In the first of its kind from the American giants, this tech-heavy adventure motorcycle blasting through the Bike Matters doors in full touring gear, including over £4k worth of accessories and the talking point of the revolutionary adaptive ride height system – is this the giant-killer that Harley-Davidson were after? Does it get enough praise and attention, consider how well-specced it is?
Felix and I spent 2 weeks on the Pan America, covering daily commute miles, a trip to Triumph HQ in Hinckley, and endless jaunts in the local area. I’ve also in the recent past ridden this machine off-road in what you could consider its ‘natural habitat’ at the Harley-Davidson Adventure Centre in Wales – and it really impressed out there with knobblies on.
It’s a seriously busy segment, with riders inundated with options that have been doing it for years over iterations. Launch edition models of the Pan America seemed to struggle with reliability teething issues, but riders after a slightly different take on the adv might have their head turned.
Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special | Pros and Cons
- Seriously stable at speed – perfect touring material.
- An alternative option for the adventure touring market.
- Adaptive ride-height suspension, great for shorter riders.
- Still feels like it needs an iteration or two to iron out some issues.
- Side-stand needs loads of room to stick out.
- Pannier key-barrel ejected!
What’s on the 2023 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special?
This Special we’re riding, in particular, comes with a centre stand, semi-active Showa electronic suspension with adaptive ride height extra, an American muscle-style front headlight with Daymaker cornering light, steering damper, tyre pressure monitoring, and engine guards.
You get the latest Revolution Max 1250T V-Twin motor with hydraulic self-adjusting lifters, variable valve timing, 4 valves per cylinder, 150 bhp and 128 Nm of torque. It's a tech haven with a full suite of rider aids for touring (Cornering Enhanced Traction Control and ABS), nine rider modes (including custom road and offf-road) a one-hand-adjust screen, heated grips, and a 21.2-litre fuel tank for over 200 miles of riding.
This ‘Special’ Edition distinguishes itself from the base model with that semi-active electronic suspension. It also grants the option of the £650 auto-lowering rear suspension when coming to a halt – something hugely beneficial for shorter riders, though not quite as noticeable for taller riders.
We also had the Great Escape Package fitted, totalling an additional £4017, which (in full) includes: Sport Side Cases, Sport Top Case and mounting system, Side Case Liners, Top Case Liner, and Tank Bag. Plus, the Screamin’ Eagle Extreme-Flow Filter, Screamin’ Eagle Quickshifter, 18” Windshield Kit, and Daymaker™ LED Auxiliary Lights.
A 6.8-inch TFT display with Bluetooth to connect your smartphone for turn-by-turn navigation, music controls and a USB-C socket to charge a device.
All in, it’s a seriously kitted-out motorcycle – and has the spec on paper to take the fight to the big dogs in the adventure space without playing the imitation game, notably the BMW GS that many will consider the ultimate long-distance adventure motorcycle that will do it all.
Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special 2023 Price and Availability
This 2023 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special starts at £18,895 in Vivid Black (and the option of +£750 for spoked wheels). Alternative colours of Gray Haze +£375, Industrial Yellow +£750. Previous editions of the Pan America included the orange and grey design and a very nice green style which is sadly no longer offered.
Tallying up the total cost of the Pan America as ridden, we are looking at £24,687 in the Gray Haze with spoked wheels, Great Escape pack, and adaptive ride height kit.
Naturally, the style will garner a lot of attention, for the right or wrong reasons - something that Harley riders will naturally expect. Though the front end has raised a few eyebrows across the motorcycle community. Subjective, but it looks good to me – it’s different!
Finance offers are available online, and it has been known that Harley-Davidson will throw in a few financial incentives to get the Pan America off the ground, particularly with the slight teething issues it has had in the UK. You see them around on the odd occasion, but I can’t help but feel a particular long-term review from a well-known UK publication has knocked it back somewhat.
Naturally it's worth trying Lexham Insurance for an insurance quote on your adventure bike.
Revolution Max 1250T V-Twin Engine
Let’s dive into that stunning Revolution Max 1250 V-twin engine. With its 150 bhp at 8750 rpm and 128 NM (94 lb-ft) torque at 6750 rpm, it feels sporty in acceleration, with classic V-Twin power put down sharply via the ride-by-wire system, and depending on the ride mode selected which does vary the have character quite drastically – rain mode smooths out the power delivery, Sports mode is instant raucousness, and road mode is a good in-between for sinking miles.
