Harley-Davidson lit the internet on fire yesterday with their announcement of their new Pan America adventure motorcycle. Okay, maybe it wasn't the entire internet; but for the portion of the internet that cares about adventure motorcycling and Harley-Davidson, it was a pretty big deal.
I normally don't have too much interest in large adventure motorcycles. Bikes like the BMW R1200GS, KTM 1190 Adventure and Yamaha Super Tenere just seem too large and heavy for the everyday adventures that I enjoy when I go for a ride. While I definitely understand the appeal from a comfort and range perspective, the practicality of a large machine like that for riding off-road is a little lost on me. The new 1250cc Harley-Davidson will sit right up there along side the current, fairly crowded lineup of large ADV machines looking for it's own piece of the action. At this point though you really have to wonder; is the Pan America too much, too late?
The initial responses that I have seen floating around the internet have been... well, lets just say "mixed". Aside from the Pan America's quirky looks, massive size and questionable weight, Harley-Davidson has been under a lot of scrutiny lately over their decision to lay-off american workers and move manufacturing operations to other countries. Slumping sales numbers over the last few years are also no secret, so this rather late entry into the ADV market seems like a bit of a last-ditch effort from the iconic brand. The announcement of the Pan America also comes at a time when the ADV community seems to be shifting their interest towards smaller and lighter machines, and this 1250cc beast looks to be the exact opposite: Large, Heavy, & Hog-ish... (see what I did there?)
The truth is that there is an under-served niche in adventure motorcycling in the 400cc to 800cc range, and Harley-Davidson would have been much better off pursuing that niche for it’s first attempt at an ADV bike. Rather than throwing their hat straight into the ring with BMW and KTM, Harley-Davidson could have entered the market with something a bit more practical. A good example of this is would be what Royal Enfield is currently doing with the Himalayan, or what CSC Motorcycles did when it imported the RX3 Cyclone a few years ago. These are practical machines with attractive price tags, and have the appeal to attract new riders as well as existing motorcycle enthusiasts. Now I'm not an industry expert, but it seems to me like that is exactly what Harley-Davidson needs right now. The news of the Pan America did come with a mention of a "modular 500cc to 1250cc middleweight platform" that could pave the way for a smaller ADV offering from Harley-Davidson, but the fact that they went straight for the heavyweight doesn't make it seem like they have practicality in mind.
Don't get me wrong, I have a lot of respect for Harley-Davidson and their contribution to the motorcycle industry at large. It is pretty impressive for a motorcycle company that was founded in 1903 to still be around and relevant today. It's going to be fun to watch how Harley-Davidson's entry into the ADV segment plays out in the long run. One one hand, it is exciting to see a new entry into the world of adventure bikes that isn't coming from one of the traditional manufacturers. On the other hand, it's really hard to see the practicality of a large adventure bike like the Pan America this late in the game.
Like it or hate it, it's interesting to see Harley-Davidson try and adapt to a changing motorcycle market. Time will tell if they are actually going to take this forte into ADV seriously, or if they are just playing to the success of the ADV segment in hopes that they might get lucky. The Pan America motorcycle isn't slated to hit the market until 2020, so there is still a lot that can happen between now and then. In the mean time, there are plenty of other bikes to get out and have adventures on.
So, what are you waiting for?