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Harley-Davidson’s Pan America Trumps BMW’s R 1250 GS Adventure in ‘Big Bore Adventure Shootout’

Remember when Revzilla pitted the BMW R 1250 GS Adventure against the Pan America and the GS won?

Well, we’ve found a team that begs to differ – and CycleWorld’s adamant that the Pan America trumped this particular ‘big-bore adventure shootout’ with room to spare.

Before we dive in, I’ll again reference what I said in the Revzilla Showdown: the BMW is my current fave – or as much as it can be, given I’ve never sat on the thing.  Specs are specs, but even I admit that the feel and yank of a beastie will change a mind easier than the cool calculations that the computer screen in front of me has to offer. 

On top of the Pan America and GS, Cycleworld added a third machine – Ducati’s all-new Multistrada V4 S, rounding up the lovely duo to a feisty ménage à trois. 

Media connected to the big-bore shootout performed by the team at Cycle World

“We had big—no, huge—plans for a big-bore adventure shootout,” admitted the report. 

“This included five national parks, numerous state parks, camping off the bikes, and long miles each day.”

“As it turned out, some in our group couldn’t be gone for a week or more. Others got COVID. Some test units became unavailable due to supply chain issues. So we settled on a shorter test: three days of intense riding in Southern Utah, a land crafted by the gods for adventure motorcycling.”

The arena of choice? 

Cycleworld’s test base in St. George, Utah, where a plethora of different topographies and a rigorous data-gathering process started underway. This purportedly involved “weighing [the bikes], measuring them, running them on our in-house Dynojet 250i dynamometer, and performance testing them at our airstrip test bed.” 

The crew even went so far as to test each bike on the standard spoked wheels, then again with the optional off-road rubber and OEM panniers installed for each bike. 

Modes: A Reminder

BMW‘s R 1250 GS 40-Year Edition included its swanky $3,750 premium package option. This means seven modes, including the addition of Dynamic, Dynamic Pro, Enduro, and Enduro Pro modes.

Ducati‘s Multistrada V4 Sfeatured its standard four modes: Sport, Touring, Urban, and Enduro. 

The Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 Special swept the competition floor with eight total modes; Sport, Road, Rain, Off-road, Off-road Plus, and three customizable modes – two for street and one for off-road.

Open Road Test

The ‘open road’, also known as the CW dyno, measured each machine as rider ‘gave it the beans’ on the straights.

“Here on the open road the Multistrada V4 S is king,” crows the report. 

Don’t believce us? Here are the dyno results for each machine:

Ducati Multistrada V4 S

143.8hp @ 10,580rpm

77.8 lb/ft torque @ 7,410rpm

Harley-Davidson Pan America

128.2hp @ 9,130rpm 

80.9 lb/ft torque @ 4,340rpm

BMW R 1250 GS 40-Year Edition

117.39hp @ 7,770rpm

91.5 lb-ft torque [@ 6,250rpm]

Media connected to the big-bore shootout performed by the team at Cycle World


“Navigating these modes is fairly straightforward on each model, but the user interfaces for other functions are quite different across the three,” Comments the article. 

Ducati Multistrada V4 S

Bright and clear, though the scrolling gave a few on the team epileptic fits until they figured out how to work it properly. 

Harley-Davidson Pan America

Unfortunately, aside from the clear visuals, the Pan America didn’t do so well here, with some script so tiny that CW Editor-in-Chief Mark Hoyer described it as an “eye test for those with better than 20/20 vision—at speed.”

BMW R 1250 GS 40-Year Edition

Same as the Multistrada – bright and clear visuals, the best of the three (though the team got impressively annoyed at how it took “five button presses to reset the trip meter at the gas station.”)

Media connected to the big-bore shootout performed by the team at Cycle World

Loose Dirt Roads

Ducati Multistrada V4 S

Ducati’s ADV brainchild was surprisingly disappointing; with the majority of Team Red’s strengths best stretched out on the paved road, dirt spoils the shiny red complexion – and it showed. 

