Gunning for the BMW GS: Harley-Davidson launches Pan America, and its headed for SA

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Harley-Davidson are entering the go anywhere adventure market with the Pan American.

• Competitive pricing and all the right technology could see it build a following in the adventure bike segment.

• Could the Harley-Davidson Pan American be the motorcycle that saves this struggling American brand?

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The BMW GS rules the roost in the big adventure bike market in South Africa and globally, and many manufacturers have tried to win back a piece of that pie. Some like KTM and Yamaha have had limited success, and now Harley-Davidson is giving it a go too.

Strictly speaking, this is not Harley-Davidson's first adventure or touring bike. Historically their range of motorcycles has been used to hit the open road and seek adventure, but not the off-road kind. The launch of their Pan-American opens up a world of off-road adventures for fans of the American brand.

The Pan American was an opportunity for Harley's engineering department to design an all-new bike from the ground up, which is a departure from Harley's norm where the majority of the motorcycles in their traditional line-up are evolutions of historical designs; some of which are decades old.

Harley-Davidson Pan America
2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America

A brand new motorcycle

The Pan America is powered by a brand new revolution Max liquid-cooled, DOHC, 60-degree, 1250cc V-twin with variable valve timing that is rated at 110kW. This visual centrepiece of the motorcycle is designed to offer smooth, low-end torque delivery and low-speed throttle control that is ideal for off-road riding. Keeping the big V-Twin going is a 21-litre fuel tank.

A focus on performance and minimising weight drove both chassis and engine architecture, material choices, and aggressive component design optimisation to achieve a desirable power to weight ratio.

The front, mid and tail sections of the frame bolt directly to the engine, reducing weight and resulting in a stiff chassis that contributes to precise handling. 

Like a good multi-tool, function leads the form of these Harley-Davidson models. From grab handles to integrated luggage mounts to a horizontal headlamp configured to illuminate an off-road trail better, function defines style.

Cast aluminium wheels, 19-inch front and 17-inch rear are designed to be strong and lightweight, intended for use on paved unpaved roads. Spoked wheels are available as an option. Michelin and Harley-Davidson collaborated on a Scorcher Adventure tyre for the Pan America, and the Michelin Anakee will be available for those riders looking for a more aggressive tread pattern.

Braking is courtesy of Brembo. Upfront, dual 320mm discs are clamped by a four-piston calliper, while a 280mm disc slows the rear wheel.

Harley-Davidson Pan America
2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America

Suspension for every condition and all riders

The Pan America 1250 features premium Showa passive front and rear suspension, with 190mm of travel that is fully adjustable for pre-load and compression/rebound damping.

Adaptive Ride height is a first for any production motorcycle. To accommodate the long travel, which is ideal for off-road riding, without making the bike too tall for the average rider, the on-board system detects when the bike will be coming to a stop and drops the ride height much as 50mm. The lowered suspension at rest makes the motorcycle easier to mount and dismount, without sacrificing lean angles or ground clearance.

Harley-Davidson Pan America
2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America

All the gadgets

The Harley-Davidson Pan American features everything in tech and features to make it a real contender in the adventure motorcycle market.

All electronic systems that are found on modern motorcycles can be found on the Pan American, including ABS, Cruise control, riding modes and traction control.

Selectable Ride modes electronically control the performance characteristics of the motorcycle and the level of technology intervention. Each mode consists of a specific combination of power delivery, engine braking, Cornering Enhanced ABS and Cornering Enhanced Traction Control System settings.

LED lighting on every corner is designed to deliver signature style and outstanding performance. The Daymaker headlamp has been designed to produce a very homogenous spread of light using new photometric analysis technology.

All instrumentation and infotainment functions are displayed on a tilting 6.8-inch TFT touchscreen. The touchscreen function is disabled when the motorcycle is in motion, but the rider can use hand controls to manage many functions of the screen display when the motorcycle is moving. The display supports infotainment generated by the rider's Bluetooth equipped mobile device, including music and calls. Navigation is supplied by the free app available for Apple or Android devices.

Harley-Davidson Pan America
2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America

In summary

Harley's biggest problem is that this is a very established segment that has been dominated by the BMW GS and, to a lesser extent, KTM models in South Africa and rightly so, they build incredibly capable motorcycles. 

Furthermore, riders of adventure bikes are passionate about their choice of motorcycle and will defend it to the death in a pub debate.

So for Harley-Davidson to get a foothold in this market is going to be tricky. However, the pricing is competitive, and if it can deliver the goods that it promises on paper when it lands in Africa, I do believe that there are enough Harley fans, especially within the emerging market, that will give it more than a second look. For a brand that has struggled to adapt to the furious pace of development within the motorcycle industry in recent years, this might just be the motorcycle that saves them.

The Harley-Davidson Pan America is expected to arrive in South Africa in August this year, with pricing starting from R310 000.

Harley-Davidson Pan America
2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America
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