2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 First Look

Evans Brasfield
by Evans Brasfield

Five things you need to know about the newest heavyweight adventure bike

The long wait is over, and the 2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America, first sleuthed out on MO in 2017 and announced in 2018, is finally here. Despite the “we’re not late to the adventure market; we invented it way back in the early 1900s” tone of the announcement video, the Pan America looks to be an exciting adventure bike. Still, the fact remains that the Motor Company is a late entry into the well-established, ridiculously-competitive adventure market. (Let’s not forget that much of the adventure segment’s growth is now in the ultra-hot middleweight class, not the heavyweights.) The Pan America is the most important new motorcycle Harley has announced in years, and it has a lot riding on it. After all, the latest quarterly report showed some rather large red numbers ($96 million in 2020’s fourth fiscal quarter). Regardless, we are always interested in what Harley has to offer as it makes another foray outside of the heavyweight cruiser/tourer market that it almost exclusively inhabits.

We’ve been intrigued with what the name Pan America holds for the riding public since 2017, and we’re excited that the time is officially at hand. There will be two models, the Pan America 1250 ($17,319) and the Pan America 1250 Special ($19,999). Here are five things you need to know about the motorcycle that Harley has pinned so many hopes on in 2021.

1. Revolution Max 1250 Engine

The Pan America introduces an all-new Harley powerplant to the world, and it contains several notable features. We’ll start with the basics. The engine configuration is a V-Twin, though the V is a 60° one instead of the traditional 45° V. The bore and stroke are 105mm x 72mm, yielding a 1250cc displacement paired to a 13:1 compression ratio. An oversquare configuration is a rarity among current Harleys (now that the VRods are gone), which rely on low- and mid-rpm torque for their motivation. An oversquare engine can also rev higher, and the Revolution Max tops out at a sky high (for Harley) 9,500 rpm.

Moving down from the pistons, in a move calling on the Motor Company’s flat track racing experience, the connecting rods are offset by 30° and deliver a 90° firing order. Harley claims that this delivers smoother power at high rpm and provides pulses that may improve traction in some off-road environments.

The 1250 also uses single-piece aluminum cylinders with a “nickel silicon carbide-surface galvanic coating” as is common among most performance motorcycle engines. This, along with magnesium rocker covers, camshaft covers, and primary cover, help to reduce the engine’s weight

The Revolution Max 1250 Engine also represents Harley-Davidson’s latest, and most performance-focused journey into full-fledged liquid cooling. Since adventure bikes are used in widely varied conditions, including extended low-speed slogs through technical terrain, liquid cooling will help keep the engine and oil temperatures from skyrocketing. Also, by reducing engine noise, the designers have the ability to beef up intake and exhaust sound while observing EPA regulations.

2. Overhead Cams and Variable Valve Timing

You read that right. There are no pushrods in the Revolution Max engine. Instead, the heads feature DOHC and four valves per cylinder. The valves themselves are operated by roller-equipped fingers. Additionally, to keep the actuators in constant contact with the valves, hydraulic lash adjusters are utilized, making the valves maintenance-free. Plus, from a performance perspective, the hydraulic lash adjusters allow for more aggressive cam profiles since the followers are kept in constant contact with the cam surfaces.

And now, Variable Valve Timing. According to MO Sleuth, Dennis Chung: “The VVT is a bit of a surprise, as there had previously been no indication it would be used on this engine. We knew Harley was working on VVT, but all previous evidence linked it to a pushrod engine, not a DOHC.” This technology will be a real help in adventure riding scenarios, where having both low-rpm grunt and high-rpm power will pay off from the single track to canyon highways. (We’d be remiss if we didn’t point out that two direct competitors of the Pan America, the BMW R1250GS and the Ducati Multistrada Multistrada 1260 Enduro, also use variable valves.) Harley also notes that “VVT may improve fuel efficiency and increase range from each tank.” Additionally, when the engine shuts down, the intake cams are set to full retard while the exhaust cams are set to full advance, resulting in lower compression for easier starts. The cam-timing magic is accomplished via a solenoid plunger that controls ported hydraulics to alter the timing.

All of this adds up to a broad, flat power band with 94 lb-ft torque and 150 hp peaks.

3. Modular Chassis and Semi-Active Suspension

Since Harley considers the Pan America to be a performance motorcycle, the chassis was designed around achieving a certain power-to-weight ratio. As was seen in the construction of the engine, lightness was a primary focus. The same is true of the chassis, which uses the engine as a stressed member, thus eliminating Harley’s traditional frame structure. The result is three distinct elements that bolt directly to the powertrain: the front frame, the mid frame and the tail section. (Note: this should also facilitate the use of the Revolution Max engine in other models.) A cast-aluminum swingarm is used for weight savings.

Surprisingly, cast-aluminum wheels are used instead of spoked units, which are more off-road worthy and durable. Still, the hoops are 19- and 17-inches front and rear, respectively, for a wide range of adventure tire options. (Tubeless laced wheels are an option on the Pan America 1250 Special model.) The primary tire fitment is bespoke Michelin Scorcher Adventure tires with Michelin Anakee Wild as a more off-road focused factory option.

For suspension choices on the 62.2-inch wheelbase Pan America, Harley has created two different models. The base model has fully-adjustable Showa suspenders front and rear, with 7.48 inches of travel at both ends. (Who knew that Harley could give riders real rear suspension travel?)

It wouldn’t be a Harley without a ton of available factory accessories.

