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Common Tread

2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 and Pan America 1250 Special first look

Feb 22, 2021

Harley-Davidson just revealed the long-awaited Pan America adventure motorcycle, the company’s first foray into the highly competitive ADV space. This bike also marks the introduction of the (presumably) modular liquid-cooled V-twin Revolution Max engine that was shown in the Pan America, Custom, and Bronx concept bikes. It’s a big day for the MoCo.

“From its inception more than a century ago, when many roads were little more than dirt trails, Harley-Davidson has stood for adventure. So, I’m very proud to present Pan America as the first adventure-touring bike designed and built in America,” said Chairman and CEO Jochen Zeitz. “The Pan America models exude that go-anywhere spirit, shared today by riders in the U.S. and around the globe who want to experience the world on a motorcycle.”

First adventure-touring bike built in America? A moment of silence for the Buell Ulysses, please.

Harley Davidson Pan America 1250 Special
Whether you love the styling or hate it, the Pan America is already iconic. Harley-Davidson photo.

I’ll get straight into the Pan America’s details in a second, but I think you should read the details with a price in mind. The Pan America starts at $17,319. For reference, the base Honda Africa Twin is $13,999, the base Suzuki V-Strom 1050 is $13,399, the KTM Super Adventure S is $18,599 and the base BMW R 1250 GS is $17,995 if you could ever find one. The Yamaha Super Ténéré feels close in price and purpose at $16,299. Of course, there are many other ADV options out there, and to compare all of them against the Pan America would be an article in itself. These numbers are intended to give some reference for Harley’s positioning for this bike, especially for readers who don’t spend much time around adventure motorcycles.

With that out of the way, let’s see what Harley’s got for us.

Essential specifications

The Pan America, “Harley-Davidson’s explore-it-all machine for riders who see touring as detouring,” weighs in at 534 pounds wet in base trim. It’s powered by Harley’s new Revolution Max 1250 engine, a liquid-cooled, 60-degree, DOHC V-twin with variable valve timing and hydraulic self-adjusting lifters. It has a bore of 105 mm, a stroke of 72 mm, and a total displacement of 1,252 cc, breathing though a washable filter and a full stainless exhaust.

Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250
The new engine has a 13:1 compression ration and wants 91 octane for best performance, though Harley says the knock sensor permits the use of lower octane levels if needed. Magnesium covers help keep the weight down. Harley-Davidson photo.

The Revolution Max 1250 produces 150 horsepower at 9,000 revs, with 94 foot-pounds of torque coming on at 6,750, all with an average fuel economy of 46 mpg (est. city/highway), according to Harley-Davidson. With its 5.6-gallon aluminum tank, the Pan America should be good for around 250 miles per fillup. Happily, the Pan America includes cruise control as standard.

Harley-Davidson Pan America
Adventure-touring bikes must be capable street bikes, even if the glory photos always show them in the dirt. A chain final drive was chosen so it would work both on- and off-road. Harley-Davidson photo.

The frame is actually three components that bolt to the engine: a forged aluminum “mid-structure” with steel trellis sections up front and under the tail. An aluminum swingarm, cast as a single piece, brings up the rear. The seat height can be adjusted from a high position (35.2 inches) to a low position (34.2 inches) without tools to suit a wider range of riders. More on that later, with the Special’s semi-active suspension.

Styling and design

The Revolution Max was built to be stiff enough to serve as a stressed member in the middle of the chassis, where it’s on full display. Harley didn’t want to hide their new engine or its clean, distinctive lines. In fact, take another look at how nothing crosses in front of the right “display side” of the bike except the exhaust. The left side has a little more going on, sure, but the overall execution manages a premium look in the utilitarian ADV space. Harley compared the styling to that of “a good multi-tool… function [leading] form.” The bike features integrated grab rails and luggage mounts for the adventuresome tourer. Wheelbase is among the longest in the class at 62.2 inches, which makes sense with Harley’s expectations for passengers and plenty of luggage.

Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250
Without (optional) large aluminum luggage, do you even ADV? Harley-Davidson photo.

The production bike sports the same basic design we saw with Harley’s initial concepts: minimal bodywork, a stepped seat, radiator covers along the sides, and a polarizing bullnose that’s equal parts Road Glide and light bar. I think it looks tough with a U and two Fs. According to Harley, its wide shape is especially beneficial when off-road riding in low-light conditions. We see a similar windshield to the concept’s, too, now with four positions of adjustability that can be raised or lowered while riding with your clutch hand.

The Pan America is available in two versions. Let’s look at the standard version first, then we’ll get into the up-spec Pan America 1250 Special and its additional features.

Pan America 1250
Base Pan America 1250s are Vivid Black, like this. Harley-Davidson photo.

Braking and rider assists

Harley made sure that the Pan America shipped with a suite of rider aids to stay competitive. “This broad collection of technologies is designed to match motorcycle performance to available traction during acceleration, deceleration and braking,” says Harley. Brembo supplies the dual radial monobloc calipers up front, as well as the master cylinder and adjustable lever.

Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250
The touchscreen locks while riding to prevent distracted disasters. Pull over to use the touch feature or navigate menus while riding with the handlebar-mounted buttons. Harley-Davidson photo.

On the rider assist front, Harley bestowed the Pan America with their Cornering Rider Safety Enhancements package which includes (deep breath) “Cornering Enhanced Electronically Linked Braking, Cornering Enhanced Antilock Braking System, Cornering Enhanced Traction Control System, Cornering Enhanced Drag-Torque Slip Control System, and Hill Hold Control.” These systems use input from the bike’s IMU to stabilize the motorcycle and increase confidence. They are lean-sensitive, just like the rest of the flagship ADV bikes out there.

