Motorcycle Events | Harley-Davidson Adventure Centre review

Mick Extance and the Harley-Davidson Adventure Centre

Spending a day on the Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special across 1500 acres of the Welsh countryside, guided by Mick Extance!

Details
Manufacturer:
Category:
Adventure
Price:
£ 349
Overall
Not rated

Tucked away in mid-north Wales you’ll find the new-for-2022 Harley-Davidson Adventure Centre, hosted by Mick Extance and the brand new Pan America 1250 Special. 

Heading over for a 9am start in Llangynog, a full day of off-road riding awaited - now, I’m by no means an experienced adventure rider, but led by the Dakar legend Mick with his son Adam (a top-level rider by his own merit) the group of 4 of us were in good hands. 

Arriving at 9 am we were all full of anticipation - and all glad to hear that there were no experts in the ranks, so we’re all starting from the same level. Customary safety briefings over, we’re suited up and getting ready for our day out. 

As a product, the Harley-Davidson Adventure Centre is simply fantastic. I'll come right out and say it. A full day riding a new adventure bike, led by a top rider & trainer in Mick, stunning scenery and roads, and all in all I’ve come away learning a thing (or three). Stuff that I can take to my day-to-day riding on the roads.

Harley-Davidson Adventure Centre - what’s it all about?

Harley-Davidson decided to launch the Adventure Centre with Mick Extance in Wales for March 2022, headlining their Pan America 1250 Special with the American manufacturer’s first and only (so far) adventure experience in the world. That says a lot for both the environment and their confidence in the bike.

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At £349 per person (£50 off that if you’re a HOG member) there’s a full day of off-road riding to partake in; you just need a full licence. For your cash you get the full use of the bike, insurance, fuel (in the form of lunch at the Lake Vernwy Hotel & petrol for the Pan), plus RST adventure gear should you need it, ready in all sizes and booked in advance, clean and ready waiting for your arrival.

Spectacular scenery surrounds the centre in North Wales, the Adventure Centre is surrounded by a backdrop of Welsh mountains and hills overlooking the sleepy village of Llangynog - and it's 5 miles down the road from Lake Vyrnwy. Picturesque stuff, so bring a camera!

But you’re not there to just gawp - you’re there to get in amongst it. As we were prepping to ride away Mick said ‘we’re heading for those trees right up there’. Swivel your head around & up to be overcome with sheer bemusement - 'how am I going to get up there!'

Once you look the part, you’re ready to take on the world. Or, just Wales for now.

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The land.

The man himself, Mick, said that Wales is home to some of the best riding in the World, on and off-road. I’m inclined to take his word for it.

A total of 1,500 acres of private land awaits intrepid explores for the day, and we only scratched the surface. I’m not exaggerating when I say you could spend a week here, every minute packed riding seemingly endless trails. 

Truly, this feels like what motorcycling is all about, a group of you riding for the sheer pleasure of riding’s sake. Fundamental to that is the freedom that two wheels unlocks, as we all know, and this could well be the start of an adventure persuasion for many of you.

What’s more, phone signal in the area is hard to come by - a fervent excuse to get completely lost in the day away from messages, emails, and ranting work colleagues. I didn’t even know what time it was for large parts of the day, and quite frankly did not care.

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On a typical day the centre is run on a 2-to-1 student-tutor ratio, so small groups is ensured and a great chance to meet likeminded riders - don’t be afraid to turn up on your own, you’ll be sure to come away with new riding pals. 

Also, don’t be afraid if you’ve never ridden an Adventure bike in this setting before - you’ll surprise yourself with how much you can do. 

Setting off & up what you think is a steep incline trail in the morning, that very same trail quickly becomes a molehill in the afternoon, and you’ll be amused by how ‘puny’ it seems with your skills improved tenfold.

The Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special.

A huge factor in conquering the trails is working with the machine beneath you.

I wasn’t here to review the Pan America 1250 Special per say, but I tend to jump on anything with two wheels and try to figure out what makes it tick. Naturally, I was eager to figure out what this new £14,795 ADV motorcycle was all about.

In short, it was an incredible introduction to the Pan America. It’s a smart piece of machinery and felt right at home in the woodlands - despite what any prior assumptions may be (I’m not getting into the looks debate right now).

Harley-Davidson is understood to have been working on this for around 5 years before a 2021 release - and even if tailored for the American plains (like in the promo videos) it’s not a poser. Powering the beast is the Revolution Max 1250 motor, a V-twin (what else) with 150 bhp and 127 NM (94 lb-ft). But don’t get bogged down in the numbers, what really matters is how you use it.

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For a first attempt at the adventure segment, Harley-Davidson impresses with what they get right. The acclaimed Adaptive Ride Height feature that squats down at a standstill is genius as a headline act - but even small touches impress as support acts, like the rear brake that can be positioned higher for easier use when standing on bear-trap pegs.

Standing on the pegs was comfortable, it was easily guided over & through obstacles. Sure-footed and stable, up and down sharp inclines was handled without fuss - 191mm of travel in the Showa suspension and around 210mm of ground clearance made light work of the harshest of terrain on the trails. Incredibly so, at times.

Despite that total weight of 258 kg and adjustable 850/870mm seat, it was easily manoeuvred and controlled - not appearing as formidable in person as I was imagining it to be. 

A considerable part of control lays with the trick electronic suspension that’d automatically lower when switching on the machine and at a stop - just as amusing at the end of the day as at the start, but helping you get your feet on the ground.

It’s a clever thing, too. Confidence-inspiring traction control and 5 rider modes to switch through - two off-road, road, sport and rain. Standing on the pegs all day was comfortable, though I’d perhaps want to raise the bars a slight bit as a taller rider.

