2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special | Top 10 Review

2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special review
Riding the 2021 Harley-Davidson Pan American 1250 Special in California’s Mojave Desert. (Photos by Brian J. Nelson & Kevin Wing)

We just spent two days in the Sierra Nevada mountains and Mojave Desert of California testing the all-new 2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special. Over the course of two days, we rode about 350 miles on highways, twisting mountain roads and off-road trails that included gravel, sand, rocks and tricky climbs and descents. In one shot, Harley-Davidson not only built its first adventure bike, it also built its first sportbike and sport-touring bike. We’ll have a full review soon, but for now we’re sharing our top 10 highlights.

RELATED: 2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special | First Ride Review

1. Revolution Max 1250 V-twin

2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special review Revolution Max engine V-twin
Cut-away view of the Revolution Max 1250 V-twin (Photo courtesy of Harley-Davidson)

Harley-Davidson’s base-model Pan America 1250 and up-spec Pan America 1250 Special (we only rode the latter) are powered by a brand-new engine called the Revolution Max 1250. It’s a liquid-cooled 1,252cc 60-degree V-twin with DOHC, four valves per cylinder, variable valve timing, a 13.0:1 compression ratio and hydraulic valve lash adjusters. Harley-Davidson claims that it makes 150 horsepower at 9,000 rpm and 94 lb-ft of torque at 6,750 rpm and redlines at 9,500 rpm. It packs serious performance and sounds fantastic, delivering generous, tractable power throughout the rev range. And multiple riding modes adjust power output and throttle delivery.

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2. Semi-active Suspension with Adaptive Ride Height

2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special review adaptive ride height
The Adaptive Ride Height option on the Pan America 1250 Special can lower ride (and seat) height by 1 to 2 inches when the motorcycle comes to a stop.

The Pan America 1250 Special is equipped with top-shelf Showa suspension — a 47mm USD Balance Free Fork (BFF) and a Balanced Free Rear Cushion-lite (BFRC) shock, with 7.5 inches of travel front and rear. The suspension offers semi-active electronic adjustment that adjusts damping based on the selected ride mode, and it automatically adjusts preload to provide 30% sag regardless of the load. But the real game-changer is Adaptive Ride Height (a $1,000 factory option), which automatically lowers ride height by 1 to 2 inches when the motorcycle comes to a stop (the amount of ride height adjustment depends on preload). The system works seamlessly and is virtually undetectably, and it makes a huge difference in effective seat height, which is one of the biggest obstacles for some riders to overcome when considering an adventure bike.

4. Ride Modes

2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special review ride modes
A full-color touchscreen TFT display shows all of the ride modes and other menu options.

Like nearly every high-spec adventure bike, the Pan America 1250 Special is outfitted with a full suite of electronic rider aids. It offers multiple ride modes — Sport, Road, Rain, Off-Road, Off-Road Plus, Custom Off-Road Plus, Custom A and Custom B — which automatically adjust the engine map (power output), throttle response, engine braking, traction control, ABS, suspension damping and, optionally, Adaptive Ride Height. IMU-enabled “cornering enhanced” linked ABS and traction control are available in most modes, but the cornering function and rear ABS are disabled in certain Off-Road modes. Drag-Torque Slip Control, which is like traction control for the engine to manage rear-wheel traction during aggressive riding, as well as cruise control and hill hold control are also part of the package. Everything works well and the different modes have a big impact on the riding character of the bike.

5. Brembo, Showa and Öhlins

2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special review
Up front, dual Brembo radial 4-piston calipers squeeze 320mm rotors.

Adventure riders who buy top-level motorcycles expect the best components and latest-and-greatest technology. On many Harley-Davidson motorcycles, component suppliers are not identified, and brake calipers may be branded with a bar-and-shield logo. But the manufacturer of certain components matters to discerning customers, so Harley-Davidson made a smart decision and spec’d the Pan America 1250 Special with Brembo brakes, Showa suspension and an Öhlins steering damper. And all of the components performed to a high level in a wide range of riding conditions.

