In this week's show, Ray talked us through his insurance win, we have another look
The Pan America is a brand new platform for Harley-Davidson, a manufacturer that has predominantly made cruisers up till now. So, in an effort to see how it really stacks up, My self and my mate Todd decided to put it up against the latest offering from a stalwart of the adventure riding market, Suzuki, and their V-Strom 1050XT on a road trip around the top of the south island.
On the face of it, these bikes are quite different, and you may think they're not even in the same class, but I would beg to differ.
Both bikes fit into the ADV/touring category, with 1000cc+ engines, running 19-inch front and 17-inch rear wheels. Both are similarly equipped in the electronics stakes though differ somewhat in their approaches, the Suzuki with 3 sliding scales of control (SDMS/Throttle map, TC and ABS) Where the Pan America, has multiple preset ride modes which not only change the throttle mapping, ABS and TC, but the suspension set up also.
Setting up the Pan America was a matter of playing with the controls through the full-color TFT screen, not too dissimilar to setting up a car on a Play Station game. The suspension is electronically controlled, so no sag or preload to do manually. The Suzuki was a bit more hands-on, we rolled the bars forward a little, put the seat in high mode, set the suspension sag, and tweaked the preload and rebound.
The route we had chosen would take us from Picton to Blenheim, through Taylor Pass to Awatere Valley Road, down Molesworth road to our accommodation in Waiau. Day 2, Lewis pass to Nelson, and day 3, a leisurely cruise along Queen Charlotte Drive back to Picton. This route would allow us to test the bikes on a good mix of gravel, fast and twisty tarmac, and a nice cruise to the finish line.
Day 1 - Off the ferry, we set our Beeline navigation and got on with getting used to the bikes. Our first taste of gravel was Taylor pass. I switched the Suzuki to rider mode B, ABS 2, and TC off. I found it a little unnerving at first under brakes, as the ABS couldn't be completely turned off, but soon got used to it.
The Harley-Davidson was the stand out though, we switched it to "Off-Road" which softened the suspension slightly, and turned ABS off completely, retaining a little TC. This was our first chance to really put the Harley through its paces on the gravel and we were very surprised at how good it was. It's a very well-sorted bike straight out of the box with its OEM Michelin Scorcher Adventure tyres inspiring a lot of confidence. The electronic suspension seems to know just what you want it to do and adjusts accordingly, and the Adaptive Ride Height system which lowers when you come to a stop is brilliant for those who struggle to reach the ground or those with older joints. TC is great also, allowing just enough slide to have fun, but keeping everything checked.
Out on to Awatere valley road, and down to the northern boundary of the Molesworth road, the Suzuki was in Rider mode A and the Harley was in sport mode, powering out of the corners effortlessly. Two 1000+cc ADV/Touring bikes on a sunny country road, having a blast and burning through dinosaur juice like it's 1997.
We were excited to do a load more gravel, under massive skys with wide-open terrain, however, we were abruptly forced back into reality when we were greeted with a closed gate and a massive padlock. Seems a storm that blew through in July had damaged Awatere valley road, meaning it was only open to residents. We had blasted through here without even noticing. This also meant the northern gate to the Molesworth wouldn't be opened till late summer 2022, forcing us to backtrack to Seddon and take SH1 down to Kaikoura, heading inland toward Mt Lyford and finally rolling into our accommodation around 8 pm.
Day 2 dawned and we saddled up early, each of us was carrying a Kriega US-20 pack with our clothes and essentials, and the V-Strom also had a Ventura EVO rack with Evo-22 Jet-Stream pack with camera gear, puncture repair kits, and tools.
Stopping quickly in Culverden for breakfast, we got on the road to the Lewis Pass. As we had already had a long day in the saddle, we were really starting to get to know our bikes pretty well.
The Harley's Sport mode is great when you want full-on attack, but switching it to Road mode eases back the savagery of the throttle, and softens up the ride beautifully. The V-Strom's SDMS mode B was similar, removing the snatchy feeling and allowing smooth roll on and off of the throttle.
Although I preferred the firmness of the V-Strom's seat on the gravel as well as the ergonomics when standing up, now touring, I was leaning toward the Harley's more comfortable seat and more relaxed ergonomics. One thing the comparatively low-tech Suzuki had over the Harley though, was a USB charging socket on the left-hand side of the dash cluster, meaning I could charge my phone while on the go. There's also a full auxiliary power outlet under the pillion seat.
We barreled through to Murchison for morning tea, then on to St Arnaud for the obligatory Lake photo.
Next up was lunch at the Wakefield Bakery. If you're ever in the area, be sure to stop in for a chicken pie, and finally a cruise through Nelson to our accommodation for the night.
Day 3 dawned and we were soon on the bikes to find a morning coffee. They were starting to look like used bikes now, with bugs and remnants of the first day's mud and dust.
Today's ride was a cruisy wee jaunt of around 200km from Nelson around to Havelock, and finally Queen Charlotte Drive to Picton. The storm that had affected Awatere valley road back in July, had also made a mess of Queen Charlotte Drive, with around 9 landslips where the whole left-hand lane had washed away into the sea.
During the 3 day ride, we talked often on the Cardos while riding, about which bike was best and if I'm honest, it was a really hard choice. On one hand, you have the latest and greatest electronics in the Harley-Davidson Pan America. Not to mention the Revolution Max 1250 engine, which really gets the bike moving. And when the variable valve timing comes on song, the sound from the exhaust is beautiful. But there's something to be said for the Suzuki and its more conventional approach to controls and setup. The 1037cc engine is not to be sniffed at and gets along quite well thank you very much. Head to head, the V-Strom can actually outperform the Harley... sometimes. The Harley is more comfortable, the Suzuki is more simple, The Harlay might be slightly more approachable. The suzuki has a clearer button layout, the Harley has a nicer screen, I could go back and forth like this all day. I think in the hands of a really talented rider, the Suzuki would be more capable, but in my gorilla grips, they're both just as capable as each other. I couldn't even separate them when it comes to fuel economy, the Harley with it's close to 200cc more engine capacity used almost exactly the same amount of fuel as the Suzuki.
I initially thought of the V-Strom as almost the wallpaper of ADV/touring bikes. It's been around for so long with only small changes between model years that a lot of people discount it without riding it. While many people in the ADV/Touring sector laugh at the Harley-Davidson Pan America, because it's a Harley.
When we finally reached Picton and while sitting waiting on the ferry, we asked the question one final time, which one would you pick?.
Todd, who owns a Tiger 800, a DR650, and a V-Strom 650 surprisingly said he would choose the Harley. He was a little embarrassed to say that, but there lies the thing. The Pan America is a brilliant bike. No two ways about it, it is so far from "your Grandads Harley" and if it had a Yamaha or a Suzuki logo up the side you wouldn't think twice about it, but because Harley-Davidson has a certain leather-wearing, chrome-loving stigma, some people are embarrassed to even try the Pan America. But they shouldn't be, this is a bike that should be taken seriously.
When asked which I would go for, I ended up choosing Suzuki. I preferred the ergonomics, the DR-Big styling grew on me over time and the colour scheme looks better in person let me assure you. Sure the seat is hard, and the OEM tyres are a little on-road focussed for my liking. But at around 10K less expensive than the Pan Am, you could fix the seat, maybe put some slightly more ADV-focused tires on it, and still have money in your pocket to actually ride the bike places.
After around 800 kilometers, 3 days of riding, I can say that Harley-Davidson's Pan America is a beautiful bike, and you should not discount it because of its badge and the Suzuki V-Strom 1050XT is simply brilliant, if you get the chance to ride either of them.... you'd be silly not to.