Harley-Davidson's Pan America launches assault on the adventure market
America's most iconic motorcycle company has taken a brave step forward today, launching a brand-new bike with a brand-new motor into a weather-beaten adventure segment full of tough competitors. The Pan America concept from 2018, with a new Revolution Max engine, goes into production as Harley-Davidson initiates its Hardwire strategy and veers off the tarmac into the punishing unknown of the adventure bike class.
Last year proved to be a turning point for Harley-Davidson, and it wasn’t due to the pandemic. Shrinking sales figures have plagued America's most iconic motorcycle brand, and it's been a generational issue; if this company can't draw in younger riders and break out of the cruiser mold into wider, more diverse markets, it's toast.
In 2018, then-CEO Matt Levatich had announced a new strategy called More Roads to Harley, including a series of eyebrow-raising concepts that broke new ground for Harley-Davidson. This was our first glimpse at the Pan America adventurer and the Bronx streetfighter, as well as a future electric series.
That strategy appeared to be cut short on February 2020, when Levatich was replaced by Jochen Zeitz and Harley-Davidson announced a new two-fold project. The first part, named Rewire, completed the restructuring of the company’s production base and sales network by the end of 2020, and is now followed by the five-year project Hardwire, part of which is the 2021 Pan America 1250.
In the process of creating the Pan America, Harley-Davidson took two bold steps; it delved into a very demanding motorcycle segment without prior experience, and did so with a brand new engine that veers far from Harley’s beaten track.
The Revolution Max is a lightweight 1,252-cc (76.3 ci), liquid-cooled, 60-degree V-twin with variable valve timing on both intake and exhaust camshafts, maintenance-free hydraulic valve actuators, very oversquare cylinders and an impressive output of 150 hp at 9,000 rpm and 127 Nm (94 ft-lb) at 6,750 rpm.
With a wet weight of 242 kg (534 lb) in running order, the Pan America 1250 falls right into the adventure class’ ballpark, and while we don't know how much fuel is in the 5.6 gallon (21 l) tank when that "wet" figure is measured, it's 15 pounds (7 kg) lighter than BMW claims for the current R1250GS. It makes a tidy 15 horses more, too.
Harley-Davidson equipped its new adventure bike with fully-adjustable Showa suspensions that offer a very decent 191 mm (7.5 in) of travel, and chose the typical wheel setup of most large dual purpose machines; 19-inch front, 17-inch rear.
On the electronic front, the Pan America 1250 has it all, starting with a tilting 6.8-inch color TFT screen with Bluetooth connectivity that can be controlled via handlebar buttons, but also offers touchscreen practicality when the bike isn’t moving.
Through this screen the rider can control a vast array of electronic systems, all of which feature cornering functionality thanks to an inertial measurement unit (IMU). The Cornering Rider Safety Enhancements suite includes traction control, ABS, linked braking, drag-torque slip control and hill-hold control.
Some of these systems can be independently adjusted to the desired level of intervention, but there’s an easiest way via the available Ride Modes – Road, Sport, Rain, Off-Road and Off-Road Plus. Each of these dictates a pre-programmed set of values for the aforementioned electronic systems, combined with tailored power delivery and engine braking settings. An extra Custom mode lets you have things your own way.
Harley-Davidson also offers the higher-spec Pan America 1250 Special, loaded with a lot of goodies. Its highlight is without a doubt Showa’s electronic semi-active suspensions, whose settings are also appropriately linked with the Ride Modes for easy adjustment. The Special offers two more ride modes, both customizable to the rider’s specific taste.
The more expensive model’s gear includes a tire pressure monitoring system, a center stand, an adjustable rear brake pedal, crash bars, a skid plate, heated grips, a steering damper and an adaptive version of the Daymaker LED headlight with cornering lights. This isn't as sophisticated as the self-leveling headlight on the R1250GS, it just gives you three extra lights that come on when you hit 8, 15 and 23 degrees of lean, but it's a nice inclusion nonetheless. All these extras add up to an increased mass of 254 kg (559 lb).
You can option the suspension up again with a great idea Harley calls Adaptive Ride Height. These giant adventure-beasts are quite a handful at a standstill, especially if you've got short legs, so this switchable system is designed to lower the bike by 1-2 inches as you come to a stop, so you can get your foot down a bit easier, and then raise itself back up when you're moving for extra ground clearance. This is the world’s first application of the system on a mass-produced motorcycle.
For Harley-Davidson, attempting to compete with the likes of BMW GS, Ducati Multistrada and KTM Super Adventure is a daunting task. In fact, it is expected to become even more difficult when Triumph and Yamaha reveal their new machines to replace the respective non-Euro 5 Tiger 1200 and Super Ténéré 1200.
Perhaps the need to create its own space in this tightly contested motorcycle class is what prompted Harley-Davidson to adopt such an unusual design for the Pan America 1250, with a bit of flat-track heritage in the silhouette, a truly unique headlight setup that takes a retro-futuristic riff on the Road Glide fairing, and just about the only engine in the class that's been designed to look good as well as go hard. Love it or hate it, one thing's for sure: it will be instantly recognizable.
Buyers are in for a pleasant surprise when they flip the price tag over, as the Harley tax doesn't seem to have been applied. The standard Pan America 1250 starts at US$17,319, sitting quite competitively within the class’ standards. Even the Pan America 1250 Special with its $19,999 price tag doesn’t seem very expensive, given all the extra gear it carries.
The first bikes are expected to roll out from May 2021, starting with the US market, with Europe following in June, Asia and Latin America in July and finally China in September.
Check out the bike’s 25-min launch video below, with plenty of off-road action, lots of interviews with the design team and Harley's top brass, and for some reason, Aquaman.