There is so much to digest from the announcement Harley-Davidson hit us with on Monday. The company known for evolving so gradually that many (incorrectly) assumed it hadn’t changed in decades has decided to set off an atomic blast in the motorcycling world with the news it’s planning a host of Not What You’d Expect bikes.
HELP US GET THE MONEY TO BUY A PAN AMERICA
Become a Patron of The Motorcycle Obsession
For me, the one that stands out most is the 1250cc Pan America – an inescapably ugly “adventure touring” motorcycle that is exactly the sort of thing I would have put money on Harley never, ever making. Indian – with parent company Polaris’ off-roading expertise – maybe, but Harley? Wow.
Like any right-thinking human, I am desperate to ride the Pan America 1250. Unfortunately, that won’t be possible for a few years and real information on the bike is extremely limited at the moment. So, let’s break down everything we do know and everything we can guess.
Here’s what Harley says: “Launching in 2020 is the first Harley-Davidson adventure touring motorcycle, the Pan America 1250cc. The commanding riding position allows the rider to see the world from another point of view. Travel coast-to-coast. On road or off. All while experiencing your own adventures.”
The Pan America is the most exciting of the bikes announced Monday, in part because it speaks to a segment US manufacturers should have engaged with and encouraged a long time ago. When you look at a Venn diagram showing where adventure bikes might make sense and where people have money to pay for adventure bikes, the United States sits very firmly in that intersection.
We know this bike will be powered by a 1250cc liquid-cooled V-twin that will almost certainly be the same powerplant used by the updated Sportster line. In an interview with Cycle World back in January, Harley-Davidson CEO Matt Levatich implied that the Sportster was due an overhaul, similar to that received by the Touring and Softail line-ups in recent years.
“Our emphasis on new product is to put space between new and used,” he said. “We haven’t done as much with Sportster recently so it’s the last example of a platform that doesn’t have that space, content-wise.”
The 1250cc engine is part of a “modular 500cc to 1250cc middleweight platform” that we know will also include a 975cc displacement. My guess is that the displacements will break into 500, 750, 975, and 1250. Does this mean that the Street line-up’s Revolution X engine will be scrapped? Or is this new powerplant simply a continuation of the Revolution X engine? I don’t know. The two certainly look quite different externally, but who knows if that’s a reflection on internal workings.
Related to aesthetics, one thing I like about the new engine is that Harley has followed Indian‘s lead in deciding not to try to hide its liquid-cooled nature. No cooling fins, and the radiator is prominent – almost defiant.
Considering the liquid-cooled 750cc Street Rod puts out roughly 70 hp, I think most people will be expecting the Pan America to offer horsepower in the triple digits. Expecting it to hang out in the mind-melting terrain of, say, a Ducati Multistrada 1260 (158 hp), is unrealistic, I think. The spirit of Harley is to focus on torque instead of ponies; I wouldn’t be surprised by a bike that delivers “only” 100 hp or so. Critics will balk at that figure, then go back to riding their 82hp Honda Africa Twins.
KEEP READING: Let’s Tell Harley-Davidson What to Do
Since Harley doesn’t have a history of overloading its bikes with tech, I wouldn’t expect the Pan America to venture too far beyond the safe and well-trodden territory of tech you’ll find on a Suzuki V-Strom 1000: cornering ABS and traction control, but not much more beyond. I’d be surprised if that adjustable windscreen is electronic.
If Harley’s smart, the bike will be equipped with cruise control (and heated grips). Looking closely at a number of photos, the Pan America appears to have a screen-type dash. Logic dictates Harley will be equipping the bike with a version of its existing Boom! Box infotainment system, found on the current touring line-up. If so, that would mean a bike with integrated GPS. I approve.
The biggest question is whether Harley will manage to overcome its long, proud tradition of making very heavy bikes. To that end, it’s worth noting that Harley is using the phrase “adventure-touring motorcycle.” I would describe the aforementioned Multistrada 1260 or Yamaha Tracer 900 as adventure-touring motorcycles – you know, bikes that really should be kept on the road. Harley has equipped the Pan America 1250 with Michelin Anakee tires in the photos it’s released and talks about dirt, but I’ll bet the finished product will be better suited to Michelin Road 5 Trails.
Speaking of wheels, the ones in the images we’re seeing may be Photoshopped. Drew Faulkner of Moto Adventurer thinks Harley has lazily stolen the image of these wheels, insisting that the Pan America “is a Photoshopped bike that started out as a Royal Enfield Himalayan with [BMW R] 1200 GS wheels, a KTM 1290 exhaust, a few other odds and ends… I think there’s a big gap between this image and the bike we’ll see.”
