Pan America Adventure Bike Press Launch

Paul Angus takes the Harley-Davidson’s new adventure bike for a test ride.

FOR ME, one of the great joys of motorcycling is that crazy, eye-lid-peeling-back sensation of rapid acceleration. Throw in lots of bendy, sealed roads and I am well happy. 

I am not a big fan of riding hundreds of kilometres on unsealed roads. Apart from anything else, there aren’t many pubs at the end of unsealed roads and carrying a fridge really upsets the handling of most bikes. 

I am telling you this so you know I don’t really get adventure bikes. 

I mean, I understand the whole practical and romantic nature of them but they just fail to move me. Basically, for me, adventure bikes just look a bit tall and ‘beaky’ and my little legs don’t touch the ground. I suppose it’s just one of those curious motorcyclist things — we all love riding stuff with two wheels but we can be a little tribal at times. 

To finally get to the point. I thought it was pretty strange when Skol (Ozbike Publisher) asked me (it was more like told me) to go to the press launch of the Pan America, Harley’s all new adventure bike. I mean what was really strange is that these press launches are renowned for lashings of free booze and food not to mention merchandising gifts that Skol would be missing out on.

The Pan America Press Launch was held in Kiama, a beautiful little seaside town two hours south of Sydney. I rode down the day before as there was going to be a welcome dinner and accommodation all paid for by Harley-Davidson. 

The rain followed me out of Sydney and didn’t clear till I reached Wollongong. The road through the Royal National Park was wet and slippery but so much more enjoyable than the freeway. By the time I reached the Sebel Hotel in Kiama I was almost dry. 

My first look at a Pan America was in the foyer of the hotel. The dark grey bike was on display next to the reception desk. It is a very striking machine. Trust me, do not make your mind up about the look of the Pan America until you have seen one in real life. 

When I found out I was going to be attending the Australian launch of the Pan America, I purposefully did not read any of the online stuff about it but, obviously, I had seen lots of images. I realise it is a well-used cliché but the machine looks a lot better in the flesh than it does in the photos. The Harley designers have obviously wanted to make an American/Harley adventure bike look different to all the other adventure bikes on the market. It is a seriously purposeful and a pretty bloody tall motorbike and I wondered if it was too late to buy a pair of platform boots in Kiama.

When I got to my room, I found a brand-new Harley adventure jacket with my name on it. No wonder Skol has never let me go to these things before. I always wondered why he had so many jackets. 

At dinner I met the other journalists I would be riding with the next day and some of the Harley people. Everyone was very welcoming, although the chief Harley guy looked a little worried when I told him it was my first press launch. Still, he paid the bill which was great and then informed us that we would all have to pass a breathalyser test before riding the bikes in the morning which was not so great. Not that I am condoning riding under the influence but when someone else is paying for it… Anyway, everyone had a reasonably early night.

The bed was really comfortable but I have reached an age when I do not sleep well on the first night in a new bed. The technical briefing was at 7:30 am but I was awake long before the dawn. I decided to go for a walk to Kiama’s famous Blowhole which was both eerie and loud in the moonlight. I went for a quick walk around the town — unfortunately, no clothing shops were open and I’m pretty sure none of them would have had platform boots in my size anyway. I did find the Hungry Monkey café which makes a great coffee if you’re ever in Kiama. 

Time for the technical briefing…

I AM NOT big on the technical stuff. There are two reasons: One is that it is so easy to find all that stuff online nowadays; and two, in my opinion, most of it is pretty irrelevant to the enjoyment of riding a motorcycle. For example, a Norton Manx makes just over 50 hp as does a modern Honda CB500 twin but they are both a very different ride. Having said that, here are some numbers from the technical briefing. By the way, don’t forget this is a Harley-Davidson motorcycle made in the USA.

  • Harley quotes 150 hp — yes, that’s right, Harley quotes a horsepower figure something which Harley never does. By the way, that’s 150 hp from the factory with the standard exhaust and air-box.
  • 127 Nm of torque.
  • Twin 320 mm diameter floating discs.
  • Twin radial mounted, monoblock, four piston brake calipers.
  • 42 degrees of lean angle on both sides. Yes, that’s right, 42 degrees.
  • 258 kg weight in running order. Just to put that in context, Harley’s 883 Iron Sportster weighs in at 256 kg without a pillion seat and pegs.
  • Five ride modes plus custom modes.
  • Chain final drive.
  • Four-valves-per-cylinder with overhead camshafts and variable valve timing.
  • Hydraulic lash adjusters that make the whole valve train maintenance free.
  • A 7/8ths-of-an inch diameter handlebar.

Then came the bombshell. The thing can be optioned with Adaptive Ride Height. 

