Bikes we love News

Even More Thoughts on the Harley-Davidson Pan America

Will expectations be too high for Harley's ADV machine when it finally hits dealerships? And will it be more comfortable than it looks?

I’ll try to keep this short. You would have thought I’d already said all there is to say about the Harley-Davidson Pan America adventure-touring motorcycle in the 2,200-word article I wrote last week, but no.

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This bike has captured my imagination. It’s hard to guess where I’ll be financially two years from now – when the Pan America is set to be launched – but I like to make believe that I’ll be in a position where I could be one of the first to own one. A man can dream, right? A lot can happen in two years. Maybe I’ll be rich; TMO will be so wildly popular and influential that Harley will give me a few dozen Pan Americas to give away as Patreon incentives.

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A computer drawing glimpsed in the “More Roads to Harley-Davidson” video.

Yeah, probably not. My point, though, is that I’m a little jealous of those folks who will be able to say they got in on the ground floor of the MoCo’s expansion into new genres. And I’m optimistic that whatever happens it won’t be a complete failure.

Will Expectations Be Too High?

I think it’s reasonable to assume the 1250cc liquid-cooled Pan America won’t be any worse than the current Suzuki V-Strom 1000. There’s a sizable chasm between the Strom and descriptions like “fantastic” but it is by no means a sucky motorcycle. I owned one for two years and never really had any complaints but for the fact it failed to touch my soul.

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Considering this is Harley’s first effort at the genre, or anything like the genre, a V-Strom-adjacent moto would actually be commendable… if the bike weren’t a Harley. Because it will carry that infamous and iconic bar-and-shield logo, however, people will be expecting more. Related to that, I’m concerned people will expect too much.

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I predict the Pan America will at least be as good as a V-Strom 1000. That’s not a compliment, but it’s also not an insult.

The BMW R 1200 GS remains the gold standard in heavy all-rounder adventure machines. The Honda Africa Twin is better off road, the Triumph Tiger 1200 is better at carrying you long distances, the KTM 1290 Super Adventure R is better at making you wet your pants, but none manage to simultaneously tick all boxes as well as the renowned GS. That’s the reason the R 1200 GS (in conjunction with the R 1200 GS Adventure) has been Europe’s best-selling motorcycle for several years.

In part, that success comes because BMW has put 25 years of work into its heavyweight GS platform, starting with the R 1100 GS first launched in 1993. Since then, Ducati, Honda, Kawasaki, KTM, Moto Guzzi, Suzuki, Triumph, and Yamaha have all attempted to replicate the GS – with varying degrees of success.

With two years to imagine and speculate before any of us can lay eyes on the Pan America, I’m concerned that expectations will be sky high when the first skeptical moto-journalist throws a boot over the saddle (Side thought: I have two years to improve my ADV riding skills). Will anyone be capable of looking at the bike fairly?

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Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250

And what would be a realistic expectation for this first attempt? Personally, my hope is that the Pan America will turn out as something on par with a Ducati Multistrada 950, but with 120+ hp and cruise control (and heated grips as standard).

Harley’s Definition of ‘Off Road’ is Different Than Yours

One expectation I think we should abandon is true off-road ability. Yeah, Harley-Davidson has used the phrase, “On road or off,” in describing the bike’s capabilities but hey, man, you know how Harley is. Its copy writers get a little over excited at times.

ALSO NOT GREAT OFF ROAD: 2018 Triumph Tiger 1200 – Ride Review

I’m reminded of the Brian Regan routine on suggested ice cream servings in which he imagines a copy writer calling over colleagues: “Hey, come here, look what I put for the serving size. Half a cup. I put it as a joke but it’s going out like that. Don’t know what to do.”

I’m pretty sure that when Harley suggests its new bike can be ridden off road it means that in only the most literal sense. Like, I have a friend, Dan, who lives in the BFE outskirts of Forest Lake, Minnesota. To get to his house, you have to drive down a mile of gravel road, turn left, then drive another mile of gravel road.

The Pan America will make it easier for me to ride a Harley to Dan’s house, but someone like MotoAdventurer’s Drew Faulkner, who seems keen to explore every meth-running trail Kentucky has to offer, will – I predict – end up being disappointed unless Harley alters its marketing strategy.

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Harley refers to the bike as an adventure-touring motorcycle. Based on the fact video glimpses of the bike show it running on alloy wheels equipped with (what appear to be) 80/20 road-focused tires like Michelin’s Pilot Road 5 Trail, I’m inclined to believe the bike will ultimately be more touring than adventure.

PanAmerica proto in air
In the “More Roads” video a prototype Pan America is seen flying through the air.

Or, it may be that Harley will choose the Triumph Tiger 1200 route of offering two different versions of the bike: a road-focused Pan America, and an “adventure” Pan America with spoked wheels and a higher price tag.

It Has More Weather Protection Than We Thought

I’ve been staring at pictures a lot and I’m struck by how wide the radiator is, or appears to be. In the “More Roads to Harley-Davidson” video, the test mule Pan America appears to have lower lower fairing. Look at this picture of it from the rear: see those sticky-out bits in front of the rider’s legs? I’m pretty sure that the model displayed in photographs retains those.

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Take a look at one of the two the professional pictures that Harley has provided, in particular the picture of the bike turned at oh-so-slight an angle, and you’ll see that the front cylinder of the Pan America’s V-twin engine is obscured somewhat. The bike appears to have a combination engine protection/radiator housing. Potentially a brilliant or disastrous idea, depending upon how it’s executed.

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Whatever it is, it does seem likely the feature will add weather protection beyond the bike’s adjustable screen. That’s a win in my book, because I live in a place where hot weather is still a novelty (This summer has been great but the last time Britain experienced anything similar was 1976). I wonder how it will play, though, in Harley’s home turf – hot bits like the American Southwest, in particular.

Harley-Davidsons aren’t exactly famous for running cool. But perhaps the ginormous radiator will be enough.