“Triple-digit speed in the dirt is possible if you’ve got the space, and of course the nerve. In the corners, with the TC turned down to the lowest setting, there is still too much intervention; power is cut too abruptly, causing an undulating tail wag as you screw it on.”

“But my goodness, is it fast.”

Harley-Davidson Pan America

The Pan America trumped the competition here by a long shot. With its Off-Road Plus mode, we’re told “that mode’s power delivery is just the right mix of meaty torque and big power for life in the dirt; rear tire spin-up is predictable and smooth, and when the TC steps in there’s no real indication that it’s limiting spin.”

“You just feel like an exceptionally good rider.”

BMW R 1250 GS 40-Year Edition

The GS showed very torque-rich turns when coming out of a twisty, and came runner-up in this test, with Enduro Pro mode on for the full length of the road. 

“The engine’s connection to the right wrist is uncanny when the dirt isn’t rough.”

Media connected to the big-bore shootout performed by the team at Cycle World

Rocky Terrain

Ducati Multistrada V4 S

Not bad, but we’re told that the Multistrada was wickedly heavy when comparing to other bikes in the lineup with a lower center of gravity (cough, the GS, cough.) Unfortunately the V4 S came in last for this round.

“The Ducati surprises with a well-balanced setting from its semi-active Skyhook suspension as it strokes through 6.7 and 7.1 inches of travel front and rear.”

“Pounding though the rocks is controlled, but you do feel the heft and width of the large fuel tank.”

“…it’s just a little more sluggish to react to inputs and has a greater moment of inertia than the other two.”

Harley-Davidson Pan America

In the Off-Road setting, the Pan America purportedly did the best job when it came to controlling wheel action – this being partially due to its 7.5 inches of travel front and rear. According to CW, it won the round by a clear margin, though the action isn’t the quietest thing available.

“H-D has fitted Showa semi-active suspension to the Pan Am…even when pushed hard, the H-D moves through the large volcanic rocks, tree roots, and chuckholes found on the winding Duck Creek woods trails with the most composure of the three machines.”

“It will blow through the stroke on G-outs, and will bottom loudly on the skid plate, but both wheels stay in line and on course.”

BMW R 1250 GS 40-Year Edition

Here, the GS shines – slow technical work is a walk in the park for a bike with a lower center of gravity.  

“It seems to balance all by itself even at walking speeds, allowing riders to pick a line and and then pick it apart.”

Go faster, though, and CW found that the lack of compression and rebound damping on the Beemer’s Dynamic ESA rear shock “kills forward drive, which can be enough to knock it off-line in the most extreme terrain.”

“Up front, 7.5 inches of telelever suspension eats up moderate-sized rocks and potholes, but as with the 7.9 inches in the rear, the bike can blow through that travel quickly at speed if the smoothest path isn’t selected.”
“Both ends feel cheap in comparison to the Harley and Ducati’s semi-active units.”

A heartfelt ‘ouch’ for Bavaria.

Media connected to the big-bore shootout performed by the team at Cycle World


Ducati Multistrada V4 S

The Multistrada didn’t do as well here, as expected when something top-heavy tackles a slick environ.

“Although the Multi weighs only 1 pound more than the BMW and the same as the Harley (604 pounds versus 603 pounds) when fueled, it felt tall and heavy while on the completely saturated earth.”

Harley-Davidson Pan America

Surprisingly enough, the Pan America’s svelte waistline and modes had it coming out on top for this test. 

“The Pan Am’s narrower tank and solid front-end feel made the constant course corrections and surprises easier as we battled the cold and wet.”

BMW R 1250 GS 40-Year Edition

An almost-win for the GS, but it just wasn’t as nimble as the Harley – although the low center of gravity definitely helped. 

“A low center of gravity on the GS helped with confidence here, but it still feels hefty especially when sitting down and dabbing your feet in the slow and slick sections.”


Ducati Multistrada V4 S

As expected, Ducati’s knowledge in track-speak has pulled off a win for this round. 

