2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 is how Milwaukee does adventure

The Pan America represents Harley's first attempt at a dedicated adventure bike and it could be a big step in a new direction for America's longest-running motorcycle company.

Kyle Hyatt Former news and features editor
Kyle Hyatt (he/him/his) hails originally from the Pacific Northwest, but has long called Los Angeles home. He's had a lifelong obsession with cars and motorcycles (both old and new).
Kyle Hyatt
4 min read

Harley's first adventure bike is a water-cooled, tech-laden and very American take on the crowded segment.


Harley-Davidson announced the details of its long-awaited Pan America 1250 adventure motorcycle on Monday and frankly, they're pretty damn impressive. That's a good thing, too, because the adventure bike segment is a hot one and competition is fierce. 

The heart of the Pan America is Harley's new 1,250-cc, liquid-cooled, 60-degree V-twin Revolution Max engine. While a big V-twin is something we'd expect from the folks in Milwaukee, this engine is a radical departure from the lopey, air-cooled tractor-like engines that generally live in the brand's big touring bikes.

The Revolution Max makes a whopping 150 horsepower -- a high-water mark for Harley's road bikes -- and 94 pound-feet of torque at 9,500 rpm. That 9,500 rpm torque peak is stratospheric for a Harley engine and should mean that the Pan America is not only more exciting to ride but that it will sound awesome when screaming down a highway at full-chat. Part of the reason for the 1250's output is its use of variable valve timing, which is something of a rarity among motorcycles. An added bonus to the Revolution Max's high-tech valvetrain comes in the form of maintenance-free valves, thanks to hydraulic valve lifters (another moto rarity).


Harley's brand new Revolution Max engine features some seriously trick stuff like variable valve timing and maintenance-free valves.


The Pan America's engine is unique compared to other Harleys because it's a stressed member. By that, we mean the engine is used as part of the chassis. This has the dual benefit of decreasing weight by not having a separate chassis to support the engine. Plus, this increases overall chassis stiffness since a big lump of aluminum and magnesium will be significantly more rigid than a chassis would typically be. 

Harley also opted to go outside its comfort zone with the suspension. The base Pan America uses a nice but relatively conventional Showa suspension, while the top-spec Special trim gets a semi-active electronically adjustable system with a nifty trick up its sleeve: It can lower the bike by a little more than an inch when stopped. This is important, as adventure bikes are typically tall, giving them gobs of cornering clearance and suspension travel. That makes the more challenging to ride for smaller folks, since it's more difficult to get a foot flat on the ground at a stop, but Harley's tech solves that problem.

In turn, this technology should make the Pan America much more accessible to riders of a more comprehensive size range than bikes like the BMW GS or the Ducati Multistrada. Once you start moving again, the bike lifts itself back to an optimal ride height, without the rider having to do anything. Harley claims it's the first motorcycle company to offer a feature like this.

In addition to having a clever suspension, the Pan America also has smart rider aids. These are all based on an inertial measurement unit that makes the anti-lock brakes, traction control and other safety features lean-sensitive. This is becoming much more common on bikes in general, but it's relatively new for Harley and it's great to see it here. In addition to TC and ABS, the Pan America offers electronically controlled linked braking, Harley's drag torque-slip control (this automatically modulates engine torque to reduce wheel spin), a tire pressure monitoring system and hill hold control. 

The Pan America uses an electronically controlled throttle, which means it's got a bevy of ride modes to choose from. Besides the regular Rain, Road and Sport modes that you'd expect to see, there are also Off-Road and Off-Road Plus modes, plus several user-configurable settings for both on- and off-road riding. Also, the Pan America's dash is a very nice-looking TFT unit that is adjustable for tilt. This, combined with anti-reflective glass for the screen, means that it should be easily readable in any lighting.


Being an adventure bike, Harley has planned for its riders to load the Pan America with all kinds of stuff -- and the electronic suspension on the Special will adjust automatically.


Other electronic niceties include heated grips on the Special model, standard cruise control and LED lighting with an available adaptive headlight. One thing you won't see, unfortunately, is Apple CarPlay or Android Auto integration. Harley's engineers didn't want to share screen real estate with that kind of mirroring setup, so instead, it chose to handle all the media and navigation integration with Bluetooth and an app. We're very curious to see how well it will work compared to the CarPlay integrations from Honda and Indian.

Being a Harley, you know that there will be a vast variety of factory-approved accessories available for the Pan America at launch. These will include several different sets of luggage, performance exhausts, high-flow intakes and more.

As for how the Pan America stacks up to the competition (on paper, anyway), things look good for Harley. Compared to the BMW R1250 GS, Ducati Multistrada V4, Triumph Tiger 1200 and KTM 1290 Super Adventure, the Pan America sits right in the middle of the pack in terms of horsepower. The Harley has a comparable suite of rider aids, too, save for the Ducati's adaptive cruise and blind-spot warning. The Pan America is right in the middle when it comes to price too.

Harley is asking $17,319 for the base Pan America and $19,999 for the Special. For comparison, BMW's base R1250 GS starts at $17,995 and has a relatively extensive list of available options. The more expensive GS Adventure comes in at $20,345. The KTM 1290 Adventure S is $18,599 and the Triumph Tiger 1200 starts at $16,500. The Multistrada trumps them all, with the base model asking $19,995 and the S model commanding a price of $24,095.

The 2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 is set to arrive in dealers this spring. If it can deliver on its promises while also bringing Harley's outstanding build quality to the table, then adventure bike enthusiasts should be really excited.

2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 is off-road, but on-brand

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