How low can you go? The Harley-Davidson Pan America's adaptive suspension explained

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Harley-Davidson’s new Pan America 1250 Special is packed to the gills with tech. There’s everything from electronic phasers on the camshafts to advanced traction control.

Almost all of this is standard fare among the rangetopping adventure bikes from all the usual players except one thing: Adaptive Ride Height. That’s right – the Pan Am can raise and lower itself and make those red-light shuffles a thing of the past.

“The adaptive ride height is a concept that we’ve been dabbling with over time and now is the time when we have the right vehicle and right tech,” says Bjorn Christensen, Suspension Systems Manager at H-D.

When you come to get on the bike, the rear suspension will have backed off the preload entirely so the bike is at its lowest point with a seat height of 830mm. Once you fire it up and pull away, sensors measure how much weight is on the rear end and adjust the preload to suit.

The adaptive suspension developed by H-D and Showa

This set up isn’t uncommon among high-end adventure bikes and guarantees you’ll always have the right handling characteristics. The problem is that when you come to a stop, or if the passenger gets off, your legs can be left dangling. This is compounded further if you’re not the best part of six foot tall.

But on the Harley, once you come to a stop, the suspension winds all the preload off, dropping the bike back down. Depending on how much you have loaded on (and how much preload has been added) it can drop the seat height by up to two inches. “We worked with Showa on the hardware but we built all the software ourselves,” says Pan America Chief Engineer Alex Bozmoski.

“We made it user definable, so if you want to turn it off or change the speed depending on the riding conditions, you can do that too. It’s going to be a gamechanger for a lot of riders.”

In the menu you have the option of choosing the speed. As standard the bike alters the speed of the suspension adjustment automatically, with the goal being that by the time the bike has come to a stop, the suspension is at its lowest point. This means that if someone pulls out in front of you and you’re forced to do an emergency stop, you shouldn’t topple over.

You can override the settings though, changing the speed  at which it activates, so there’s more of a delay. It also means if you’re slowly navigating a car park for instance, it won’t let all the preload off. You can also turn it off completely, for example when riding off-road.

Highlights – Harley-Davidson Pan America’s adaptive suspesnion

  • Adjusting the ride height doesn’t reduce suspension travel so clearance isn’t a concern
  • With normal suspension the seat would be 40mm higher, at 870mm
  • Harley worked with Showa to develop this technology
  • Adaptive suspension is a £600 option and only offered on the more expensive S model



Harley-Davidson turn the adventure bike market on its head with the new Pan America

First published 22 February 2021 by Jordan Gibbons

Harley-Davidson Pan America skidding on dirt

Harley-Davidson have revealed the full details of their Pan America adventure bike – and it has the potential to knock the crown off the GS’s head. The Pan America isn’t just one of the most advanced Harleys ever, it’s arguably one of the most advanced adventure bikes ever.

On paper it has the measure of every competitor out there and, let’s be honest, none of us saw it coming. Of course Harley haven’t just released one model: there’s the Pan America and the Pan America Special, which is the really exciting version.

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Take it to the Max

Harley-Davidson have launched the Pan America for 2021

Sitting at the very heart of this new machine is the 1252cc Revolution Max engine, which produces 150bhp @ 8750rpm and 94lb.ft @ 6750rpm. How have Harley done it? They’ve built a whole new engine from the ground up.

For a start the engine architecture has changed considerably, with Harley’s propensity for long-stroke (undersquare) design chucked in favour of a short-stroke (oversquare) design. This means they can rev the engine much harder to chase power – the rev limit of the Revolution Max is twice that of a stock Milwaukee-Eight.

It’s also got a nifty variable valve system to help chase both power and torque, while in the interest of weight saving it acts as a stressed member, which helps to bring overall weight of the standard model down to 245kg and the S model to 258kg.

Everything in frame

A side view of the 2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America

The frame is your standard steel tubed affair, with the front frame, mid frame and subframe bolting directly to the engine. The advantage to this is that if you take the thing off-road, which they’re really hoping you will do, and you totally muck things up it’s not the end of the world. Bend the subframe and it’s just a case of unbolting it and sticking on a new one. No costly write-offs for a 5mph drop here.

That’s not the only thought Harley have given to off-roading because they’re really designed it to zoom around in the rough stuff. All the drain bolts have been recessed, so nothing gets wrecked by a mean looking rock, while that ‘letterbox’ headlight has been designed to cast a wide beam across the trail. Even the brake pedal can be adjusted without tools to swap between seated and standing riding positions, while the petrol filler cap has been placed right at the front, so you don’t need to remove your tank bag to fill ’er up.

