Will the Pan America Adventure Motorcycle Save Harley-Davidson?
Image credit: Harley-Davidson
Harley-Davidson enters the adventure bike segment for the first time with the brand new Pan America.
The 150 hp 1250 cc V-Twin with two overhead camshafts and variable valve timing is also new.
The bike is also equipped with a sophisticated suspension.
No question about it, the brand new Harley-Davidson Pan America Adventure Bike is well designed, mature, innovative and maybe even cool. It has an innovative semi-active chassis and lowers the seat for you at the traffic lights so that both feet of smaller drivers can reach the ground, opening up the potential market considerably. It can hold the bike in place when stopped on hills, making it easier for you to accelerate away after an uphill stop. It has a "beakless" styling in the nose that is unique for the class. It's powered by a new 150 horsepower V-twin that fits into almost anything Harley chooses to put in. It has hydraulic jacks so you never have to adjust the valves. And it starts at $ 17,319, or $ 19,999 for the special with all of the above features.
After a long day in the desert dirt and over the asphalt road, it felt (mostly) as good as the class leaders and in some ways better and more innovative. But don't take my word for it, you can go to your Harley dealer right away and drive one yourself as the official launch is simply listed as "May".
Photo credit: Buddy Wilinski
More on that in a minute. First, the bigger question: will the all-new Pan America (and all-new Livewire electric bike) be enough to save the country's second oldest motorcycle maker? Answer: Who the hell knows, but it will surely help.
Harley-Davidson has seen so many ups and downs over the past 118 years that one has to think it will succeed. The Motor Company has continuously (though not always profitably) made motorcycles through two world wars, a Great Depression, and countless recessions and labor problems. It has been particularly difficult in recent years. Sales fell steadily every year, falling 46 percent from the previous high. Global sales were 270,000 in 2014, but fell to just 180,000 last year. In the 2020 pandemic year, Harley was hit with gigantic tariffs on its European sales (just like the protective tariffs that Harley demanded and received from the US government in 1983), laid off 700 employees worldwide, laid off its CEO and a new guy from tennis shoe maker Puma and resigned propose another five-year profitability plan.
Also - and that could be costly - Harley introduced a brand new electric motorcycle called the Livewire to a major gamble a year ago. It has been generally well received by those who have ridden it including our own John Stein who wrote about it in 2019, but it costs around $ 30,000. That's nearly 50 percent more than its closest electric competitor, the Zero SR / F. The Livewire is an impressive bike. It accelerates like the famous bat from Hades and reaches 60 miles per hour in just 3.0 seconds. It has an EPA-listed range of 146 miles of city but will travel less than half that when driven on the open freeway. Our man Stein said he had a range of 92 miles on one drive, for example. The Livewire also has its own department within Harley-Davidson devoted exclusively to developing these areas, which cannot be cheap. Harley doesn't publish Livewire sales, but published figures based on and extrapolated from a recent recall suggest that around 3,000 Livewires were sold in 2020, which would have been more than the Zero's estimated sales. This would suggest that Harley has achieved its stated goal of at least leading the electric motorcycle market so far.
There are other stated goals, all of which are neatly pieced together in the company's new Rewire five-year plan announced this February.
The first pillar of this plan is “Profit Focus,” which focuses development dollars on the motorcycles that are now making money. "Harley-Davidson will invest significant time and resources in strengthening and expanding its leadership positions in the strongest and most profitable motorcycle segments: touring, large cruiser and trike." Hence, the traditional cash cows, the bikes bought by aging yuppie baby boomers that were the bread and butter of corporate income in the 80s and 90s, are not being ignored. That makes sense. Don't kill the money cow that lays the golden eggs.
H-D also plans to expand beyond motorcycles by expanding its business in parts and accessories, financial services, and even riding gear and general merchandise (t-shirts and beer cuddles!).
There will also be a new Harley-Davidson certified used motorcycle program that sounds perfectly reasonable too.
And finally, look for "selective expansion and redefinition". That means not only expanding into the adventure bike segment with this brand new Pan America, but also creating a middleweight cruiser. Not much is known about the middleweight cruiser other than that it is likely to cost less and therefore potentially attract those coveted younger buyers who are keeping the doors open in Milwaukee for another generation.
Image credit: Harley-Davidson
These are all good goals, and it sounds like a solid plan, but it's a bit like saying, "I plan to win four Pulitzers by 2022, five more in 2023, and then the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2026 . " To say that you do something and then actually will do it are two different things. Before Hardwire there was a plan called Rewire, and before that there was probably another plan. Harley's official Hardwire press release and the details on its media page are peppered with vague profitability statements that seem almost like marketing hocus-pocus. I asked to speak to the new President and CEO, Jochen Zeitz, to ask what his thoughts are behind this particular plan, but I was offered an interview with a PR representative instead. He was a great PR guy, and I like PR people so I'm not complaining, and in fact the PR guy was excited about Harley-Davidson's future too, so maybe Harley will really bounce back (financial report for the first quarter of 2021) was positive on all fronts) but I don't know how long it will take for electric motorcycles to take off on a large scale.