Harley-Davidson Pan America
The paint upgrade for the plain Pan America is this River Rock Gray. Look at how neatly the engine is framed from this angle. Harley-Davidson photo.

The Pan America’s five modes are also rider aids in their own way. You’ll get Road, Sport, Rain, Off-Road, and Off-Road Plus on the base model, with an additional two custom modes for the Special. 

All these assists and features are managed with the Pan America’s 6.8-inch TFT display. This screen is touch-capable as long as the motorcycle is not moving; you’ll have to use the button controls by the handgrips for changes on the fly. The tilting, anti-glare dash connects with smartphones, as you’d expect, to handle calls and music, while navigation “is supplied by the free Harley-Davidson® App for iOS or Android.” Harley’s ride-planning tools came highly recommended in our motorcycle GPS article, so here’s hoping for more of the same. 

Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250
The stock wheels and tires are suitable for light off-roading. If you look closely at the rider's gear, you'll see that Harley partnered with REV'IT! for branded ADV gear to match the new bikes. Harley-Davidson photo.

Wheels and suspension

The Pan America’s cast wheels measure 19 inches in the front and 17 inches in the back, shod in Michelin’s new Scorcher Adventure tires that were developed specifically for this bike. They look like bulked-up Scorcher 32s to my eyes. Harley recommends moving up to the Anakee Wild for anything more than a fire road, and even offers them as a factory upgrade. Tubeless laced wheels are a $500 factory option.

The base Pan Am has a fully adjustable, 47 mm fork and a preload-adjustable RSU, all from Showa. Harley claims the rear shock linkage keeps the rear suspension compliant enough for on-road duty, yet strong enough for thrashing in the wild. You’ve got seven and a half inches of travel here, with 8.3 inches of static ground clearance.

The base Pan America will be available in Vivid Black or, for an additional $250, River Rock Gray. Read on if you want all the bells and whistles on your Harley ADV bike.

Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250
The Pan America 1250 Special is built to compete with the premium ADV crowd. Harley-Davidson photo.

Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special

For an additional $2,700 and 25 pounds of weight, the Pan America 1250 Special is aimed at the premium ADV market. The big story here is Harley’s semi-active front and rear suspension with what they call “Vehicle Load Control,” or VLC. This system uses inputs from various sensors to automatically adapt the bike’s damping to “the prevailing conditions and riding activity.” The Special’s VLC can even weigh its rider, passenger, and cargo to instantly adjust the rear preload settings for optimum sag.

Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special
Here's the white/orange design that we first saw on the concept. I don't think anyone will mistake it for a KTM. Harley-Davidson photo.

A factory-installed option called Adaptive Ride Height (ARH, +$1,000) can push these abilities even further. ARH gently lowers the bike to its shortest suspension setting at stops so that the rider can get a foot (or two) down. It’s fairly sophisticated, too, with plenty of customizability. The Pan America lifts back up once underway. 

Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250
Harley brand ambassador Jason Momoa dirties up a 1250 Special. Harley-Davidson photo.

Other features include TPMS, a center stand, brush guards, a skid plate, an adjustable brake pedal, heated grips, wind deflectors, (another deep breath) a steering damper, and adaptive cornering lights. Paint colors for the Special are Vivid Black ($19,999); Gauntlet Gray Metallic (+$250), and two-tone Baja Orange and Stone Washed White Pearl (+$350). 

Maybe a small step for ADV, but one giant leap for H-D

The Pan America’s success hinges on several factors. Will its specs, innovations, and real-world performance woo customers away from the other compelling options on the market today? How will the Harley community treat a liquid-cooled adventure-tourer that doesn’t have a square inch of chrome? And will dealers get on board with Harley’s new direction?

Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250
"H-D? Wait, that's a Harley?" Harley-Davidson photo.

One line stuck out to me in Harley’s presentation: “The fact that you’re being so polarized about it is a really healthy reaction to have.” These motorcycles will need more than spec-sheet speculation and a cinematic introduction video to be judged, and we can’t wait to get our hands on one for a future first ride review. Look for the Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 and Pan America 1250 Special to arrive in dealerships starting in May.

2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250
Where would a Pan America take you? Spurgeon would choose somewhere like this. Harley-Davidson photo.

P.S. Harley also mentioned that the Custom cruiser concept would get a production version. Watch this space for more coverage of that bike, too. 

2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 and Pan America 1250 Special
Price (MSRP) $17,319 (base), $19,999 (Special)
Engine 1,252 cc, 60-degree, liquid-cooled, four-valve, V-twin
Transmission,
final drive
Six-speed, chain
Claimed horsepower 150 @ 9,000 rpm
Claimed torque 94 foot-pounds @ 6,750 rpm
Frame Steel trellis, aluminum midsection
Front suspension Showa USD 47 mm fork, adjustable for preload, compression, and rebound, semi-active option available; 7.48 inches of travel
Rear suspension Showa monoshock, adjustable for preload, semi-active option available; 7.48 inches of travel
Front brake Dual Brembo radial-mount calipers, 320 mm discs, ABS
Rear brake Brembo floating single-piston caliper, 280 mm disc, ABS
Rake, trail 25 degrees, 6.2 inches
Wheelbase 62.2 inches
Seat height 31.8 inches (laden with 180-pound rider)
Fuel capacity 5.6 gallons
Tires Michelin Scorcher Adventure, 120/70R19 front, 170/60R17 rear
Claimed weight 534 pounds (base, wet)
Available May 2021
Warranty 24 months
More info harley-davidson.com