The Harley Pan-America should have been named Dirt Glide – or not?

Harley-Davidson Pan America offroad

Lovers of leather and loud exhausts, bewarned – Harley-Davidson is now promising thrill-seeker weekends of a different sort. By rolling out the first modern offroad-capable bike to wear the famous bar and shield, the Motor Company is looking to crack open the hearts and wallets of ADV enthusiasts.

And it’s no secret that we are a demanding bunch, us ADV riders. Right now the motorcycling world is up to its sweaty armpits in bikes that promise to help you look and live like Bear Grylls in a helmet. Here at Rude Machinery we take the “live” part of adventuring seriously though, which means parking on the grass patch outside Starbucks, or tip-toeing down gravel lanes to a certain Scout Camp, don’t count.

Many a moto-journo here has already given the Harley-Davidson Pan America the thumbs up for its on-road chops, with thorough reviews of its modern tech arsenal that we won’t waste pixels repeating. But since the best explorations often get filthy, how does it really fare as an offroad tool? From spec sheet to jungle and then back onto respectable tarmac again, we take it on a proper measure of an adventure bike.

On our sunrise-to-sunset quest, we rolled out on the Pan America 1250 Special, the up-spec version which comes with all the bells and whistles – crash bars, tyre pressure monitoring, semi-active suspension and optional adaptive ride height feature.

Harley-Davidson Pan America offroad

Here’s what we liked about it:

RIDER FRIENDLINESS

We can’t sing enough praises of the adaptive ride height feature, which is a real confidence booster for short-legged Asians. This automatically lowers the seat height when the bike comes to a stop, allowing most people to flat-foot reassuringly on the (dirty) ground, without compromising ground clearance and suspension travel. Aside from being clever, it’s also very stealthy – you’ll hardly notice it happening. When will the other marques get in on this tech too?

OFFROAD MANNERS

At over-250 kilos, a cow, but not an awkward one. A low CG helps to hide its weight, and a long, relatively slim tank lends itself to a more natural grip posture while standing on the pegs. Tim and Cherie, both eye-rollers at typical ADV marketing spiel which tends to over-promise and under-deliver, found the Harley planted and balanced on rough, muddy terrain.

We (Cherie) also had a little tip-over with the bike on a slippery root, and it took the knocks with hardy aplomb, firing up easily again with nothing more than scuffs on the handlebar guards. The brakes were also responsive without being overly hard-biting. It’s true, muscling a big bike through the wet jungle isn’t usually many people’s idea of fun, but the Pan Am’s thoughtful design and an intelligent suspension system left us pleasantly surprised.

Harley-Davidson Pan America offroad

USABLE POWER

150 horses are a handful, but when the going gets rough, how much of that is actually usable for the average rider? In Offroad-plus mode, we found the Harley’s low end grunt quite delightful on hill climbs and for tractoring through mud, while still retaining a linear, non-intimidating character. On-road, the Pan Am really kicked up its heels in Sport mode and was a pleasure to throw around in corners. Amusing though, that its exhaust note is closer to a Ducati than the classic Harley rumble…

TOLERABLE ENGINE HEAT

You might already be familiar with the monstrous, hair-devouring heat of the typical air-cooled Harley. The Pan America, while no chill Honda, doesn’t cook thighs in a traffic jam like its brethren – and that’s a win.

Harley-Davidson Pan America adventure

We didn’t like:

ELECTRONICS OVERKILL

Offroad, simplicity is king. Many of the frills you’d enjoy on-road can quickly become an annoyance – namely the long time the bike takes to boot up, with all those electronic aids. To this, we discovered a work-around – flick the kill switch without turning off the ignition, and the TFT display stays on, along with your traction control settings.

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ODD SEATING ERGONOMICS

A little qualifier here – standing ergonomics were just fine, offroad. But since most of you will spend 90% of ADV-bike-time with your ass actually on the saddle, it’s worth noting that the high footpegs make things a little cramped for taller riders. Also, the long, slim tank gets in the way of a more natural “forward” sitting posture that should allow the elbows to be held high in the classic ADV “attack” position. Perhaps this is where the cruiser DNA shows itself, but it’s definitely awkward for those accustomed to dualsporters.

Harley-Davidson Pan America on road in Singapore
Harley-Davidson Pan America in Singapore

RAIN AND ROAD MODES

We spent most time in Offroad-plus and Sport, since the other modes are somewhat limp. Less adept riders would appreciate the Road mode in tight bends, where the Pan Am feels a little long and less quick-turning. Rain mode turns the bike into a deflated sofa with muted throttle response – a complete about-turn from the zesty Sport mode.

Harley-Davidson Pan America road

We won’t lay down our subjective opinions on other divisive topics like looks, sound and vibration-factor, but the gist of it is that Harley has made a respectable entrance into the ADV game. Clever tech has taken the guesswork out of performance settings, and much of the fear out of exploration. It’s by no means a high-performance dualsport for the truly hardcore, but it’s entertaining on pavement and off, which means you can have your mudcake and eat it too.

Now, a short video that says it all – lean back and enjoy our weekend of Harley hoonery under the Singapore sun:

For a test ride and detailed specs, visit Harley-Davidson of Singapore.

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