September 04, 2021 By Maynard Marcelo Photos by Randy R. Silva-Netto

Bike Review: 2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special

When I first saw the Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 concept at the 2019 EICMA show in Milan, Italy I told myself Harley-Davidson, a company that prides itself with tradition, will never put such an outrageous looking motorcycle, an adventure bike at that no less, into production. No way, Jose. But guess what, not only did they actually put it into production, they also introduced a couple of new technologies (more on those later) that should, shall I say, revolutionize the adventure bike segment. Fast forward to 2021 and we now have in our hands the new Pan America 1250 Special courtesy of our friends at Wheeltek Harley-Davidson of Cavite. 

Design 

The first thing one will notice upon seeing the Pan America 1250 for the first time is, as I have said earlier, its outrageous styling. Don’t get me wrong, it’s neither pretty nor is it ugly looking, it’s just that there’s nothing quite like it out there. Functional? Maybe. Distinctive? Most definitely. One thing is certain however, it will never be mistaken for anything else. Plus Harley-Davidson departed from the trend of putting a de rigueur beak on the Pan America that adorn so many adventure bikes nowadays. 

While it looks huge and cumbersome, the Pan America 1250 carries its weight really well. Starting from a clean-sheet design allowed Harley-Davidson engineers to optimise its weight distribution. By using the new Revolution Max 1250 motor as a stressed member, H-D engineers were able to keep its overall weight in check.

The compact headstock for the steering, for example, is bolted directly to the top of the front and rear cylinder heads while a sturdy tubular trellis subframe is bolted to the rear. Tipping the scales at 258kg the Pan America 1250 Special is not exactly lightweight by definition but at par with other large capacity adventure-touring bikes currently in the market, which was actually a big surprise because it looks big. 

 

Motor

The all-new Revolution Max 1250 V-twin motor is the heart and soul of the Pan America 1250 and it is truly impressive on its own. Equipped with Variable Valve Technology the 60-degree liquid-cooled 1252cc dohc V-twin motor pumps out 150hp at 8750 rpm and a maximum torque of 94.4 lb-ft at 6750rpm. The motor uses a 30-degree split crank that gives it the primary balance of a 90-degree V-twin while having the compact dimensions of a 60-degree motor. This design also gives the motor a very refined character and a linear power delivery. 

One of two new technologies we love on the Pan America 1250 is the hydraulic valve adjusters of the Revolution Max 1250 motor. This means you don’t need to bring your Pan America 1250 back to the dealer for valve adjustments every few thousand kilometers. And that’s a big savings on long term maintenance cost especially if you plan on keeping and riding your Pan America 1250 for a long time. 

The motor is smooth and unlike Harley-Davidson’s large capacity cruiser motors, the Revolution Max 1250 loves to rev, and it revs real fast. There’s not a lot of torque above idle but once the motor reaches past 3000rpm the motor really comes alive, and it will just keep on pulling until it reaches its 9000 rpm redline.  

Electronics

Like most current adventure/touring bikes on the market Harley-Davidson equipped the Pan America 1250 Special not only with top shelf chassis components but also with modern electronics expected of a flagship model from a premium brand. For the Pan America 1250 Special there are five pre-programmed riding modes; Rain, Road, Sport, Off-Road, and Off-Road Plus. There are two additional customisable modes if you prefer a more personalised setting. These settings can be adjusted on the fly by using the right hand switchgear on the handlebar. A 6-axis IMU governs the semi-active electronic suspension, cornering ABS, lean sensitive traction control, hill hold control, and for the 1250 Special, the cornering lights. 

During our testing we only played with the five pre-programmed modes and we can really feel the difference between each setting. For the Rain mode power is reduced to 60 percent and the throttle response is much softer. Traction control and ABS are set to their most sensitive setting. The Road mode on the other hand is calibrated for everyday riding. Power is set to maximum but with a more sharper throttle response. ABS and Traction Control are dialled down a little and the electronic suspension more compliant. Switching to Sport mode makes the throttle response more aggressive with a more direct feel. The electronic suspension firms up. In Off-Road mode the throttle response is more progressive. Traction control is turned off and ABS is turned off in the rear wheel. The electronic suspension is more dynamic as well, allowing the computer to find the best setting depending on the terrain. Off-Road Plus is like the Off-Road mode but with a more aggressive throttle map and a firmer suspension setting. 

Navigating through the myriad of settings on the large 6.8 inch TFT color touchscreen is pretty straightforward by using the 4-way navigation buttons on the left hand switchgear. But knowing which button to press for other functions takes time and a lot of guesswork because there are simply too many dedicated buttons and it can be quite confusing especially if you’re not familiar with the layout. Plus some of the text and numbers on the TFT display are way too small to be readable without moving closer to the screen which could be difficult while riding. For entertainment and convenience, you can pair your mobile phone to the TFT screen via Bluetooth so you can listen to music, use navigation, and receive phone calls and messages.  

