Adventure Motorcycle Review: The Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250

Harely-Davidson has been making iconic motorcycles since 1903, but this is its first foray into adventure bikes

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We know that getting deep into the backcountry often requires a rugged all-terrain vehicle. But most of you probably don’t realize that a motorcycle is just as capable (maybe more so) as a four-wheel drive truck or SUV—it just can’t haul near as much gear. Harley-Davidson, the iconic motorcycle brand, entered the adventure motorcycle fray this year with its Pan America 1250, a rugged off-roader that sports a powerful 1,252-cubic-centimeter, liquid-cooled V-twin engine that produces 150-horsepower.

Motorcycles have long been able to access remote areas of the world. Thrill-seekers like Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman chose the BMW R 1200 GS to take them on a trip around the world. And the Indian military uses the Royal Enfield Himalayan to patrol mountain passes as high as 18,700 feet above sea level. They are highly-capable machines that can go places larger vehicles simply cannot; ideal for solo adventurers looking to get off-pavement.

Though adventure motorcycles (ADVs) are not new, they are for Harley-Davidson. The American motorcycle manufacturer launched the Pan America 1250 to be a true all-terrain contender. As both a motorcycle and outdoor enthusiast, I was excited to test the bike and see just how capable it was. Here’s how the Pan America performed.

Pan America 1250 Specs

First, here is a close look at the design of Harley-Davidson’s new Pan America 1250:

  • Type: Adventure touring
  • Trim levels: Pan America 1250; Pan America 1250 Special
  • Engine: 1,252-cubic-centimeter liquid-cooled V-twin
  • Power output: 150-horsepower, 94 ft-lbs of torque
  • Ride modes: Rain, Road, Sport, Off-Road, Off-Road Plus
  • Total cargo volume: 116 liters (sport luggage); 120 liters (aluminum luggage); 100 liters (adventure soft luggage); eight liters (tank bag)
  • Weight: 534 pounds (Pan America 1250); 559 pounds (Pan America 1250 Special)
  • Fuel capacity: 5.6 gallons
  • Price: $17,319 (Pan America 1250); $19,999 (Pan America 1250 Special)

The Pan America Is a Different Kind of Hunting Vehicle

The skid plate on the Pan America is beefy.
A beefy skid plate protects the Pan America from potential mishaps. Scott Murdock

The first thing you need to understand about an adventure motorcycle are its capabilities and limitations. Adventure and dual-sport motorcycles tend to be much quicker than your average 4×4 off-road because they can pick through rough terrain instead of crawling over it. They accelerate and brake like you wouldn’t believe, and only have a fraction of the weight to bog them down compared to other vehicles. Full-size adventure bikes like the Pan America 1250 aren’t as nimble as dual-sports, but they compensate by eating highway miles without making you feel like you spent the morning in a coffee grinder. Once you hit the trails, get ready to leave trucks and SUVs in your dust.

Cargo space is limited on a motorcycle, but I’m impressed with how much gear fits into the Pan America’s three aluminum cases. Everything in my 65-liter pack—including a tent, cold-weather sleeping bag, and extra boots—fit into the saddlebags with room to spare. That left the top case free to keep my helmet and a few small items safely tucked away. If you completely butchered a small deer or antelope in the field, it would be possible to transport it in the optional hard cases. Harley-Davidson doesn’t offer a scabbard for long guns or fishing rods, but there are aftermarket options available, or you can simply bring along a takedown rifle or rod. Soft bags are available for the bike and they are cheaper, but I strongly recommend lockable metal cases that offer better protection for stored valuables.

There are plenty of motorcycles in the adventure segment that fall short of real all-terrain capability. They look the part, but can’t back it up because they lack the right components or hang delicate things like oil filters out in the open where they can easily be broken by a simple tip-over or high-center. The Pan America isn’t one of those pretenders. Crash protection in the form of engine bars, hand guards, and a beefy skid plate protect against inevitable mishaps. Off-road engine mapping and suspension programming make the big bike incredibly manageable in the dirt. Thoughtful details like aggressive metal footpegs with removable rubber inserts show that Harley-Davidson did its homework.