The smart stuff

Luggage options are available for the Harley-Davidson Pan America

But where things get seriously exciting is in the electronics department. Not only does it have all the usual suspects including hill-hold control, cruise control, cornering ABS, lean-sensitive traction control, tyre pressure monitoring, semi-active suspension, riding modes and a 6.8in touch-sensitive full colour TFT screen, there’s also a £600 option for adaptive ride height (ARH) that automatically lowers the suspension by up to 5cm when you stop.

The Pan America will start from £14,000 when it arrives in dealers in the spring but for all the fancy gear (semi-active suspension, tyre pressure monitoring and adaptive headlights etc.) you’ll need to opt for the Special model at £15,500.

And one last thought for those us who made our minds up when we first saw the pictures of it over two years ago? “People are not expecting this from Harley-Davidson,” says Paul James, International PR Manager. “And when they ride one, they’re going to be blown away.”

Harley-Davidson Pan America highlights

  • 1252cc VVT v-twin
  • 150bhp & 94lb.ft
  • 890mm seat height (standard)
  • 245kg (wet)
  • From £14,000

Harley-Davidson Pan America engine explored

The Harley-Davidson Pan America is ready to tackle the dirt

One of the Pan America’s most important features is the new 1252cc Revolution Max engine. Harley’s air-cooled engines have 45° cylinders, with the pistons sharing a single crank pin giving the uneven 315° – 405° firing order that people know but that wouldn’t work on the Pan America.

“What we have with this engine is a split crank pin, so imagine you take a single pin with two rods but in the middle you offset them from each other,” says Michael Carlin, Chief Powertrain Engineer. “This gives you a 30° split pin on a 60° V, resulting in an even 90° firing order.”

The 90° firing order was decided on after research showed that it gives good traction and is one of the most pleasing engine notes to the ear. Harley have also added a computer controlled VVT system that both improves performance and has other neat functions too such as shifting the cams for easier starting.

“One of the main reasons we wanted to add VVT was so that you have a super wide torque band for use off road,” says Alex Boxmoski, Chief Engineer. “So if you’re in rough terrain or you need to get out of a rut you don’t have to coax the bike into it.”

Harley have also carried over the hydraulic valve actuation from their air-cooled big twins, which means the valves automatically adjust their own clearances and even the camshafts have been designed to be replaced easily for future performance increases.

Other work has also been done to maintain the Harley feel, so it’s got two balancers: one in the crank and one in the head. The one in the head runs off the phasers, so the team have been able to tune in a level of imbalance that not only gives the bike some ‘soul’ but also gives the rider feedback, so you don’t have to stare at the tach to see what’s going on.

The Harley-Davidson Pan America is a serious adventure bike contender

How low can you go?

The Special is fitted with semi-active suspension as standard but there’s also an option for adaptive ride height.

“It’s a concept that we’ve been working on and dabbling with over time, and now is the time when we have the right bike and tech to bring it to market,” says Bjorn Christensen, Chassis and Suspension Engineering Manager.

“So the bike senses when you’re coming to a stop, anticipates that, then seamlessly lowers the bike to inspire that level of confidence that you might not have. It’s also great for getting on and off. Adventure bikes can be intimidating for people who aren’t that tall, so being able to mount the bike easily is huge.”

Advanced electronics

As well as the clever suspension, the Pan America has a healthy suite of electronics to suit pretty much every riding condition. There are nine riding modes in total in three different sets. There are the standard Road, Rain and Sport, then four off-road modes: Off-Road, Off-Road Plus, Custom Off-Road and Custom Off-Road Plus (plus turns off rear ABS and dramatically reduces other electronic interventions). There are also two fully customisable user modes.

“Engine mapping, traction control, throttle response can all be adjusted by riders who want to dig deeper and find the right ride,” says Melissa McTavish, Electronic Systems Manager. “The settings and adjustments are also right there at the fingertips of the rider, so you can quickly set those up and move.”

A weight off my mind

Despite all the added tech, Harley have done incredible work to help keep the weight low. “Mike Carlin used to joke that he wanted to ‘see origami’” says Bozmoski. “He wanted computer optimisation on parts, so that things started to resemble lace doilies!”

The idea was that to refine every part, saving a gram here and there would add up. This was combined with bigger efforts elsewhere such as a 4kg saving with an aluminium tank to deliver a low centre of gravity, which is key to good handling off-road.