What I might selfishly do is complete development of a Harley model called the Bronx, a middleweight street fighter who had a 975cc version of the 1250cc 60-degree V-Twin from Pan America. The Bronx was revealed when both motorcycles debuted at EICMA in Milan two years ago. But the Bronx was tacitly cleared away shortly after EICMA, and it's not being discussed now. When I asked, just like when you ask the same question to a car company, I was told curtly, "We're not discussing future products." The Bronx looked so cool at the EICMA booth that it would be on my “Bikes I Would Actually Buy” list.
While the Bronx doesn't officially exist and livewires sales may or may not have issues, the reception for the Pan America Adventure Bike has been rave on all fronts.
"The Pan America is the most pre-ordered and sought-after bike we've seen in 20 years," said Matt Laidlaw, owner of Laidlaws Harley-Davidson in Baldwin Park, California.
"There's sure to be a lot of interest in Pan America," said Bill Bartels, owner of Bartels' Harley-Davidson in Marina del Rey, California. "If we could get them, we could probably sell 10 right now."
Image credit: Harley-Davidson
The press reports about Pan America were also enthusiastic. And for a good reason.
Let's start with this engine. Harley says it's "brand new from the start". Referred to as the Revolution Max 1250, it powers both the Pan America and Pan America Special. It's a stressed-out member of the chassis and helps reduce the overall weight of the bike to what Harley says is 25 percent less than a BMW GS, the leading competitor in the class. The liquid-cooled 60-degree V-Twin (the engine oil is also liquid-cooled) has two crankshaft connecting rod journals that are offset by 30 degrees to give the engine a 90-degree firing order, which, according to Harley, “ensures smooth power transmission especially at higher speeds. “The firing sequence also creates a“ pleasant exhaust blow ”that doesn't sound like the traditional potato-potato-potato.
The cylinder heads each have two intake and two exhaust valves, which are controlled by double overhead camshafts, which themselves have variable valve timing at both the intake and exhaust. The motor has a highly efficient rolling finger valve actuation with maintenance-free hydraulic lash adjusters. There are even two spark plugs in each cylinder. Two balancing machines in the engine leave just enough vibrations for the V-Twin to "feel alive".
All of the above factors combine 150 horsepower and 94 lb-ft of torque with a redline of 9500 RPM.
Image credit: Harley-Davidson
The suspension of the $ 17,319 base Pan America model is less passive. Passive Showa shock absorbers and double-sided rear aluminum swing arms add even more weight. Get all kinds of electronic and mechanical extras when you take advantage of the $ 19,995 Pan America Special. It starts with an electronically adjustable, semi-active front and rear suspension. Set one of the five pre-programmed driving modes - comfort, balance, sport, off-road smoothness and off-road strength - and the magnetorheological shocks will carry you over dirt or road with reasonable ease.
Plus, there's a really nice, adaptive ride height feature that lowers the bike an inch or two when you stop (depending on the automatically selected rear preload) to make it easier for riders of a certain size to put both feet on the ground the traffic lights - and even getting on the bike in the first place. Depending on which of the three sub-modes you've set it to, you can either: automatically raise and lower so you don't have to think about it at all; work with a short or long delay; or keep it at a certain ride height all the time if it is set in locked mode.
Hill Hold controls can hold the bike in place after stopping on an uphill section to make it easier for you to take off again. Simply hold the brake down a little longer when stopping to activate the system. There is more, but we have to get to the driving report.
Image credit: Harley-Davidson
Harley brought select press and dealers to the Mojave Desert so everyone could see all of these features on this brand new bike and try them all out in the real world. We met at a desert site called Rawhyde Adventures, a place where motorcyclists have been trained for years in the art of not falling into the dirt. If you're buying one of these motorcycles, unless you're Malcolm Smith or Roger De Coster, a three-day course is worth every nickel. Even if you have extensive dirt bike experience, take a course. Adventure bikes are generally much heavier - around 550 pounds - and more maneuverable than a lightweight, disposable dirt bike. For example, our group of Journos had a wide range of experiences from drivers who had never been in the dirt to a man who drove from Barstow to Vegas for the annual cactus pounding. Straight off the slide, and I mean almost as soon as we left the grounds on our first ride of the day, about half the people in our group fell off their bikes on a simple old, flat, dirt road. (I stayed upright by the way). Just a bit of loose sand, which had been blown onto the tracks the night before, wowed everyone. You don't want to be more akile.
We spent our first few hours doing very slow maneuvers practicing the art of turning and braking in sand, gravel and flat dirt while standing on the pegs. All of the Pan Americas were tailored for each driver with the assumption that they would stand on the pins all day. Most motorcycles had 2-inch risers on the handlebars that were perfect for standing. The seat heights can also be adjusted to almost any driver. In the different groups there was one driver who was 5'7 "and another who was 6'6". They both said they were completely comfortable and the 5'7 '' driver was able to easily get both feet on the ground. My own seat height was a little too low, which I only noticed when I was sitting on a Harley with normal ride height. Be sure and take your time with the dealer to get your setup right.
