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Motorcycle test – BMW R 1250 GS vs. Harley Davidson Pan America: Is the Best-Selling Adventure Motorcycle the Best?

How similar are the BMW R 1250 GS and Harley Davidson Pan America?

The BMW R 1250 GS and Harley Davidson Pan America are great adventure motorcycles. They both weigh around 250 pounds and have a comparably powerful two-cylinder engine. The BMW’s boxer block has more torque (143 Nm versus 128 Nm), the Harley’s V-twin wins when it comes to power (152 hp versus 136 hp). In terms of price, the two are not that different. The Harley is the most affordable, with a starting price of 18,995 euros. BMW asks more than 1000 euros more for the 1250 GS (from 20,200 euros).

Which is more beautiful: the BMW R 1250 GS or the Harley Davidson Pan America?

Well, here we go: it’s hard to pick a winner in this category. The BMW R 1250 GS is not beautiful, but it is nicely finished. BMW has done a great job in terms of quality. Everything you touch feels solid, well put together, pricey.

Opinions differ about whether the Harley Davidson with the Pan America has created a beautifully stylized motorcycle. However, we think the Pan America is a cool adventure motorcycle to see. His front reminds us of a Storm Trooper from Star Wars or a Cylon Centurion from Battlestar Galactica. A bit retro-futuristic. Entirely right!

We are less positive about Harley Davidson’s finishing misses. The pane of the Pan America flutters in all directions, you hardly dare to touch its adjustment mechanism, it looks so fragile, and the steering wheel lock that Harley uses, other motorcycle brands have already relegated to the trash can in the eighties.



Which has the finest engine: the BMW R 1250 GS or the Harley Davidson Pan America?

The 1251 cc boxer block of the BMW is a jewel, with loads of torque at low revs (maximum 143 Nm). BMW also does a Honda and applies a kind of VTEC system to the R 1250 GS: ShiftCam. It works with two camshaft profiles, switching between them based on your throttle input. If you open the lever quickly and wide, the sharper camshaft profile goes on for more performance. The BMW has a maintenance-free cardan shaft. The Harley a chain.

The power source of the Harley Davidson is much more exciting than that of the BMW. Don’t expect a quiet burbling sloth, the new Revolution Max 1250 feels like a real sports bike. It whizzes to life quietly and smoothly, but sounds more and more meaner as you climb into the revs. The Pan America feels wild, with a power of 152 horsepower that comes out high in the range. And yet there is always enough torque available. You can accelerate from 30 to 130 km/h in third gear in one go.

Which offers the best technology: the BMW R 1250 GS or the Harley Davidson Pan America?

The BMW R 1250 GS is full of beautiful technology. The dashboard – a standard TFT color screen – is easy to read and easy to use. You operate the menus with a rotating ring next to the left handle. Pressing it left or right takes you back or selects a function. The safety equipment is impressive: with cornering ABS, traction control, Hill Start Control and a tweaked rain mode.

Harley Davidson also packs the Pan America chock full of tech, but its dashboard screen is a bit more chaotic and busier. Moreover, its operation is not as convenient as with the BMW. An interesting option is the Adaptive Ride Height, which adjusts the suspension to the optimum ride height on the road and lowers to the ground when coming to a stop, so that even shorter riders can stand with their feet flat on the tarmac.

What could clearly be done better with the BMW R 1250 GS and the Harley Davidson Pan America?

During our week of testing with the BMW, we ran into only one downside: the heated handles. Its operation is too cumbersome. You have to press the on/off button on the right, then choose with the selection wheel on the left whether you want to heat the handles or the seat, and then also indicate how hot you want the handles (there are five settings).

With the Pan America, as mentioned, it is the finish that disappoints. Harley Davidson really needs to make strides in that area, including when it comes to making the controls more intuitive. BMW just got a lot better at ergonomics.


Which adventure motorcycle would we choose: the BMW R 1250 GS or the Harley Davidson Pan America?

The Harley Davidson is distinctive and exciting. Moreover, you see it (not yet) as often on the road as the best-selling motorcycle in the Netherlands: the BMW R 1250 GS. His V-twin is great and heralds a whole new era for Harley Davidson. The sometimes cheap use of materials and the disappointing finish of the Pan America are against us.

We would go for BMW R 1250 GS. It impresses with its comfort, maneuverability, practicality and quality. Its boxer engine provides a torque wave that you can surf in any gear, at any speed. The GS is a cliché, just like the Porsche 911. But clichés are clichés because they are true. And the GS really is as good as motorcycling Netherlands says.

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