While the Pan America 1250 is more than capable, keep in mind that riding a big adventure bike takes a significant amount of skill compared to steering a truck down a logging road. Not only will you need to hone your two-wheeled skills, but physical fitness will play a much bigger role in your adventures when wrangling more than 550 pounds of machine and cargo. If you don’t have the aptitude yet, it will take work to enjoy the Pan America 1250, but it will also open up a new world of challenges and experiences.

Harley-Davidson's first adventure motorcycle is the Pan America 1250
The 2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special. Scott Murdock

How I Tested the Harley-Davidson Pan America

During my week with the Pan America 1250 Special, I logged about 500 miles of varied riding. From the Harley-Davidson headquarters in Milwaukee, I rode it about 2 hours home on winding country roads. The comfortable seating position, adjustable seat, and cruise control made the trip a breeze. Having a fuel gauge is a big help too if you’re keeping track of a 5.6-gallon tank that can gobble up the road 250 miles at a time. Harley-Davidson also equips the Pan America with Bluetooth connectivity so riders can make calls, listen to music, and use voice commands.

Around town, I used the bike to run errands, go to the gym, and even do my weekly grocery run. The heated grips are nice during chilly morning rides, and locking hard cases are great for keeping valuables safe while the bike is parked. Road mode suits the majority of around-town riding, while rain mode dials back the power and throttle response significantly when traction is limited or new riders need to get familiar with the bike.

To get a feel for the Pan America’s off-road chops, I spent a day riding dirt roads and loose gravel. You could get away with using Road mode in that kind of terrain, but Off-Road mode allows for a little more grip with the rear wheel, softens the suspension, and adjusts throttle response to make the whole package more dirt-friendly. Off-Road Plus mode is more aggressive, offers less intervention from the electronic rider aids, and comes in handy when you want to get off the beaten path in a hurry. During this portion of my test, I was always aware that the Pan America 1250 wasn’t a dedicated trail bike, but there aren’t many 500-pound-plus motorcycles I’d rather own for both highway and off-road duty.

Where Does the Pan America 1250 Excel?

The Pan America was great to ride and can haul plenty of gear. During my test, I couldn’t wait to roll the bike out of the garage every morning, and I was never quite ready to put it away. This bike has legitimate credentials outdoorsmen and women who have direct access to the wild—and those of us who have drive on pavement to get there—will appreciate.

If you don’t have the luxury of opening your front door to a wilderness paradise, it’s important to have a vehicle that can cover significant distances on the highway before turning onto a dirt road or trail. In that regard, the Pan America 1250 feels like a quintessential Harley: comfortable and effortless. Road mode allows you to ride the pavement effortlessly, with enough power to pass in any gear. Rain mode calms things down when the road gets slick, and Sport mode uncorks all 150-horsepower with a sharper throttle response and stiffer suspension for more speed.

A sophisticated Showa suspension gives riders optimal performance, regardless of whether the Pan America 1250 is stripped down for a day of canyon-carving or loaded with full cases and a passenger. Unlike other manufacturers, whose definition of maximum speed fluctuates depending on payload, Harley-Davidson assures its customers that the 130-mile-per-hour top speed (while not legal on public roads) is attainable even at full capacity.

Off-road, the Pan America 1250 sticks its line better than any bike this big has a right to. My skills (and bravery) aren’t on par with that of some testers but, I have no problem trusting the Pan America on a fast, loose gravel road. It also handles low-speed maneuvers on uneven terrain much better than its height and weight suggest, which is critical on a backwoods trail. By the end of my first ride, I was happily no-footing stop signs without so much as a wiggle. Yes, the big Harley is more of a touring bike than a dirt bike, but that mix isn’t as skewed as you might think.

In the world of hunting and fishing, all this translates to a machine that’s capable of navigating unforgiving routes deep into the wilderness. It can squeeze between trees and scramble over rocks. Low-speed stability is good enough to let riders survey the landscape and stand up when they need a better view. Upon reaching the perfect spot, the Pan America 1250 is small enough to cover with a camouflage tarp or netting. The stock exhaust is also surprisingly quiet.

