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Harley Davidson, 2021 Could Be Their Year


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Nov 11, 2011
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Warning! This editorial is actually about the imminent arrival of the Pan America adventure motorcycle, but it takes a while to get there. Skip ahead for some spy shots and predictions if you like at any time.

Harley Davidson unveiled their 2021 lineup of motorcycles in a COVID19-friendly, online event on January 12th. You can watch the full reveal video here if you missed it.

Here’s the gist of it for you.

  • Harley is trying to appeal to women riders with their marketing (smart move!)
  • The 2021 CVO bikes get another blend of flashy, numbered, paint schemes
  • There’s an even fancier tier of CVO bikes coming soon too
  • Improved stereo systems from Rockford Fosgate® (optional on Touring models)
  • A fancy new set of rims that are half mag, half spoke are available
  • Heated and Cooled seats from Sundowner
  • 117 cubic inch engines on the CVO and 114 otherwise that can be punched out to 122
  • Improved LED lighting front and back
  • A new lineup of Harley branded merchandise is released

There’s a new Street Bob with a 114 engine in it… it’s a nice looking bike that fits the standard Harley mold that we’re all accustomed to. Indeed, the updates to the Touring and Softail lineups all consist of what I’ll call “Harley doing hot Harley sh… stuff.”

The 2021 Harley Davidson Street Bob 114.

The new Street Bob 114

This is the Modus Operandi that got them to where they’re at today.

The cockpit of the new 2021 Harley Davidson Street Bob 114.
Street Bob 114 dash

These are the bikes they absolutely must continue to build for their long-time customers that are found in HOG chapters worldwide and dealership showrooms.

The 117 cubic inch engine found in 2021 Harley Davidson CVO motorcycles.

Their aging base is still solid, but loyal customers notwithstanding, the fact remains that Harley needs to adapt, grow, and attract new people to their brand. As I mentioned, the media they’re producing now is noticeably geared towards reaching out to women riders, which is a smart move since statistics show that segment of ridership growing in size. Ladies now represent about 25% of us two-wheelers. It’s nice to have you all with us, and the more the merrier!

A woman rider sitting with her 2021 Harley Davidson Street Glide CVO. A woman rider sitting with her 2021 Street Glide CVO

What in my opinion is stopping Harley from gaining more new converts?

Several factors, including high prices, old-fashioned styling, public misconceptions about Harley technology/reliability, and to a certain extent the occasional holier-than-thou/elitist attitudes of a handful of obnoxious Harley owners. The brand is also still the Hells Angels motorcycle of choice, but Harley just treats them like any other customer and isn’t affiliated with them or any other gang to my knowledge.

For my part, I haven’t endured more than a couple of negative interactions with Harley riders in my motorcycle lifetime. The vast majority of them have been welcoming to me even if I was riding a different brand… but yeah, I’ve come across a few of them. Unfortunately, Harley must try to overcome the bad press generated by a few bad apples in the bunch.

I think the healing could begin in 2021, but it depends heavily on how one particular new bike “Pans” out if you pardon the pun.

The Critics Are Both Wrong And Right​

I’ve heard people who dislike the brand and their bikes say things like.

“They’re selling 1950s tech at 2021 prices”,

“They’re too expensive, they’re done, stick a fork in them.”

“They’ll never change.”

I think Harley has been their own worst enemy at times in the past when it comes to fully embracing bold innovation, but it’s not for a lack of trying or fear of jumping in. It’s staying in for the long haul where they’ve fallen short.

They’ll build something neat, sell it, and then abandon it. It almost seems like criticism from their loyal customers might be a part of the cause, but perhaps that comes after seeing their favorite brand drop a model. It’s a “chicken-or-the-egg-first” argument for another day.

V-Rod and Buell​

Harley had a great thing in the V-Rod and the Buell line of motorcycles. Sadly, both of those projects were put out to pasture after a decent run.

Image from J&P Cycles

BUT! Are they both truly gone or being slowly reincarnated in future Harleys?

Ok, Buell likely isn’t coming back. That much I’ll concede.

The last incarnation of the V-Rod Muscle disappeared in 2016, but the 1250cc Revolution engine from that motorcycle looks very similar to the new Revolution Max engine making a comeback this year in the Pan America adventure bike.

I’ve heard that Harley dropped the V-Rod line due to tightening emissions restrictions, but I can’t confirm this. Would it really have been impossible to clean up that engine which they co-developed with Porsche? I have my doubts, but no better explanation to offer.