Photo credit: Mark Vaughn
At first, the seating position on my test bike felt a bit like an Iron 883, with narrow handlebars that were raised higher. That could be because I didn't ask for a higher seat height, which was my own fault. If you get up all day, your seat height doesn't matter (when I got home, I immediately got back into a BMW R 1250 GS Adventure that BMW had lent me, and I felt much more comfortable with it. But I would have that too Can adjust the seat height on the Pan America and was probably ok).
Out in the desert dirt, the first thing you notice is the low torque the mighty 1250 Twin offers. Just because the engine has 150 horsepower doesn't mean you have to forego the torque you need when crawling up and down hills at low speeds. The wide range of this engine was one of its most impressive parts. I could imagine the VVT adjusting the cam timing based on torque as we all sneaked through RawHyde's many different training courses.
I found that on the slow maneuvers we practiced in the dirt, I preferred the fixed off-road mode because I thought it offered a little more control, but experienced riders may want to play around with the modes to see what works for the particular function situation. At higher speeds pulled over dirt roads, the off-road soft mode felt a little better.
With a six-axis Inertia Measurement Unit (IMU) that works with the front and rear ABS, there are many, many ways the Pan America can keep you upright while driving: By improving cornering, the rear brake is automatically activated when you hit the front to keep the brakes on for balance a variety of situations; Improved traction control when cornering prevents the rear tires from spinning. The improved control of the drag torque when cornering prevents the rear wheel from locking.
Image credit: Harley-Davidson
The production tire of the Pan America is a tailor-made Michelin Scorcher Adventure. It worked fine for our day in the dirt, but almost all of our trips were done in the apartments. If we had to face a mountaineering or lengthy off-road tour, like an adventure across the entire Mojave instead of just one corner, we could have opted for Michelin Anakee Wild tires with more knuckle treads. Each of these tires can be mounted on Harley cast aluminum or laced wheels.
Towards the end of the day, I made my way into the mountains, followed by Rawhyde trainer and senior tour guide Rob Day Sr. The Pan America stayed on our longer drive at speed through the foothills of Sequoia National Forest on the western edge of the Mojave . I tried to use all the tips and training I got after a day of the Rawhyde riding course and I never fell off the bike even at a slightly higher speed. Eyes up! Look ahead! It worked.
The last drive of the day was back to the highway area. 14, a four-lane, split highway that connects Los Angeles with the mighty Sierra Nevada.
"Put it on sports," said Day.
I did. Then when there was a break in traffic I opened it. Aye Chihuahua. After being muted all day and climbing around in the dirt at a relatively slow speed, these 150 horses were finally and gloriously let go. I was actually afraid of lifting the front wheel off the ground. If you've set it up correctly, you can do wheelies on these. Fortunately, all of these electronic controls kept both wheels firmly on the sidewalk. The acceleration was amazing, almost like a sports bike in a straight line. It was pretty amazing. Be sure and give it a try when you take a test drive. Yowza.
Harley offers any number of accessories for its Pan American, from hard and soft cases to full riding gear from Rev’It. You can also get some of this when you visit your Harley dealer. It will be worth it.
How can Pan America stand out from the competition? I've been fortunate to ride most of the competition over the past few months, including the new Ducati Multistrada V4, the BMW R 1250 GS Adventure, the Honda Africa Twin, the Suzuki V-Strom 1050, and even the Moto Guzzi V85TT. The BMW and Ducati are closest to the Pan America in terms of displacement, performance, price and electronic features. If I really had to choose between the three, I would choose the Ducati. It features Skyhook suspension and automatic leveling, covers 36,000 miles between maintenance, and offers sophisticated radar cruise control with blind spot detection and a clever overtaking mode. I've just spent half a year on a BMW R 1250 GS Adventure and found this to be a powerful and versatile bike too. The Honda Africa Twin is a step down in terms of displacement and cost, but not in terms of comfort. The Suzuki V-Strom 1050 XT that I basically drove last year is also a versatile alternative in this class. The models range from 650 cc to 1037 cc on my test bike. The motorcycles for which I had no chance, but which could be seen as alternatives, include the KTM Adventures from 390 cc to 1200, the Triumph Tigers 800, 900 and 1200 as well as the Yamaha Super Tenere ES with 1200 cc, 110 PS and a launch sticker of $ 16,299.
In a way, Harley was way too late for the ADV party, but it definitely put a gun in the big bore adventure bike bash gun battle, and it did almost everything right. Pan America will be a great success.
Will the Pan America save Harley? It will definitely make a big, positive contribution to that goal. Adventure bikes are similar to the SUVs of the two-wheeled world. And while electric bicycles eventually become a thing, their time to make a profitable contribution to company results may still be in the future. But Harley-Davidson has been in business for 118 years, so it's nothing to wait a few more for the world to fully transition to EV motorcycles. In this somewhat uncomfortable transition period as baby boomers get older, figuring out how to get millennials off their computer screens and onto motorcycles is harder. Good luck with that, Harley (and everyone else).
How will Harley-Davidson fare in the near and long term? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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