Forget everything you thought you knew about Harley-Davidsons. The Pan America is a totally new offering from the American manufacturer, and, by any measure, it’s a damn good one.
We remember a few years ago thinking an Italian sportsbike company couldn’t understand Australian adventure riders. Within a few months of our first ride Ducati’s Multistrada Enduro was one of our favourite bikes – and still is. With Harley’s Pan America 1250 Special there’s a very good chance it’s going to happen again.
A new engine is clearly the heart of the Pan America, although, as we find ourselves writing so often these days, the electronics package plays a huge part in the bike’s comfort and performance.
But to stick with the mechanical side of things to start with, the Revolution Max 1250 donk is a 1252cc, liquid-cooled, DOHC, V-twin with four-valve heads and variable valve timing. There’s separate intake and exhaust cams, twin plugs for each cylinder and some very effective internal balancers, and the valves and rockers are operated hydraulically, which means there’ll be no need for adjustment.
That’s impressive for a company with the staid reputation of Harley-Davidson, and we can’t wait to say it: this engine is a pearler! It’s a smooth, hard-driving, easy-to-use 150-horspower gruntmaster that’s ready to run the Hume Highway in total comfort or dig deep ditches on a dirt road with the throttle cracked open and the roost flying.
We’re still grinning like fools after an afternoon grasstrack session.
The strong and willing motor is matched with a suite of electronics which includes a cornering-enhanced linked braking system, cornering-enhanced traction control, hillhold control, cruise control, tyre-pressure monitoring, ride modes (Sport, Road, Rain, Off-Road, Off-Road Plus and three ‘Custom’ modes the rider can build for themselves), a good-sized TFT screen, a Harley app which will allow smartphone features to be used via the screen and switchblock controls, and something we found very interesting, Adaptive Ride Height.
Australia will only receive the ‘Special’ model, so a centrestand is standard, and the semi-active suspension and spoked wheels front and rear are available as options. We were impressed with a new feature where the bike lowers itself when it’s stationary. While the ride height is maintained and altered as terrain changes, when the bike stops and the rider needs to put his feet down, the bike has lowered itself either 25mm or 50mm.
Like just about everything on the Pan America, the rider can customise things to some extent. It might be selected to drop 25mm at below 15kph, for instance, or not come into effect until the bike has stopped, or it can be locked out so there’s no drop at all.
A six-axis IMU keeps watch over the various traction-control and ABS functions, including controlling rear-wheel lift during heavy braking and front-wheel lift under acceleration. Harley’s acronym for the system is ‘C-TCS’ – Cornering Enhanced Traction Control System – and it can be disabled in any mode while the bike is stationary and the engine is running. ABS is disabled in the Off- Road Plus mode.
On a less technical – but no less important – plane, a cable-operated, assisted slipper clutch helps get the stonking 127Nm of torque and 150hp to a slick-shifting six-speed box which drives a chain to the rear wheel. The exhaust is stainless-steel, the 21.2-litre tank is aluminium with a plastic cover, seat height is adjustable without tools and heated grips are standard.
If it sounds like a good set up, it is. As a sort of off-centre thought, the look of the bike is very divisive, and does depend a great deal on point of view. Side on it looks fairly utilitarian and unremarkable, but front on it polarises opinions. Some love it and some really passionately hate it, and there doesn’t seem to be any in-betweens.
One thing about that fairing arrangement is it holds what looks to be some good-value lighting. We didn’t get to ride the bike in the dark, but we’re expecting the lighting to be strong, and although we’re not huge fans of the looking-around-the-corner lighting rigs, the Pan America is set up that way, and it’d be interesting to see if the system is as refined as the bike’s other tech features.
Riding the Pan America is a total eye-opener.
Any preconceptions we had about loud, cranky old Harleys were shattered and discarded as soon as we fired up that sweetrunning, silky smooth V-twin and eased out the light and responsive clutch. The comfort level on the Pan America is high, but purring away quietly under the reflected highlights of a really beautiful finish was the promise of big, serious power and good handling waiting to be cut loose.
We did get to do a little rorting and roosting, but nowhere near as much as we wanted, and nothing like what we felt the bike was begging us to do.
In the af ternoon a beautiful, loamy grasstrack was made available and bikes and riders both clearly enjoyed a feet-up roost session that had hearts pumping and eyes wide. It’s clear this particular Harley is well capable of laying waste to that type of terrain if given a capable rider and half a chance.
The bike has a narrow feel that lends itself to a bit of rider wrangling and the balance is really, really good. Handling and suspension are outstanding for a bike of this size, and the motor and rider aids make the whole riding experience, on- and off-road, a total joy.
We need to make sure we don’t get too carried away. It’s important to point out we only rode the bike for a single day, and a great deal of that time was spent on bitumen. We didn’t face any seriously challenging terrain and we didn’t have time to fool around with modes and customisable settings to any significant degree. Keep in mind our opinions here are based on just a taster of what the Harley has to offer.
Still, we’re very impressed. We’d be keen to get some serious time on the bike, and especially to head to some real-life adventure destinations to see how it stacked up.
That’s about it. We enjoyed the Pan America a whole lot.
We haven’t mentioned weight and price, and they’re both hefty.
Measured at the brochure the Pan America comes in at 258kg ready to ride. That’s a serious chunk of Milwaukee metal to be dragging through sand, bulldogging down a hill or trying to lift after a fall. It’s in line with other adventure bikes in its class though, as is the price: between around $31,500 and $34,500 depending on what variations are chosen.
Of course Harley has backed the bike with a heap of accessories, including soft and hard luggage, ’bar risers, different seats, footpegs, performance muffler and some really nice co-branded REV’IT apparel.
There’s more, but a dealer can fill you in and advise you better than we can.
So there it is. After this short ride we reckon the Pan America is a far, far better adventure bike than we expected it to be, and for those who’ll overcome their brand prejudice, we think it’s probably a very real adventuretouring option for the Wide Brown Land.