“In the curves the V4 S is the king, thanks to its ability to leave the apexes quickly in Sport mode, as the ride is taut and composed.”

Harley-Davidson Pan America

“softer and less precise” is what we get with Harley’s ADV darling when leaning into the curves. 

“The Pan America also tightens up the ride in Sport mode, but not to the sportbike level of the Ducati.”

BMW R 1250 GS 40-Year Edition

The verdict for the GS?

…it’s a little complicated. 

“Select Dynamic on the R 1250 GS and you’ll be amazed with the change in the chassis attitude; preload is increased and the GS gets tipped forward on its nose for quick and extremely light handling; sadly the lackluster rebound damping is an issue here too, and midcorner bumps will upset a finely chosen line.”

Adjustable Pre-Load

The Pan America won this round again – this being due to Harley-Davidson’s Adaptive Rider Height, pushing the bike’s potential that much further. 

“The system automatically sets the rear sag to 30 percent, and then lowers the rear suspension when you come to a stop to reduce the seat height up to 2 inches. This means turning around on the trail and stopping on uneven ground is easier on the Pan America than the others.”

“We didn’t have any issue with losing ground clearance at low speeds; anyone who’s concerned about it can take the extra step to lock out the ARH during that sort of riding.”

The final verdict?
Obviously, the team had a blast on all three bikes – and when you put a machine through its paces so rigorously, there’s no way you can’t come away from that with a fond twinkle in your eye and a new sentimental respect for what the brand created. 

Still, by the end of the day, we’re told that the bikes showed their true colors and the endurance of the testing phase brought out which machine won out. 

You ready? 

Drumroll please…


While we pulled your leg in the Revzilla showdown, this time we aren’t bluffing. Check out the thoughts of the CW team below:

3rd Place: Ducati Multistrada V4 S

“The Multistrada V4 S truly is ready for all roads, but not so much as the Harley-Davidson and BMW. Ducati’s high-performance superbike DNA clearly shines through on the V4 S; if you’re looking to embarrass sportbike squids on the street and then wave ‘see ya!’ as you exit onto dirt roads to the top of the mountain, the 2021 Ducati Multistrada V4 S is the bike for you.”

Adam Waheed, our third test rider, summed up the Multi best: ‘Even though this bike is fast and exhilarating, I need a motorcycle that is going to be more versatile than this if I’m looking for an adventure terrain rig.’”

Media connected to the big-bore shootout performed by the team at Cycle World

2nd Place: BMW R 1250 GS 40-Year Edition

“BMW’s GS is of course the gold standard of adventure motorcycling, and the R 1250 GS is an exceptional motorcycle. Its flat-twin boxer engine has character unlike any other offering in the ADV world. It’s almost too easy to ride, and it’s an icon for many reasons. If not for its lackluster suspension performance in the dirt, the BMW might have won. But BMW rested on its laurels just a moment too long, and the new kid on the block cleaned its clock. Not that this clock needed cleaning, necessarily; it’s still a finely crafted motorcycle.”

Media connected to the big-bore shootout performed by the team at Cycle World

1st Place: Harley-Davidson Pan America

“In its first test, the Pan America has soundly beaten both the odds-on favorite ADV all-time champion and an insanely fun and fast Italian beast. Its lively engine split the difference between the V4′s rev-happy power and GS’ grunt, and simply worked in more situations than the competition. Its suspension was balanced, refined, and controlled no matter the terrain or surface, making it easier when the going got tough. That, above all else, is the most important trait of an adventure bike. What good is a motorcycle if it can get you into trouble but can’t get you out?”

What do you think? Cycleworld has also recorded the specifications of each bike in their report – measured by their own instrumentation – which you can use for your own comparisons, to win a bet against a mate, or just to brag. 

Drop a comment below letting us know what you think – you know we love hearing from you, and we’re curious to hear what you think.

Make sure to also head over to Revzilla’s ADV showdown (sans Ducati) where the GS won out, and as always – stay safe on the twisties.

