• Scott Murdock

About that Spectrum

If you’ve followed Everyday Driver for long, you’re familiar with the spectrum of sacrifice––an automotive scale ranging from a fully stocked limousine on one end to an Ariel Atom on the other. I’ve been surprised by where my preferences put me on that spectrum from time to time, and I recently got another crash course. Harley-Davidson was kind enough to offer up the brand-new Pan America 1250 Special, and––because I am not in the business of turning away keys––I promptly seized the opportunity.

2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special
The Pan America looks imposing, but it’s a sweetheart to ride.

If you haven’t been following the Pan America in the news, start by gathering up everything you know and think about Harley-Davidson, and throw it directly out the window. Aside from having two cylinders arranged in a vee, the Pan America is groundbreaking stuff for the folks in Milwaukee. Even that is new since the Revolution Max engine is liquid-cooled and uses high-end sorcery in the form of maintenance-free hydraulic valve clearance adjusters. The engine is also a stressed member, which sheds weight and improves chassis dynamics. That’s not Harley-Davidson marketing speak or my personal opinion; it’s the same approach Ducati uses to make the scorching-fast Panigale.


You’ll find the Pan America 1250 and Pan America 1250 Special in the adventure touring section of Harley’s website––which is also new. Both versions of the platform feature tall suspension, a neutral riding position, room for a passenger, ample wind protection including an adjustable windscreen, optional luggage, and a handlebar that’s easy to reach while standing. The wheels on my test bike were externally laced to remain compatible with tubeless tires without compromising its off-road ambitions. Unconventional stuff from the bar and shield indeed.


I toggled through the rain, road, sport, off-road, and off-road plus ride modes to find them all pleasantly tailored to their intended use. I set the cruise control to avoid any unexpected roadside expenses. I even gave the heated grips a try, even though it never got cold enough to warrant them. My initial assessment? For a bike so tall, heavy, and technologically advanced, the Pan America is remarkably easy to get along with. It felt familiar within a few miles; a trait I consider high praise.


Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Harley-Davidson’s adaptive ride height feature. The Pan America 1250 Special uses electronically controlled Showa suspension that adjusts to road conditions and ride modes. It also sets sag to 30 percent regardless of weight, so riders get the same experience (and top speed) every time they throw a leg over the Pan America. Speaking of which, overcoming the typically high ADV-bike seat is easier than ever because the suspension also lowers the bike as it comes to a stop. Time for every other manufacturer to ante up.


“Aw, so the dentists don’t have to flail their little feet,” one of my friends chided when I told him about the adaptive ride height.


He’s ridden the Alaskan Highway, so he’s earned the right to tease all he wants. I have not. I’m also not particularly tall or flexible, so I happen to like not flailing my feet, thank you very much.

2021 Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special
Totally Harley-Davidson; totally new.

One evening, after a full day on (and off) the road, I reflected on the experience with my patient wife.


“...and I could fit my jacket and helmet in the cases whenever I stopped,” I mused, wide-eyed. “My back doesn’t hurt, I didn’t lose my hearing, I could do this every day!”


Her slow blink and subdued tone suggested I wasn’t imparting new information.


“Wow,” she replied. “Are you just now figuring out that your bike is the least practical thing ever made?”


Fair question.


When I first got into motorcycling, practicality had nothing to do with it. I wanted to go faster than I could in a car, be more nimble, and capture the same sensation I felt on the ski slopes. Motorcycle reviews that used words like “committed” and “uncompromising” were like catnip to me. If the bike was draped in beautiful curves and painted in a color called Rosso Corsa, all the better.


That brings us to the Ducati Monster 1100S. I saved up money from a deployment in 2012 to buy two things: an engagement ring for said wife, and a motorcycle for myself. My dream bike was within budget, and I found a pristine, low-mile example just a few hours from my apartment in San Diego.

2009 Ducati Monster 1100S
Isn’t she pretty?

I’ve gotten so used to that motorcycle over the past decade that it feels normal to me––it’s my (wildly skewed) basis for comparison. After one week and 500 miles on Harley’s adventure-tourer, though, the little Italian felt genuinely foreign. For starters, I felt like I was rolling a scale model out of the garage after wrestling the 550-pound Pan America. The controls all felt stiff and twitchy. Gone were the rider aids, safety features, and creature comforts. All that remained were the bare necessities of two-wheeled motion.


Il Mostro still gives me goosebumps every time I look at it, and it’s an undeniable thrill to ride. It’s quick, sharp, and––as one journalist wrote––you’d have to take your gloves off to feel the road any better. On the other hand, the maintenance costs are as breathtaking as its beauty, the riding position is painful to endure for more than an hour, and the symphony of Termignoni pipes and an open clutch unleash a merciless assault on delicate eardrums. I suppose that’s why they don’t make them like they used to.


Riding the two motorcycles back-to-back was an exhilarating refresher on the spectrum of sacrifice, and it made me appreciate both of them more. The Monster is thrilling because of what it is. The Pan America is thrilling because of where it can take me. Both are wonderful.




Scott is a lover of motorized fun, whether on four wheels or two. A child of the ’90s, he has a particular soft spot for hatchbacks and believes all aging cars deserve a second chance at life. If he’s not behind a camera or a computer, he’s probably chasing down new coffee shops with his wife or throwing a frisbee for his dog.


The views and opinions expressed here are his own and may not align with the founders of Everyday Driver.




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