2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special (bike review)

PERHAPS one of the most important and significant models in the history of Harley-Davidson, the 2021 Pan America 1250 Special pushes the boundaries of technology, as well as people’s perception of the brand.

A company renowned for big bad cruisers took a hard right turn to take on the might of European and Japanese brands in the super competitive adventure touring market, head on. At the same time, they’ve silenced the knockers who criticise their traditional range.

Lets start with the brilliant 1250 Revolution Max motor that finds itself at the heart of the Pan America, and the soon to be released Sportster S. The engine is smooth and crisp and boasts a tantalising 112kW of power.

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Not only does it offer the rider an abundance of torque, but it also forms part of the structural chassis for improved riding characteristics. There are five ride modes as well including Sport, Road, Off Road, Off Road Plus and Rain. You can customise too.

The ride mode selection directly effects handling and motor behaviour. We found during our time with the Pan America that Road mode offered a smoother throttle response and softer suspension and was much more rider friendly around town.

Sport was our pick though while on the tarmac, as it enabled us to unleash all of the motor’s animalistic potential and stiffened the suspension for firmer traction through the twisty stuff. On-road handling is quite frankly, great, adding to this bike’s appeal.

In this mode, the throttle response is sharp and snatchy at times though, and makes you more than aware that you have enough grunt to keep up with some of the higher horsepower bikes on the road.

2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special
2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special

One of the impressive things about the Pan America is that it keeps pulling all the way through the speed range, with minimal effort. Enthusiastic riders are going to appreciate this performance, that’s delivered straight out of the box.

The six speed gearbox works well too, and we found the clutch to be reasonably light compared to other Harley-Davidson models. This is where we would have loved to have seen the addition of a quick shifter, especially for road use.

All rider information is displayed via a 6.8-inch touchscreen display that features Bluetooth integration for navigation, and houses all the settings for ride modes, as well as the fuel gauge, speedo and warning lights.

Thanks to a 42 degree lean angle, both left and right, the 2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special feels planted and well balanced when thrown into the apex of a corner. But it’s this very fact that may cause the bike maker a little unintentional pain.

Many potential buyers will not see the Pan America as solely an adventure bike, but rather an off-road oriented performance touring motorcycle. How that plays out against the likes of KTM, Suzuki and BMW Motorrad is yet to be seen.

There is a range of aftermarket accessories though, including pannier and luggage options, which should entice those looking for a real off road capable ride. Semi-active front and rear suspension with optional adaptive ride height should deliver that.

It automatically lowers the bike when coming to a stop to enable the rider to more easily stand flat-footed. The suspension then lifts as you rides away, returning to the standard ride height.

2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special
2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special

It’s a brilliant idea and a great way to attract vertically challenged customers who may have strayed away from adventures bikes due to the height of some of the current offerings in the segment.

The front suspension features Showa balance free forks which allow 191mm of travel. At the rear there’s a balance free rear, and cushion lite coil-over shock, with electronic preload control and semi-active dampening.

The rear suspension incorporates a system that links the shock, swingarm and frame. In simple terms, it works extremely well and offers the rider adjustability to suit the conditions and their riding style.

The package fits well with the adjustable and customisable vibe offered by the Pan America. Everything can be altered, from the seat height to the foot brake lever, all be tailored to suit the rider.

That’s an important fact when you hit the dirt trails. We got to experience this at the launch and again during our test period. In off road mode, powering through the rough stuff, the Harley-Davidson feels solid, planted and self-assured.

Tipping the scales at 259kg (slightly lighter than the BMW GS), the 2021 Pan America 1250 Special features an aluminium skid plate, brush guards, steering damper, LED DayMaker adaptive lighting, heated hand grips, hand guards and tyre pressure monitoring.

Our test bike was also fitted with road focused tubeless laced tyres, but there are plenty of aftermarket off road knobby tyres available. If we were buying one, we’d probably  keep the rubber though, as they offer a good balance for all surfaces.

2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special
2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special

Pricing for the 2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special starts at $31,995 ride away. There are four colour choices, including Vivid Black, Gauntlet Grey, Deadwood Green and Baja Orange/Stone Washed White Pearl.

What Harley-Davidson has done is create a premium adventure motorcycle. Time will tell if it proves to be as reliable as some of its rivals, and as popular. It’s sure to attract its fair share of admirers and fans.

It’s a new market for the American bike maker, and a bold and somewhat brave space to play in. The Revolution Max 1250 motor and progressive suspension technology should help set it apart from its competitors.

If nothing else, it’s got people talking, challenged perceptions and generated a hell of a lot of interest. And if the 2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special is on your shopping list, we’d like to recommend a few accessories.

To start with, it’s hard to go past a Cardo Electronics communications system, an adventure focused helmet, and a jacket, pants and gloves designed specifically for touring and off road activities.

Our test bike was provided by Harley-Davidson Australia. To find out more about the 2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special, contact your local Harley-Davidson dealer.

2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special
2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special


Riding experience
Style and comfort
Braking and handling
Technology and connectivity
Overall bike performance
Value for money


Pros - new motor is excellent; great bike; gives Harley-Davidson access to an untapped market.
Pros - no quick shifter option; may not be viewed as a pure adventure bike.
Andrew Jenkin
Andrew Jenkin
Andrew Jenkin is the ride editor at Exhaust Notes Australia, founding editor of Two Wheel Addicts, a contributor at Bike Review and panel judge for Harley Davidson's Breakout Boss competition. Andrew has a love for anything on two wheels whether that be sports, naked or adventure bikes, with a guilty pleasure for cruisers.


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<strong>Pros -</strong> new motor is excellent; great bike; gives Harley-Davidson access to an untapped market.<br> <strong>Pros -</strong> no quick shifter option; may not be viewed as a pure adventure bike.2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special (bike review)