A Harley Davidson V-Rod. Photo by Diego Cardenas

The LiveWire​

Then there’s the LiveWire that came out last year. Harley made history as the first major manufacturer of I.C.E motorcycles to put a fully electric, road-legal bike in their 2020 lineup! That’s stunning and impressive work showcasing cutting edge technology for a company allegedly “selling 1950s tech at 2021 prices”, don’t you think?

Me riding a 2020 Harley Davidson LiveWire.

Here’s the fun part about the LiveWire: everyone who rides it says it’s excellent, and they’re not wrong. The only real problem with that motorcycle is the price sitting about $10,000 too high to compete with Energica, Zero, and friends. Granted, that’s a big Matzo Ball that Harley left hanging out there pricing it the way they did, but if you go to a dealership right now you might be able to negotiate the price downwards on a 2020 model based on what I hear on the grapevine.

I’m impatiently waiting for news in the next couple of weeks about what changes Harley made to the LiveWire for 2021. If they’ve managed to stuff a larger capacity battery (more range) into the bike and they drop the price… well now, that will instantly turn the LW into a bike that will take a bite out of Energica and Zero’s lunch. Stay tuned.

It’s Not Just The LiveWire That’s High Tech​

I think many people took their eyes off Harley about 10 years ago and mistakenly wrote them off as archaic and close-minded. Meanwhile, HD has quietly made technological strides from where they were right under most everyone’s nose.


New Harley Davidson Touring bikes are loaded with the same level of technology found in brands regarded as industry leaders, namely BMW, Ducati, Honda, Yamaha, and KTM.

The 2021 Harley Davidson Road Glide CVO. Check out the rims on this 2021 Road Glide.

The only thing you’ll find on the top 2021 BMW, KTM, or Ducati motorcycles lacking on a Harley will be the brand new Adaptive Cruise Control and Collision Avoidance Systems. Suzuki, Yamaha, Honda, and Kawasaki don’t yet offer those features either, just to put things in perspective. Actually, I suppose you won’t find Launch Control or Quick Shift on any Harleys… yet!

RDRS Safety Enhancements​

Did you know about the Harley RDRS Safety Enhancements (formerly known as RDRS)? I’ll bet you a dollar more than a couple of the long time Harley brand faithful customers don’t even realize the Road Glide they’re on has this degree of rider safety electronics in it. I myself didn’t know until I took an Ultra Classic Limited for a spin last September.

“It’s a collection of technology designed to enhance rider confidence during unexpected situations or poor road conditions. RDRS Safety Enhancements are designed to match motorcycle performance to available traction during acceleration, deceleration, and braking, in a straight line or while in a turn. The systems are electronic and utilize the latest chassis control, electronic brake control, and powertrain technology.” – Harley Davidson press release

This RDRS Safety system includes;

  • IMU controlled cornering ABS and Traction control
  • Cornering Enhanced Electronic Linked Braking (C-ELB)
  • Cornering Enhanced Drag-Torque Slip Control System (C-DSCS)
  • Vehicle Hold Control (VHC)
  • Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS)

Not to mention the TFT display on the Touring bikes is sharp, clear, easy to navigate, and information-rich. I’d put it ahead of most other builders except BMW and Ducati. I like a couple of Honda screens better too (Africa Twin and CBR1000RR-R SP).

Let’s Change Gears​

That rather long-winded introduction isn’t what I want to share with you.

What Harley has always done and is continuing to do with their focus on the core strengths oriented “Rewire” strategy isn’t very interesting to me. For me that stuff is ok and all, but I’m hyper-focused on the future and specifically on the Pan America.

The Pan America Is My White Whale​

I’m utterly obsessed with riding the Harley adventure bike. Unlike Captain Ahab in Moby Dick, I’m not after vengeance, but I simply must find out if Harley has finally hit one out of the park after so many swings, foul balls, pop-outs, and infield singles.

One of the first photos to be released of the Harley Davidson Pan America. One of the first photos released of the Harley Davidson Pan America prototype.

I don’t know whether I was more shocked originally to learn Harley was building the LiveWire or the Pan America. I’ll label both of them equally fantastic and unlikely to come out of Milwaukee, but since I’m an adventure rider first and foremost, I’m decidedly more excited about the Pan Am.

I see similarities in the public reaction to the Pan America as there was with the LiveWire. At first, I think most everyone thought it was a joke and the plan would never come to life. Then there came immediate ridicule from the majority of people while only a handful genuinely jumped for joy.

