Harley Davidson’s Pan America Means Business

I don’t think Harely Davidson is about to revolutionize off-road riding. Nor do I think that they’ll sweep the adventure market and GSs will be a dime-a-dozen on Craigslist as a result of the Pan America hitting the showroom floors. That said, I’m pretty excited about Harley’s new offering into the big bore adventure bike category, but more on that later.


In a nutshell, the Pan America is a liquid-cooled 1250cc V-Twin packed with the sort of premium features and tons of technology that you’d expect from an adventure bike in the $17,000 to $20,000 range. Harley is offering two versions, the Pan America 1250 and Pan America 1250 Special, both of which crank out 150 horsepower from the new Revolution Max engine. Engineered to deliver low-end torque and low-speed throttle control, the engine delivers a “broad powerband that builds to a rush of high-RPM power,” according to the folks at HD. The engine is integrated into the vehicle as the central member of the chassis, eliminating the need for a traditional frame and reaffirming Harley’s focus on off-road performance, as well as their goal of achieving a reasonable power-to-weight ratio.

Weight was clearly at the top of the engineering team’s to-do list and the HD crew employed advanced optimization design techniques to minimize mass in the Pan Am’s components. Yet, like most other bikes in the big bore category, the Pan America is no featherweight. With its 5.6 gallon tank fully topped, the bike rolls out at 534 pounds and the Special comes in at 559 pounds. 


The base model Pan America 1250 has passive suspension on the front and rear that is fully adjustable for preload and compression/rebound damping. It has a touchscreen display, Brembo brakes, and assorted ride modes that modulate power delivery, engine braking, ABS, and traction control. HD calls it “a rugged, powerful, technologically advanced multi-purpose motorcycle designed for riders ready to embrace real-life adventure.” And what’s not to love about real life adventures? 


The Pan America 1250 Special steps it up with additional features. Some of which, like the center stand and heated grips, seem like they should come with every high-end adventure motorcycle in the world (I’m looking at you too, KTM and BMW). Other features of the Special are spot-on for the premium upgrade department, such as the electronically adjustable, semi-active front and rear suspension. The Pan Am Special has a Vehicle Loading Control system to select optimal suspension sag and, a first in the industry, Adaptive Ride Height (ARH) feature. The ARH is an additional factory upgrade that lowers the seat height when the bike comes to a standstill.

Jochen Zeitz, chairman, president and CEO Harley-DavidsonJochen Zeitz, chairman, president and CEO Harley-Davidson

Jochen Zeitz, chairman, president and CEO Harley-Davidson

“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 Jochen Zeitz, chairman, president and CEO Harley-Davidson. “The Pan America models exude that go-anywhere spirit, shared today by riders in the US and around the globe who want to experience the world on a motorcycle.” 

Of course, we won’t truly know until we ride it, but the Pan America looks rock solid. Clever, innovative, and thoughtfully designed, Harley Davidson is an undeniable powerhouse of motorcycle manufacturing but, moreover, marketing. When someone with that much street cred takes a sharp left turn from their tarmac touring ways and puts this much effort into a motorcycle with a thirst for dirt, something interesting is about to happen. 


Let’s put the shoe on the other foot for a moment and think back to late 2019, when BMW introduced the R18 cruiser. When the R18 rolled out, folks were muttering under their breath about BMW making a pass at all those Harley riders out there in the market for a burley cruiser. That said, I’m sure we won’t be seeing huge fleets of R18s lining the streets of Sturgis or riding in formation down the freeway any time soon. 

When Harley goes about making a motorcycle that is clearly gunning for a different segment of riders, it is a very different thing than when BMW does. Harley making an adventure bike is much more novel than BMW making a low slung cruiser with a boxer engine. BMW simply expects the success of the R18 to ride on their (well-deserved) reputation of making incredible machines. Harley, on the other hand, makes the world wait with bated breath for a massive global reveal and rolls out a line of Harley-Davidson® Genuine Motor Parts & Accessories to go with it.


This is the empire of Harley Davidson, undeniably the most heavy-hitting brand name in American motorcycling. Though Honda might hold the global title for the highest motorcycle sales, Harley dominates here in the US with a solid 30% market share. When a brand that massive collaborates with REV’IT for HD-logo riding gear, delivers a bike with knobby tires, and points a finger down your local forest road, folks are going to take the hint and hit the dirt.

Many of us, myself included, are incredibly eager to take the Pan Am for a spin simply because of the novelty factor. It’s an intriguing machine and not at all the retrofitted Road King that folks were rolling their eyes about prior to its release. I guarantee that many of the naysayers who spend their spare time talking smack on the ADV rider forums about Harley will be first in line for demo day at their local shop. What’s more, I bet they’ll be pleasantly surprised.


Harley entering the ADV space means, without a doubt, more people riding off-road. It means more adventure bikes at Sturgis. It means more Gore-Tex and less leather. Because of the Pan Am and Harely’s incredible influence, people are going to be leaving the pavement, many for the first time ever. As long as this movement is done responsibly, I don’t think it’s a bad thing in the slightest.


We’ve seen an explosion of off-road exploration lately, particularly over the course of the last year (for obvious, pandemic-induced reasons). The Pan American is perfectly timed to ride this wave of backcountry enthusiasm and, with Harley’s marketing prowess, is positioned to be a force for good when it comes to land use rights, funding for wilderness preservation, and off-road rider education.

If we are going to make the world a better place, protect the wilderness from the encroaching suburbs, and save the environment, we need more people falling in love with the wild places. In order to love the environment, you have to be out experiencing it, and what better way to do that than on an adventure motorcycle built by a brand that you know, love, and trust.


On a fundamental level, my hope is that this bike will inspire an entire genre of riders in new ways. I might be asking too much, but I hope that Harley will also encourage every one of those new off-roaders to carry out their trash, learn proper riding skills, and treat the land with respect. 

I think what it comes down to is that, at the end of the day, all motorcycles really are adventure motorcycles. It doesn’t matter if you’re riding some crusty old KLR or the shiniest new Beemer. The Pan America may be the best adventure bike ever made or maybe it will be riddled with issues, like new models from just about every brand are. But, with the power of Harley Davidson behind it, the Pan America is going to make adventure riding more popular than ever before and that, in my opinion, is going to be interesting.

Photo Credit: Harley Davidson

Motorcycle Industry News by Eva Rupert. Follow Eva @augusteva.

Photo by Brett Willhelm


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