Slap on some off-road Michelin hoops, and out of the factory you have a purpose-built rough-stuff-conquering package.

Any flaws? Yeah, a few. I’ll admit I found the throttle a bit agricultural in its play, particularly on the lower end, though you get used to it. It can sound a bit lumpy at low revs - this 1250 likes to be revved. 

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At one stage of the day, my throttle decided to pin itself at 4k revs with no rider input, but that resolved itself just as quick as it appeared. How much of that was down to me, I’m not sure. Probably a considerable factor.

If you want more words on the Pan America, read our review.

Regardless I was (and still am, really) an absolute novice off-road but I managed it all, and most importantly, had an absolute blast the entire day. A real testament to the capabilities of a truly impressive motorcycle, but also to the ability of a one-of-a-kind tutor.

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The trainer extraordinaire - Mick Extance.

A special mention goes to the absolute legend that is Mick Extance, and to have the chance of spending a day riding with & learning from arguably the best of the best and hearing his tales is second to none. 

It’s a personal approach that Mick likes to take with each group. He said that some groups will prefer to stick around in the woods and mud all day, whilst others will be after the scenery and light trail riding. Not only does that mean each group gets to tailor their day, but that everyone gets what they want out of it. 

Certainly worth the price of admission in itself.

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Training.

We did a bit of everything, starting with the basics and moving up. Introductions started with the basics, standing up on the bike riding up the slate trails heading into the hills and valleys, getting to grips with low-speed control, then - in all honesty - trying some bits I’d never have thought I could manage. The inclines were so wild my Google Maps history thinks I went skiing for 6.4 miles. Seriously. 

On your way over to the first 'training area', you’ll ride past some trails & terrain that turns your head simply because it seems so wild (some of which you’ll be having a bit of fun on soon!)

Admittedly, some challenges are reserved for a higher calibre of rider that’ll swing by to visit and train with Mick & gang - Billy Bolt to name but one. 

Besides the obvious stunning scenery, the beauty of this vast land at Mick’s disposal is that you’ll get a full day of riding whatever the weather. We were blessed with one of few sunny days in Wales (every time I’ve been it’s ended up raining), but even in adverse conditions the slate trails (particularly those under canopies) ensure the worst of the water will run off. 

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After a lunch stop at the spectacular Lake Vyrnwy Hotel, where you get a discounted overnight stay with your booking, the rest of the day can be shaped for whatever the group would like. 

With our fruit pack-ups in hand, part 2 of our day was reserved for stretching the Pan America’s legs on fantastic roads around Wales (past Lake Vrynwy towards Rhos-y-gwaliau) which I fondly remember from the Tracer 9 GT launch, again riding into sweeping valleys and sleepy towns. Here we were able to switch into road & sport mode, and unleash more character from this bike. Even with full off-road hoops on it was great fun.

We returned to the woodlands, heading for the rock garden, the newly-named Jacks Pine Trail, tackling these with our newly found skill… My legs are still aching a few days later, great stuff.

Wales.

A special mention goes to Wales, too. Stunning roads, spectacular scenery, and a real advert for what’s right on your doorstep if you look for it. 

It may sound like a Visit Wales ad, but it’s a special place for motorcyclists - and personally I'd highly recommend a tour over there. Practically point your nose in any direction and you’ll find amazing roads to explore.

As Mick said at the start, there are some of the best roads in the world found here - and he’s not wrong.

3 things I learnt. 

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- It’s all in the legs. 

You don’t need to take everything standing up, in fact there’s a lot to be said for taking some trickier terrain at your own pace, feet down on the floor and pacing your way through. With that, setting up your off-road machine so you can reach the floor when sitting down is crucial - the electronic suspension trickery on the Pan does that for you. Standing up is really comfortable on the Pan America, mind, and you can spend all day on your pegs if you want. 

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- Vision & scanning your upcoming environment. 

It’s something taught in motorcycle training schools, looking ahead and planning accordingly, but it really underlines how important it is when off-road. Mick mentioned a few times how - especially in the Dakar - taking your own route & line and planning ahead whilst keeping your lid up is vital. These are the sort of skills you learn and practice at the ADV Centre, and take forward with you when riding. 

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- Work with the bike. 

Simple enough, but when riding a bike that has the tech & characteristics of the Pan America, simply flick it in the right mode and work with it. It’s a classic one that everyone susses out when riding off-road, but the bike moving about underneath you on mud and uneven terrain will happen - so loosen up and go with it!

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Conclusions.

Genuinely you’re hard-pressed to find a better day than this. Going up the hill on the pegs stiff as a board, and coming back down confident, with a smile on your face, feeling like you’ve learned a thing or two. Ultimately that’s what riding is all about.

I can’t recommend it enough, get down there this year and book your place before they all get taken up. No experience needed, no gear needed, just turn up with your booking receipt. 

The day itself appeals to 4 types of riders: those who want off-road experience, those who want to try out the Pan America in its ‘natural habitat’, those who want training from the best around, and those who just want a fun day out in Wales. Rolling it all up into one spectacular bundle, I came away with memories & skills for a lifetime.

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Though I say ‘skills’ loosely, it was thoroughly enjoyable all day - but ultimately I’m not going to be getting close to a Dakar level of skill. I’m still a bit naff.

It’s even worthwhile getting down there just to ride the Harley-Davidson Pan America on what I’d actually consider its home environment. Comfortable, smart and a great first attempt at a new market. I’d definitely keep an eye on the next generation that’ll iron out a few of the imperfections.

Oh, and go and Visit Wales. What a place!

Huge thanks to Mick Extance & the Harley-Davidson Adventure Centre for having me. Let em know we sent you!

Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 review

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