When the Americans announced that they are developing an adventure bike a few years back, a lot of eyebrows were raised. This was especially true since US motorcycle brands had been known throughout for their big bore V-twin cruisers, nothing more.
Fast-forward to May of this year, Harley-Davidson (H-D) finally made the PH debut of its first-ever adventure bike that will go head-to-head with BMW’s R 1250 GS, KTM’s 1290 Adventure R and Honda’s CRF1100L Africa Twin.
So when Wheeltek Harley-Davidson of Cavite’s Pan America 1250 Special - with almost 6,000 kilometers on the clock - became free one weekend, I quickly jumped on the opportunity to see how this “new kid on the block” would perform against the adventure bikes that were mentioned above, seeing as they have all become household names in the adventure riding community.
At the heart of the Pan America lies a newly-developed Revolution Max engine. That’s 1,250cc of pure unadulterated muscle producing 152 Ps (150 Hp) of power at 9,000 rpm and 127 Nm of torque at just 6,750 rpm.
According to H-D, “the Revolution Max 1250 engine has been tuned specifically to deliver desirable power characteristics for the Pan America 1250 and Pan America 1250 Special models, with an emphasis on smooth low-end torque delivery and low-speed throttle control applicable to off-road riding.”
To deliver power even on the low end of the rev range, H-D engineers equipped the Revolution Max 1250 with computer-controlled Variable Valve Timing (VVT). In simple terms, VVT broadens the overall powerband and improves engine torque management and efficiency compared to the same engine with fixed valve timing. This also allows the engine to provide both low-end grunt for acceleration off the line as well as the thrill of high-RPM horsepower.
Other features of the Revolution Max engine include the 60-degree V-twin design for less vibration vs the old 45-degree H-D engines. H-D also made extensive use of alloys to lighten the overall engine weight, dual sparkplugs, forged aluminum pistons, and many more.
Since the Revolution Max is a unitized powertrain, the engine and six-speed transmission are housed in one common case. Like most Japanese bikes, the clutch pull of the H-D Pan America 1250 Special leans on the lighter side, thanks to the clutch assist function of the Revolution Max engine. A slipper clutch is also standard on the Pan America 1250.
Though this is America’s first attempt at building what they think is the ultimate adventure bike, the H-D Pan America 1250 has no shortage when it comes to electronic and computer rider aids.
One of the highlights of the Pan America 1250 is the semi-active suspension that automatically adjusts the bike’s suspension damping to suit the current riding conditions, with consideration to the weight of both rider and pillion. Suspension hardware is provided by Showa – the same ones used by Honda, while the software that controls the suspension is developed in-house by H-D.
Since our test unit is the “Special” version of the Pan America 1250, the Adaptive Ride Height (ARH) feature comes standard. What ARH does is automatically lower the Pan America’s ride height when at a complete stop, and automatically adjusts back to its optimal ride height almost immediately after the bike starts to roll.
This ARH system also allows the rider to mount the Pan America 1250 Special with ease, and to confidently put his or her feet flat on the ground at a stop, by lowering the seat height 1 to 2 inches (depending on automatically selected rear pre-load, which determines ride height when the bike is moving).
The Pan America 1250 is also equipped with cornering ABS, cornering traction control, as well as linked braking. This linked braking system provides more linking when the rider is applying heavier braking and reduces or eliminates linking for light braking and when at low speeds.
Since this is a big adventure bike, there could be situations in an adventure ride where the rider needs to stop on an incline. To prevent the Pan America 1250 from rolling backward, engineers at Milwaukee have equipped the Pan America with a Hill Hold Control (HHC) feature that holds the brakes for 10 seconds when the front or rear brake is pressed with extra pressure.
The HHC indicator light will illuminate to confirm that the rider has activated HHC, and the ABS system will hold brake pressure after the rider releases the brake control.
Ride modes are essential to big motorcycles like adventure bikes, and the H-D Pan America 1250 Special is equipped with 7 ride modes: 5 pre-programmed modes plus 2 ride modes that the rider can customize by combining the features of the pre-programmed riding modes. The ride mode will also adjust Semi-Active Suspension settings on the Pan America 1250 Special model accordingly.
For example, like what I did in Custom Riding Mode A (for road), I chose Sport for the engine map for full grunt, Comfort as suspension setting, Maximum engine braking and Auto for the ARH. To suit my riding style off-road, I set the Custom Riding Mode B to Off-road engine map for low-end grunt, the suspension is set to Off-road soft for maximum suspension play on dirt roads, while the engine brake setting is also set to maximum.
Other features of the Pan America 1250 Special include a large 6.8-inch TFT screen, which can be connected to a smartphone via Bluetooth connection. By connecting the screen to a smartphone, the rider can also use the TFT as a GPS navigation screen through the Harley-Davidson smartphone app. Riders can also control calls and music through the handlebar controls.