Where Does the Pan America 1250 Fall Short?

Despite all the reasons you should make the Pan America your next hunting vehicle, there are two issues you need to consider. These have less to do with the Pan America 1250 itself, and more to do with the realities of motorcycling.

Cargo space is the first elephant in the room. While there’s ample room for gear, large items like long guns, bows, and fishing rods require some creativity to carry on two wheels. There’s also the issue of carrying your harvest home. Putting a few fish or birds on ice isn’t a problem, but transporting bigger game probably isn’t in the cards unless you fully debone the animal, and even then it must be a small one. There’s also the reality of needing two sets of equipment: one for hunting and one for riding. I don’t condone trusting your skin to a Mossy Oak shirt any more than I advise hunting in leathers and a full-face helmet.

The other reality is that motorcycles require riders to constantly hone their skills. It’s another hobby, another expense, and another commitment vying for your time. If you’re new to riding, don’t expect to just plunk down a deposit and hit the trail; hustling a bike this big over uneven terrain takes practice. You’ll also need to account for another insurance policy and additional maintenance costs (although the Pan America’s hydraulic valve actuation means you’re basically only looking at replacing tires, brakes, and fluids).

Despite what we might tell ourselves, motorcycles do not save us money. I don’t care how bad your truck’s fuel economy is; it isn’t bad enough to offset a $20,000 motorcycle, accessories, insurance, and upkeep in reduced fuel costs. Now, if you own a car and you’re comparing a truck with a motorcycle for warm-weather hunting and fishing, then you might be onto something.

Is the Pan America 1250 a Legitimate Hunting and Fishing Rig?

The Pan America does have limits.
In short, the Pan America is a legit hunting rig with limits. Scott Murdock

Hunting and fishing is about connecting with nature and chasing adventure, so motorcycles absolutely have a place in that world. A bike will take you places that trucks, SUVs, ATVs, and UTVs just can’t reach. They’ll immerse you in sights, smells, and fresh air in a way that four-wheeled vehicles never will. The Pan America deserves serious consideration.

No, it can’t do everything a truck can do. But that’s okay, because it offers so much more in other ways. Spend a weekend sorting out how to mount a rifle case to the luggage racks (there’s a perfect spot just above the muffler) to make this a viable hunting vehicle. Get some hose clamps and mount a piece of PVC with screw-on caps to the subframe to store your fishing rod. Toss a contractor bag and maybe a few ice packs into one of the saddlebags, and you’ve got a built-in meat locker for the ride home.

So yes, it’s a legitimate hunting and fishing vehicle with limitations. If nothing else, the Pan America 1250 will force you to reevaluate which pieces of gear you really need, and which you’ve been dragging around because you have extra room. Or maybe it will force you to become a different kind of hunter altogether.

Read Next: How to Build an ATV Tough Enough for Alaska’s Backcountry

Factory Options for the Pan America

Aftermarket support for this new model is still ramping up, but there are a few factory options I’d make sure to opt for if I were ordering a Harley-Davidson Pan America for myself.

  • 1250 Special. Anyone looking to turn the Pan America into their hunting rig should spend the extra $2,680 to get the upper-tier Pan America 1250 Special. The tubeless laced wheels are a major advantage off-road, and the upgraded suspension is a game-changer. Protective features like hand guards and a metal skid plate are included, too. Shorter riders will appreciate the bike’s adaptive ride height feature, which lowers the bike as it comes to a stop to provide better footing.
  • Perfect paint. Are you more of a camouflage or blaze-orange kind of hunter? The Pan America has you covered either way with paint Harley-Davidson calls Deadwood Green and Baja Orange. Both are opening-day appropriate, and both look fantastic.
  • Aluminum hard cases. Luggage comes in several varieties, but I recommend the rugged aluminum ones, which are available in natural aluminum or black. They aren’t cheap ($950 for the side cases and $530 for the top case), but having hard, lockable luggage is a must for serious touring. Don’t forget the mounting systems, which are sold separately ($290 for the side cases, $150 for the top case).