Adventure touring motorcycle wars: Pan America S vs Gs 1200S

Adventure touring motorcycle

Adventure touring motorcycle wars: Pan America S vs Gs 1200S

The adventure touring motorcycle segment has never been so competitive. Despite other brands attempts to take the throne, BMW has been ruling the segment for quite a while. Thing is, there’s a new sheriff in town: Harley-Davidson Pan America S. Does it have what it takes to dethrone the BMW Gs 1200S?

Adventure touring motorcycle wars: Engine

BMW’s GS is equipped with a flat (boxer) twin with a displacement of 1254cc, while Harley Davidson’s Pan America rocks a V-Twin with a displacement of 1252cc. Harley’s V-Twin has full liquid-cooling, while BMW’s engine is cooled by a mixture of air and water. Power wise there is a discrete difference as well: BMW’s boxer produces 134 horsepower, while Harley Davidson’s V-Twin is capable of producing 150 horsepower. Another Harley Davidson strong point is the zero-maintenance hydraulic tappet adjusters: the BMW’s need to be adjusted manually. BMW leads on torque with 105 foot-pounds, while Harley-Davidson’s V-Twin makes 94 foot-pounds. Both models have a six-speed transmission, but BMW employs a shaft drive, while Harley Davidson uses a chain. The BMW excels in low and mid-range torque delivery, helped by the variable valve timing, while the Harley has more high-rev punch.


To be at the top of the adventure touring motorcycle segment, a motorcycle must have premium specs, therefore, I am not surprised to see semi-active suspension on both motorcycles. The BMW GS is equipped with the company’s Telelever front suspension, with a single coil-over shock mounted high up near the headstock: this solution is tried and tested and works well; it offers a high level of anti-dive under braking but it lacks a little of  front-end feel. The Harley-Davidson Pan America is equipped with upside-down forks, which work very well and are slightly more predictable no matter the road surface.

Both brands equipped their motorcycles with a single coil-over suspension but, they adopted different philosophies for the swing arm: on the BMW Gs is possible to find a single-sided swing arm, while on the Harley Davidson is possible to find a conventional twin-sided swing arm. The electronic suspension on both have preset modes, depending on the riding surface. One thing that impresses on the Pan America is the Adaptive Ride Height: the system detects when the motorcycle comes to a full stop and automatically lowers it by 2-inches. It is a clever solution that solves the height issue of these tall bikes, which usually puts them out of reach for shorter riders.


Here is BMW flexes its experience in the adventure touring motorcycle segment. Attention to detail on the BMW is simply incredible.

Adjusting the clear screen on the BMW is so simple: turn the knurled knob one way to lower, the other way to raise. On the Harley instead, the system requires you to adjust the screen while at a stop: trying to do it on the move is absolutely dangerous; plus, depending on where the screen is set, the left handlebar will hit it when at full lock.

Same goes for the seat settings: on the BMW it is very simple and intuitive. On the Pan America, you have to take the pillion seat off to access the rider’s seat, which means unstrapping the luggage. It is not much of a big deal, but it is always nice to do things the easy way.

Adventure touring motorcycle wars: conclusion

Choosing between this motorcycle is not easy: where one gains, it loses in another area and vice versa. On the Harley Davidson there is nothing you can point to that is glaringly bad – a couple of areas where it could improve but isn’t that natural? The Pan America is at the beginning of its development curve. Everything about the Gs 1200 S is so incredibly polished and beautifully engineered, the electronics are incredible, and the suspension gives the most uncanny magic carpet ride on fast dirt surfaces and, at the same time,  it is able to give sports bikes an hard time on fast, twisty roads.
What do you think? Which one would you like to own? Let us know in the comments

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