3. Wheels and Tires

2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special review spoked wheels brembo brake
Shown are the accessory side-laced tubeless wheels and accessory Michelin Anakee Wild tires.

Standard equipment on both the Pan America 1250 and Pan America 1250 Special includes cast aluminum wheels with a 19-inch front and a 17-inch rear, and they’re shod with specially designed Michelin Scorcher Adventure 90/10 tires. The larger front wheel is good for rolling over obstacles off-road but it does slow down steering somewhat relative to a 17-inch front wheel. The Scorcher Adventure tires offer good grip and handling on the street and they performed well for light off-road riding. We also tested the accessory side-laced tubeless wheels and accessory Michelin Anakee Wild tires, which give up some confidence and grip on pavement, but are excellent off-road tires, even at the higher “street” temperatures we were running. Harley-Davidson did its full range of development testing on both types of wheels and tires to ensure they met performance goals in a wide range of conditions.

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6. Chain Final Drive

2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special review
For an adventure bike, chain final drive is the best choice for light weight, durability, minimal power loss and ability to be repaired in the field.

Harley-Davidson owners are accustomed to maintenance-free belt final drive, and in street-only riding conditions such a system works extremely well. But when off-road riding is involved, rocks and other debris can get wedged between the rear sprocket and the belt, causing damage that can lead to a belt failure. Although chain final drive requires some maintenance in terms of lubrication, adjustment and occasional replacement, it is the best solution in terms of weight, durability, minimal power loss and field repair. That’s why everything from dirt bikes to race bikes use chain final drive.

7. Chassis

2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special review
Though mostly hidden behind bodywork, the Pan America 1250’s frame components attach to the Revolution Max engine.

To save weight, the Revolution Max 1250 engine is a stressed member of the chassis. Attached to the engine is a front frame element to connect the steering head, an aluminum midframe element behind the engine that is the attachment point for the cast aluminum swingarm and rear shock, and a steel tail section (subframe) that supports the weight of the rider, passenger and luggage/cargo. Overall the chassis is very stiff and robust, which contributes to the Pan America 1250 Special’s neutral, confident handling. Wheelbase is 62.2 inches, rake is 25 degrees and trail is 4.3 inches.

8. Adjustable Windscreen, Adjustable Seat Height and Adaptive Headlight

2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special review
An adjustable windscreen and hand guards provide good wind protection, and the Daymaker Signature LED headlight and Daymaker Adaptive LED headlight illuminate the road.

Adventure touring motorcycles are built to go long distances. They have upright seating positions with wide handlebars, and they have fuel capacities to go 200-plus miles between fill-ups (the Pan America has a 5.6-gallon fuel tank and an EPA-tested 46 mpg, which translates into 258 miles of range). The Pan America 1250 Special has a windscreen that is adjustable on the fly over a 1.8-inch range. Its rider seat has two positions — low (33.5 inches) and high (34.5) inches — and there are accessory low (32.5/33.5 inches) and high (34.5/35.5 inches) seats. As described above, Adaptive Ride Height can lower the rider’s seat height by an additional 1 to 2 inches. And above the Daymaker Signature LED headlight, which uses 30 LED elements behind a diffuser lens, the Pan America 1250 Special has a Daymaker Adaptive LED headlight that illuminates a series of three lights as lean angle reaches 8, 15 and 23 degrees.

9. It Rips!

2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special review
With a 150-horsepower engine, a solid chassis and 42 degrees of available lean angle, the Pan America 1250 is at home in the canyons at a sporting pace.

Harley-Davidson has done its homework. It knows it is entering a very competitive segment with highly evolved adventure bikes from BMW, Ducati, KTM, Triumph, Yamaha and others. The Pan America 1250 is a high-profile motorcycle, not just within the adventure segment, but within the motorcycle industry at large. Can Harley-Davidson, a company known for its cruisers and touring bikes, build a competitive adventure bike? The answer is yes. On the road and off the pavement, the Pan America 1250 delivered an exhilarating, confident riding experience.