Harley-Davidson Pan America will be fully unveiled in February

First published on 11 December, 2020 by Jordan Gibbons

The Harley Davidson Pan America will be revealed in 2021

Harley-Davidson have finally announced that we’ll find out everything there is to know about the new 1250cc Pan America adventure bike in February.

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If you’ve not been counting (we don’t blame you) it’s been nearly three years since the bike was first announced and at times we’ve been wondering if it will ever arrive. There’s a preview on Tuesday, January 19 followed by a full unveil on Monday, February 22 and you’ll be able to read everything worth knowing here.

Harley-Davidson Pan America getting close

First published on 26 October, 2020 by Ben Clarke

A pre-production 2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America

When Harley-Davidson brought a near-production-ready Pan America to Eicma last year, we expected it to be landing in dealers right about now. But then in May, with the coronavirus pandemic in full swing and a change in Harley’s senior management, it was announced that we would have to wait until 2021 to get our hands on one.

Then it all went quiet and we watched as H-D’s other new model, the Bronx, was cancelled and the Sportster range fell victim to Euro5 legislation in Europe. We started to wonder if the model was still coming.

But now, fresh images have emerged from across Europe where the Pan America has been doing the rounds on a tour of dealerships for people to come and see it ahead of next year. And since it looks like they’re taking orders we wouldn’t expect the model to arrive later than March.

The Pan America was first announced back in 2018 and sent a shockwave through the bike world with its brand-new water-cooled engine, polarising looks and off road intent. Harley’s VP of styling and design told MCN that the intention was to create a “two-wheeled Jeep” that moved away from the “insectoid” styling employed by Japanese and European manufacturers.

It doesn’t look like H-D have made any visible changes from the version we saw in Italy in 2019 so it still has a big TFT dash, multi button switchgear, adjustable screen, cruise control, heated grips, Brembo brakes and some level of electronic suspension adjustability. Harley say the new engine will make about 145bhp and 90lbft of torque, which is BMW R1250GS territory.

The bike has been to dealer locations in France, Holland, Spain and Portugal with those who went to see the bike posting images and video on social media. Some say they have placed orders of the bike in S trim, which includes panniers.

MCN will bring you more official details of availability and price and when we get them. We expect the model to arrive officially in March 2021. Although there’s no official word on price, expect the top spec version to cost upwards of £20,000, similar money to a Ducati Multistrada Pikes Peak.

Harley-Davidson Bronx and Pan-America models delayed until 2021

First published on 21 May, 2020 by Jordan Gibbons

Harley-Davidson have delayed the arrival of their Pan-America adventure bike and Bronx naked until 2021. The two models, which boast the brand new water-cooled revolution engine, were originally scheduled for release in 2020, however the website has quietly been changed to say they’re now coming in 2021.

Part of the delay is likely due to a recent change in senior management, who dropped the ‘More Roads to Harley-Davidson’ programme that spawned the new models in favour of the ‘Rewire’ plan. The rest of the delay will be related to the current Coronavirus pandemic, which has affected manufacturers across the world.

BMW, KTM and Husqvarna have already announced they will not be attending either the Eicma or Intermot trade shows this autumn, which are typically when manufacturers announce new models, and it’s unlikely they will be the only ones to drop out.

With dealerships currently closed, manufacturers will want more time to allow them to sell existing bikes, while factory shutdowns will no doubt have hampered new model development.

If the manufacturers lobby the EU to agree to an extension on the Euro5 time limit, it’s unlikely we’ll see many new arrivals at all this year.

A “two-wheeled Jeep” from Harley-Davidson! MCN talks Pan America 1250 with design chief

First published on 21 December, 2019 by Jordan Gibbons

Jumping the Harley-Davidson Pan America

The Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 is on the way and if what you guys are saying goes, it’s one of the most controversial machines we can expect next year. Harley have made some big promises about what it can deliver, so we spoke to the designer about the most talked-about thing of all: its looks.

“We took a very in-depth look at the competition,” Brad Richards, Vice President of Styling and Design, told MCN.

“One thing we noticed was that almost every competitor outside of KTM emulates BMW and their almost insectoid form factor. We realised no-one had used the North American design DNA to make an adventure touring bike. No-one has designed a two-wheeled Jeep. That was our ethos: let’s make a two-wheeled Jeep.”