We did notice that it tended to stall on a cold morning with low throttle input and pulling away – no doubt down to those two huge cylinders - but be sure you warm it up before leaving the biker meet trying to look cool…
This motor is also found on the Harley-Davidson Sportster S, albeit with a bit less BHP for the latest rendition of the Sportster namesake.
Stick knobblies on and it’s great off-road, too. Having ridden at the Harley Adventure Experience Centre with Mick Extance, the off-road capabilities shone with a bike that was entirely stock other than knobblies and crash bars. Standing up is comfy, with good handling and control of the bike in tricky terrain. The Off-road modes work very nicely, with the electronics and assistance coming in to aid you with the correct electronic intervention - plus the adaptive ride height coming in to help you get your feet to the ground when moving slowly through difficult terrain. Makes off-roading feel like second nature!
It’s quick to get up to speed, and once there, it’s happy to plug away with considerable stability and comfort – adjust the screen up to max height, tuck in, and you feel like you’re floating along the road with no blusters, with low revs maintaining momentum
The Revolution Max engine sounds fruity when revved (though has a rev limiter in neutral), loves to sit high up in the rev range when pushing on and pulls smoothly from low down, it unlocks adventure capabilities without harming its ‘Harley Cruiser’ identity. It’s a wonderful thing to play with packed with character, being a 60-degree v twin with a 30-degree crank offset. It absolutely feels like a Harley-Davidson.
An omission on the first generation was the accessory-fitted quickshifter is designed to replace the need of using the clutch, with low and high-speed riding said to be perfect for the auto-blipper. It worked well enough, sometimes auto-blipped if not forceful or positive enough with the change, but that points to the gearbox that is often referred to as fairly rudimental on Harleys. Felix noted a few times revs would buzz up in delay after a gear change.
Rider modes change with a button on the right handlebar switchgear, found by your index finger. Changeable whilst moving on a closed throttle, you have nine to pick from: Sport, Road, Rain, Off-Road, Off-Road Plus, Custom Off-Road & Off-Road Plus, Custom A & B. Each mode gives a different result to the electronics and set-up – for example, the throttle and suspension noticeably sharpened up. A novice can jump on this in-road and get what they can out of it, likewise, a pro can flick into off-road plus (or custom) and have a hoot.
Equipment - Adventure Touring on the Pan America 1250 Special
Spec like this is to be expected when you’re over £20,000 as a full-dress touring model, but what notes did we make on the equipment?
Top box (£553, 36 litres) and panniers (£905, 65 litres, 35 L left 30 L right) can easily store enough for a week away for one/two, but they’re operated from a different key to one another (one key operated the steering lock and fuel tank also). They’re quick to mount/dismount, though one of the pannier locks broke when fitting the panniers back on (rode without them to Triumph), the locking cylinder firing off and rendering the opening mechanism useless – pointing a finger at the questionable reliability of the launch editions, but both Felix and I rode this bike daily at BikeMatters, outside of that there were no overt reliability or build issues that stopped us riding.
Tank size is a solid 21.2 litres, they quote 51 mpg but we achieved closer to 40 mpg, giving at least 200 miles in a tank if you have a steady throttle hand that’s not tempted astray by the V-Twin rips.
The stock 850mm seat height is tall, but the mid-section is relatively narrow to help you get a leg down (and you have the adaptive ride height to help you). Ride by wire, works nicely at higher revs but pulls smoothly from the low revs.
Though it weighs 254kg (more with accessories) the centre of gravity is low, and you can push it about surprisingly with ease. I found it a tad smaller in person than I was expecting. Perhaps some of the weight savings is from using plastics in many places.
The side stand here is spring loaded, and you have to lean the bike over to the right for it to deploy left – a previous tester dropped it on its right, perhaps it was to get the side stand out? Consider, though, the preload and side effects of having a rear end that sits down lower at a standstill (unless you switch it off).
TFT is a 6.8-inch tablet screen, very clear and readable with loads of screens to flick through, and has a lot of interactive options but not quite all the details – range but no consumption. Customisable, though, and connects to your phone with the HD app. Switchgear is in a way over-complicated, indicators work in a unique way – flick once left/right on, then again the same way to switch off (if it doesn’t automatically go off).
