Published on November 11th, 2021 | by Boris0
2021 HARLEY-DAVIDSON PAN AMERICA REVISITED – FIRING THE GUN
IMAGES BY NICK ‘DAKAR’ EDARDS
I was very keen to revisit the Pan America after riding it at the Australian press launch. I’d been hugely impressed at Harley’s revolutionary (for Harley) offering in the Adventure market – but only on a very general holistic level. Because nothing else was possible on the Press Launch – which you may read about HERE.
Allow me to explain.
All the manufacturers take their responsibility for the safety and well-being of the various press creatures very seriously. We are shepherded and cossetted and fed, and if you didn’t know better, you’d think you were being fattened up and gentled for market.
But that’s not what’s happening. You’re a guest of the company which is showcasing its latest motorcycle. And if it’s Harley doing the showcasing, you can be assured of a few days of superb hospitality.
And you can also be assured you will not be fanging the living hell out of the bikes. Which is fine. Prior to the advent of the Pan America, there was not much point grinding Fat Boys and Breakouts into a spark-spraying V-shape.
But with the Pan America, fanging is exactly what you want to do. And you can fang it, and you must fang it, because for the first time in living memory, Harley has built a motorcycle you can actually fang the living hell out of – in entirely objective terms.
Here. I’ll say it. This is the best motorcycle Harley has ever built. Because it is a motorcycle, and not an exercise in pandering to old people cos-playing at being pirates. The Pan America is, objectively, a bloody good motorcycle.
And bloody good motorcycles are very enjoyable to fang – which is why they are bloody good motorcycles in the first place.
But you can’t do that on a press launch. And I get it. And so will you when I explain why this is so, and why I needed some alone time with the Pan America.
So while the following observation may be cruel, it is also utterly fair. You see, once you invite the very well-fed and rather aged coterie of traditional Harley “journos” to ride a bike like the Pan America, what you have is a rolling sight gag.
They have no terms of reference for what they’re being asked to ride. They ride Harleys and promote Harley culture. To suddenly ask these vast, liver-stressing diabetics to get up on the pegs when the road turns to dirt is pointless. They can’t. Like, it’s beyond their physical abilities.
I remember the photographer explaining to one land-whale that he needed to ride through a very shallow causeway and unless he stood up on the pegs, people looking at the image would laugh at him.
The same applies to carving corners. Suddenly, here is a bike capable of serious lean-angles and a proper turn of pace, being ridden by blokes for whom such a thing is anathema. They do Harleys, Goddamnit! And while the Pan America is a Harley down to the last nut and bolt, it may as well be a MotoGP bike as far as they’re concerned.
And so very little was revealed to me at the press launch. I explained this to the good folks at Harley, and they promised to provide me a Pan America and allow me run supervised through the school-gates with it – like a Catholic schoolgirl on her way to her first bush doof.
Then the Plague crunched things down hard, and time went by, but true to its word, Harley did indeed send me a Pan America.
And off I went to misbehave.
On the launch, I was convinced the Pan America was a hugely capable and rewarding road-bike, and a touring weapon par excellence, which could also be ridden down dirt roads with relative ease.
It’s no dirt bike – and only an idiot would take the Pan America enduro riding. And yes, I have seen those tedious videos of that apparently rich imbecile crashing his brains out in the Otways, and blaming the Pan America and its “racing slicks” for his misfortunes.
The videos are very funny because laughing at dumb peoples’ misfortunes is the very definition of comedy – especially when those people imagine they’re making serious bike-review videos instead of slapstick fool-shows.
But here’s what’s not funny. There are idiots out there that will take this idiot’s uninformed opinions as gospel.
And we live in a world where people like that can accuse people like me of being paid to write positive reviews about bikes, while rubbishing a product they cannot ride and do not understand. But that’s Social Media for you – and dickheads will dickhead.
I think most of you are switched on enough to understand what’s relevant and what has integrity.
So where was I? Oh yes, I’m not going to re-hash my initial review, which you can read at the link above. But what I will do is tell you why the Pan America is the best motorcycle Harley has ever built, what I like about it, and what I reckon needs to be re-thought.
Firstly, as a player in the very tough Adventure market, the Pan America has every right to sit at the table.
