Motorcycles

2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America Special review: A shockingly great first effort

The Pan Am may be Harley's first take on the adventure bike segment, but with great looks and a host of innovative features, it's already one of the most interesting entries in its class.

The Pan America somehow looks like a Harley-Davidson and a world-class adventure bike all at once.
Kyle Hyatt/Roadshow

Harley-Davidson, that most American of brands, is now entering the high-stakes world of high-tech adventure motorcycles. On the surface, that might seem strange. But here's the thing: The Pan America is good. In fact, it borders on brilliant.

While most Harley engines are big, low-revving torque factories, the new-from-the-ground-up Revolution Max engine takes a totally different approach. This 1,250-cc mill produces 150 horsepower and 94 pound-feet of torque with a 9,500-rpm redline. Those figures are impressive on their own, but they don't tell the whole story.

The all-new Revolution 1250 Max is liquid-cooled, and has variable valve timing and hydraulic valve adjusters, making it the lowest-maintenance engine in its class.

Kyle Hyatt/Roadshow

The Revolution Max motor differs from other H-D powerplants in a bunch of different ways. First, it's liquid-cooled, which isn't a first for the brand, but it's still not typical. It's also a stressed member of the chassis, which helps increase the motorcycle's stiffness while also reducing weight. It has dual overhead cams with hydraulic valve lifters that never need adjustment and also uses variable cam timing.

The Pan America features a six-speed transmission that has Teflon coatings on its internal shift shafts and low-friction roller bearings. This helps reduce drivetrain power losses and improve shift feel. It works, too, because the Pan America gearbox feels good. The clutch is a wet, multiplate unit. One of the only disappointments with the powertrain comes from the lack of a quickshifter, something that is standard equipment on most of the Pan Am's competition.

The next-- and maybe the best -- feature of the Pan America Special model is its electronically adjustable semiactive suspension. I've ridden many bikes with some very competent suspension systems from the likes of WP and Ohlins, and this might be the most comfortable setup out of them all. Plus, the bike lowers itself at a stop to make it easier to put your feet flat on the ground, which is totally rad for smaller riders who might struggle to get two feet on the ground with a typically tall adventure bike. The rest of the Pan Am's physical hardware is top-notch, as well. The brakes come courtesy of Brembo and feature dual 320-millimeter rotors up front with a single 280-millimeter rotor out back. The rest of the ergonomics are typical for the Pan Am's class, which is to say relaxed and upright, with wide handlebars and good wind protection.

The dash is a little less sophisticated visually than its European counterparts, but the info is all there and you can tilt it!

Kyle Hyatt/Roadshow

The combined effect of the powertrain and chassis make for an incredibly comfortable and compelling motorcycle, both in town and up in the canyons. It's sharp and rowdy when you want it to be but relaxed and easy when you want to putter around or crack off a thousand-mile ride. Adventure motorcycles are generally pretty good at straddling the line between sporty and comfortable, and the Harley definitely feels like a do-it-all bike. 

Adventure bikes are known for having sophisticated electronics suites, and the Pan America doesn't disappoint here, either. In addition to the previously mentioned semiactive suspension, the Pan Am also gets electronically linked, lean-sensitive antilock brakes, where the computer will automatically apply the rear brake when you apply the front. Additionally, the Pan Am has traction control, a host of ride modes, cruise control, wheelie control, hill hold control and a tire pressure monitoring system. All of these systems work well and are easy to configure through the bike's TFT dash screen.

All of these features make the Harley a real competitor for the likes of BMW's R1250GS, Ducati's Multistrada V4 and Triumph's Tiger 1200 while offering unique styling, a robust dealer network and significantly lower maintenance costs. The Pan Am isn't a cheap motorcycle to buy, particularly in the top-tier Special trim pictured here. Still, the maintenance-free valves should make it significantly more affordable to own than other bikes in the class.

The 2022 Harley-Davidson Pan America starts at $17,319, but I wouldn't even bother with the base model. For what you get in the suspension alone, the $19,999 Pan America Special is the one I recommend. If you're looking for one motorcycle for your garage that's going to let you do basically anything, you could do a whole lot worse than the Pan America.

Now playing: Watch this: 2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 is adventure done...
2:34