Harley-Davidson's Pan America brings it all
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2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America Special
- Very easy to ride
- Characterful engine
- ARH system makes touching the ground a breeze!
- Crowded switchgear
- Vulnerable radiator
Harley-Davidson has jumped into the deep end of the adventure touring market with its Pan America, which from the outset is up against some of the stiffest competition in motorcycling.
Key among those competitors is the BMW R1250GS, a bike backed by decades of adventure know-how and development. That’s a big target to go after in anyone’s books, let alone with a completely new model from a manufacturer that’s kept to the pavement for decades.
However, Harley hasn’t messed around with the Pan America and it does have what is needed to take on the legends of adventure at their own game. Priced from $33,995, the Pan America is easily one of the most impressive new models to come out of the Harley factory in some time.
In adventure touring, the name of the game is being effortless. You want the bike to be easy to ride as well as easy on the rider. Thankfully the Pan America is ready for both.
At its centre is the all-new Revolution Max 1250 V-twin which features both dual overhead cams plus variable valve timing. While the resulting 112kW/127Nm is not quite class-topping, it is a sublime powerplant and more than up to the task.
Power delivery is tuned by using the four factory set rider modes as well as a Six-Axis IMU helping to keep it in line via cornering ABS and traction control.
Harley says it worked hard to keep the weight down on the Pan America, and the result is a minimalist look that has really grown on me. Even the 21-litre fuel tank is made of aluminium rather than steel to keep the weight down, though the bike still tips the scales at a hefty 258kg.
Our test bike, as an upmarket Pan America Special, gains spoked wheels and Harley's new Adaptive Ride Height (ARH) system which comes at an extra cost of $1675 on top of the base price.
On paper then, it is the complete package for a modern adventure tourer. But sometimes spec-sheets don’t translate to real-world enjoyment. Thankfully this isn’t the case.
Possibly the biggest compliment I can give H-D is that from the outset the Pan America doesn’t feel like an intimidating machine at all, despite its weight and power. It feels much more like a middleweight to ride than it has any right to.
The chassis is set up well for spirited road riding and once the engine gets onto that hot cam it really sings. Sure, it's not your traditional Harley rumble, but damn it sounds good!
Liveability is helped by the ARH system, which, in a first for the bike world lowers the bike as you come to a stop so you can more easily reach terra firma.
A problem for many bikes with oodles of technology as seen on the Pan America is how you actually control it all, and for the most part, the Pan America is pretty easy to manage in this regard.
The TFT display is clear and easy to read, however, some of the widgets and text are a little on the small side. The display is customisable, which means you can switch between a simple generic display or customise the widgets surrounding the speedo to have the stuff you want to see the most prominently displayed.
In the dirt, I didn't expect the Pan America to be so much fun with traction control still active, but it allowed just enough slip to step the rear out and make you feel like a hero before catching you and driving you forward. While the bike has good protection from the factory, the radiator itself is quite vulnerable and could use a solid guard to protect it from stones if you plan on riding lots of gravel.
After blasting along the Kawhia-Raglan coast, I remained thoroughly impressed with just how easy the big Pan America was to ride in all road conditions. Whether on gravel, dirt or seal the big Harley just felt effortless. That’s just what you want in a big adventure tourer.