One of the key things was that even though this was an adventure bike that steps outside of their core market, people had to know at first sight that it was a Harley-Davidson.
“We did research early on and showed some sketches, and what we found was that with the exposed powertrain people saw it as a primary part of the bike, compared to some of our competitors where it’s secondary,” Richards added.

“Our ethos at H-D is that the v-twin engine is the crowning jewel and we wanted to make sure that was the first thing you noticed, so we created this line through the centre of the bike. Everything above that would be classic Harley-Davidson: beautiful paint and finish, great surface etc. while everything below that line is all business.”

Even so, Richards admits the bike didn’t have the easiest birth. “With every bike that we design, we go through a very well thought out design exploration. We call it a sketch blitz, where there’s a few months of sketching on a weekly basis. There’s some very frank and tough reviews.

“But once we had this idea you see now, we knew straight away we had something unique. We knew it would be polarizing and there were some people in the company who wanted us to lean into the BMW aesthetic a little more, to be honest, and we knew it would be a tough sell for some folks but we had to stick with it.”

Harley are planning to launch the Pan Am by the middle of next year and you can be sure we’ll be at the front of the queue to ride it. Keep an eye out for the 2020 Harley-Davidson Pan America review coming soon.

Fancy an American adventure? Then take a look at Harley’s new Pan America 1250

First published 05 November 2019 by Jordan Gibbons

The Pan America 1250 is Harley-Davidson’s first leap into the adventure bike sector, and a bravely individual one it is. Given the ubiquity of BMW’s GS bikes, the outlandish styling is probably a brave move…

Revealed as a concept in the middle of last year, it goes on sale towards the end of 2020. It’ll feature the new liquid-cooled Revolution Max engine, designed to be used in various capacities as the company gears up for its Euro5-compliant future. 

Harley-Davidson Pan America V-twin engine

The DOHC V-twin has a 60˚ V-angle, with a balance shaft to quash unwanted vibrations. It’s 1250cc in this application, with what Harley claim is more than 145bhp and over 90lbft of twist. For reference, BMW claim 134 horses and 105 torques for the R1250GS

Other than noting the fitment of bespoke Brembo radial calipers, Harley aren’t saying much more. In the image we’ve spotted wires, presumably to the semi-active suspension, plus a TFT dash and multi-button switchgear, a height-adjustable screen and cruise control.

Harley-Davidson Pan America adventure bike unveiled

First published on 30 July 2018 by Jordan Gibbons

Jumping the Harley-Davidson Pan America

In a seismic announcement, the aftershock of which will be felt for years to come, Harley-Davidson have announced an enormous fleet of new bikes, powered by a brand new engine and spearheaded by the visually arresting Pan America adventure bike. No, we didn’t see this one coming either.

A proper Harley

The heart of Harley’s new middleweight range (read more here: New Harley-Davidson Middleweights), is a brand new water-cooled engine. It’s modular in design, so can be configured in a range of capacities but it will debut in the Pan America as a 1250cc (with a 975cc version to come later on). It’s still a traditional powerplant, so it’s a big v-twin with that potato-potato sound, but it will have a top end like we’ve never experienced before.

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Harley won’t be drawn on specifics yet, however we’re expecting to see three figures. To go with this new engine will be a full electronics suite with all the modcons that we’ve grown used to, including ride-by-wire and traction control. To go with this step up in power, the rest of the kit has had an upgrade too.

No compromise

Cradling the engine is a brand new frame that is paired with a new swingarm, Brembo monobloc calipers and new long-travel Showa suspension. It also has all the usual adventure bike additions including crash bars, serrated footpegs, bash plate, handguards and tubeless spoked wheels plus the standard touring bike fare of good lights, large adjustable screen, big comfortable seats and removable luggage. There will also be a new full-colour TFT screen that we expect to debut on some new models released later this year.

H-D haven’t released any specs about the bike but given the size of the tank, we’d expect it to have a decent range in excess of 200 miles. It should handle well off-road, if the video of a test rider launching it into the air is anything to go by. Though if you haven’t guessed already, we don’t think it will be cheap

Take my money

Given the engine size and the quality of the parts fitted (plus Harley’s no expense spared reputation), we expect the Pan America to be priced anywhere between £10-16,000 depending on the engine size and the final specification.

The obvious competition would be the big adventure bikes from BMW, KTM, Ducati, who all make large capacity twin-cylinder adventure bikes. Harley-Davidson have said the Pan America will be released in 2020, as one of the first from their new middleweight range.