Chassis

The most popular, and perhaps our most favorite feature, of the Pan America 1250 Special is the Adaptive Ride Height System that works with the KYB electronic suspension. Electronic suspension is not exclusive to the Pan America 1250 and some motorcycle manufacturers also have such systems on some of their bikes. But Harley-Davidson is the first manufacturer to actually utilise it to vary the ride height of the bike to make the seat height, a common stumbling block of most adventure bikes, more accessible to short riders. During normal operation the front and rear suspension have a total of 191mm (7.48 inches) of travel.  

The Adaptive Ride Height of the Pan America 1250 Special lowers the suspension a couple of inches while at a standstill, allowing short riders to reach the ground with both feet, and raises the suspension to its optimum ride height when up to speed. The KYB electronic suspension doesn’t use pumps and compressors to adjust the suspension. Instead it uses the natural movement of the suspension to pump itself up. The KYB electronic suspension also gets its own pre-programmed settings to choose from; Comfort, Balanced, Sport, Off-Road Soft, and Off-Road Firm. And they work. 

The Pan America 1250 Special rolls on 19-inch front and 17-inch rear tubeless laced wheels shod with H-D co-branded Michelin Scorcher Adventure tires that’s designed for 70 percent road and 30 percent off-road use and I must say, offers really good traction on dirt and on tarmac regardless of riding conditions. The Pan America 1250 Special comes with a standard Tire Pressure Monitoring System, or TPMS, that monitors the tire pressure in real-time. Another noteworthy feature of the Pan America 1250 is the superb Brembo braking system that is plenty strong and has a nice lever feel. The front and rear brake calipers are linked together for better control, but ABS can be turned off for the rear caliper for off-road riding. 

Verdict     

I was a skeptic at first but now I can honestly say that I was truly blown away by the Pan America 1250 Special. My skepticism probably stemmed from the fact that Harley-Davidson never made an adventure/touring bike in its entire 118 years history. And to produce one that can compete head-to-head with established European and Japanese brands is simply unthinkable. Until now. 

The Pan America 1250 is Harley Davison’s interpretation of an adventure bike. But they added a couple of simple, yet significant innovations, that just might make skeptics reconsider. While there are certainly more sportier, faster, and more off-road capable adventure bikes out there, the Pan America 1250 strikes the perfect balance between adventure and touring that should make it a compelling choice for those looking for a bike that satisfies those requirements. There are some things we think Harley-Davidson should work on, such as reducing the number of buttons on the switchgears, revising the long-ish side stand that swings out like a cruiser, key fob that’s hard to detect sometimes, and the windscreen that sometimes flutters at high speeds and feels a bit flimsy.  

The Pan America 1250 Special retails for PhP1,400,000 and it boasts of a long list of standard equipment like semi-active front and rear suspension with vehicle load control, adaptive ride height, tire pressure monitoring system, center stand, multi position rear brake lever, brush guard, aluminum skid plate, Daymaker signature adaptive headlamp, hand wind deflectors, heated hand grips, steering damper, and tubeless laced wheels. There are four colors to choose from; Vivid Black, Gauntlet Gray Metallic, Deadwood Green, and our test unit, Baja Orange/Stone Washed White Pearl. 

Jumping into the hotly contested and ultra competitive adventure/touring bike segment, a segment long dominated by the European and Japanese motorcycle manufacturers, is certainly a bold move for Harley-Davidson, a traditional American motor company known for their cruisers. Harley-Davidson is experiencing some serious financial difficulties in the past few years and pouring millions of dollars developing the Pan America 1250 from the ground up can easily break the company if they get it wrong. I am happy to say that Harley-Davidson got it right. And that’s not bad for a first timer.   


Specifications: 

Displacement:  1252cc

Engine : efi, liquid-cooled, 60-degree V-twin, dohc, 4 stroke, 8 valves

Max. Power:  150 bhp @ 8750 rpm

Max. Torque:  94.4 lb-ft @ 6750 rpm

Transmission: 6-speed

Seat Height: 830 mm

Fuel Capacity: 21.2 liters

Curb Weight: 258 kg

Tire Front: 120/70-19 H-D/Michelin Scorcher Adventure 

Tire Rear: 170/60-17 H-D/Michelin Scorcher Adventure

Brakes F/R: 2 Disc/Disc cornering abs 

Price: PhP1,400,000

C! Rating: 9/10

+: Innovative adaptive ride height, hydraulic valve lash adjuster, powerful and smooth motor, fully customisable ride modes and suspension settings. 

-:  No quickshifter, confusing button layout, unusual side-stand placement, and flimsy windscreen adjuster/bracket

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