When Harley-Davidson unleashed their entry into the adventure touring ADV market with the Pan America 1250 Special in February 2021, it’s fair to say that more than a few eyebrows were raised, as well as questions about whether the brand had drifted as far as it credibly could from it’s core positioning. Barely two financial quarters later, Harley has announced that not only is their 2021 production allocation sold-out, but also that “the Pan America Special [is] now the #1 selling ADV motorcycle in North America.”
Who else is doing a double-take at this news?
At first glance, cynical motorcycle writers could be excused for dismissing Harley-Davidison’s move into the dual sport market as a half-hearted, side hustle to claim a slice of the ever-growing ADV segment pie for themselves. Still stinging from the collective consumer “meh” that greeted it’s LiveWire electric bikes, an American-made 1250cc ADV bike seemed like the solution to a problem no one was looking to solve. Add-in that Harley’s Pan American looked like the mongrel love child of a 1200 Sportster mated with a V-Strom 1000, and the whole affair felt like a clumsy, non sequitur interruption of a conversation already dominated by the established adventure touring pecking order.
We’re guessing the recent press release went over just about as well as the sight of the first American entering newly conquered Germany on a Harley Davidson, following the signing of the WW1 Armistice in 1918. There is indeed a new kid in town. Cue the Germanic Panic.
Cheap shots aside about the ugly stick beatings administered by Harley’s design team throughout the 1250’s developmental life; pull focus on the bigger picture and there are a number of reasons why this “crazy like a fox” move actually makes sense on multiple levels. From a brand fit standpoint, Harley-Davidson has always stood for adventure. Born more than a century ago, in a time and place “when many roads were little more than dirt trails,” a rickety, rumble-y Harley with a wool blanket roll and cast iron pot was the go-to adventure riding bike to carry you across high mountain passes and canyonland stagecoach trails. Acknowledge their service in two World Wars, as well as the deep core brand values around independent spirit and self-reliance and an authentic marketing rationale starts to come clearly into view.
Likewise, Harley-Davidson deserves credit for designing the Pan American series from the ground up, leveraging all of its cutting-edge design and engineering capabilities to create all-new, adventure-touring motorcycles with premium features, outstanding performance and innovative technology. Unlike their competitors in the ADV segment, Harley had the benefit of starting from a blank page and in doing so was able to design a big-bore adventure touring bike that addressed recurring consumer needs and wants.
Part of the challenge for BMW, Honda, Triumph, etc., is how to fundamentally redesign and innovate their product lines to address recurring market wants and complaints, when their flagships bikes are so iconic they cast a halo around the category? With no consumer expectations about what to build, Harley had free hands and green fields.
Particularly clever is Harley’s Adaptive Ride Height (ARH), an electronically adjustable front and rear suspension system that transitions between a low stopped position and a higher, optimal ride height when riding. An industry first, it is well worth the optional $1,000 upcharge for the many riders who will no doubt welcome this. Think for a moment that the skyscraper seat heights of traditional big-bore ADV bike is one of the main barriers to purchase for riders seeking a suitable bike for long highway miles and heavily loaded off-road touring. Arguably, Europe and Japan have failed to innovate real solutions around seat height options, offering only uncomfortable saddles, clumsy workarounds and third-party, aftermarket solutions for their long-in-the-tooth models. Tackling the seat height problem head-on is the sucker punch insight that the entire category has been begging for and it might just be enough of a differentiator to encourage brand switching.
Consider also the number of women entering the adventure touring category. No doubt they will welcome a serious litre contender with a 30” (laden) seat height. As such, the abundance of female riders in Harley-Davidson’s marketing materials for the Pan American seems more than coincidental.
Performance-wise, the Pan American 1250 Special features a 150hp revolution Max engine, and ride-by-wire electronics that offer five per-determined riding modes, plus two additional customizable riding modes to be determined by the owner. Also included is a semi-active electronic suspension adjustment that automatically adjusts according to riding position.
Harley-Davidson has included typical optional features such as electronic tire pressure monitoring (TMPS) and farkles like heated grips, centerstand, bar end handguards, skid plate, radiator brush guard, and a height adjustable rear brake pedal, standard issue on the Pan American 1250 Special.
To complete the touring package, Harley offers three sets of panniers for the bike, as well as a $1,900 set of three aluminum hard cases from SW-MOTECH.
Upon closer inspection, the Pan American 1250 Special merits genuine consideration if you’re in the market for a litre-plus adventure touring bike. Find out more here at: https://www.harley-davidson.com/ca/en/motorcycles/pan-america-1250-special .html