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First Look: 2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250

First Look: 2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250
Autos
Forget all the teasing of spy photos. Ignore Jason Momoa and all his faux-rugged outdoorsy stuff. Pretend even for a minute that 150 horsepower of Milwaukee V-twin muscle has no appeal for you. The reason you’re going to want a new Pan America 1250 is because it will kneel before you.

The big problem with adventure touring bikes — especially those with the long-travel suspension needed for true off-roading — is their sky-high seat heights. Anyone under six-foot parking their butt on an R1250 GS Adventure or any number of KTMs has to learn to balance a motorcycle on their tippy-toes. Indeed, amongst those shopping adventure tourers, seat height is often the roadblock.

Not with the Pan America because, taking a page out of similarly over-large SUVs in the auto world, the new Harley lowers itself whenever you come to a stop, the whole bike hunkering down some 20 millimetres so you — or, more accurately, your feet — can get a more confident grip on terra firma.

If you’ve been looking at reports of the new Harley with envy but can’t get past how you’ll justify a Harley to your Tenere- and Multistrada-riding buddies, Harley’s Adjustable Ride Height system is your road to explaining your Buyer’s Stockholm Syndrome. There’s going to be a lot of people out there needing convincing post-purchase rationalizations after they buy a Pan America; said squashing suspension will be the perfect rejoinder when some smug GS owner asks you “Why’d you buy that?”

Not that the rest of the Pan America ain’t worth having. The new 1250 Revolution Max engine seems like 60-degrees of V-twin goodness, offering up all the latest in variable valve timing, double-overhead-camshaft and four-valve technologies, and then one-upping everyone with hydraulic valve lifters. Yup, lifetime maintenance-free hydraulic valve-lifters on a high-revving, high-performance double-cam engine. Oops, maybe Fancy Dan suspension isn’t the only reason to buy a Pan America.

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Like most modern motorcycles, the Pan America has a riding mode for every season and reason. Sport mode maximizes throttle response and suspension control. Road mode softens the power in the mid-range and gives a softer ride. Rain dials both back again while Off-Road chops off the top end and softens the suspension even more. There’s even — and I can’t believe there’ll be too many traditional Harley customers using this one — an Off-Road Plus mode which disables both the rear ABS and the linked brakes so you can lock up the rear without washing out the front.

And thanks to its six-axis inertial measurement unit, there’s all manner of new safety systems meant to make 150 horsepower cooperative even when the terrain isn’t. Incorporated into the Pan Am’s ECU is a whole suite of “Cornering” Rider Safety Enhancements  — Cornering Enhanced Electronically Linked Braking (C-ELB) which sets the proportion of front-to-rear brake bias according to lean angle, Cornering Enhanced Antilock Braking System (C-ABS) which adjust ABS intervention according to lean angle, Cornering Enhanced Traction Control System (C-TCS) which limits power based on lean angle and Cornering Enhanced Drag-Torque Slip Control System (C-DSCS) which is basically an electronically controlled slipper clutch which limits back-torque from locking the rear wheel while leaned over. Every mode modifies each to their specific needs: For instance, the Off-Road Plus mode disable Drag Torque Slip Control (DSCS) so you can lock the rear wheel and “back” into a corner.  Now admittedly all those acronyms may not provide the cognitive bias that justifies the purchase of a twenty thousand dollar motorcycle, but it’s pretty impressive nonetheless.

And finally, one attribute even the Harley haters can’t deny is that The Motor Company knows how to do accessories. The Pan America is no exception with no less than three different types of luggage available at launch, a whole slew of performance bits and aftermarket windshields as well as comfort necessities like bar risers and heated grips. You certainly won’t be lacking for accessories.

Throw in relatively light weight — 243 kilograms in base model and 254 kilos for the all-singing, all-dancing electronic suspension version — long-travel Showa suspension and some premium Brembo brakes and the Pan America makes an even more convincing case for Harley’s brand of adventure touring. Even the price is more than competitive. While one would hesitate to call the base 1250’s $20,999 MSRP cheap, the Pan America is less expensive than its high-end competitors. Even the $24,199 Special — with that fancy Adjustable Ride Height, semi-active suspension — is not outrageously priced. If you’re looking for a reason not to shop the Pan Am, you’re going to have to look beyond price.

Indeed, if you’re determined to reject the new Harley, I think you’re going to have to resort to that most scurrilous of excuses — looks. The Pan Am’s styling is, in a word, controversial. The critics have not been kind.

And yes, the orange-and-white version is more than a little fugly, the two-tone paint emphasizing some ungainliness of front fairing. That said, the awkwardness all but disappears when you stick to any of the monochrome options. Oh, there’s still a heaviness to the Pan America’s lines that KTM banished some time ago and BMW never suffered. That said, if the main reason you wouldn’t buy a Harley is because of its looks, doesn’t that make you just as superficial as all the posers that do?

Personally, they had me at kneeling suspension.

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