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Brad Pitt, David Beckham, Jay Leno - Harley-Davidson has celebrity endorsement like no other marque. Their expensive, laid-back touring bikes are synonymous with the movie Easy Rider and the American counterculture of the 1960s.
Nowadays Harley riders need deep pockets for machines that sell at the top end of the market. Heavyweight touring bikes like the outsize Ultra Limited and Electra Glide start at £27,000 – or the price of a decent family car.
Gleaming machines with polished chrome and thumping exhaust pipes, those retro Harleys couldn’t be further from the company’s latest machine. After surprising the world with the all-electric Livewire last year, Harley’s newest bike is a go-anywhere off-roader with no sparkling metal whatsoever.
The all-new, 150bhp Pan America aims to do battle in the booming market for adventure bikes here in the UK. These multi-purpose machines are the equivalent of a four-wheel-drive SUV - capable in the dirt but mainly used as a supremely comfortable touring bike for all conditions.
I rode the Pan America across Wales on a day when the heavens opened and most fair-weather Harley riders would be in the garage polishing their chrome instead. Wet roads, lots of mud and even more meandering sheep.
Weight distribution isn’t as well sorted as the class-leading BMW GS Adventure, which means the Harley is less agile through the bends at lower speeds. However, switch to Sport mode and the ride firms up instantly.
The all-new Revolution Max engine was designed for low-end torque and there’s masses of power on hand. The ride height system works so smoothly, it’s impossible to feel the bike lowering as it comes to a standstill, or rising again as I pull away.
The TFT screen is easy to read and intuitive, with all the essential functions ready to hand. Some other machines I’ve ridden require scrolling through menus and sub menus - extra fiddly on a motorbike - the Pan America is state-of-the-art by comparison.
The 1252cc Pan America starts at a relatively affordable £14,000 in standard form, or £15,500 for the Special, with extra kit, including cornering lights, heated hand grips, a wider choice of colours and Harley’s showpiece technology - Adaptive Ride Height.
As the bike comes to halt, the suspension lowers by a few inches, before rising up again as the rider pulls away. Not being able to plant your feet firmly on the floor is a problem riding most adventure bikes - especially for the vertically-challenged. It’s so obvious I’m surprised nobody has thought of it before.
The Harley does everything an adventure bike should do, and more. It has lots of rider modes for different conditions, a clever Bluetooth system that turns the instrument screen into a sat nav system and plenty of touring accessories to push the price sky high.
Comfortable and vibration-free at motorway speeds, the new Harley should attract an army of fans who are addicted to the all-American brand. It has all-round ability but only time will tell if it has enough appeal to compete with the best in the adventure bike sector.
Not the prettiest bike on the market - I’d recommend Baja Orange paint - the Pan America is still a remarkable first adventure bike from the kings of chrome. Here are some of the rivals it has to beat…
BMW GS 1250 Adventure Triple Black
The UK’s best-selling adventure bike is a key target for Harley-Davidson. As ridden by Ewan McGregor on his epic journeys with Charley Boorman, the GS is the two-wheeled equivalent of a Range Rover - a luxury, go-anywhere machine loaded with technology. It’s big and heavy but so comfortable to ride.
Based on the top of the range TE model, the £17,700 Triple Black limited edition is the ultimate all-rounder, although buyers can spend thousands of pounds more on accessories, including the must-have aluminium panniers and satellite screen. Still the benchmark in this category and unbeatable on lengthy road trips.
Triumph Tiger 900 GT Low
A Tiger will feature in the delayed James Bond film No Time To Die, currently due to screen in October. The iconic British brand is a perfect match for 007, who will flee the villains and perform some daredevil stunts on a Triumph.
With a lighter, 900cc engine, this Tiger is less weighty than the BMW and Harley, making it more manageable in the dirt. The latest engine is more characterful too and a step up from the previous 800 model. The £11,400 GT Low version I rode has a reduced seat height, making it perfect for riders with a shorter inside leg.
Royal Enfield Himalayan
Endearing, charming and capable – the budget Himalayan costs £4,599 and is the coolest adventure bike a little money can buy. Powered by an old-school, 411cc single-cylinder, the engine is tiny and putt-putts along at modest speeds. However, no other off-road machines offer retro charm and ability in such a desirable package.
New for 2021 is a more comfortable seat and the tiny Tripper screen, which connects via Bluetooth to the rider’s mobile phone for basic satellite navigation. Some funky colours have been added to the line-up too but the Indian-built Himalayan is all about rugged simplicity – turn the key, press the button and enjoy.
UK-based Hedon makes chic motorcycle helmets - the luxurious Heroine Racer Tux is finished in black and white. This lightweight lid is beautifully styled for anyone arriving on two wheels at a formal dinner party, or simply for turning heads through Knightsbridge. £679; hedon.com
Belstaff has been making the Trialmaster since 1948. Originally designed for the demanding Scottish Six Day Rally, this premium jacket is now a style icon that will last a lifetime - becoming even more desirable with wear. The wax cotton is water and wind repellent, with a snap-on waistcoat for extra warmth. £450; belstaff.co.uk
Stylish footwear for urban motorcyclists is a boom market. Shin-high boots aren't best-suited to pounding the pavement off the bike, so these oil-treated, Italian leather ankle shoes are the perfect compromise. Oil-treated leather keeps feet warm, while padding and reinforcement affords some protection. £160; giannifalco.com
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