Review: 2022 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special

Review: 2022 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special

The first impression is always the most important, whether you’re visiting your potential mother-in-law for the first time, going to a job interview, or seeing a brand-new bike at a motorcycle show. The Harley-Davidson Pan America sure made an impression when it stood undisguised and naked in a glass box at the 2019 EICMA show in Milan, Italy.

Built with honest engineering, the bike was pleasingly proportioned and robustly knitted around the 1250cc Revolution Max engine. In 2021, the Motor Company’s first adventure bike hit the showrooms, featuring a front fairing and headlight design like nothing before.

Some found the Pan America’s style to resemble a knight's armor for the campaign against the top dog, the BMW GS series.

Review: 2022 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special

To put the ADV bike through its paces, an endurance test of around 2,000 miles was on the agenda. The planned tour led from Germany via motorways and country roads to Italy and back again, with gravel stretches in between.

The test bike was the 2022 Special version with electronically adjustable semi-active suspension elements from Showa with 7.5 inches travel front and rear. Further equipment included two aluminum panniers, the Screamin’ Eagle silencer, cross-spoke wheels, and engine and radiator guards, as well as a quickshifter and automatic seat height adjustment.

With these accessories, the price of the test bike settled around $24,000, which is on a par with comparably equipped competing machines, such as the BMW R 1250 GS and Ducati Multistrada V4.

The First Miles

The dynamic qualities of the Pan America were already praised during the first presentations, thanks to the powerful, 76.4-cubic-inch (1252cc) V-twin engine with a cylinder spread of 60 degrees and a 30-degree crank pin offset. With 150 ponies at 9,000 rpm and torque of 94 lb-ft already at 6,750 rpm (thanks to variable valve timing) the powerplant is on the strong side.

For the chassis, the bike relies on a composite frame made of tubular steel with aluminum plates to hold the swingarm and footrests. The engine is a stressed member of the frame and the rear frame—also made of tubular steel—is bolted on.

Review: 2022 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special

During the first miles on the freeway heading south, the rider's seat proved to be very comfortable and even after a whole day in the saddle, my bottom didn’t get sore. The positioning of the handlebar and footrests also ensure a relaxed posture and vibrations hardly reach the rider.

The wind protection is good. With my height of 5 feet and 11 inches, the middle position of the adjustable windshield suited my ADV helmet best—my arms and legs were sufficiently protected to keep my textile suit from fluttering.

The unobtrusive noise levels of the engine, airbox, and accessory exhaust were pleasant.

On the winding Brenner autobahn through the Alps, the ultra-stable chassis of the Pan America, with a long 62.4-inch wheelbase, flew through the left lane.

A Steady Rider

From Trent, Italy, the road plowed through the Pasubio mountains and over the Fricca Pass toward Venice. Narrow roads wound through the Vicentine Alps, the asphalt crumbling in some parts and often with grit and dirt on the pavement.

Review: 2022 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special

In sport mode with average values for throttle response and braking torque, the Pan America’s power delivery was quite dynamic. Meanwhile, the soft off-road mode for the suspension made the chassis more comfortable while still maintaining great precision.

The engine turns smoothly under load from around 2,500 rpm and the gear ratios match well to offer the right kick out of the bends. Shifting is good, neutral is easy to find, and the clutch requires little manual effort.

When the engine is cold, though, the clutch plucks a little and gives an undefined release point. Occasionally, the cold engine stalled within the first few hundred yards when taking off in the morning, like when stopping at a junction.

Due to the size of the Pan America and the wide, asymmetrical panniers (that will not fit a full-face helmet), utmost caution and precision was required on narrow mountain roads with oncoming truck traffic to keep the machine on the far right edge of the road. The windshield is quickly set to the lowest level with one hand to give you a full view of the road.

Despite being fully loaded, the Harley-Davidson retained its good steering precision. I got a little ponderous only in tight switchbacks, but that’s with keeping in mind the 585-pound wet weight of the bike alone.

Review: 2022 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special

On the fast descent down to the Po Valley, the road opened up and the increased speed did not affect the braking system or cause any fading.

Taking Stock

After almost 800 miles of brisk riding over three days, it was time for my first evaluation during a pit stop in Venice. The bottom line was, I felt fine and the bike’s comfort was convincing.

However, I would have wished the 6.8-inch TFT display (with touchscreen and USB charging socket) was more legible, especially while navigating. City names are much too small and often upside down as you can’t set the display to keep north at the top—it always rotates the map view based on the riding direction.

I often had to restart the associated H-D app on my mobile phone. Once, the TFT display completely failed for a few minutes during operation, and another time the cruise control did not work for several hundred miles.

The automatic seat height lowering, which is actually a clever idea, was also not entirely convincing. In order to fold out the side stand in the low position, I had to tilt the fully loaded bike far to the right because the stand was "too long."

