The 2024 Harley Davidson Pan America 1250 Special
The 2024 Harley Davidson Pan America 1250 Special
Image: Supplied

In August 2016, a few months after I finally got my motorcycle licence, I was able to negotiate my first review motorcycle ride on the then newly launched Harley-Davidson Softail Slim S. The only Harley I had ever ridden before that was in 2015, the Sportster Iron 883 as part of a weekend New Rider course at the Harley-Davidson Rider Academy (which has since shut down). At the time, the Iron 883 was top of my “first motorcycle to buy” list.

Later in 2016, I had the opportunity to attend the launch — a 300km or so ride through the Western Cape — of the MY17 range which included the Street Glide, Road Glide Special and Road King. And a couple of years later, in 2018, I rode the Street Glide from Johannesburg to East London, overnighting in Kokstad, with a group of Harley-Davidson motorcycle enthusiasts for Africa Bike Week in East London.

Reflecting the “American muscle” design and engineering ethos, Harley-Davidsons have a built-in aggression, epitomised by the often-low-slung seating position, forward pegs and the grunt of the exhaust. Getting used to saddle position in relation to the pegs always took me a couple of kilometres but that never stopped me from enjoying the ride whether cruising around the city or touring longer distances.

As a result, I was intrigued when Harley-Davidson announced its foray into the adventure-touring segment with the Pan America 1250 in 2021, in essence launching a motorcycle that would compete with motorcycles like the BMW GS, Ducati Multistrada, et al. And, having finally got comfortable with riding off-road, I was excited to pick up a Pan America 1250 Special from Harley-Davidson Mzansi in Johannesburg for a couple of days in the saddle.

The first thing that strikes you about the Pan America is the “sharp nose” fairing, with two rectangular LED headlights, similar to the Road Glide which gives it an intimidating look from the front. The taillights and turn signals are also LED. It has laced wheels with 120/70R19 front tyres and 170/60R17 rear tyres.

It comes in four colours (the tank and fairing): Deadwood Green, Baja Orange/Stonewashed White Pearl, Gauntlet Grey Metallic and Vivid Black. The one I rode was in Baja Orange, which makes the motorcycle stand out even more. The fairing is frame mounted while the fuel tank has a capacity of 21.2l which is more than ample for both touring and for veering off tar onto the dirt roads.

The Road, Sport and Off-road riding modes are easy to switch between using a button on the handlebars. There is also facility to set up two rider specific modes, which I didn’t fiddle with because the standard modes were ideal regardless of terrain. Cruise control, button for the heated grips and controls for the 6.8-inch touch colour TFT are also easily accessible on the handlebars. The TFT, which one can connect to via Bluetooth, provides the rider with all the information necessary including speedometer, odometer, trip meter, tyre pressure, navigation, and more. With the HD app, one can also plan rides online and use the GPS navigation on the app when riding. There’s also a facility for calls and messaging.

Harley Davidson Pan America 1250 is co-developed with Michelin to maximise both on and off-road performance
Harley Davidson Pan America 1250 is co-developed with Michelin to maximise both on and off-road performance
Image: Supplied

It has a 1,252cc, 2-cylinder Revolution Max 1250 engine with maximum power of 152ps and maximum torque of 128Nm. The disc brakes provide ample stopping power though I did find, with the back brakes, I had to push down harder than I am accustomed to with normal road riding boots but didn’t have a problem when wearing adventure boots.

While the upright riding position and mid-mount foot controls forced me to reimagine what it means to ride a Harley-Davidson, it was extremely comfortable both swinging the bike left and right on the winding roads of the Magalies Meander and along the road past Nirox Sculpture Park which has a number of speed humps and traffic circles. The Screaming Eagle exhaust, with its low growl, did remind me that I was riding a Harley-Davidson,

Hitting a long dirt road between Harties and Magalies on a Sunday afternoon, the Pan America was solid, eating up the kilometres with ease, giving me time to enjoy the scenery while standing on the pegs for the duration of that part of the ride.

The windscreen is manually adjustable but I found the wind protection on it to be more than adequate regardless of where I set it. While it looks a tall motorcycle, it does have adaptive ride height and I could comfortably sit on the bike when stopped at traffic lights.

Other features include a drag-torque slip control system, hill hold control and tyre pressure monitoring system.

Overall, the Pan America 1250 Special more than holds its own against other adventure-touring motorcycles, comfortable on tar and dirt, allowing me to switch between the two without much thought and reminded me how much I enjoy riding motorcycles.

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