Harley-Davidson Claims Pan America Special is North America's Top Selling Adventure Bike

Dennis Chung
by Dennis Chung

Is the RA1250S the #1 selling ADV?

Harley-Davidson sent out a press release making the bold claim that the Pan America 1250 Special is the best-selling adventure-touring motorcycle in North America. Unfortunately, the press release (included in full below) doesn’t provide any specific data to back up the claim.

This isn’t the first time Harley-Davidson has made such a claim. Jochen Zeitz, Harley-Davidson CEO, made a similar statement during the Q2 2021 earnings call on July 21, claiming the Pan America was “the number one selling adventure-touring model in the US in the month of May and June”. Today’s press release would suggest that the Pan America Special’s sales in July and August continued that momentum, with Zeitz claiming to have sold out the entire 2021 allocation.

But is it true? That’s hard to say for certain, but we’ll try our best to find out.

The best source of information that could confirm or disprove Harley’s claim is the Motorcycle Industry Council, a not-for-profit national trade association that represents manufacturers, retailers, distributors and other powersports-related businesses. Most of the major motorcycle manufacturers are members, and several have representatives on the MIC’s board of directors. The MIC compiles sales data from its members, so it would be able to tell if Harley-Davidson’s claims are true.

Unfortunately, though the MIC periodically releases some broad industry sales figures, it keeps more specific data a closely guarded secret. If we were given access to those figures, we’d also be honor-bound not to share it with the public. The MIC can’t help us find out if the Pan America Special really is the top-selling ADV on the continent (and yes, the MIC does only cover the U.S., while Harley-Davidson’s claims include Canada. Harley-Davidson’s Canadian sales represent about 7% of its North American numbers, so for the purpose of this exercise, we’re mainly going to focus on U.S. figures).

harley davidson claims pan america special is north america s top selling adventure

We can make some inferences though. For one, any manufacturer who could have sold more adventure-touring motorcycles than Harley-Davidson would be a member of the MIC and have access to its numbers. If the Pan America Special isn’t the top-selling adventure bike, the true top-selling manufacturer could easily cry foul. Harley-Davidson likely would not make such a bold claim unless there was some element of truth to it.

While the MIC’s data can’t help us, Harley-Davidson’s Q2 results do give us some clues. According to its official quarterly report filing to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (S.E.C.), Harley-Davidson shipped 4,048 adventure-touring motorcycles in the three months ended June 27, 2021. The Q2 shipment number reflects worldwide shipments, but it’s probably safe to assume that the bulk of the deliveries were to the U.S. We don’t, however, have an indication of how many of those shipments were Pan America Specials and how many were the base model.

When it comes to Harley-Davidson’s cited sales and market share data, we have to acknowledge some asterisks. For one, Harley’s claims about sales and market share typically only considers motorcycles with engine displacements larger than 601cc. Smaller models like the BMW G310GS, Kawasaki Versys-X 300 and KTM 390 Adventure have carved their own niche, but we don’t know if Harley-Davidson is acknowledging their sales figures.

Another caveat: Harley-Davidson typically only mentions shipments to dealerships and not sales to customers. In the case of the Pan America, however, according to a report on May 26 by the Milwaukee Business Journal, dealerships in southeast Wisconsin are handing them over to customers almost immediately, with some dealerships having waiting lists.

The Business Journal’s report is only for a small sample size and is just a snapshot of the first weeks of Pan America deliveries. If the reports of deposits and waiting lists are widespread, then it’s conceivable Harley-Davidson did deliver close to 4,000 Pan America models to customers by early July. Unfortunately, we don’t know how many Pan America models were shipped in July and August, but 4,000 models in a month and a half is quite a feat. To provide perspective on that number, we can turn to an unlikely source of sales figures: product recalls.