The user-defined riding mode provides the option to switch the seat height adjustment system off, but this did not work on my test bike. To ensure safe parking, I had to stoutly kick the short and far forward sidestand with an awkward latching mechanism—typical Harley-Davidson.

Finally, I would have expected a little more quality and constructive finesse. For example, the handguards hit the windshield when you turn the handlebar over the full steering angle. They also come off easily from the end of the handlebar.

The windshield sits on a rickety support and there are rough couplings with big gaps and sometimes excessively long screws on the bike. The Pan America features a keyless system, but still needs an extra key (the provided copy being of extremely poor quality) for the steering lock on the triple clamp.

The payload (418 pounds) and service intervals (5,000 miles) are also not in line with the product and the market the bike is aiming at.

The Home Stretch

After completing the mission in Italy, I sped up again on the Brenner autobahn toward the Bavarian Alps. Leaving Garmisch, I let the bike run free in Germany until the limiter intervened at 140 mph.

Fully loaded and without a passenger, the bike was a joy to ride, with only a very slight tendency to weave becoming noticeable around 115 mph. Unloaded, the Pan America ran perfectly straight up to the top speed and stayed smoothly on track even in long motorway bends.

When I got stuck in pouring rain for 300 miles, the Pan America felt safe and provided sufficient protection. The nicely heated grips kept my hands comfortable, but one would also wish for a heated seat with this price tag.

The Michelin Scorcher ADV tires, which already left a good impression on dry roads, worked fine also on a wet surface. The headlight, on the other hand, was less impressive—neither the high nor low beam is brilliant, and the brightness and depth of the high beam are disappointing. The cornering light was decent, but it also illuminated a gap in a panel above the display, which was annoying at night.

Back home, there was still time for a lap around town without suitcases and luggage. What a surprise!

All of a sudden, the Harley-Davidson conveyed a sportiness that is absolutely unique for the American brand and doesn’t have to hide from the established competitors. Excellent traction and stability in the turns and on the straights allowed for a racy riding style.

In sport mode, I had the bike’s full power available to me. Thanks to a well-tuned front fork with great progression, the front wheel gave honest feedback on the road conditions, even under hard braking.

A Good Effort

At the end of the tour, I took a turn onto a gravel road and adjusted the rear brake lever to its highest position to get a good grip on it while riding standing up. At rally speed, the Pan America remained stable, thanks to the steering damper.

In the soft off-road mode, the suspension provided the best feedback, while the hard version was very stiff and only suitable for real rally riding. After switching traction control off, long and clean drifts on simple gravel roads became easy.

In general, the modulation of the commands, the power delivery of the engine, and the ergonomics—even when standing up—are excellent, and even suitable, for trial-like off-road excursions. But, when riding slow, the fan will soon blow the radiator’s hot air directly onto your left leg, which becomes unbearable in outside temperatures above 75 degrees.

Pay attention to the quickshifter—if you touch the shift lever accidentally with your boot, the engine backs off immediately.

Fuel consumption settled around 40 mpg on the trip (about 50% of which was on the freeway around the recommended speed of about 80 mph). This means that in the best-case scenario, the range is around 185 miles before "tank empty" flashes across the TFT. Oil consumption was not noticeable during my test.

In the end, I made friends with the Pan America and regretted that I covered only 2,000 miles in 10 days. I was able to try out a wide range of uses for the bike, from long-distance travel with luggage to sporty riding on twisty roads and off-road.

What will stay in my mind? A good chassis, a beefy engine, and a comfort level that is well suited for long trips, plus appealing off-road handling characteristics. In terms of quality and design finesse, there is still room for improvement. Overall, though—pretty well done!

2023 Upgrades

The bike I tested over this ride was the 2022 version of the Pan America Special. Due to feedback and complaints from riders, Harley-Davidson has made the following upgrades for the 2023 model:

  • A new deflector is intended to direct the hot air stream from the radiator away from the rider.
  • The windshield sits on a more stable support.
  • The right side of the bike has a new heat shield over the catalytic converter.
  • The kickstand has been reinforced.
  • The TFT screen has received software updates and an optimized user interface.

Technical Specs

+good chassis, lots of engine power, comfort even on long rides, nice off-road handling
-build quality and design oversights, poorly designed sidestand, handguards come off the handlebar, excessively long screws

Distributor: Harley-Davidson
MSRP: $19,999
Engine: Revolution Max 1250, V-twin, 4-valve, liquid-cooled, DOHC
Displacement: 76.4cu-in (1252cc)
Power: 150hp @9,000rpm; 94lb-ft @6,750rpm
Transmission: 6-speed, multi-plate clutch, belt final drive, quickshifter
Rake/Trail: 25°/4.3in
Weight (Wet): 569lbs (claimed)
Seat Height: 32in
Fuel Capacity: 5.6gal
Fuel Consumption: 40mph (as tested)
Fuel Grade: premium
Color: Vivid Black, Gauntlet Gray Metallic, Fastback Blue/White Sand, Mineral Green Denim Deluxe