The Pan America 1250 Special ups the ante with a Showa semi-active suspension, which “Utilizing data provided by sensors on the motorcycle… automatically controls damping to suit the prevailing conditions and riding activity.” Additionally, the Vehicle Loading Control system adjusts the rear suspension sag by sensing the load weight and altering the rear preload accordingly. Finally, as an innovative factory option on the Special, Adaptive Ride Height alters ride height based on motorcycle movement. At a stop, the seat height is lowered by 1-2 inches, but raises the bike to normal 33.4-inch to 34.4-inch ride height once under way. This will be a game changer for shorter adventure bike fans.

4. State-of-the-Art Electronics

As one would expect from a modern motorcycle, the Pan America features ride-by-wire throttle and the electronic adjustments it facilitates. The five ride modes include: Road, Sport, Rain, Off-Road, and Off-Road Plus. Each of those modes include specific settings for power delivery, engine braking, Cornering Enhanced Antilock Braking System (for the Brembo brakes), and Cornering Enhanced Traction Control System. Switching is allowed on-the-fly as road conditions change (although Harley says there are un-specified exceptions).

The cockpit features a ton of controls. Look closely, and you’ll see the semi-active suspension.

The domination of the motorcycle world by IMUs continues with the 1250. After all, how can a current motorcycle not receive technology that has the capability to increase both fun and safety? To that end, the Pan America sports Cornering Rider Safety Enhancements, which is Harley-speak for Cornering Enhanced Electronically Linked Braking, Cornering Enhanced Antilock Braking System, Cornering Enhanced Traction Control System, Cornering Enhanced Drag-Torque Slip Control System, and Hill Hold Control.

5. Modern Amenities

Not surprisingly, the Pan America carries TFT instrumentation that has grown so popular in recent years. However, there is one nifty feature that not many motorcycles have: adjustable tilt to optimize the rider’s viewing. The instrumentation also pairs to iOS and Android phones through an app for entertainment and navigation.

The 6.8-inch TFT offers screens of information galore.

While the standard Pan America receives cruise control, you’ll have to step up to the Special to get standard heated grips. The Special also receives a Tire Pressure Monitoring System. Special owners also benefit from the Advanced Daymaker Adaptive Headlamp, which also illuminates three cornering LEDs on each side based at 8 degrees, 15 degrees, and 23 degrees of motorcycle lean.

Join other fans of the Harley-Davidson Pan America at PanAmericaForums.com

For now, that’s all we know about the 2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America, but you can bet that we’ll be sampling one as soon as the Motor Company’s media department lets us throw a leg over one and put it through the paces.

2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Specifications


Pan America 1250

Pan America 1250 Special

Engine Type1250cc liquid-cooled, 60° V-Twin, DOHC, four valves per cylinder
Bore and Stroke105mm x 72mm
Compression Ratio13:1
Rear Wheel Horsepower150 hp
Torque (claimed)94 lb-ft @ 9,500 rpm
Final DriveChain
Front Suspension47mm inverted fork with compression, rebound and spring preload adjustability47mm inverted fork with electronically adjustable semi-active damping control
Rear SuspensionLinkage-mounted, piggyback monoshock with compression, rebound and hydraulic spring preload adjustabilityLinkage-mounted monoshock with automatic electronic preload control and semi-active compression & rebound damping
Front BrakeDual radially mounted, monoblock, 4-piston calipers
Rear BrakeFloating, single piston caliper
Front Tire120/70R19 60V Michelin Scorcher Adventure, Michelin Anakee Wild (option)
Rear Tire170/60R17 72V Michelin Scorcher Adventure, Michelin Anakee Wild (option)
Rake/Trail25°/6.2 in.
Wheelbase62.2 in.
Seat Height34.2 in., 35.2 in.
Curb Weight (Claimed)534 lbs.559 lbs.
Fuel Capacity5.6 gal.
ColorsVivid Black, River Rock GrayVivid Black, Gauntlet Gray Metallic, Baja Orange/Stone Washed White Pearl
Evans Brasfield
Evans Brasfield

Like most of the best happenings in his life, Evans stumbled into his motojournalism career. While on his way to a planned life in academia, he applied for a job at a motorcycle magazine, thinking he’d get the opportunity to write some freelance articles. Instead, he was offered a full-time job in which he discovered he could actually get paid to ride other people’s motorcycles – and he’s never looked back. Over the 25 years he’s been in the motorcycle industry, Evans has written two books, 101 Sportbike Performance Projects and How to Modify Your Metric Cruiser, and has ridden just about every production motorcycle manufactured. Evans has a deep love of motorcycles and believes they are a force for good in the world.

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2 of 257 comments
  • Chris Chubb Chris Chubb on Mar 02, 2021

    A brand new motor using new technology in a new frame using new electrical, hydraulic and suspension components. I sure hope they have an intensive factory service training plan in place because most HD dealer techs are going to have to go back to school to even boot this bike up.

  • LUIGI LUIGI on May 14, 2021

    Just purchased and tested the Pan America S with Semi-Automatic Suspension (standard option on the S).
    So far, I have these comments:
    Engine is really amazing, great torque, lots of power
    Suspension is not bad
    Design is unique
    Very cheap finish (front headlight fairing is held by pop up clamps and with vibration it gets loose)
    Very little protection to several parts on the bike (even though this is the S)
    Seat is very uncomfortable, make you slip forward and it is very hard on your rear
    Tank top plastic is very cheap
    Sparking Plugs cable is an obstruction, always touching you inner leg
    Bike is as high as every other adventure bike (unless you pay 1K extra for ARH)
    Engine makes A LOT OF NOISE
    AND ABOVE ALL, Harley Dealer Sales people are not INTO IT, and they seem not to care to sell the bike...no knowledge, no interest in pleasing their new line of customer.

    Enjoy your ride.