An Aug. 13, 2020 recall for leaking brake calipers covered 2,681 units of the 2019 BMW R 1250 GS in the U.S. that were produced from Sept. 19, 2018 to March 13, 2020, or a period of about 18 months. The recall also included 3,262 units of the R 1250 GS Adventure in the U.S., all produced in a 16-month period.

harley davidson claims pan america special is north america s top selling adventure

An April 30, 2021 KTM recall for a weak front brake return spring covered 3,707 units of the 790 Adventure, including the base model, the R and the R Rally variants across model years 2019 and 2020. This covered models sold in the U.S. that were produced from Feb. 14, 2019 to Feb. 28, 2020, or a little more than 12 months.

Compared to the GS, probably the definitive ADV on the market, and the 790 Adventure, a MOBO Motorcycle of the Year winner, the Pan America’s numbers over a month and a half look pretty strong.

In other words, if only half of the 4,048 models shipped in Q2 were Specials delivered to consumers in North America (and that’s likely a conservative estimate), it’s entirely plausible that the Harley-Davidson Pan America Special was the top-selling adventure-touring model on the continent since its launch. And that’s not even counting the last two months.

While we can’t be sure about the exact sales numbers for the PA Special, or its competitors, there is not enough evidence to prove Harley-Davidson’s claim false. From what evidence we can gather, there may be enough to consider it might be true after all.

harley davidson claims pan america special is north america s top selling adventure

Begin Press Release


Built to Endure, Designed to Explore, and Engineered for Adventure

MILWAUKEE (August 30, 2021) – Since launching in February 2021, the Pan America™ 1250 Special adventure touring motorcycle has taken the motorcycling world by storm. In creating the Pan America™, Harley-Davidson leveraged its cutting-edge design and engineering capabilities to create both the Pan America 1250 and Pan America 1250 Special. Today, we are pleased to announce that the Pan America 1250 Special has become the #1 selling adventure touring motorcycle in North America.

Jochen Zeitz, Chairman, CEO and President, Harley-Davidson:
“Taking inspiration from our heritage, we wanted to create a motorcycle that redefined the adventure touring category and most importantly was designed and built in America. With the Pan America Special now the #1 selling ADV motorcycle model in North America, we targeted a selective expansion into adventure touring as part of the Hardwire Strategy with the goal to reach new and existing Harley-Davidson customers. Pan America is squarely built on our mission to deliver a timeless pursuit of adventure for our riders. Those who now own or have tested one of our Pan America’s absolutely love this bike – having sold out of our 2021 allocation, we are excited about what the future has in store for Pan America and for the Adventure Touring category at Harley-Davidson.”

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2 of 63 comments
  • HeDidn'tWeDid HeDidn'tWeDid on Sep 06, 2021

    Regardless of actual numbers, this is good news for HD and also for non-HD riders. It means they have a successful model that 'may' pull them in new directions with some serious R&D devoted to motorcycles that are not chrome showboats. It is also good news for people like me who live (in Arkansas) in areas where the closest Triumph/Ducati/BMW dealership is well over 200 miles away. This is one of the reasons I bought an Indian FTR Rally because I have a dealership close to me. HD has even more dealerships than Indian and you can find one regardless of where you live in the US. Having said all that, the Pan-America is impressive. I got to see one in the flesh and it would be a serious contender for my future ADV money.

  • Corregio Corregio on Sep 24, 2021

    I call BS, there are over 150 available on cycletrader and there are USED models available as well. The Pan Am is an uninspired last ditch effort to break out of the " oh please let me give you 30k so I can pretend I'm a bad ass" mode they've been in forever. There have been two catastrophic engine failures and many reports of cooling and, charging and sensor issues. Also, If you want to outfit it to actually ADV ride with it's gonna be 30G out the door, at least in Cali it is. The KTM 1290 Super R stomps the HDs dick straight into the dirt but HD knows that there will always be the orange blooded faithful who will fork over their hard earned money for an inferior product because.....Murica ...will be interesting to see how long the Pan Am last. Can you say "V Rod"?