10. It Can Fly!

2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special review
We found the perfect launch pad for the Pan America 1250 Special at Trona Pinnacles, a weird collection of rock formations that has been the backdrop for many movies.

Claimed wet weight for the Pan America 1250 Special is 559 pounds. The accessory side-laced wheels and beefier skid plate add more weight. But when we found a gully that had a tabletop hill on one side, we couldn’t resist jumping the Pan America. We aired it out time and again, and the semi-active suspension provided a plush landing with no bottoming and no harsh rebound or kickback. Nothing broke. This is a solidly engineered motorcycle that has gone through extensive durability testing, about half of which was done off-road, and it took a licking and kept on ticking. No, most customers will not jump their Pan America 1250s, but if they wanted to, they certainly could!

Greg’s Gear:
Helmet: Fly Racing Odyssey Adventure Modular
Jacket/Pants: Fly Racing Terra Trek
Gloves: Fly Racing Coolpro
Boots: Fly Racing FR5
Knee/Shin Guards: Fly Racing 5 Pivot

2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Specs

Base Price: $19,999
Website: harley-davidson.com
Engine Type: Liquid-cooled, transverse 60-degree V-twin, DOHC w/ 4 valves per cyl.
Displacement: 1,252cc
Bore x Stroke: 105 x 72mm
Horsepower: 150 @ 9,000 rpm (claimed)
Torque: 94 lb-ft @ 6,750 rpm (claimed)
Transmission: 6-speed, hydraulically actuated assist-and-slipper clutch
Final Drive: O-ring chain
Wheelbase: 62.2 in.
Rake/Trail: 25 degrees/4.3 in.
Seat Height: 33.5/34.5 in.
Wet Weight: 559 lbs. (claimed, no accessories/options)
Fuel Capacity: 5.6 gals.
Fuel Consumption: 46 mpg (EPA)

26 COMMENTS

  1. I have to ask, but is this an American-made bike ( major components like engine and tranny) or just an American-assembled bike from components from around the world?

    • A simple Google search reports this as the first entry:
      Harley-Davidson started production of the Pan America just a few weeks after its Global Reveal in February. The York factory manufactures frames, gas tanks and fenders, then assembles the works using engines and drivetrains previously built in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, center of the Harley-Davidson Universe.

  2. Gotta hand it to Harley for having the confidence and courage to enter such a competitive market. And it looks like they did a very serious job.
    Can’t wait to ride it and experience it, and I see their demo schedule is listed on their website.

  3. I used to own a big Harley – in 1969. I used to visit the local and farther HD dealers just to check out the shops and chat about Harleys. I sold that Harley in 1970. 50 years later I still take my non-Harleys to the very nearby HD dealer for Virginia State Vehicle Inspection. So even thought I no longer have a Harley, I keep in touch, somewhat at least, with the Harley world. I really can’t imagine having a serious conversation with anyone at my local HD dealership regarding adventure bikes or sport-touring or sportbikes. Who are you trying to kid?

    • I’ve talked with several Harley Dealership salesmen. They have all road the bike, one salesman took his off road. They are excited about the bike and all had the knowledge of the bike. This won’t be like the Buell days when they were put in the back corner. This bike will be the start of Harley’s saving grave. Good luck Harley!

    • Dave, Harley has set up demo rides for their dealer personnel using ktm and bmw along with pan america bikes so they are familiar with the segment and the features of each bike as well as how they ride. So i guess you are not really in touch with harley world after all. Who are you trying to kid?

      • In the past “the Buell years ” this is a completely fair assessment of Harley’s dealerships across the nation. I hope they do better this time around.

