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ADV NewsHarley-Davidson Pan America Adventure Bike Makes Public Debut

Harley-Davidson Pan America Adventure Bike Makes Public Debut

First close-up look at Harley-Davidson’s adventure bike prototype.

Published on 08.22.2019

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. 


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 Moto Guzzi 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!

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.

Author: Jamie Elvidge

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46 thoughts on “Harley-Davidson Pan America Adventure Bike Makes Public Debut

  1. The Hansel and Gretel of ADV bikes, leaving a oil trail to follow back to the dealer. Clearly not intended to go far from the road, where reliability is an important factor. Too harsh, maybe. But since most rider stories from HD fans involve at least one trip to a dealer to fix something I’ll be surprised to see the RTW folks jumping on one of there.

    • I used to be a brand basher too. What a waste of time. Either you like motorcycles or you don’t like motorcycles. Good on Harley Davidson for TRYING SOMETHING NEW TO THEM. Folks need to check their brand prejudices, which at this point, are based on products Harley hasn’t produced in over a decade. I work in the industry too. For 22 years now. I’ll keep my Honda Africa Twin but Harley Davidson actually does make great motorcycles. Current events. Go ride one and see. And the people are actually nice.

      • I’ve had Harley guys give me crap about my BMW gs on poker runs. They would brag about Murica made and they “own the cruiser market, all others are wanna be’s. Now with slumping sales, buyers are all old, and people sick of the pirate mentality, they jump on the ADV bandwagon. They can keep the cool bikers in Sturgis, and we will continue to enjoy the beautiful places and people where we usually go, like the rest of the world…

        • We all ride, so, fanning the flames of brand rivalries is counterproductive and bad for our two wheeled sport. If H-D (or any other manufacturer) can build and offer a quality product, that’s great.

        • I’m a lifetime Harley rider but appreciate all motorcycles and riders. I have always liked the GS and have considered adding one to the stable. However I will definitely go with a Pan Am when it arrives.

    • I teach university level Mechanical Engineering. My goal is to educate, not humiliate. I have several Harleys in the barn from 1939 to 2019. Just to bring the uninformed and uneducated up to current events, Harleys have been completely oil tight for over 30 years. Tolerances on the vertically split cases are impeccable. Among many 100s of long rode trips, ave ridden 2 Heritage Softails from New Mexico to Prudoe bay on 2 separate round trips. Zero mechanical issues on a most “non-adveture” bike configuration. On one occasion I towed a V-Strom with fried electronics for 60 miles. Harleys are superbly engineered and bullet proof. Kindest regards from someone who actually understands the design process.

      • Eh, I agree to a point. I have a hard working 2007 Street Rod, the sporty version of the V-Rod family, and while yes it has been a reliable workhorse of a sport touring bike with an engine that looks like a slice out of a Toyota V-6 there is no thought given to reducing size and weight. It almost seems as if they make them big and heavy for the sake of making them big and heavy. I had the glorious opportunity to run into the Street Rod’s platform manager at a bike show in late 2005. He is a German designer and road racer. Very interesting fellow and our conversation and subsequent test ride is the main reason I bought a Street Rod. But he told me himself he could have lost 100 lbs off the bike “with my eyes closed” but Harley would not give him the budget to do so. The Street Rod was prototyped with 17 inch wheels at each end but Willy G nixed that in favor of the same achingly heavy 19 incher up front and 18 incher in back used by other V-Rods. Harley has capable engineers but their managers need to be sedated and stuffed in a closet with a strobe light for a couple of years so the engineers can do their jobs right and build no excuses modern bikes.

    • you apparently know very little about BMWs I spent more time and $$$ in the shop with my GS and RT than any Harley I ever owned.

  2. I got to Alaska last fall and immediately started a program to lift my Dyna and make it AK ready. Tell Harley to send me one and I’ll give it the thrashing it deserves. Then I’ll start my Ride to Patagonia.

  3. Harley missed the boat in this market a long time ago. Because everything KTM has done, including using the Harley Davidson black and orange colors, is exactly what Harley should have done many years ago.

  4. Maybe there is a optional snowblade and wing so farmers around Milwaukee can get out to get the mail with this unit. Winters can be pretty nasty with a northeaster off Lake Michigan even more so with climate change – sure glad HD is planning ahead.

  5. Hideous face but can it cook? I look at this and then at a picture of a Guzzi V85 TT and wonder what on earth were the HD designers thinking? Still, curious as to the specs and price and how it does work compared to other ADV’s.

  6. Gotta say the engine looks real nice for a Davidson? Sorry, wanted to give the other fella some credit. So why does the front end look like the back end of other bikes? WHAT??? Not cruel enough?

  7. MSRP..Is going to be ridiculous. It just is. So it’s an interesting exercise; but selling even one? good luck. If its any idication of where the “motor company” is coming from: Hell the “live wire” is coming in at $30k.

    • Reminds me of my dads old 1950 Torpedo nose Studebaker Champion.You know. , fozzy bears ride in one of the Moppet movies.Jim Carey drove one in one of his Pet detective movies.

  8. Looking forward to test riding one. My Harley has been perfectly reliable and inspiring to ride – it feels and sounds alive. I just fear this Pan America will be a bit heavy for an ADV. Let’s see.

  9. fan boys line up at the HD dealer … all you other people stopping rolling around on the floor laughing ! i think HD hired a household appliance “designer” this time?

  10. Is it just me or does it appear that underneath all that plastic on the front forks there is only about 4″ of travel available?

