Published on May 28th, 2021 | by Boris0
2021 HARLEY-DAVIDSON PAN AMERICA – THE LESSON OF THE GUN
I’m going to write this review back-to-front. I will provide the conclusion first (because that’s what you all wanna know), then I will explain the conclusion, give you some background, do a quick Q&A – and then you can all go and fight among yourselves.
Harley-Davidson’s Pan America is astonishing. It is serious contender in the Adventure bike market, and there is no doubt in my mind that Milwaukee has decided it’s going to write a whole new chapter in its storied history book, and the new Pan America is the opening paragraph.
I’m looking forward to riding it a lot harder and a lot further than I did on the launch – where various constraints prevented me exploring the Pan America’s quite obvious abilities – but I can put my hand on my heart and tell you this thing works.
And this is why…
It is a stone-cold truth that a man must never bring a knife to a gun-fight. And by any measure, the Adventure bike niche is a gun-fight – and one that has been raging for ages.
Vast Teutonic motorcycles, and one Italian monster, rule this rarefied space. Motorcycles with advanced electronics operated by super-computers which allow the average rider to realistically access the bikes’ power and capabilities, and to fool him into thinking he maybe rides better than he actually does.
Adventure motorcycles, which are perhaps more complex than they need to be for their intended purpose, which appears to be the exploration of the Khumbu Icefall, a quick ride to the summit of Baintha Brakk (aka The Ogre), or a fast blat into the deadly but welcoming arms of Yosemite’s Tenaya Canyon.
But then maybe not – since a large percentage of so-called Adventure bikes rarely see anything more challenging than a well-kept fire-trail.
So it follows that bikes competing in this space must do two things very well. They must be capable of summitting K2, and they must be able to shame sportsbikes on the tar.
It is no small task to build such a bike.
This explains the screams of disbelief and disdain which followed upon the heels of Harley’s declaration that it will build such a bike…and here’s a picture.
Two things happened immediately after the images of the Pan America surfaced a year or so ago.
The traditional Harley demographic descended into confused denial. What foul act of treachery had caused their favourite motorcycle company to attempt such a thing? Had the Milwaukee bosses gone insane? Why was Harley not building another VROD, or something with twin-shocks, or resurrecting the Buell? Or what about a new Panhead? What was it thinking building this weird Bender-looking sumbitch with ridiculous wog-brakes?
The howling from Harley’s non-core market was even more outraged. As if the Milwaukee bros even had a clue about building a “real” bike, they said. Cue the usual disdainful sniffing about where was one going to put one’s tassels, one’s beer belly, and one’s ageing and couch-sized Harley Honey. And it’s ugly, they cried, seemingly blind to the fact that Adventure bikes all look like busted crabs.
Unsurprisingly, Harley was quite aware of the noise. And it knew, deep in its ancient bones, that when the Pan America finally debuted and was put in the hands of reviewers – most of whom were cynically sceptical, while the remainder were hard-core Harley riders for whom such a bike was as alien as healthy diet and a gym membership – it had better be the goods.
I was sceptical and cynical too. But then I’m pretty much made of scepticism and cynicism. But – yes, there are a lot of “buts” here – I was more curious than anything else.
Surely Milwaukee would not make an attempt at this niche without understanding what the competition offered, and then making sure the Pan America offered all of that, and even more?
I had read all the overseas reviews when I arrived in Kiama to ride the Pan America. This is not something I usually do, since reading the tedious blargh that passes for a bike review in today’s world gives me indigestion. That said, the overseas offerings are usually far better than the trash you’ll read here – and the American reviewers were quite voluble in their praise for the Pan America. But, you know…American reviewers. They’re like the Pom reviewers who keep awarding Triumph every accolade they can imagine. Happily, here in Australia, we don’t make any bikes, so our parochialism doesn’t extend there.
As I stood looking at the example that greeted me in the foyer of the hotel, I found myself nodding. The Pan America certainly looked the business, to my eye. In black or that killer deep green colour – both of which do the bike more favours than the strange orange-and-cream version – it looked every inch a capable Adventure Tourer.
I actually like the way it looks. It’s unique and kinda brutal about the head – and that’s a positive thing in this segment. It looks very fit-for-purpose.
And it had all the must-haves such a beast had to have…
Radial Brembos, a very clever flip-up brake pedal to take the foot-stretch out of stand-up braking, heated grips, cruise control, hill hold, slip-assist clutch, a centre-stand, adjustable engine-braking, Showa electronic semi-active suspension, tyre-pressure monitoring, Bosch traction control and lean-angle sensitive ABS, cornering lights, adjustable screen and seat height, USB ports on the dash and under the seat, a big TFT touch-screen that works with gloves, a range of ride modes with two customisable ones – all linked to the suspension, ABS and traction control, 21-litre fuel capacity, a decent weight (254kg wet) with the ability to carry at least 200kg more, and a range of luggage options from hard to soft.
And over and above all this, Harley has provided something of a Holy Grail to the Pan America. It has Adaptive Ride Height voodoo.