  1. Obviously KTM is glaringly absent, surely it would be the winner if it had been included! The KTM has less weight and better suspension just to start.

    Going off road likely also includes dropping the bike and difficulty with low speed handling like backing up and making a U turn on a narrow trail. The HD gets points there for the easily lowered suspension, that seems very inovative! The BMW should get points for being easier to pick up though, the cylinders mean it will generally come to rest at an angle that would be work lifting to reach on a bike without those protruding jugs! Isn’t that why people like these lumps? The Ducati is too pretty (and expensive) to drop IMO, I would keep it clean on the street!
    Too bad the HD has that hideous headlight, ha, but maybe HD was thinking how can we out ugly BM’s GS?
    Back to the KTM, they build for function, a good example would be the low fuel tanks that keep weight low. Look at Harley, they feel showing off the whole engine is more relevant than getting the CG low as possible.

    1. I agree KTM should have been included, it is a superior machine, and I would agree, it’s better adapted for off road than the GS. I hope you weren’t being sarcastic about the GS being easier to pick up, all 3 machines weight 600 lbs. You apparently forgot the GS has the lowest center of gravity due to the boxer configuration. The boxer motor is strong, reliable, and has more torque than the Pan American or Ducati. On a historical note, the boxer was so superior when used in North Africa that Harley Davidson tried to copy it with the Harley Davidson XA, boxer motor, driveshaft, and all. The placement of the cylinders provides exceptional cooling along with being liquid cooled. Looks are subjective, however the Pan America could use some help.

  2. Your bias is showing, you’re the same folks who called the GS a “Nazi Superbike.” According to Cycleworld the GS almost won this competition, not the huge win you describe. You got the specifications for the BMW wrong. Horsepower is 136 and torque is 105 lb-ft. thanks to BMW’s Shift Cam technology. The Ducati has more horsepower but less torque. The HD Pan America has both less horsepower and less torque. BMW’s power/torque is available at lower RPM’s. All three bikes weight the same. All three do 0-60 with about 0.2 tenths of a second variance. The boxer motor is known and reliable, this is the first year for the Pan America. On paper it looks like the 3 are virtually equal, but for safety, reliability, endurance, speed, and comfort the R 1250 GS is the winner.

  3. This is not a compliment for HD but just shows how far BMW has fallen. I had a BMW and it was a lemon, 50,000km, back wheel bearings, steering bearings, ignition switch, pistons, rings, crankcase housing and I had to take BMW to court to get them to pay. Most brands talk about warranty claims per 100 bikes, BMW talk in terms of warranty claims per bike.

    1. Rob, that sounds like a very negative experience. What year & model? What type of terrain was it used? We’re none of these issues detected during service intervals? Thanks

    2. Why is this even an article, it simply recycling the cycle world article. No new content. Just a way to troll and get clicks

        1. Hey Darren,

          Love your consistent contributions to our articles. Thanks for taking the time.

          Don’t worry – even if I’m new, everything else about wBW has continued on. We still have a fantastic lineup of contributors dressed to the nines with experience on the roads (and in the shop). We love our crew, we love this site, and we don’t plan on sacking anyone anytime soon. 😉

          Thanks for dropping by and cheers,

  4. This is not a compliment for HD but just shows how far BMW has fallen. I had a BMW and it was a lemon, 50,000km, back wheel bearings, steering bearings, ignition switch, pistons, rings, crankcase housing and I had to take BMW to court to get them to pay. Most brands talk about warranty claims per 100 bikes, BMW talk in terms of warranty claims per bike. Buy a BMW and you are supporting an unethical company.

    1. Rob, that sounds like a very negative experience. What year & model? What type of terrain was it used? We’re none of these issues detected during service intervals? Thanks

  5. I wonder if this would have been different had they used the 1260 Multistrada Enduro instead? I’ve found the low-power mode (100hp) and TC at it’s lowest (not off) setting it was not abrupt at all.

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