“Can I tell you something? I am so bloody impressed with how quick and nimble that bike is. It has a different personality from any Harley I’ve ever ridden, but it still absolutely flies,” confides Axle Whitehead – motorcycle obsessive, actor and singer – who recently put Harley-Davidson’s Pan America 1250 Special through its paces, taking it across Victoria and South Australia for a riding experience like no other.
The fact that the Pan America’s offering is outside of what you’d traditionally expect from Harley-Davidson was clearly the brand’s intention from the start of development. Built on a foundation of endurance, exploration and adventure, the bike’s loaded with premium features designed to maintain comfort and control across the harshest environments.
As Victoria and South Australia have that kind of tough terrain in spades, Whitehead decided to head out from his home an hour north of Melbourne and ride west towards South Australia’s Flinders Ranges: “Once I got my hands on the bike, I thought I have to see what this thing’s limits are. I’d already experienced how amazing it was on bitumen, but had to see how it fared on the dirt.”
His ultimate destination was the Prairie Hotel – a beautiful venue in the town of Parachilna belonging to his friend’s family and looking every inch the archetypal outback pub thanks to its striped tin roof and red dirt car park. Once there, Whitehead could plan day rides into the Flinders Ranges and really test the Pan America’s mettle. So, he plotted a course that would take him across Victoria and into South Australia, ensuring he allowed for a quick visit to the Clare Valley in order to sample – as he puts it – “the best riesling in the world.”
After stopping off to lend a hand at his brother’s Hamilton farm for a couple of days, Whitehead began to ride north-west, finally hitting Clare around noon the following day, where the combination of the town’s atmosphere and the easy riding of the Pan America saw him lose track of time.
“I found myself getting distracted in Clare in the best possible way. I became really absorbed in that town and the joy of just being on the bike and rolling around the wineries, having an absolute blast,” he explains. “Then it dawned on me that time was getting short and I’d better get moving, because I had another four or five hours to go. So, after peeling out of Clare, I found myself cruising along in a daydream thinking to myself, how wonderful’s this?”
Wrong Way Round
Unfortunately, the pleasures of the open road are best enjoyed when you’re riding in the right direction and after a couple of hours, Whitehead eyed a sign indicating he was 150kms from Adelaide, triggering the realisation that he’d been heading in the wrong one since Clare.
“I got the map out and realised I’d been going south for like two and a half hours in a PanAm-induced daydream. I was absolutely kicking myself. I spun myself around and absolutely took off. Thankfully, I made it to Parachilna just on dusk. That all just goes to show how a great bike can make you lose yourself in the ride.”
Over the course of the next week, Whitehead used the Prairie Hotel as a base from which to explore both the Flinders Ranges and the Pan America’s capabilities. It was while riding through the area’s numerous gorges, tackling alternately rocky and sandy tracks, that the bike came into its own.
“That was a great test for me to get to know the bike, see what it could do and push it to its limit,” he says. “It was an extremely friendly bike. It did absolutely everything I wanted and as I gained more confidence on it, it was with me all the way. I was really impressed with what it could do.
“I’d ridden the same tracks on a different bike before and that time I ruined two sets of tyres in a week. With the PanAm I had no problems at all. It was in and out, the tyres were great, and it just did everything that was asked.”
A New Kind of Harley
While designed to handle tough conditions, Whitehead found the bike had a refinement to it that set it apart from previous Harley-Davidsons he’d encountered. The responsiveness of the Max Powertrain offered a delivery of power so smooth that he says it was “like having a fresh bit of toast and evenly spreading a big dollop of butter and jam. It was just so evenly placed and just gave you a great feeling.”
But does the Pan America still have that unmistakable Harley-Davidson DNA? According to Whitehead, it does and then some: “It takes you to a new level. Obviously being an adventure bike you can tackle a wider variety of roads, and Harley’s fly-by-wire technology really shines in that context. It really is worth its weight in gold on this bike. So the PanAm definitely has essential elements of the Harley DNA, but it takes it further. It takes it to a place where I was shocked by it. It’s like nothing else.”
Whitehead hopes the new bike encourages more people to embrace adventure riding and he believes that – thanks to the bike’s new Adaptive Ride Height (ARH) functionality, which automatically lowers the seat height when stopped – the Pan America 1250 Special will make that experience more accessible.
“I reckon it’s a really smart move from Harley,” he says. “I know from conversations I’ve had that there’s a big barrier to getting into adventure riding for guys that are a little shorter in the leg. Unless you’ve had a load of experience and you’re comfortable with a bigger bike that leaves you with just one foot on the ground, it can really sap your confidence.”
Fortunately, Harley-Davidson’s unique adventure bike is now that much easier to get your hands on, thanks to their MY21 Pan America Finance Offer.
“I just hope that people embrace the PanAm and at least give it a try, because as soon as you jump on it, it really sells itself,” concludes Whitehead. “You simply can’t help but have a really good time.”