If you have a FaceBook account you can watch this video I made at EICMA 2019 of the prototype Pan America. It was encased in Plexiglas and I was deeply frustrated about that as you can hear in the video commentary. FaceBook Pan America Video

It’s Like Something Out Of A Movie​

Weirdly, I feel like the Pan America is (metaphorically speaking) a reclusive celebrity with a bad reputation, hailing from a far-off big city that has just moved into our small, and closely-knit, adventure motorcycle town. It’s scandalous! Everyone is gossiping about their reputation while refusing to hold judgment until seeing for themselves what this stranger is like in person.

The townsfolk have already decided Harley’s Pan Am is clearly out of its element, appearing not to belong in the adventure class ideology everyone in town subscribes to merely because of the name involved. Unconsciously maybe some don’t want the Harley to fit in for fear it’ll somehow become most popular and stake a legitimate claim in the weave of the adventure bike social tapestry.

All this fuss, along with labels about how ugly it is, while in reality, no one has actually seen the production Pan America yet. Is this photo from FaceBook the prototype or the production bike?

A spy shot of the Harley Davidson Pan America.

The truth will be revealed on February 22, 2021, when Harley will FINALLY grace us with another virtual unveiling hosted on their website. You can sign up to watch it here.

Until then, no one except Jochen Zeitz and Jason Momoa really knows the truth about the Pan Am. Yeah… Jason Momoa, you read that correctly.

Jason Momoa on his hand-built Harley Davidson. From Jason Momoa’s Instagram account

I have no idea why Harley picked Aquaman/Khal Drogo as the Pan Am ambassador other than the fact he’s a fan of Harley bikes and easy to look at. Perhaps the most obvious choice –Obi-Wan Kenobi– preferred to limit his Harley relationship to The Long Way Up, so it fell to the next superhero they could find who liked the brand?

I’ve got nothing against Jason Momoa (please don’t hurt me) and I’ve heard he’s a great person/fun guy. However, this is yet another head-scratcher for me because Momoa isn’t an established adventure rider qualified to lend much-needed credibility to the Pan America’s adventure worthiness. Where are his stories of riding from Alaska to Ushuaia or even across the Trans American Trail? A BDR maybe? I can’t even find any history of him being a competitive motocross racer or the like but at least I can find plenty of evidence to suggest he has a passion for building bikes and riding.

Maybe I’m looking at this wrong and it’s a good thing to bring in a fresh face?

I Know A Few Pan America Things Already​

The Pan America will feature what I’m told is a step forward from the 1250cc V-Rod Revolution engine. Harley learned a lot from their first liquid-cooled engine and has gone one better with the Revolution Max.

It’s modular, meaning the displacement can be changed to suit different applications. Depending on the success of this 1250 Pan America we might see a mid-sized adventure bike in the future using the same bottom end but with smaller displacement cylinders on top.

**A shoutout to Ryan Nasif for reminding me about this.**

The Revolution Max and Revolution Harley Davidson engines side by side.

The Revolution Max (left) and Revolution (right)

This Revolution Max is a long way from a Pan Head and will be liquid-cooled, likely DOHC, internally balanced, and will roar out a claimed 145+hp and 90+ lbs of torque.

The Harley Davidson Revolution Max engine.

That’s noticeably higher than the 121 hp/ 84 torque produced by the Revolution engine that was in the V-Rod Muscle. Harley is literally only disclosing “145plus horsepower and 90plus torque”. It’s kind of funny how secretive they’re being with the final power numbers. Does this mean the actual ones are 146hp and 91 torque or closer to 160hp and 100 torque???

I expect the engine will be tuned for low-end grunt but will have to be capable of high revving as well to achieve those numbers. In other words, it’ll behave a lot like the LC8 KTM engine or the 1260 Testastretta from Ducati.

The cockpit of the Harley Davidson Pan America. Look at all the buttons, switches, and TFT display!

The Pan America should be loaded with all the technology Harley has at its disposal, based on what I saw on the prototype, including Brembo brakes and a full TFT display.

When it comes to girth, I predict that having such a beast-mode level of power and so many luxurious touring features will bump the Harley to clock in around the 540lb mark. Imagine though, if they could get it at or below the 500lb mark right where the KTM lives.

The Harley Davidson Pan America prototype stripped back to the frame.

If you look at the photo above of the prototype you’ll note the trellis subframe and mainframe with the engine looking like a stressed member. This is the same design used by well-established adventure bike manufacturers to keep overall weight as low as possible.

All the elements are present to allow the Pan America to weigh the same or less than the competition everyone sings praises about.