  11. Everyone keep in mind that The Motor Company accounts for something in the neighborhood of 30% of all new bikes sold annually. FYI – that is the largest share of any manufacturer in the US. They may not make the bike the average ADV Pulse reader is looking for but think of it as the gateway bike that may bring more riders to the ADV world. More riders, more investment by other manufacturers of motos & accessories. If someone doesn’t figure out how to bring more riders to two wheels, the industry might just go away. This is a good thing.

  12. Just needs a plough strapped to it and it will be right at home with the Massey Ferguson on the farm. This is almost too funny “For now, let’s give this Harley the benefit of the doubt.”
    Why did they not take a leaf out of the Carducci SC3 Adventure and they would have been in competition with the Guzzi V85 TT they seriously need a a fresh face in their design department

  13. The only thing that looks odd to me is how flat the rider seat is. Looks like a vinyl wrapped board. How do you put your feet down with no contour for that. Otherwise it looks like a Harley adventure bike. There is room for front and back end design interpretation particularly since we are just now transitioning to all LED. I’m ready to hear how it handles and sounds.

  14. I know Harley has an uphill battle in this tough segment, but I for one would like to see them succeed. Without riding one or seeing a spec sheet it’s tough to say how good this bike may (or may not) be. They are trying new things, and a strong Harley means a stronger rider base here in the US, so I’m all for it. Their dealer network will need to really re-think their approach, and that’s going to be a tough aspect for sure. I will say this: it seems like the Revolution engine from my VRod Muscle (a bike that is fun as heck!) is being reused here, maybe with a redesign, and if it’s done right, could make this another fun bike. Can’t wait to try one out and to see what kind of price point they’re going to put it out at… I’d love to have this as a contender for my next bike (which I was leaning towards a KTM Adventure model, yet TBD).

    • I too ride a VRod Muscle and am looking to get an adventure bike in the not too distant future. I’m biased for Harley, having grown up near Milwaukee in the shadow of Harley Davidson’s headquarters. Still, I’m glad they are venturing out into ADV bikes, electrics and other non-touring models to compete across the globe. I’m liking what I see from the Motor Company.

      • I’ve had Harley guys give me crap about my BMW gs on poker runs. They would brag about Murica made and they “own the cruiser market, all others are wanna be’s. Now with slumping sales, buyers are all old, and people sick of the pirate mentality, they jump on the ADV bandwagon. They can keep the cool bikers in Sturgis, and we will continue to enjoy the beautiful places and people where we usually go, like the rest of the world…

  15. Can’t wait! I’m on the waiting list!I just started planning a cross country adventure
    ride that stops at approximately .200 bars along the way.

    • Cooler. And everyone riding cruisers at said watering hole will be curious about ADV riding, only without any of the brand bias that works like fingers in the ears.

  16. I wish them well. I’m sure they put a lot of research into the development of this bike and likely been working on it for years. I’m sure they’ve done their research.

  17. Harley has got to be blind. There is nothing adventure about this bike. They need to hire someone that has some serious dirt bike experience. Start wit a dirt bike and go from there. Don’t start wit a Fat Bob and try to make it into an adventure bike. WOW!

  18. I want to see and ride what they have presented. Benefit of the doubt. That engine achitecture harkens back ti tje superbike days. A chance a hope all is

  19. I built an off road tourer from a 1991 883 sportster in 2006. I sent pictures to HD back then suggesting they should build a factory version, after all HD is stepped in dirt bike racing. Not sure if they listened to me or not, but the Pan America is what I was suggesting, just took them 15 years that’s all. BMW did this in 1980, and now are the world leader in this market segment. I still own 4 HD’s this could be number 5. Onya Harley well done.

  20. Harley’s biggest hurdle isn’t the machinery but overcoming their traditional customer’s aggressive disdain for anything not Harley and not a cruiser. I have a 2007 Street Rod I use as a sport touring bike, this after riding nothing but BMWs, and I can honestly say it is a fun machine with a fantastic engine that loves to rev, much smoother than the big Oilheads I tested, and every bit as well made and reliable as anything I ever bought from BMW. But doggone it, the uniformed soldiers with their matching leather vests and doo-rags to prove their “individuality” all sneer at the bike and are never shy about telling me “oh, that’s not a REAL Harley”, or “that isn’t even American”, or best yet “oh, it’s just a crotch rocket”. I let it roll off me because I love the bike but I know other riders take so much offense at the whole Harley thing they wouldn’t set foot in a Harley dealership. Even when Buell was selling bikes they would buy one because of their association with Harley. If the MoCo can overcome that stigma they can move some product. Myself, I look forward to riding one of these, maybe even buying one. BMW has nothing that interests me any more and with everything now running a wet clutch and the transmission running in engine oil they aren’t special. Just another bike.

  21. Very good on H-D for jumping into the future. Livewire is an absolute animal!!! With the announcement of the Bronx and the Pan-AM, I’m happily awaiting the new side of H-D. Time for the boomers to hand off the baton to a younger generation of riders.

  22. The big 1250cc will fit perfectly with heavy riders. Heavy riders will need the big engine for the power required to navigate backcountry trails. No problem!

  23. yes, I have two Harleys. both CVO’s. So, I guess that I am at the top of the Harley food chain.
    I do want an adventure bike and H-D iooks to be feeding my lust for a H-D adventure bike. I will trade one of my street bikes for it.

  24. Amazing all theses non-Harley experts who are worried about the looks. Are you afraid all your buddies at Starbucks won’t be impressed with how “cool ” your bike is?


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