The reason is most Adventure bikes see very little so-called Adventure. They are mostly ridden on bitumen – and they are superb in that regard, especially in Australia which is blessed with endless of kilometres of bitumen, most of which is crap.
Adventure bikes are popular because their suspension travels far and is plush, the seats and ergos are comfy, and they can carry metric tonnes of stuff – which is great for long days in the saddle on shitty roads.
This is what the Pan America was built for. As our mate, the rich idiot, found out, it is not built for plunging into deep mudholes and boggy ruts. Can you ride it into those places? Sure. But your skill level needs to be far greater than old mate’s.
That said, the big Euro Adventure bikes are not built for that enduro stuff either. They are simply too big and too heavy for normal riders to attempt Dakar-level dirt. So the Pan America is no different to the Euro competition in that way. It is big, and it has some heft, and only an idiot would take it somewhere where that size and weight would slap you and it around some.
Interestingly, the Pan America has it over the competition in once crucial area. The variable ride-height device. The bike automatically lowers when it comes to a stop, and then rises when you ride off. That is a brilliant innovation, which I reckon you’re going to start seeing on a lot of bikes soon.
Adventure bikes are tall. Short people cannot ride them. People with average riding skills will invariably put their feet down if the going gets rough and they’re crawling their way on loose rocks, the missus on the back, and 100kg of luggage as well. It’s kinda hard to do that when your feet barely touch the ground. Enter the ride-height device.
Of course, experienced dirt riders rarely put their feet down and spend most of their time standing on the pegs. The Pan America with its adjustable pegs has that covered as well.
I’m no great shakes on dirt. But I stuck it in Dirt mode and did a few fire-trails with some little velocity, and it felt pretty much like a giant Adventure bike – which is to say, don’t get too sassy writing cheques your arse has no hope of cashing. Be mindful and you’ll be fine.
So what does Harley need to do to make the Pan America better? And remember, this is the first iteration of what I hope will be a long-term development, so I am not being at all harsh in my critique.
Relocate and redesign the ridiculously-placed side-stand. It’s in the wrong place. It sits awkwardly forward of the left footpeg, and is nowhere near long enough or angled forward enough to be deployed easily or with any confidence.
I think the dash needs a re-think. It is full of information – most of which is far too small to be easily read. I’m thinking an option which allows the rider to pick a simple screen with speed, revs, fuel range – essentially the basics – to glance at as he rides, is the go. Put the more informative stuff on screens behind that one.
The light which lights up the corners is in the wrong place. I’m wondering who thought it would be a good idea to mount a light meant to illuminate corners above the headlight? I’m wondering if they slapped him at some stage.
The handguards need to be somewhat more…um, robust, I guess. They just click onto the ends of the handlebars via a knob-and-hole arrangement, and I lost count of the times I just snagged them off with my hand.
I also snagged the high-beam switch far too often. It sits on top of the left switch-block, and enthusiastic applications of the clutch will see your left fore-finger flick it on from time to time. Moving inboard a few millimetres would be good, as would amputating that forefinger.
So that’s what needs some rethinking.
Other than that, the Pan America bangs. It’s easy to ride and it’s easy to ride fast – and it’s easy to do both very early in your relationship. It is very user-friendly in that regard.
That new engine is superb. Willing, strong throughout the rev-range, and happily capable to belt along at 140-150 all day. It’s a bit vibey from time to time – usually when you’re gassing on hard in the lower gears, but not in a way that’s annoying. It’s a V-Twin and there’s a feel to them. I would love to hear what it sounds like with a less restrictive pipe, because it doesn’t make any kind of special noise in its stock form.
The Brembo brakes are great, the suspension is meaningful, and it’s got a great tight turning circle, as well as a seriously good lock-to-lock arc on the handlebars.
I’m a fan. It’s a good thing, despite the niggles mentioned above. None of them are deal-breakers, and I would think an owner would get used to the quirky side-stand. It’s an important bit of kit and it should be better at doing the one simple thing it’s designed to do.
Other than that, here is a Harley that will surprise you and appal the people you’re gonna round up on corners. It is as competent as you’d like on the road.
And you know what? I like the way it looks. It’s utterly unique in that regard. That whole Robocop/Bender/Cylon thing the Pan America has going on works for me. But it only works in a single colour. The duo-tone version is awkward.
So is the Pan America really the best Harley ever built?
Yep. No question. How could it not be?