Why Harley’s Pan America Is A Big DealArmani Moffatt
The reveal of Harley Davidson’s new Adventure machine, the Pan America, should come as a wake-up call to most Harley haters, so to reference Buffalo Springfield – there’s something happening here…
It’s true that cruiser supremos Harley Davidson (HD) have dipped their toes in, if you’ll excuse the term, foreign waters, a couple of times in the past. They made a superbike to be able to go racing in AMA with, one we’d imagine very few folks have ever actually seen. Even compared to contemporary metal at the time, it looked three decades out of date. Then came the VRSC, or V-Rod, an attempt to modernise the cruiser aesthetic. One which the HD faithful hated to their very cores, although it was a response that surprised precisely nobody.
The next play was to buy MV Agusta, and the possibility of HD having an immediate ‘in’ to the performance market appeared to be gathering pace. Until the world ran out of money, and they sold it off. After that, a focus on their core business allowed them to beaver away in the background over a number of years. Then they did something no other major bike manufacturer has yet managed – producing a viable electric production bike, and a pretty good one at that. That’s Harley that did that, Harley Davidson, not Honda et al. Doubtless the rest will come out with incredible efforts eventually, of course they will, but still it’s a win for HD.
An now this, an Adventure bike no less, and one that is stuffed with the latest and greatest of everything you’d never expect to come HD. Like, ever. And this is why this bike is so important, it’s the switch in direction that demands we pay close attention to HD, and that’s whether or not you think the Pan America looks like a brave, stark design choice or a hastily cobbled together collection of old used Amazon parcels and packaging.
Harley for a very long time mostly eschewed cutting edge technology until rules or regulations forced them to play ball. And even then, when such advances or safety systems were applied it would be functional, but somehow still feel as though it was a clunky steampunk version conceived in the 2000s but built in the early 1900s. With the Pan, some clever soul at HD realised that if they were to go ahead with this, that kind of ideology and constant attempts to keep their core base happy had to be separated and, crucially, the Pan had to be so good that nobody could ignore it.
That’s why it has a world first of a fully adaptive ride height option, which is a huge deal. The closest we’d come before was Aprilia’s Caponord that had a semi-active rear shock in ride height terms. This is way, way, way beyond that and works in tandem with the semi-active Showa suspension, a system that’s already acknowledged as excellent on anything it’s been fitted to. In this case, the Pan America Special, which fully wet weighs 13kg more than the base version.
Both are powered by a brand new engine, surprisingly a 60-degree 1,250cc twin, and one that’s over-square which means lots of revs. Lots of revs means lots of power, a claimed 150bhp which is right in the ball park. Added to that is the variable valve timing, a very clever system keeps the torque curve high along the entire delivery ensuring lots of low to midrange surge without losing any top end thrill. And of course there’s a full electronics suite with ride-modes and traction-control, plus a colour dash so modern and flashy there must surely be generations of HD die-hards currently crying into their beards.
Harley have already said they’re moving firmly into the territory of other bike manufacturers, so expect more in the near future from them, it will be interesting to see what they come up with. And, seeing as at least one arm of HD is living firmly in the modern world from now on, would you consider the Pan to actually be capable of rivalling KTM, BMW and the rest at their own game? Roll on the 2021 group tests!
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