DRIVE

ADVENTURE SEEKER

The iconic motorcycle company from Milwaukee, Illinois, has finally done it – take it off the road, that is. The all-new Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 is its first-ever off-road adventure tourer, and it was worth the wait.

TAN JU KUANG

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I'm no stranger to motorcycles. Although I threw in the towel on large machines for some time now, it was interesting to notice that I still remember how to get on and off a big bike without too much embarrassment.

I've been strictly a stay on the road kind of man. The challenge of the highways was more than enough to thrill my senses, and I never needed the unpredictability of sand, gravel, mud, and rocks to pique my curiosity. So, when the invitation came for me to experience Harley-Davidson's first off-road machine, my excitement was tempered with a touch of apprehension. Will I survive?

Taken into context, it was an invitation that I couldn't refuse.

How can I when this is Harley-Davidson's first foray into the off-road territory? Yes, the American brand that stood for freedom and unabashed liberty was to go one further by taking it off the highway and to terrain never before tread upon by a company in the heart of America. After all, the brand stood for heft and presence more than technology and agility. Was this to be a step too much out of the comfort zone for a brand that has a motto that whispers: "You don't have to ride fast, but make sure they notice you when you go by"?

By all accounts, my reservations with the all-new Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 were laid to rest. The bike was everything you expect from a company so attuned with details and exceeded my expectations for its incredible rideability.

But I'm getting ahead of myself here.

This pandemic has thrown events like vehicle launches to the wind. But launching a motorcycle via Zoom is like introducing a new restaurant menu online. It may look alright, but what's the fun in that?

When the invite came and asked that I appear at Sarimbun Scout Camp, I was as thrilled as the first (and last) time I was there as a 12-year-old cub scout on his first field trip. Thankfully, the organizers, Komoco Motorcycles, had the good sense to understand that an occasion like this needed to be witnessed in the person. There is no substitute to hearing the throaty rumble of a Harley-Davidson V-Twin in the flesh.

I have to confess that I was somewhat apprehensive – at my ability to handle the machine, that is. Despite my long riding history, I've never really been an off-road kind of guy. Will I be able to tackle riding on grass and sand? What will happen when I need to go over a tree root? Did I have enough insurance cover, just in case?

As it turned out, I had little to worry about.

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First off, the bike looks divine. It does have Harley-Davidson's DNA. The gas tank hints of the 883 Sportster, but the high clearance of the rear mudguard and the slim horizontal headlights showcase a bike that's all its own genre. The Revolution Max 1250 engine is uniquely designed to be a structural component of the chassis. It does away with the need for a traditional frame and any extra weight that it entails.

When it came time for me to put on my helmet and gloves and muster up enough courage to take the side stand off the 540-pound Pan America 1250 (the Pan America 1250 Special weighs a touch higher at 569-lbs), all hesitation dissipated into the wind with the exhaust fumes of Harley-Davidson's all-new, liquid-cooled, 1250cc V-Twin engine.

We took off without much fanfare, and the bike handled effortlessly as it tumbled over the grass-covered, bumpy field. I barely felt the ruts on the ground as we rode around the compound before leaving for the road. Then I almost gagged when I saw what was ahead – a short, mini-slalom course of mini cones lined up about 10m apart. We had to ride around that?

Heart in my hand and fear tucked into my back pocket; I gave it a go. Lo and behold, I managed to wield the bike through on my first try without needing to call the paramedics. The Pan America handled like a dream. Nimble and responsive, the incredible 94 ft-lb of torque made maneuvering the bike a breeze. And here I am, a tyro at Evel Knievel stuff like this, what more an expert behind these handlebars.

The Pan America 1250 truly comes onto its own when we hit the open road. Cruising over loose gravel like it wasn't there, the machine swallows up unruly terrain for breakfast. It did help that the bike comes with front and rear Semi-Active Suspension to smoothen out the ride.

Once out onto the winding roads of the Kranji area, the Pan America 1250 starts to show off. Cornering Rider Safety enhancements like Electronically Linked Braking (ELB), Antilock Breaking System (ABS), Traction Control System (TCS), and Drag-Torque Slip Control System (DSCS) remain the hidden heroes behind the bike's uncanny ability to eat up curves. I never felt out of control or that the bike was too much for me to handle. I almost felt the urge to stretch the bike's 150hp max power before the thought of slamming onto a truck carrying cow dung brought me back down to earth.

With my quickly growing confidence, I even had time to look at the 6.8-inch TFT touchscreen display. For safety reasons, the touchscreen is disabled when the bike is moving, but hand gestures may be used to manage many of its functions.

A small button just off the right grip allowed me to switch the ride mode. The Pan America 1250 Special model has seven modes: Road, Sport, Rain, Off-Road, Off-Road Plus, and two that the owner can customize. Starting with the Road mode, the bike already felt powerful and ready for anything. Switching to Sport made it more responsive and the gearing more aggressive, but it didn't take anything away from the ride's comfort.

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The Pan America also comes with other features such as Hill Hold Control (HHC) that does away with the need (albeit momentarily) to hold onto the breaks when stopped on a steep incline, and Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS).

One unique aspect of the Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 is its industry-first innovative Adaptive Ride height feature. The suspension system on the bike automatically transitions from a low stopped position to optimal ride height when you're on the go. These features will certainly go well with riders who were not blessed with the height of an NBA player. I didn't find the bike particularly high and could put both feet on the ground. The somewhat tight-fitting jeans I wore on the day, though, made swinging my leg over the bike to get on a tad challenging.

That's when the display of new adventure touring accessories grabbed my attention. Harley Davidson has introduced a parallel apparel range with the new adventure touring motorcycle line. The Passage Adventure array of jackets, pants, helmets, gloves, and boots comes from a partnership with European apparel specialist REV'IT!, a global leader in the adventure-touring category.

Critics may wonder why Harley-Davidson has ventured beyond its specialty to tackle the challenging terrain of adventure touring. But as they say, if you don't move forward, you only fall behind. Besides, the brand has always stood for the freedom of the open road. The Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 just helps to extend it beyond the tarmac.