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The major selling point of the Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250 is its offroad capabilities. Similar in stance and stature to a dirtbike, its tall suspension and upwards ride height keep it agile on the dirt. But when comparing it to the Sportster S, Harley-Davidson’s sport-oriented motorcycle, the Pan-America might be better on the street than the motorcycle designed for the street.

2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S
2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S | Harley-Davidson

The stats and specs of the 2021 Harley Davidson Sportster S

Let’s start by going over the basic stats and features of the 2021 Sportster S, Harley-Davidson’s street warrior. With a stretched seating position and forward-mounted food controls, the Sportster S requires the rider to “sprawl” a bit. But that results in a more comfortable position, despite the bike’s sporty nature. It encourages cruising, even if the engine doesn’t.

Under the hood is the Revolution Max 1250T, which makes 94 lb-ft of torque and 121 horsepower at 7500 RPM. A hefty amount of power for a bike that weighs in at 502 lbs. For any of you power-junkies out there, that’s a power-to-weight ratio of .24, a similar ratio to a Bugatti Veyron, which packs 1,001 hp to pull the 4,044 lbs.

In terms of features, the base Sportster S is a bit bare-bones. You get a 4-inch display for most of the bike’s functions, including speed, mileage, fuel level, and other basic bike stats. You also have RDRS as standard, which helps maintain grip in slick environments. But other than that, this $15,000 street bike is fairly simple. And after all is said and done, you get more features on the base model 2021 Pan-America than you do the Sportster S.

How the 2021 Pan-America 1250 one-ups the Sportster S

2021 Harley-Davidson Pan-America
2021 Harley-Davidson Pan-America | Harley-Davidson

Upon comparing the two bikes, the only two features the 2021 Harley- Davidson Sportster S had that the 2021 Pan-America didn’t were as follows: the aforementioned RDRS system and an ambient temperature gauge. So if you want to know what the weather’s like outside, you have to buy the Sportster S. However, there are a plethora of features the Pan America has that the Sportster S lacks.

In terms of tech, the display screen size bumped up to 6.8 inches. And the Pan-America 1250 has extra riding modes: Offroad and Offroad plus, specifically tuned for the dirt that supplement the three standard riding modes (Sport, Road, and Rain). You also get cornering ABS, security, and cruise control as standard on the Pan-America 1250, whereas on the Sportster S, those features aren’t even optional. And on top of all that, the Pan-America has an optional passenger’s seat, whereas you’re a solo rider on the Sportster S.

But the mechanics of the Pan-America 1250 are what set it apart from the Sportster S. For starters, that same Revolution Max 1250cc engine makes 150 horsepower at 9,000 RPM, rather than 121 at 7,500 RPM. So in terms of power, it’s more performance-oriented than the performance motorcycle.

But if you’re like me, you also get a kick out of good gas mileage, something both bikes have. The Sportster S gets about 49 mpg while the Pan-America gets 46. Certainly more than your average gasoline car on both fronts. But the Pan-America will get you further, able to hold 5.6 gallons of fuel rather than the Sportster S’s measly 3.1-gallon capacity.

So while the 2021 Pan-America may be destined for the dirt, the features and mechanics of the bike may make it better for the road than the road-only Sportster S.

Street or dirt: which of these Harley-Davidson motorcycles is right for you?

2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S (Top) And 2021 Harley-Davison Pan-America (Bottom)
2021 Harley-Davidson Sportster S (Top) And 2021 Harley-Davison Pan-America (Bottom) | Harley-Davidson

The one advantage the Harley-Davidson Sportster S has over the Pan-America is price, which starts at $15,000. The Pan-America, on the other hand, will run you $2,013 more. And keep in mind, both of these are just the base models with no extra features.

The verdict on which is the better bike all comes down to how you want to use it. Sure, the Sportster S might have fatter tires, but if you have no reason to go offroad, you don’t necessarily need an offroad bike. To save a few pennies, the Sportster S might be the way to go. And while the Pan-America has more power, the performance of the bikes is fairly similar due to the Pan-America’s added weight.

However, the Pan-America also has cruise control and a larger gas capacity. All that makes it a better bike for riding around town than the Sportster S, even if every promo photo for the thing features it on the dirt. Keep that in mind when making your decision, as you never know when you may want to hit the trails. And if that urge comes, you better make sure you have the right bike for the job.


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