Meet Harley-Davidson's first modern adventure bike
The 1250 Special is a ride you can be comfortable with from the moment you hit the start button
What does Harley-Davidson, a brand synonymous with cool cruisers and Americana, know about making adventure motorcycles?
Apparently quite a lot, judging by its latest offering, the Pan America 1250 Special, a 1,252cc dual-purpose motorcycle.
There is also a standard model, the Pan America 1250, which is not equipped with semi-active electronic suspension, a bash plate, height- adjustable rear brake pedal and tyre pressure monitoring system.
Unknown to many, the marque has been playing dirty (in a good way) by delving into off-road ventures since the 1970s.
It had a motocross bike called the MX250, and its flat tracker XR750 has been winning races for 50 years.
But modern adventure bikes - a category that has been growing over the last decade through brands such as BMW, KTM, Honda and Triumph - have evolved since. They are expected to be ridden far and wide, and are equipped with modern electronic features to keep you safe on long journeys.
After four days of testing the 1250 Special, I can say this modern V-twin has most of the goods you would expect of a dual-purpose motorcycle.
It can jump. It can powerslide on gravel and muddy terrain. It has a hill-stop braking aid to make it easier to ride away on a slope. It makes U-turns without popping your blood vessels.
In heavy rain, its anti-lock Brembo brakes shudder gently without unsettling your balance. The infotainment system connects to your phone and music playlist. And there is a plethora of custom settings and ride modes.
But the 1250 Special looks nothing like a contemporary adventurer.
In fact, its long 21-litre fuel tank and bazooka-like exhaust pipe, including a semi-faired front end with crash bars, make this Harley look like its sibling, the Road Glide Special, which is a touring motorcycle.
It is, however, a motorbike that you can be comfortable on the moment you hit the start button (you can leave the ignition key in your pocket). And whenever you come to a stop, its adaptive suspension lowers the ride height automatically.
On the go, it feels like you are riding on a well-cushioned mattress, even if the tarmac is poorly paved.
Bumps do not upset the Showa suspension, and tank slappers, or violent handlebar shakes, are minimised because of its Ohlins steering damper.
Large, easy-to-use switches on the handlebar allow you to toggle among five ride modes, and to arm or disarm its cornering-enhanced anti-lock braking system (ABS) and traction control.
Riding with the rear-wheel ABS disarmed is more fun as you slide into gravel turns. But the bike's weight can be intimidating for newbies, especially on bumpy or muddy trails.
I thought the long-ish 1250 Special would not be keen to turn, but the 253kg motorcycle steers at the drop of a hat - thanks to a relatively low centre of gravity and readily available low- to mid-range torque.
While the exhaust note lacks Harley's well-known twin-cylinder staccato, its low-end performance is phenomenal. In Sport mode between 3,000 and 6,500rpm, the 150bhp/127Nm motorbike charges like a bull.
At about 3,400rpm in sixth gear, the 1250 Special cruises at 90kmh. When speed climbs, raising the adjustable windscreen reduces wind blast. At night, cornering lights similar to those found in premium cars light up as you lean into bends.
Its trip meter shows 251km when the fuel gauge is at the half-tank mark, averaging about 19km per litre of fuel.
The standard model of the Pan America is priced at $46,900 (without certificate of entitlement and insurance) - $10,000 cheaper than its Special counterpart.
Both versions come with 19-inch front and 17-inch rear cast-aluminium wheels. Fork out about $1,000 more for a pair of laced wheels to up the bike's adventure quotient.