2021 Motorcycle of the Year: Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special
To those of you who have been paying attention over the past year, our selecting the 2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special as Motorcycle.com’s Motorcycle of the Year should come as no surprise. To win the MOTY, a bike has to do two very important things. First, it has to claim victory in one of the MOBO categories, proving that it has the chops to successfully compete against its peers. For the Pan America to do this in the ultra-competitive heavyweight adventure touring class in the first year of its production says a lot about how seriously Harley took the task of stepping out of its cruiser/bagger comfort zone. Second, the MOTY has to say something about the current state of the motorcycle art, where the industry is, and where it’s going.
In the Revolution Max engine, Harley has created an all-new, unabashedly liquid-cooled 60° V-Twin. Gone are the old touchstones of HD power plants: no potato-potato or cooling fins required. While this is a nod to the (needed) worldwide move towards tighter emissions standards, the Revolution Max engine still cranked out 134.5 hp on the Mickey Cohen Motorsports dyno after Ryan’s cross-country adventure. Then there’s the technology that helps to deliver the impressively flat torque curve. Variable valve timing helps give riders the bottom-end grunt they crave – particularly from a big adventure bike – in off-road settings. (And it’s appreciated in the urban bump-and-grind, too.) Spin the engine up towards its 9,500 rpm redline, and the valves shift their timing to deliver the top end power that makes for big fun when the road gets twisty.
Like all the big adventure touring bikes, Harley didn’t skimp on the electronics in the Pan America. The TFT has all the information you need over the long haul displayed in a pleasing manner along with the smartphone link through an app. The Special gets semi-active suspension to sweeten the deal, but it’s the $1,000 adaptive ride height that has been stealing headlines (and winning awards). Falling under the category of “why didn’t anyone think of this sooner,” this technology lowers the seat height by 1-2 inches as it rolls to a stop, lessening one of the biggest hurdles keeping many riders from sampling adventure bikes.
All of this is great but doesn’t mean anything if the bike doesn’t work well. After his initial two-day ride on the Pan America, Ryan spent two days of riding in the dirt and had this to say about it: “it was absolutely clear that Harley has built a proper adventure bike that should appeal to a large swath of riders, whether it be those new to adventure touring, new to Harley-Davidson, or veterans looking for something new.” Never one to simply trust a short stint, he then set off on a 5,200 mile trek to see if the Special lived up to his first impressions: “I’d put 5,529 miles on it over the span of two-and-a-half weeks and basically had the same impression of the bike as I had when I left.”
Ryan and other journalists aren’t the only ones who seem captivated by the Pan America. According to Harley, and our internet sleuth, Dennis Chung, sales have been impressive, too. After some lofty claims came from the folks in Milwaukee, Dennis did his best to find the truth behind the press release, ending with: “If only half of the 4,048 models shipped in Q2 were Specials delivered to consumers in North America (and that’s likely a conservative estimate), it’s entirely plausible that the Harley-Davidson Pan America Special was the top-selling adventure-touring model on the continent since its launch. And that’s not even counting the last two months.”
So, for breaking the mold of what a Harley-Davidson could be, jumping into the bar fight that is the heavyweight adventure class (and competing on equal terms), releasing innovative technology (that we’ve heard rumors that one manufacturer will be rolling out an adaptive suspension update in early 2022 to mimic), and selling well, Harley-Davidson has earned the 2021 Motorcycle of the Year award with the Pan America Special.
2021 Motorcycle of the Year Runner-Up: Ducati Multistrada V4
To illustrate how hot the Adventure Touring market is, we have as the 2021 Motorcycle of the Year Runner-Up, the Ducati Multistrada V4. Given that it is a Ducati, no one should be surprised that the flagship Multistrada puts its emphasis on sport. Still, that doesn’t mean that its dirt capabilities were ignored.
The Multistrada V4 has everything you’d expect from a heavyweight adventure touring machine. Big power: check. Long-distance touring amenities: check. Cool high-end technologies: Check!
The Multistrada was the first bike to hit the streets with adaptive cruise control (our runner-up technology of the year). On top of that, it has the ability to monitor the rider’s blind spots, which once you’ve experienced it, you won’t want to be without.
Now, add much improved dirt capabilities, and you’ve got the prescription for big-time adventure touring fun! The new 19-inch front wheel shod with Pirelli Scorpion Trail II tires vastly improve the V4’s ability to get dirty and, coupled with the electronic controls, really help you tame the beast. Then the Skyhook suspension steps in to take care of the rough stuff the trail throws at you.
All of this led Ryan to conclude his first ride with the following: “The Multistrada still fills a niche as the sportiest of adventure touring motorcycles, but it has now earned the “adventure” ahead of its touring moniker. As a mainstay and flagship touring model for Ducati, the Multistrada V4 is an incredibly versatile and capable machine. If there were ever a time in my life where I was forced to choose one motorcycle (it’ll never happen) to do everything that I enjoy doing on two wheels, the Multistrada V4 would be one of the very few considered possibilities.” This kind of high praise is why the 2021 Ducati Multistrada V4 is MO’s 2021 Motorcycle of the Year Runner-Up.
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