Will the Pan America Be Competitive?​

On the surface, the Harley appears to fit in a slot between the rocket-ship that is the 160 hp, 500lb, KTM Super Adventure 1290 and the 136 hp, 600lb, off-road legend BMW R1250GS based on power numbers and technology present.

The KTM 1290 Super Adventure The KTM 1290 Super Adventure (above) The BMW R1250GS (below)

The BMW R1250 GS

If that prospect doesn’t excite you then I’m afraid you’re just not an adventure bike fan, because those two bikes are widely considered the top dogs of the heavyweight class right now, although the all-new 170 hp, 529lb, 2021 Ducati Multistrada V4S will have plenty to say about that this year.

Ducati says it’s the greatest motorcycle they’ve ever built. I have to say that when I saw it launched recently and heard about the V4 GrandTurismo engine powering it that I forgot about the Pan America for a good long while.

The Ducati Multistrada V4S The Ducati Multistrada V4S

Jim’s Spy Shots​

There was a 20 second Pan America teaser included in the 2021 model rollout that I paid very close attention to and grabbed a few screenshots from. Jump ahead to the 38:20 mark in the link ahead and have a look at the PanAm in full throttle mode.

It shows the bike roaring around in the desert as if it’s a mid-sized adventure bike like the Yamaha T7 or KTM 790 adventure R. That seems to suggest the Pan Am has very good suspension or that the pilots were riding the bike to destruction to make it look good.

I would guess that it’ll be electronically controlled Showa shocks because we know Harley used Showa on the LiveWire. Triumph switched to Showa suspension on their new Tiger 900 in 2020 in a surprising move since they’d been using WP before that. It tells me Showa is building decent adventure springs these days.

The Harley Davidson Pan America getting air. The Pan America getting air

Which One Is the Production Pan America?​

We haven’t officially been shown the production Pan America, but maybe we have and don’t realize it.

I noticed a different exhaust on the bike in the latest video in some shots along with a painted indentation on the side of the gas tank.

Jason Momoa riding the Pan America

Is this the production model Pan America? (above)

These features aren’t present on the bike in some of the other shots. In those clips, the Pan America looks identical to the one that was toured around the world and called the styling prototype.

The Harley Davidson Pan America. This photo shows a larger muffler and no paint at the back of the gas tank.

A spy photo rumored to be the base model Pan America.

Rumor has it the photo above will be the base model Pan America. It will lack the engine guards and spoked rims available on the upper model which will be the more off-road and adventure-worthy version.

There’s also a nasty rumor saying the Pan America won’t have quick shift technology on it. I truly hope that’s not the case.

If I use the LiveWire prototype versus the production LiveWire as a template for the Pan America launch, then I would say the two bikes will be almost identical. Changes will most likely be cosmetic more than anything between the two models.

The Lights​

The headlight on the Harley reminds me of a shark’s mouth and the windshield could be the fin, I suppose. If it was painted green I could imagine it to be a Ninja Turtle mouth as well.

The Harley Davidson Pan America from the front showing its headlights.

Some of the bikes in the video have another auxiliary light right above the main headlight. I also spotted fog lamps down low in behind the crash bars in some shots. This would be nice if integrated right from the factory. I can’t stand the way headlights on the new bikes never seem to light up the road ahead properly, but these additional lights should correct that problem easily.

What I don’t see are ugly turn signal lights jutting out from the upper fairing cowl (I’m looking at you, Yamaha-pumpkin lights). On the first photos that came out of the Pan Am the blinkers were integrated into the handguards, which is a horrible design on any adventure bike that will venture off-road in any real capacity.

The turn signals on the Pan America.

I suspect as seen in the video that those middle-mounted auxiliary lights on the crash bars on each side are the turn signals. That’s a much better idea. I noticed them glowing yellowish-orange in many shots, but not lit up at all in others.

Cyclops Adventure Sports sell very popular Aurora auxiliary floodlights that double as running lights. I would love to see Harley offer the turn signals in that kind of configuration (if it isn’t already), but if not I’m sure Denali Electronics/Twisted Throttle will design a Can smart cable to tap into the bike’s Canbus electrical system to make it possible.

The TFT Display is a Beauty!​

I’m a dash snob if there is such a thing. I admit it freely.

The dash display on the Harley Davidson Pan America.

If this (above) is how the one on the Pan America will look, then I’m pleased with what Harley has chosen to do with it. I hope the Bluetooth connectivity is better than the one on my KTM 790 Adventure which can be buggy at times.

