I’ll be honest: When Harley-Davidson announced it was planning to enter the adventure segment, I was skeptical. Harley has a bit of a track record when it comes to having solid ideas and executing them rather poorly.
For instance, the Street 500 and 750 didn’t live up to expectations. And while the LiveWire actually turned out to be a good (great, as far as I’m concerned –JM) electric bike, the Motor Company screwed up the marketing for it, which is incredibly on-brand. It initially attempted to justify the price point by claiming that it was going after a young, hip, and rich audience. So, roughly 10 people. That’s without accounting for all the “special edition” and “special livery” fluff the brand is known for.
Harley had let us—non-devotees—down in the past and I was absolutely ready to be disappointed again. Mainly because my expectations were pretty high, probably more so than for other brands. I love adventures bikes and I wasn’t going to go easy on the Motor Company. Especially not after Harley announced in 2019 that the Pan Am was getting the 1,250cc Revolution Max V-twin instead of the 975cc variant. My first thought was: dammit, it's going to be too heavy.
On February 22, 2021, we finally got a chance to see whether the new bike was going to surprise or disappoint (at least on paper). Lo and behold, for once, Harley didn’t completely miss the mark with a tone-deaf bike. Here’s something (I think) we can actually be excited about.
The Pan America’s 150 horsepower, 534 pounds, and $17,139 price point position the new Harley smack in the middle of the pack. That’s not a bad place to be, not even for a newcomer. It’s definitely better than landing at the bottom and not posing any threat to your competitors. It’s like Harley did its homework or something and decided to be serious about this whole adventure thing.
The look is the part that doesn’t quite cut it for me, but then some people dig the design—cough, Director Jason, cough (square headlights 4 lyfe – JM)—so it’s one of those polarizing designs that people either love or love to hate. I find it ugly as sin but once I’m sitting on it, it doesn’t matter—it gets to be a sore or a delight for other people’s eyes, not mine. I’m sorry or you’re welcome, depending on what category you fall in.
As brutal as the design is, now that I’ve seen the specs, I can’t help but be fascinated by it. Harley, that brand I’ve had absolutely no affinities with for the past 34 years, and I’ve even poked fun at for being so cult-like, suddenly came up with a bike I genuinely want to ride.
Weight-wise, although 534 pounds isn’t small for a bike, that’s a pretty standard number for the segment. The Pan Am is actually lighter than the base BMW R 1250 GS and Triumph Tiger 1200. What do you mean, a Harley that doesn’t weigh half a ton? Will wonders never cease?
Sure, one could debate that Harley is a little late to the game, just like the LiveWire was. Big adventurers aren’t all the rage anymore—their mid-size counterparts are. I'll at least commend the team for introducing an actual competitor to the segment and not just a decorative place holder with the sole purpose of making appealing marketing claims. Plus, at least in this case, the turnaround was a lot faster than the LiveWire’s was. This one took roughly two years to develop rather than five.
So, is this going to be a tool to turn more Harlistas to the adventure lifestyle, or is the Pan America actually going to attract seasoned ADV riders from outside of its realm? With a face only a mother can love, it’s hard to tell. For those who can get over the look, though, they might be curious enough to give it a try, if only to try and fault the company in its attempt. If Harley did things right, however, they might end up being pleasantly surprised and wanting one.