Living with the Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special

We spent a few weeks getting to grips with the Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special

Pan America 1250 Special Review Visordown

MOTORCYCLE press launches are either immersive events where all your time is spent on the bike or taster rides where you get a sample of the machine. The Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special press launch was a bit of the latter.

It wasn’t to the detriment of the bike in any way though. The mix of roads ridden, and the sessions spent slithering around the Mick Extance Off Road Experience centre really cemented this bike as one to watch for 2021.

Harley-Davidson Pan America Adventure Motorcycle Video Review 2021 

Harley-Davidson Pan America Adventure Motorcycle Video Review 2021 |

But you can’t explore everything the bike has to offer, on pretty much any press launch. For that you have to hurry the bike off, away from prying eyes and marketing people, and just do your own thing.

Once the dust had settled on the Pan America press ride, I quickly got my name on the list for a loan period to do just that. During that time, I clocked up mainly on-road miles, in all the British summer weather you’d expect. Basically, it rained a lot. Here’s what I found out during those 500 or so miles.

What is the Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 like to manually handle?

It’s a fairly chunky bike, weighing in at around 260kg with fuel and oil included. It’s also quite tall, with wide bars that force me to reach up and over the tank when wheeling it about. I am reviewing this part of the bike from the worst possible place though. At 5’8” in my tallest platform motorcycle boots, I’m about as short as you get!

At a walking pace either forwards or backwards the steering feels fairly heavy, to begin with, although once it’s rolling the task becomes a little easier.

What is the weather protection like?

One of the big benefits I’ve found with the new Pan America is that the unusual-looking front end does a damn good job of steering the weather away from you. The screen is a fairly simple affair, with no complex winglets or angled elements at all. But it just seems to work, in a weirdly floppy way! And I say floppy because it kind of is. The four-position adjustable screen has a natural flex to it, and while you’re riding along it’ll vibrate away in the breeze. This action actually seems to help the water bead up and clear from the screen. I’m not sure it was intentional, but it kinda works.

Head south from the screen and you have that large, some would say bulbous front end. It looks as though it’ll have all the aero efficiency of a wardrobe and it most likely has. But that front end seems to create enough turbulence around the front end that you are sat in a fairly nice little bubble of calm air.

One frustration with the screen is that the adjuster is really within easy reach when your riding, it’s just so bloody awkward to use on the fly! It’s a gripe that you’ll likely overcome once you’ve built up the required muscle memory, although I tended to leave the screen in one place because of it.

Another factor that makes the Pan America a safe bet for winter rides are the leg shields that also carry the indicators. They aren’t huge things, but they do help to keep the worst of the wind and rain off your legs and boots.

What is the Revolution Max 1250 engine actually like?

If you’re a Harley aficionado with some experience of its V-twins, prepare yourself for a shock. This is not going to be a familiar experience. For starters, the Revolution Max 1250 engine revs, and revs, and revs. The VVT system is beautifully set up and means the bike will pootle away in top gear around town without any fuss, before pulling cleaning all the way to the 9,500rpm redline once the speed limit allows.

That duality is not something Harleys have been known for in the past and in my mind, it really does show that the Milwaukee motorcycle giant is deadly serious about taking on the top bikes, in this class and more.

Moving outside of the Harley range, the specs alone put the 1250 well in the mix with its peers. Only the Multistrada V4 and 1290 Super Adventure out gun the bike on the power front, but I don’t think either offer the level of accessibility that this does.

I said on the press launch that the engine modes of the Pan America are some of the easiest to define of any bike I’ve ridden. Quite often you can jump on a bike and flick through the power modes and not really notice what is happening within the engine casings. That’s very much not the case with this bike. In the softest rain mode, it feels as docile and easy-going as an A2 compliant machine, but still with that endless torque on command when needed. Up the ante though and you’ll end up in the Sport mode, where a direct throttle map and full 150hp will transform the experience.

A neat trick that Harley seems to have pulled off is to place its first modern-era adventure bike in a nice little gap in the market. Two best sellers in the field are the BMW R1250GS and the KTM 1290 Super Adventure and the Pan Am’ splits the pair perfectly. In sport mode, it's more raucous than the Beemer, with a slightly more hard-edged character, yet softer, more forgiving, and easier to live with than the occasionally bonkers KTM.

The semi-active suspension on the Special any good?

The system suspending both ends of the Pan America is provided by Japanese specialist Showa. And yes, in short, it’s very good. Electronic suspension can either totally nullify the riding experience by removing any natural feel from the experience, or it can over work and make its presence felt where you really don’t want it.

The system fitted to the Harley isn’t really either of those. It still pitches and dives when you want it to – under power and when you brake – and in that respect feels much like conventional suspension. But when you’re not asking anything of the bike it’ll sort out any lumps and bumps and make the whole ride more serene.

Flicking the bike through the riding modes automatically adjusts the suspension, and like with the engine modes, the most noticeable difference arrives when you select sport mode. The preload in the rear shock increase, pitching the bike slightly more onto its nose, while both ends are stiffened up significantly. The bike now turns much more quickly, and will now have much better poise under braking and acceleration.

Adaptive Ride Height – is it worth £600?

For those under 5’10”, yes, abso-bloody-lutely. If you fancy a deep dive into the Adaptive Ride Height (ARH), click here, or in summary… During normal riding, the bike will be at full extension and the tips of my toes are just touching the floor. As I slow the bike and come to a stop the bike’s ride height reduces by around an inch. By the time the bike has stopped moving, I can now get both feet securely on the floor. When I pull away again the bike raises up, restoring its normal ground clearance.

The best systems on a motorcycle are the ones that work away in the background and don’t distract you from the act of riding. The ARH nails that with a cherry on top. The only, and I mean only sign you’ll have that anything is going on is the flashing shock absorber icon on the dash as it does its thing.

There is nothing worse on a bike than feeling stuff working away when you're riding. Early semi-active suspension was very good at being bad for just this reason. You could feel the balance of a bike changing mid-corner. I don't like it, it gives me the heebie-jeebies!

How's the comfort?

You'd be doing a very bad job if you made an adventure bike that was uncomfortable. The formula is fairly simple - roomy up top, enough leg room to not be cramped while not hindering ground clearance, and bars that don't have you leaning too far forwards.

Harley has had plenty of time to evaluate the competition in the sector before building the Pan America 1250. And as a result, the comfort is very good. Whether riding up on the pegs off-road or schlepping it out on the motorway, during my time on the 1250 I really couldn't fault the long-distance comfort.

How many miles will you get out of a tank of fuel?

One of the rides that really helped me get to grips with the Pan America was a scoot up to Manchester for the press launch of the new H-D Sportster S. It was as tedious a ride as you could imagine, with a hundred or so miles of the M6 ahead of me, high winds and driving rain. Including getting lost in central Manchester - I should have trusted the in-built sat nat! - the entire trip riding there and back, was about 230-miles. I didn't ride like a loon but I wasn't hanging about either and the big Harley did it all on a single tank. Landing back on my drive after riding home, the onboard computer told me I had about 35-mile of sensible range left.

I can't really complain about that from a bike of this size, weight and shape!

So, there we have it, two weeks of Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special 'ownership' in a few short paragraphs. Yes, some of the plastics are a bit American but that aside, it'll get you where you need to go, in comfort, protected from the weather, on time, and with a smile on your face.

That's a sterling effort for a 'first try' adventure bike!