What is that, you say?
It’s sorcery, damn you! Sorcery!
But really good sorcery – and I reckon it will soon start appearing on all sorts of bikes.
What it does is lower the suspension when the bike is coming to a halt. Then it raises the suspension when you move off again. In its default mode, you don’t even notice it doing that, though you can set it so it delays the action by a second or two. It’s brilliant, and one of those things that will set the Pan America above its competition.
It allows riders with dwarf-legs, or those challenged with lack of altitude, to plant their feet on the ground when they come to a stop. Yes, you can turn it off if you’re too good/too tall/to vain to need it, but it’s a game-changer in this segment, for sure.
The motor…well, you’re gonna be seeing lots more of Harley’s new liquid-cooled 60-degree V-twin, dubbed the Revolution Max or RevMax, and you should, because it’s a great engine.
It’s crisp, beautifully-fuelled, and piles on the power with a refinement that is quite deceiving. It’s nut-sweet being lugged around at slow speeds in low gears on iffy surfaces, and somewhat of a fire-breather as the revs climb towards the 9500 redline. I would have liked to ride it with a little more Satan on my shoulder, but traffic and OH&S stuff prevented any serious exploration of its Dark Side. That 127Nm and 150 horsies do bear closer and more private scrutiny.
It’s got some new stuff (for Harley) inside where the guts live – like a dry sump engine with oil jets firing their goodness under the pistons’ skirts, and three-stage scavenger pump producing enough sucking to enable the use of low-tension piston rings to reduce friction. Hydraulic lifters speak to small roller-rockers, obviating valve adjustments, and this all speaks to longevity and cheaper services, I guess.
I tried it on Off Road Mode, Road Mode and Sport Mode. Sport Mode firms everything up, and makes the throttle a little choppy. Off Road was where it lived when we rode the simple fire- trails and some easy grass track, and it felt decidedly relaxed. It did nothing to terrify me, and it felt decider smaller than it actually is. Big tick there.
Sport Mode is what I put it in to see what was what on the way home – and it was firm about the bouncers and a bit light-switchy at the throttle. So I reckon it would live in Road Mode most of the time. But you really do have a very broad palette in terms of customising it all to suit you – and it is a smooth and powerful donk, no mistake.
The Pan America is very comfortable, the seat wide where it counts and narrow where it matters (getting your feet down), pillions appear well-catered for, but my wife will be the judge of that. Stand-up ergos are spot-on, the adjustable screen works very well and the cornering headlight (that’s the top one) is a hoot. I was watching it go on and off on the bike behind me, but how effective it is in corners will need to wait until I ride it in the dark.
My left-hand did snag the high-beam switch a few times, and you’ll have to get used to where the side-stand is – because it’s forward of the pegs. And it takes a little effort to lever it off that stand.
There are a lot of switches, but they are easy to navigate, and I can only assume Harley has gone to great lengths to make the navigation as intuitive as possible because lots of Americans have handguns and bad tempers.
The Pan America deserves to be a success, because it’s every bit as good as it should be – and way better than I ever thought it might be.
It’s always great when the bike you review exceeds your expectations, and that’s what the Pan America did to mine. I honestly did not expect it to be as well-sorted and refined as it turned out to be.
So Harley-Davidson did not bring a knife to a gun-fight. It couldn’t. And it knew that.
So it brought a gun. And the Pan America is a helluva gun.
Now you’ve just gotta draw, mister.
SOCIAL MEDIA’S QUESTIONS ANSWERED
Q: It’s made in India, right?
A:. No. It’s made entirely in the main plant in Milwaukee.
Q: Why is it so ugly?
A: Your mum is ugly, but you still love her, right?
Q: Is it better than a GS or a KTM?
A: It’s damn near as good, and actually better in some ways.
Q: If it was really meant for dirt, it would have a 21-inch wheel, right?
A: It’s an Adventure Tourer, not an Enduro bike.
Q: Is it faster than the Multistrada?
Q: What’s it really like in the dirt?
A: What are you really like in the dirt? Me? I’m usually cautious and terrified. The Pan America suited me rather well there.
Q: Does it sound like a Harley?
A: Yes. Because it is a Harley, it sounds like a Harley. But not like the Harley you’re thinking of.
Q: You’re just saying it’s great because you need Harley’s advertising dollars.
A: Have you clicked onto the wrong website?
Harley-Davidson gave me a very nice Adventure Touring jacket, which is part of its new range of dedicated clobber that accompanies the Pan America. I did not wear it because I already had a jacket I love very much, and the launch photos were all gonna look same/same enough without me also wearing the free gear.
I will certainly review the jacket, which is made for Harley by the Dutch mob, REV’IT, along with maybe some of the other gear if I get my hands on it, when I get my bum on the Pan America and throw Edards into a mud-hole so he can photograph me shaming Toby Price.
HOW MUCH IS IT?
$31,995 ride-away gets you the mag-wheeled version, while $33,480 gets you the spoked version with that magical adaptive ride height thing. Buy that one. Seriously.