  4. Didn’t think I’d ever say this about a HD…. this bike’s got my attention. It checks all the right boxes for me. Other manufacturers should take note of the adaptive ride height.

    • Stop watching sons of anarchy reruns. The typical hd, if there is such a thing, is a motorcyclist. I just rode to daytona with a group of hd riders and everyone was very interested in the pan america. Not everyone will buy one because it is hard to beat a harley cruiser when taking the wife for a sunday ride through the state park. But i plan to get one as soon as they are available.

  5. Just reading David Nunn’s comment, Why wouldn’t Harley Davidson use global in this instance? They are some of the best components to be supplied, period. So if they want to have their version of the best adventure, sport touring, etc., my hat is off to them. With the big BMW GS being BMWs #1 seller, Maybe HD will have a big seller globally. I hope it’s a home run for them. Now bring back the Bronx.

  6. This is absolutely going to be a game changer for HD! I love it… now if HD can just change the mindset of their fans. The only thing scarier than change is being left behind. Keep an open mind and hope they put that engine in a few different models. Can’t wait to go to Sturgis and see a pack of Pan Americans come into town!!!

  7. I think it’s great that HD is (finally) putting out something other than the usual chrome-plated butt-rattler. I’m a cheapskate and would never drop $20 grand on any motorcycle, but I’m sure others will, and I wish Harley a lot of success with this model.

    • H-D doesn’t market to the “cheapskate” customer base nor could they. Unlike the four major Japanese brands (which are multifaceted from lawn mowers to tennis rackets to diesel locomotives) Harley depends solely on it’s motorcycles for it’s bread n butter. Even Polaris has a more diversified brand portfolio with it’s snowmobiles & ATVs. That being said, I believe that a Harley-Davidson franchise is second to none.

  8. I cant wait to test ride this Pan America. I think this will be a great bike. I have a 2009 Ultra Classic now, and would keep it. The Pan America would just a different ride. I think Harley hit a home run with this bike, if all of the reviews are as good as they say.

    • I have the same Ultra 2009 Classic. I test rode the PA last weekend, put a deposit down on a Special. Dealer says it should be in mid June. The PA is an awesome ride, tons of power, feels very agile and light, can’t wait to see what it can do off road.

  9. Sounds like it has the goods to compete with the other uber ADVs. I can see that sweet engine in other models like a Bronx SS or a new XR flat tracker. I only wish they didn’t smash it in the face with an ugly stick. At least the black and mossy green ones aren’t as bad as the hideous orange/gray.

  10. Not a fan of H/D motorcycles or their perceived “image/lifestyle” but the Pan American might get me into my local dealer. I like it!
    Good luck to the Motor Company, I hope it works out for them and can bring in some new customers to the brand.

  11. I’m not in the target demographic, but I like this. IMHO, the base version would make a nice sport tourer. If these sell well, and H-D pursues the Bronx, I may start considering a Harley.

  12. I have to take my hat off to Harley. If I had an extra $20,000 in my back pocket I would seriously consider this bike. It sounds like Harley really knocked it out of the park with the Pan America. WELL DONE!

  13. Took a 6-mile demo ride of the Pan America last week (all street, no dirt). Within two miles, I was hooked! The sales figures thus far of this motorcycle have been outstanding. HD did its homework and I hope by hitting this bullseye, we see more from HD on other segments of motorcycling.

  14. As an “intro”; I’ve had three KTM Adventures (950, 990 and 1090R), plus two Super Tenere’s, and a Tiger 900 Rally Pro. I now have 420 miles on my 1250 Special, and I’m in love. I’ve done in the range of 100 to 150 of that on dirt roads, and today I cruised a stretch of interstate at 75 mph. The suspension is slightly less ideal in the dirt than the KTM’s, and slightly less “comfy” on the road than the Tenere’s, but this is a Fantastic “all-arounder” that will be VERY hard to match for doing both.
    As a final note; the motor blows them ALL away !

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