Other competitors are out there that have been doing it longer, though this is a nice alternative option. Plastic grab handles are precarious when yanking the weight onto the centre stand, the adjustable screen has visual distortion at the top and wobbles a bit (but overall is good), and when fully extended will collide with the knuckle guards on full lock.
We had a few weird encounters with the electronics, from the TFT restarting whilst riding along, throttle reacting a bit wildly at times, stuck in gear and revving out before clunking into the next.
An adjustable screen with one hand is nice, though when fully extended and the handlebars at full lock, one side would collide with the screen – and the other wouldn’t.
The LED lighting is top-notch, particularly when riding at night, with the daymaker headlight activating when cornering to good effect.
Chassis, Suspension, Brakes
Semi-active suspension from Showa is a star, here, providing a great deal of control and varies well through the rider modes – also granting the ride-height adjustments. That ride height can lower the seat height enough for shorter riders to reach the floor comfortably from the 850mm saddle – with further options allowing for the ride height function to operate immediately or delayed in the options menu.
In any case, the 47mm inverted fork with adjustable semi-active damping works with the linkage-mounted mono-shock with auto preload control, semi-active compression and rebound damping. Varying dependant on the mode, the final ride quality is brilliant. You get a lot out of the bike, it provides good feedback mid-ride – and as mentioned prior, it’s seriously stable at speed.
As the engine is a stressed member with an alloy steel trellis frame around it (working with a one-piece cast aluminium swingarm), the weight at 254kg wet does feel hefty, yet still at manageable levels - particularly low speed.
Mounted to the 19-inch front and 17-inch rear wheels (trod with Michelin Scorcher ‘Adventure’ hoops, plus TPMS) are Brembo brakes that intrigue. The front works very nicely to halt the 254 kg (kerb) lump, with dual 4-piston monobloc front calipers and twin 320mm discs, and the rear brake has a 280mm disc with 1 pot caliper. The intrigue comes from the electronically linked braking, which is comforting as you can use just the front brake with the rear coming in to help – but the rear alone is a bit mild in isolation. The front, mind, is a good performer, and will happily step in with good bite and feel through the lever.
Overall, then, the Handling is great for a tour, comfortable for a taller rider and you can really get on well with the bike when riding some twistier roads. You get a good deal of response and feel from the bars, and you can happily sit in the 850mm saddle for long periods of time with cruise control switched on – like my time on it for the Triumph factory tour, for the reveal of the Speed 400 and Scrambler 400 X.
Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special Verdict
Having had the Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special with us at BikeMatters for a couple of weeks was overall an interesting experience. It was great to have such a technologically advanced machine with us for touring and running around on – it impressed at bike shows we attended (Thursday Night at Krazy Horse in Bury St. Edmunds for one), the engine is lovely to work with, and the potential for both long tours and off-road miles is an attractive prospect for riders that are so inclined.
It just felt like it came a tad unstuck in the final execution. Annoying bits included the side stand that required an off-camber tilt, the various electronics sometimes playing up (Felix made a particular note to the quickshifter/blipper), the pannier with an eject-o-barrel…
These are all drawbacks on a pricey machine that, given time, will absolutely be ironed out. You could easily argue that the alternative style, adaptive ride height tech and huge V-Twin still gives the Harley character and poise that could win the battle against some serious rivals – but I’d very much say it’s still the underdog in the fight, even if that dog has a weird looking face, an adaptive electronic jaw and barks with a V-Twin grunt.
In short, it certainly has enough to impress any rider, on-road or off-road, and you will certainly want to have a go – if you keep your opinions at the door, give it a go and see what the fuss is about. Just be prepared to meet a big Harley-Davidson price tag once you get it all specced up to your liking.
Cheers to Harley-Davidson for giving us 2 weeks with the Pan America, head to their website to find out more.
Try Lexham for an insurance quote on adventure motorcycles!
Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special Specs
|Engine||1252cc Revolution MAx 1250T V-Twin. 150 bhp @ 8750 rpm, 128 Nm @ 6750 rpm|
|Fuel tank||21.2 L|
|Brakes||(F) Dual radially mounted monobloc, 4-piston caliper, 320mm disc (R) 1-piston floating caliper, 280mm disc|
|Seat height||850 mm|
|Suspension||(F) Showa 47mm inverted forks adjustable semi-active damping (R) mono-shock electronically adjustable semi-active damping|