Bikes & Parts

Is Harley’s New Pan America the Perfect Adventure Bike for Women?

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Woman riding an adventure bike up a sandy hill
Photos courtesy of Harley-Davidson

Okay, I’ll admit that this headline is slightly on the clickbait side since there’s obviously not one adventure bike that is perfect for every person from the same gender, but I still find the question interesting. Many women—and other people with shorter inseams—have historically had a hard time finding ADV bikes that they can safely maneuver, since these bikes are often built with ground clearance in mind (hence, a taller seat height).

Harley-Davidson’s new Pan America offers an innovative solution to this problem with its Adaptive Ride Height (ARH). This feature gradually lowers the seat height up to two inches as you come to a stop. If you plan on going really slow, like when doing some off-roading in rough terrain, you can manually turn ARH off, or adjust its sensitivity, to still keep the ground clearance at slower speeds. It’s a really neat feature, and one I believe to be a game changer in the industry. The bike also comes with two seat height options that can be adjusted without tools.

Putting the Pan Am to the test

I was invited to the Pan America press launch a few weeks ago and got to spend a couple of days putting the bike to the test on both pavement and dirt, and I was surprised by how well it handled. It’s a big bike—1250cc, 570 pounds, 150 horsepower—and I was a bit intimidated at first. But once you start moving, it handles like a much lighter motorcycle, especially in the dirt. I got to do everything from low speed 180-degree turns in sand to riding fast, tight twisties to chugging along at freeway speeds to catching air on a motocross track, and the Pan Am took it all like a champ.

At 5’8″ I’m able to comfortably ride most motorcycles. But when it comes to riding fully loaded big adventure touring bikes, I’ve found that the height and weight distribution often make them sketchy to move around while tippy-toeing. On the Pan America, with ARH engaged and the seat in the lower position, I was able to plant my feet flat on the ground. It should be noted, though, that ARH is not a stock feature—it costs an extra $1,000 and can only be added to the Special model.

Harley is of course well aware of the height issue and made a strategic decision to be competitive in that aspect. Paul James, PR manager for Harley-Davidson, told me: “When we talked to real customers in the space today, we found that not only are there customers who own adventure bikes that don’t feel comfortable on them, there were many other customers who were intrigued by the adventure touring space but put off by the seat height.”

Go new places

I have a lot to say about the Pan America, and some of it I already said in this article over on Roadtrippers. But in the interest of time, I’ll end with this. I consider myself sort of the perfect audience for the Pan Am: I’ve been riding Harleys for years (I have two in the garage right now) but I also want to be able to go off the pavement (I have a Royal Enfield Himalayan and a dirt bike for that currently). And I am genuinely impressed by how much thought and effort Harley put into making the Pan America competitive off the bat. It still feels like a Harley. But it can go places and do things most Harley riders may not have experienced before.

And for shorter riders—many women included—this might be the first big adventure touring bike that is fully accessible out of the box—no performance-decreasing height modifications necessary.

Sanna likes motorcycles, kittens, and punk rock. You’re most likely to find her riding twisties in the mountains or camping in the desert with her moto squad. She has a 2015 Harley-Davidson Street Bob, a H-D Shovelhead chopper, a 2021 Royal Enfield Himalayan, and a Honda CRF230F.

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