OLD-SCHOOL HARLEYS REMAIN AWESOME: Check Out the Street Bob Journal
Certainly Harley offers itself an out by offering the following proviso with images of the Pan America: “Prototype model shown. Production model features will vary.” But I think that much of what we’re seeing is indeed the bike we’ll see at dealerships two years from now. A number of tiny details suggest as much, such as the Harley branding found on the windscreen and headlight, and the fact this bike has DOT-required reflectors and a license plate holder.
Far from being a Photoshopped Royal Enfield Himalayan, I think what we’re seeing here is the final product in terms of chassis. Harley says it will be launching this bike in 2020; we’re more than halfway through 2018. There simply isn’t time for the MoCo to be making major structural changes now – things have to have been nailed down. In the “More Roads” video that Harley released Monday a data-equipment-laden test mule can be seen flying through the desert; I’d say that also confirms Harley has settled on the bike’s core set-up.
In fact, I’d go so far as to guess that what we see pictured is an existing mock-up, showing almost exactly what the actual bike will look like. If so, I’m a little concerned that the passenger grab rail appears to be solid, and therefore not something you could run Kriega straps through. I find it impossible to imagine Harley wouldn’t offer accessory luggage with the Pan America, though, so I’ll be interested to see how that looks.
Related to luggage, I like the little crash bar-looking thing that runs beneath the headlight. This will probably serve as a place to mount accessory fog lights, but it seems it would also be a good place to strap a tool roll or the like. That seems appropriate; a bed roll or tent strapped to the forks of a cruiser is an iconic image. Offering a place to strap something to the front of its adventure bike seems like a clever spiritual link to the wider company.
RELATED: An Ode to the Scrambler
Those wheels, though. Yeah, those are either Photoshopped or have been slapped on for the sake of photos. There are no cables running from the front brake set-up – equally there is no brake cable to be seen coming from the right side of the handlebar. The absence of ABS rings on either the front or rear (ABS is required in Europe and Japan, and Harley has taken to building all its bikes to European standard) also tells us that Harley hasn’t yet decided how this bike will stop.
Indeed, the Brembo-branded brakes are a surprise. Harley-Davidson uses Brembo set-ups on existing models but has traditionally chosen to mask that fact by branding everything with the bar and shield logo. Perhaps that’s what the Pan America is all about, though: breaking with tradition. Doing so here makes sense because Brembo is a name that people seem to be willing to pay for.
And you’d better believe that Harley will be eager to see people digging deep into their pockets for the Pan America. Although the bike won’t have the power of a Ducati Multistrada 1260 I’m willing to bet it will have the price tag. Starting price on a Multistrada 1260 is £14,295. I wouldn’t blink were Harley to ask the same, as opposed to the £12,200 starting price of a Triumph Tiger 1200.
Of course, the Tiger 1200 that you actually want costs roughly £17,000 (before you spend an additional £1,000 on luggage). Harley is the OG of pushing prices to the stratosphere via accessories, so expect similar mark-ups to affect the Pan America’s final asking price. Indeed, I suspect part of the reason Harley wanted to get into the adventure segment was this money-making aspect. Perhaps the reason the company won’t be launching an apparently already-complete bike for two more years is that it wants more time to load the accessories catalog.
DON’T LEAVE ME: Let’s Get Excited About the Indian FTR 1200
That’s not to say people won’t put their money down. Hell, if the engine character is right I’d very seriously consider becoming a Pan America owner. The patriotic side of me has always wanted to own an American bike but the pragmatic side of me keeps buying ADVs – this would be the answer to my prayers. That said, though, without any idea of how either performs my inclination is to believe that the Indian FTR 1200 we’ll see later this year would make the overall better adventure machine (when loaded up with Kriega bags – especially if it had the OS pannier system).
I say that in part, however, because I am an Indian fanboy. But also there’s the fact it makes sense to trust Polaris to make a vehicle that can be ridden off-pavement, whereas there’s not much existing evidence to suggest Harley could master such a thing on its first try. And I’ve ridden a Scout and Scout Bobber, so I have a sense of what the FTR 1200 could be. Whereas none of us can reliably guess what the Pan America engine will be like.
All that said, I absolutely cannot wait to throw a leg over the Pan America once it becomes a production reality. Earlier in this article I described it as “inescapably ugly” but the more I look at it, the more it grows on me. There’s no denying it’s unique. If it sounds and behaves as insane as it looks (just as the way the Fat Bob sounds and behaves as batshit as it looks) Harley could be on to a winner.
(I also look forward to the inevitable article in which Lemmy from Common Tread shows us how similar the Pan America is to the Buell Ulysses and we all smack our heads at Harley’s past decisions – i.e, killing a project that ends up saving the company a decade later.)