Best Adventure Motorcycle of 2021

Ryan Adams
by Ryan Adams

Best Adventure Motorcycle of 2021: Harley-Davidson Pan America

This one may or may not come as much of a surprise to those paying attention. If Harley-Davidson entering the adventure bike segment made waves, then doing so with such a solid offering from the get go was a tsunami that stirred up emotions all across the interwebs. Promising a machine that would compete with motorcycles the likes of BMW’s well-established and venerable GS line while having never operated in the segment previously was bold. The Pan America had detractors from the moment the plan was sussed out by our own Dennis Chung in 2017, where he surmised the moniker’s eventual product category: “… Even wilder, how about a full-fledged American-made ADV?” Wild, indeed. Mr. Chung.

2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special Review – First Ride

From the first few minutes of straddling H-D’s ADV, it was clear that the Pan America was headed in the right direction, “I knew from the moment I twisted my right wrist on the frontage road just outside the Rawhyde Zakar complex that I was in for a good time. ‘Damn,’ I thought to myself as a big ol’ smile stretched across my face, ‘this is going to be fun.’”

Spanning America On The Pan America

And fun it was, both over the introductory ride’s two days in the California desert and the subsequent 5,500 miles that I put on one during a trip around the country. No need to take my word for it, plenty of positive reviews came from other editors, as well as influencers, YouTubers, brand ambassadors, etc. Heck, the other day, I heard that they were still running folks through Rawhyde’s facility out in the desert to experience the machine. It makes sense, of course, the Pan America and the R&D that went into it deserves a hefty investment from all stakeholders.

But back to the bike itself. The Pan America’s Revolution Max motor delivers performance unlike any other in Harley’s past. We saw 134.5 hp at 9,200 rpm and 83 lb-ft of torque at 6,700 rpm cranked out on the dyno at Mickey Cohen Motorsports. That mill combined with a solid chassis equipped with adjustable suspension (that also adapts ride height when equipped) and a low center of gravity made the Harley-Davidson adventure bike easy to ride from the start. On the pavement, it’s just as easy to set the cruise and crush a thousand-mile day as it is hustling through a set of curves – and the torquey V-Twin is game for either. Off-road, the motorcycle holds its own and continues to be a willing partner thanks to the low CoG.

Coming to market with all of the latest tech in terms of switchable ride modes, varying levels of TC and ABS, and the ability to tailor all of them together was necessary, and thankfully, well executed. What really sets the Pan America apart in the ADVerse is the optional adaptive ride height and hydraulic valve lash adjusters, enough so that the former has already been seen in our MOBOs this year for best technology.

Is the Harley-Davidson Pan America the best adventure machine on the market? It depends on what your idea of adventure is, but what is undeniable is the Motor Co.’s achievement in bringing a stellar product to market on its first try. Through innovation, R&D, and a lot of hard work, we’re happy to award the Pan America our Best Adventure Motorcycle of 2021.

Best Adventure Motorcycle of 2021 Runner-Up: KTM 890 Adventure R

And another appearance that may or may not be surprising: the KTM 890 Adventure R takes the runner-up award for 2021. After the 790 won the category in 2019 and finished second in 2020, the KTM ADV R is back as runner-up for 2021 with 90 more CCs, a girthier crank, updates to its transmission, a lighter subframe, and less ride modes as standard.

2021 KTM 890 Adventure R Review – First Ride

2021 Middleweight Adventure Motorcycle Shootout

The 890 Adventure R showcases just how capable a machine in the Adventure category can be. You can get cruise control to pound out the miles between trails while simultaneously being able to venture into some serious off-road riding if you’re game. The punchy 889cc Twin is adept at both. During a previous shootout, our former MOron, Tom Roderick called it, “one of the best parallel-twin engines I’ve ever had the pleasure of riding.” With that playful motor, strong chassis, and tunable electronics, the summation of KTM’s formula results in an incredibly versatile motorcycle and an excellent showcase of what makes adventure motorcycles so appealing. Best of 2021 Categories

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Ryan Adams
Ryan Adams

Ryan’s time in the motorcycle industry has revolved around sales and marketing prior to landing a gig at An avid motorcyclist, interested in all shapes, sizes, and colors of motorized two-wheeled vehicles, Ryan brings a young, passionate enthusiasm to the digital pages of MO.

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2 of 44 comments
  • Angel Blue Angel Blue on Dec 09, 2021

    Just got an email announcing the new Ducati DesertX. I’m not a dirt rider so it’s not my category but the Pan America seems pretty street worthy as well.

  • Corregio Corregio on Dec 13, 2021

    How much did HD pay these guys? What a joke....the KTM smokes the Pan Am in every metric.