The Pan America Adaptive Ride Height package lowers the bike at a stand-still between 25—50 mm depending on how you set it up. At a stand-still, you can put both feet on the ground, then as you set off, the bike raises itself up. Then as you come to a stop and drop under 15 km/h, the bike lowers itself. You can even customise it to work only when to come to a complete stop with a variable delay. You can also lock it out completely. How amazing is that. Basically, I wouldn’t be needing the platform boots today after all.

After the technical briefing we had a zoom link up with the Pan America’s designers in the USA. I asked if Harley had plans to use the Revolution Max engine (that is the name Harleys given their new engine. I suppose they can’t get everything right) in any other bikes. They said that they couldn’t comment on future models but obviously we are going to be seeing a lot more of the Revolution Max engine. 

The briefing ended with a chance to look at the seriously extensive range of luggage and clothing Harley has developed for the Pan America. To be honest, I was vaguing-out a little at the end as I could see all the bikes being brought out and lined up for us. Suffice to say there are a lot of luggage options.

Speaking of options…

In Australia, you will be able to choose from Vivid Black, Deadwood Green, Gauntlet Grey Metallic, and the fantastically named Baja Orange and Stone Washed White Pearl. Thankfully, Harley let me ride one of the black bikes.

The base bike in Australia costs $31,995 and comes with alloy wheels and no Adaptive Ride Height. For only another $1485 you can option the Pan America with the Adaptive Ride Height package and tubeless spoked wheels. All the test bikes had the Adaptive Ride Height package and the spoked wheels. 

Helpful Harley technicians were on hand to help you with the right seat. There was a standard seat, a low seat and a high seat to choose from. Obviously, I chose the low version. 

The techs also put all our bikes in Road Mode before we set off.

My first impression of Harley’s new Pan America was how easy it is to ride. Even before we had left Kiama it was apparent how beautifully controlled the throttle response was even at very small openings. In fact, everything seemed too easy — the suspension was well damped, the brakes easy to modulate and the handling intuitive. 

The Adaptive Ride Height worked so flawlessly I hardly noticed it… apart from the fact I could get my feet flat on the ground at a stand-still. 

To be honest, it took me a while to come to terms with just how modern and refined the Pan America is. As we left Kiama and headed for Macquarie Pass, I was starting to think that Harley had done such a good job at making the Pan America a little too ‘rideable’ that maybe they had left out a bit of character. It was at this point I found the mode button and discovered Sport Mode… which would be better described as angry mode — the suspension dampening firms up, the throttle response becomes considerably more aggressive, and the sound under load on standard pipes is sensational.

At our first stop there was a lot of talk about the torque and how some of the others had been in fourth gear the whole way. I said nothing as I had been in second and third rear revelling in the noise and acceleration above 6000 rpm. 

I would love to report that I did a full and exhaustive test of all the Pan America’s road going attributes but that would be a lie. I spent all the morning hanging back from the pack and then nailing it in second and third gear to catch up only to repeat the process over and over again. I had an absolute ball. The ability of the Pan America to cover twisty, broken-up back roads at a very rapid pace is nothing short of phenomenal, and with all the safety features, there where hardly any sphincter tightening moments. I should also mention that the jacket Harley gave me was so warm that I had to take out both liners… and that’s in autumn.

We stopped for a seriously fancy lunch that Harley put on. Ribs, brisket and fried chicken with a delicious hot sauce. Then it was back on the bikes to tackle some dirt roads. 

As I mentioned way back at the beginning of this article, I am not that into dirt roads. I like dirt but on a chook chaser and preferably one as light as possible. I need not have worried as the Pan America was a doddle to ride on an unsealed road. 

There are basically two off-road modes but with a lot of customisation. I am going to call them ‘just chillin in the bush’ and ‘I am a Finke legend’. Harley has other names for them. 

In ‘just chillin in the bush’ mode, basically you point the Pan America where you want to go and open the throttle and it just looks after you. Honestly, it really is that easy. 

In ‘I am a Finke legend’ mode it basically goes like a scalded cat and assumes you know what you’re doing. I quickly went back to ‘just chillin in the bush’ mode. 

It was during the dirt road section that I discovered a fault with the Pan America. The heated grips are too hot for summer gloves on their highest setting. You can just turn them down of course.

The day ended with Harley letting us take one of their brand-new Pan Americas around a moto-cross course. They had fitted two of the bikes with knobbies just for us to play on. So, a 250 kg motorcycle putting out 150 hp on wet grass and mud — what could go wrong? Nothing, actually, which says more about Harley’s new Pan America motorbike than about my riding skills. 

At the end of the day we returned to the hotel and one of the Harley riders asked how my day had gone and what did I think of the bike. I said that I would be happy to keep riding the thing all the way to Perth and I meant it.

I could gush on and on about the Pan America. It is a seriously good motorcycle, full-stop. Go into your nearest Harley-Davidson showroom and take one for a test ride. I guarantee you will be amazed.

words by Paul Angus; photos supplied by the H-D media team.

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