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Harley-Davidson Pan America Adventure Bike Makes Public Debut

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The appearance of a flesh-and-blood Pan America adventure bike at Harley-Davidson’s Annual Dealer Show in Milwaukee is reigniting debates across the globe with squabbles spanning from its polarizing aesthetic to its intended road surface. There seems no middle ground when it comes to this mind-bending addition to what’s otherwise been motorcycling’s most predictable lineup. 

And that’s because the Pan America is a big ask. While Harley-Davidson is arguably America’s most effective brand, it’s a success story rooted more in its legendary subculture than regard for its machines. And while anyone can understand the Motor Company’s urge to invest in thriving markets, throwing its skull cap into the performance-first adventure bike ring, well, that’s a dubious endeavor indeed.

Harley Davidson Pan America Adventure Bike engine

The bike on display in Milwaukee appears much the same as its renderings, instantly recognizable for that unique nacelle, so ghastly and huge it’s strangely cool. A brand-new liquid-cooled DOHC 60-degree 1250cc V-twin dominates the Pan America’s architecture, and appears to be a stressed frame member, which would help keep weight down. Many features hint of off-road intentions, including chain-and-sprocket drive, a rear shock attached to the double-sided swing arm via linkage and cross-spoked wheels with a 19-incher up front. 


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Of course those spoked wheels as well as several other adventure-minded goodies including engine guards, skid plate and most definitely the meaty Michelin Anakee Wild tires are likely to disappear from the base model scheduled for release late in 2020. The brush guards look as if they’ll stay, though hopefully not as housings for the front turn signals as we saw in earlier images because, well, that would be plain silly. 

Harley Davidson Pan America Adventure Bike

What we see in the video that’s new on the prototype in Milwaukee is the appearance of Harley’s new integrated on-board LCD computer, similar in structure to BMW’s analog-eliminating TFT design, and likely to employ a host of electronics including the Motor Company’s new Reflex Defensive Rider System (RDRS) a.k.a. traction control. 

Also on display at the show was Harley’s new Street Fighter bearing a 795cc version of the new liquid-cooled V-twin Harley says will eventually come in four variations, ranging from 500cc to the 1250cc found  in the Pan America. While it’s easy to see the logic in Harley kicking off with a large displacement ADV bike, one likely to compete with more street-leaning offerings from Triumph and Ducati than KTM’s racy 1290 Super Adventure R or BMW’s world-travel ready 1250GSA, many think a mid-level entry would have been a wiser choice. 

Harley Davidson Pan America Adventure Bike rear

It’s tough to predict the fate of a 1250cc liquid-cooled adventure bike from Harley-Davidson because even a sentence pondering the question sounds all wrong. But maybe that’s because we’re all stuck in our thinking. What if mid-life crisis bikes are no longer big, bling-laden cruisers? With the current workforce more in tune with Ewan McGregor than Marlon Brando, doesn’t it make sense that there will be a mainstream shift in aspiration? 

For now, let’s give this Harley the benefit of the doubt. While it’s very unlikely the Pan America will be a super-capable off-road bike, it does appear well-equipped for some serious exploration. It also comes with a vast dealer network and a ticket to the largest factory-sponsored club in the world. And yeah, most of you want zero sips of that KoolAid, but there are plenty of Harley enthusiasts who aspire to rise above black-shirted tide. Take ADV Pulse reader and Harley loyalist “Eazy” for example, with ambitions to ride to the Arctic Circle. “I absolutely cannot wait for this bike” he commented. “I love adventure bikers. I have intense respect for your breed, and I’m excited at the opportunity to join your ranks while still maintaining my loyalty to my brand.” Aw!

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Author: Jamie Elvidge

Jamie has been a motorcycle journalist for more than 30 years, testing the entire range of bikes for the major print magazines and specializing in adventure-travel related stories. To date she’s written and supplied photography for articles describing what it’s like to ride in all 50 states and 43 foreign countries, receiving two Lowell Thomas Society of American Travel Writer’s Awards along the way. Her most-challenging adventure yet has been riding in the 2018 GS Trophy in Mongolia as Team AusAmerica’s embedded journalist.

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