Then there's the cornering lights that automatically illuminate the road when the Pan America is leaning towards a corner. This ensures that the road ahead, even on winding roads, is seen by the Pan America's rider even without the added auxiliary lights.
Riding the Pan America 1250 Special
Being a dirtbike and adventure rider myself, I have a long list of real adventure rider-friendly places. These are not the compact and flat dirt roads of Cavite. I’m talking about the uneven mountain gravel roads of the Cordilleras, which vegetable farmers use to transport their produce.
On the pavement: Heading to the Cordilleras up north requires riding through the expressways. During the trip, I found the Custom ride mode more appealing to my riding tastebuds, as the combination of Sport engine mapping and Comfort suspension setting felt like riding the comfortable BMW R 1250 GS but with the power and grunt of a Ducati 1260 Multistrada.
With the full 150 horses between my legs, I cannot help but twist the throttle a little more than usual, and its 21-liter fuel tank got me close to 300 kilometers before the low fuel warning light came on (the Pan America 1250 Special has 3.8 liters of fuel reserve). Speaking of which, my riding style at the time burned 1 liter of gasoline for every 17 kilometers of riding.
Still, the fuel consumption is not too bad for a fire-breathing, 1,250cc V-twin Harley-Davidson. Top speed: Again, it’s 1,250cc and 150 horses, so we’ll just leave it to your imagination.
On the rough stuff: To be honest, I was quite surprised that riding the Pan America 1250 Special felt close to how a rider would feel riding the R 1250 GS – in terms of the bike’s weight management. At least for me, I felt the weight of the Pan America down low, especially when standup riding on loose gravel – far from what one would expect based on the bulky look of the Pan America.
When the bike's weight is strung down low, it is easier to manage off-road and in tight spots where the bike needs some maneuvering. As opposed to a top-heavy adventure bike like Yamaha's 1200 Super Tenere, the Pan America's impressive weight distribution is a rider's confidence booster, taking away any feeling or dilemma that the big adventure bike can topple at any moment.
This is also where I appreciated the performance of the semi-active suspension system the most, as it automatically adjusted itself based on the terrain and just chewed the uneven surface with ease (when rolling). Of course, that would not be possible without the help of proper off-road engine mapping and off-road suspension settings. Thanks to the custom ride mode, I was also able to set not only the mapping and suspension but also the engine braking to my preference which was especially helpful when tackling the ball-wrecking downhill sections of off-road riding.
Torque delivery is also impressive, as the Pan America was able to carry its weight and crawl at as little as 2,000 rpm on some hill climb sections of our little Cordillera escapade.
Room for improvement
As this is America’s first attempt at fielding an adventure bike, it is very much understandable that there is still room for some improvements. For example, the heat from the rear bank exhaust is unbearable even with my adventure riding boots on, when riding at low speeds. On slow-moving EDSA traffic, good luck!
When at a stop, I can’t understand why the transmission simply refuses to go on neutral. This is true in 9 out of 10 occasions. To rectify this, either the rider will need to just hold the clutch or try to shift to neutral at least 20 meters before coming at a complete stop. Or, another way of putting the gear on neutral is by turning the engine off while at a complete stop, then shift to neutral before bringing the engine back to life again.
As for the ARH feature, it doesn’t work most of the time – meaning that the Pan America we tested did not automatically lower the ride height by 1 or 2 inches when I was at a complete stop. I was actually looking forward to this, since a lot of my friends are “vertically-challenged” like me, and they are in the market for an adventure bike that they can stay flat-footed at a traffic stop. If there's any consolation, the ARH worked on 3 separate occasions.
Even if they're late by about 40 years versus their BMW counterpart, it’s still impressive that the Americans were able to pull off an excellent job in putting together the Pan America 1250 Special. Like I said, riding the Pan America felt like riding the love child of the Ducati 1260 Multistrada and the BMW R 1250 GS in terms of both power and comfort, as well as its electronic package.
After riding it for 1,399 kilometers and burning approximately 82 liters of Premium gasoline, Mr. Banayad (yours truly, yes that's me) declares the Pan America as a capable adventure bike. It has a 400-kilometer fuel range if you’re pretty easy on the throttle, and it even has the Michelin Scorcher Adventure tires that did an excellent job of keeping the Pan America planted even on the wet and very slippery Halselma Highway twisties (going to Baguio from Tinoc). It may not be the best-looking adventure bike, but it comes through very well as a good bike on- and off-road. All that, plus hey, it is a Harley-Davidson.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Stunts were performed by a professional rider for this photoshoot only and with permission. Do not attempt or try.