This Adventure Bike from Harley-Davidson Conceals a Few Surprises

Within the spectrum of motorcycles, various "camps" emerge. There are sportbikes, tourers, cruisers, and invariably, each camp finds a way to critique Harley-Davidson. Why? It's the epitome of classic, the embodiment of legend, intertwined with the lore of motorcycle gangs; sometimes, it's also due to their propensity to vibrate themselves into disrepair. I'll readily confess to having made jests about them myself more than once. However, since the debut of the Pan America 1250 Special in 2020, I've found myself cautiously reconsidering my stance.

You see, while I've never been drawn to Harley's traditional heavyweight offerings, adventure bikes like the Pan America check all the right boxes for me. It's the blend of comfort for long-distance riding and the capability to venture off-road that makes this machine ideal for traversing Canada from coast to coast. Given the chance for some hands-on experience last autumn — yes, it's taken far too long to translate these notes from scrapbook to narrative — I embarked on a proper shakedown of the Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special from Toronto to Muskoka.

So, why choose the Pan America? Why now? Well, Harley's appeal, despite their expansion into various road-going models, has its limits. You either subscribe to the ethos of big American muscle or you don't. Meanwhile, the adventure segment continues to expand, yet its competitive landscape remains relatively narrow. There are lighter, smaller dual-sport bikes, and then there are a few select big adventure bikes to choose from. Given Harley-Davidson's typical focus on engine size and long-distance capability, its venture into the adventure category would inevitably put it head-to-head with BMW's renowned GS adventure bikes. It's a straightforward equation when simplified.

Equipped with a modern 1,250cc V-twin engine, the Pan America delivers all the power you need for extended highway cruising. It boasts a comfortable seat, neutral riding position, highway-friendly gearing, and an adjustable windscreen to ensure comfort during long journeys. Torque is readily available, and its clutch is both light and responsive, making low-speed maneuvers comfortable and relatively effortless, even when the terrain becomes challenging. While I didn't subject the Pan America to deep mud or Dakar-like desert conditions, I did spend enough time off-road to test its capabilities. Despite not being the lightest in its class, it maintains remarkable stability on slippery surfaces, willingly slides its tail when commanded, and its large ABS-equipped Brembo brakes bring it to a halt with minimal effort.

On the technological front, the Pan America features a sizable 6.8" display with full smartphone connectivity, allowing for seamless integration of navigation into the screen. While I'm not particularly keen on using tech while riding, there are undoubtedly benefits to be had here. Additionally, the display can be customized to suit the user's preferences. I still question the integration of touchscreen capabilities (considering all riders should be wearing gloves), but it's a feature that some will appreciate. Furthermore, the Pan America boasts a full LED lighting system, ensuring ample illumination should your journey extend into the night.