety of ways, but in the automatic mode it essentially backs off the preload to drop the ride height at low speed and standstill. It’s a great feature to have on such a tall bike, however it’s how the whole system operates at speed that’s seriously impressive. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Prod the starter button and the 1250cc ‘Revolution Max’ motor jolts into life, thrumming through the frame with an eagerness to crack on. It wouldn’t be a Harley without a V-twin, but this is nothing like the firm’s traditional 45° cruiser lump.

With a 60° cylinder configuration and overhead cams, it’s far more free revving than its cruiser cousins and boasts a considerable hike in power, topping out at 150bhp and 94.4lb.ft of torque.  

Harley-Davidson CVO Pan America engine

The Pan Am’s weight disappears almost as soon as you start slipping the clutch, its low and neutral centre of gravity making it feel balanced and manageable, even at walking pace. U-turns and slow control are made easy thanks to a tight turning circle and with the suspension at its lower setting the ground is never too far away. 

Wind on the throttle and the preload control kicks in to set the rear shock at the perfect ride height, then continuously monitors it to keep the big Harley in straight and level flight. It’s a rapid machine that piles on speed with the grunt and gusto of a monster truck, so when you come barrelling into a bend with what feels like planetary momentum the suspension has an awful lot to do.

But do it, it does, rolling easily into the turn to hold a confident and prescribed line, while remaining fully receptive to the next nudge on the ’bars to change direction once again. It’s swift, assured and elegant. 

Harley-Davidson CVO Pan America rear action

So what’s not working? Well, the sidestand, for one. It sits well forward of the foot peg and gear lever, making it a slightly awkward reach, but where I struggle is having to tilt the bike to the right before the stand will swing down securely. It’s a nervous moment, especially with full panniers, and I need to delve into the ride height settings to see if I can solve it.

The other issue is that the handlebars are positioned too low for me to stand up comfortably off road. Bar risers should be the answer, and I’ll report back on that in a future update.

With the running in period and first service done, the CVO Pan Am is ready for some proper touring action, so I’ll be packing my bags and heading across Europe almost as soon as I can book a crossing.