I fully expect to get the same touchscreen navigation, music, and other interactive features found on the Harley touring models with the Pan America.

How Much?​

Here’s the million-dollar question that makes or breaks the future of Harley and the Pan America in my mind.

The LiveWire was overpriced when launched and still is. Unconfirmed rumors are claiming the Pan America will start at $17,000 US for MSRP and go out the door fully-equipped for under $20,000. If that seems difficult to believe, consider the KTM 1290 Super Adventure S starts at $18,599 plus $500 freight. KTM isn’t a discount brand by most people’s definition other than when compared to BMW, Husqvarna, and Ducati.

The Harley Davidson Pan America prototype.

I find it highly unlikely the Pan America will be priced south of $20k out the door, but there likely will be different models available for more or less money as there are with KTM and Ducati comparables.

How uncharacteristic would it be for the Harley to wear a reasonable price tag, though? It just doesn’t add up historically speaking, but if it is legit they should be able to sell more than a few. That is of course IF people will open their minds and give the bike a fair chance.

I’m seriously considering it myself. It would be very hard to abandon my beloved KTM 790 Adventure in favor of this Harley, but I’m so curious about it that for the right price and the opportunity to blog regularly about my experience with the bike I would do it.

I’m a writer and motorcycle reviewer so even if I wasn’t drawn in emotionally I could logically flip to own the Pan Am for professional reasons. What motivation will the average adventure rider have to abandon their current favorite brand in favor of the Pan Am? The “since 1903” historical draw might factor in as well as the Made in USA appeal for North Americans.

It Will Have To Be The Social Draw​

Harley will need to create an Adventure version of HOG to really bring people over.

They’re the best at throwing parties at dealerships and growing the bond of brotherhood/sisterhood the brand has always been known for, but will the Harley lifestyle, culture, and “cosplaying” for lack of a better word resonate as well with the adventure riding crowd?

I don’t think Pan America riders will mesh as well at the usual HOG rallies for the obvious reason of where adventure riders like to ride vs Street Glide owners. Harley will have to separate the two groups while still supporting them both and then perhaps merge them in time as more cruiser riders eventually switch to Pan Americas. Before you laugh too hard at that notion I can tell you more than a few Harley fans have already jumped on adventure bikes from other brands. I’m one of them.

BMW has the MOA to build morale with their GS owners and Ducati is trying to get their riders to socialize more with track days and their riding app, so there is a template available for Harley to take some notes from.

Of Course There Will Be Merchandise​

Don’t forget to save some money for the Harley Davidson Adventure Riding Gear. I wonder who will be manufacturing it for them? Dainese? Alpinestars? **UPDATE** I’ve just heard a new rumor that it’s Rev’it who will be manufacturing the riding gear for Harley. It does look highly plausible as the truth judging from the photo below.

I know Harley has put their branding on Arai and HJC helmets before, so you could get an XD-4 or DS-X1 in black with the logo on it in theory.

The Harley Davidson Pan America riding gear.

I hope this is the motorcycle Harley needs in their lineup to stake a claim in the adventure bike market.

Imagine for a moment ten years from now the Bar and Shield is a major player in the electric and adventure segment.

Nah… I’m sure they’ll never change.

  • Jim

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When I read the title I thought it meant this was finally the year Harley was going under.

But maybe Harley is optimistic, because according to the article:
"A new lineup of Harley branded merchandise is released".
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For a company that aimed its products mainly at diehard, H-D macho men for decades and decades, it will be a steep uphill climb and I wish them well.


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For a company that aimed its products mainly at diehard, H-D macho men for decades and decades, it will be a steep uphill climb and I wish them well.
I think it will be easy for them to make the merchandise to go with the bike but the HD showrooms might not stock the merchandise effectively. My local dealer had about a dozen helmets, all lower end models, only 2 full face styles. Jackets with real CE rated armor were pretty much absent but they had vests with fringe and logos.

Not only do they have to adapt to a different style of bike but they are also going to have to adapt to a different style of rider that is not in sync with the long standing culture of HD riders or dealerships


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They had the same problem with dealers often refusing to promote/sell the Buell models. What will be required is that dealer sales staff learn how to sell products & apparel, where for too many years no selling was necessary.


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Maybe I missed it but what is the drive on the new adv bike? Belt, chain, shaft?
While I don't know for sure, from the looks of the car window picture it is definitely not shaft drive. Considering all of their other bikes are belt I would be really surprised if it was chain, but I have been known to be wrong in the past.