The Ballad of Easy Rider

No later than 1969, with the release of a certain film, everyone knew: a Harley-Davidson isn’t a motorcycle at all. It is the manifested vision of freedom. And you don’t even need a road to experience that anymore.
Text Wiebke Brauer
Photo Harley-Davidson

“All for Freedom. Freedom for All.” Harley-­Davidson’s advertising slogan dates from 2017, although the year doesn’t really matter. Because the spirit behind the slogan was already there when mechanical engineer William Harley, along with brothers William, Arthur and Walter Davidson, put together their first “motor-bicycle” in a woodshed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. That was back in 1903. The motto was certainly relevant in 1969, when Peter Fonda rode his chopper over America’s highways in Easy Rider. It was still true in 1991, when Arnold Schwarzenegger raced a Fat Boy through the canalized Bull Creek in the North Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles in Terminator 2.

And it should still be valid today, when you get on a brand-new Pan America 1250. Harley-Davidson is more than a cultural phenomenon; it is a myth. A myth fed by a long tradition, by images from the big screen that have indelibly etched themselves into our minds – defined by the vision of freedom, which runs like a common thread through the history and narrative of the brand. Harley-Davidson means being free to think and do things differently. This was true for the founders, the company directors – and it is true for anyone who sits on a Harley and rides off into the sunset. Because on a Harley, the horizon is always a little wider, the sky a little higher, the roads a lot wider. If you need them at all.

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»Get your motor runnin’
Head out on the highway
Looking for adventure
In whatever comes our way«

»Born to Be Wild« – Steppenwolf

This non-conformist attitude began with the vision of changing the way people get around. The idea was to create an alternative to the automobile – and so Harley and the Davidsons came up with an engine that could be mounted on a bicycle. In 1909 they built the first two-wheeler that had two combustion chambers with a volume of 811 cubic centimeters. The two cylinders were arranged at a 45-degree angle to each other so they would fit inside the frame rather than being hidden behind a cover, as was the case with most motorcycles. The fact that the Model 5-D, which was equipped only with a coaster brake, could accelerate to 100 km/h . . . well, let’s call it adventurous. Typical in any case, was the extraordinary power and the fact that Harley-­Davidson was constantly working on making improvements.

»Flow river flow Let your waters wash down Take me from this road To some other town« – Ballad of Easy Rider by Roger McGuinn

The basic engine design – two cylinders at a 45-degree angle – remains a stylistic feature of many Harley-Davidson engines to this day, paying tribute to the company’s long tradition, though that doesn’t mean you’ll never see an electric Harley turn the corner. And truly, no one expected the LiveWire. Wasn’t the sound of roaring engines sacred? Yes, it was, but on the other hand, the brand (and its riders) doesn’t necessarily stand for clinging to rigid conventions. And now they’ve gone and launched a big touring enduro called the Pan America 1250. The model is available in two versions.

The basic variant features a fully adjustable suspension with 191 mm of travel front and rear, five riding modes, one of which can be self-programmed, plus cornering ABS and lean-angle-sensitive traction control. The tank holds 21.2 liters, and the bike weighs (only) 245 kilograms. True, there has never been such a thing, an adventure touring bike in the Harley portfolio, but isn’t that the best reason? There has also never been a motorcycle with automatic seat height adjustment. The technology is optional on the Pan America 1250 Special. When stopped, the seat height comes down to a lower position. When moving again, the seat automatically goes back up to optimal ride height.

“When you buy a Harley, you buy into a way of life. The actual motorcycle is free.” Said Willie G. Davidson, the grandson of Harley co-founder William A. Davidson. To equate this way of life with the American dream would be missing the point – because it would limit the vision not only in terms of vastness, grandeur and scale, but also in terms of social affiliation and a transgressive desire for individuality. From a distance, it may seem like there is that one Harley rider. The person who dreams of turning his back on the establishment and the monotony of everyday life and rumbles across the highways from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. But the closer you get, the finer the distinctions that you have to make. The community is absolutely non-hierarchical, so much is true, but individualism is paramount for all. Even the word freedom means something else to each rider – so even in their understanding of freedom, everyone is, well, free.

»Oh, I’d rather go and journey Where the diamond crest is flowing And run across the valley Beneath the sacred mountain« – Wasn’t Born to Follow by The Byrds

But to briefly get back to the latest model: the Pan America has been described as probably the most extraordinary Harley to date, referring to the wealth of technical innovations, the possibilities and the performance. Anyone who reads this sentence and already rides a Harley will give a little chuckle and a smile. Because they already own the most extraordinary model anyway. Especially since no two Harleys are alike. It should come as no surprise that the history of motorcycle customization is closely intertwined with the Harley-Davidson brand. The aforementioned Captain America that Peter Fonda rode in Easy Rider, for example, was built on a 1951 Harley-Davidson FL that Fonda had probably bought at a police auction. So how do you go about customizing your Harley? There were and are no limits to the imagination.

An interesting fact is that Easy Rider was one of the first films to dispense with a specially composed soundtrack. Crosby, Stills & Nash had already signed on, but the contract was nixed following a shared car ride. “Anybody who rides in a limo can’t comprehend my movie,” Dennis Hopper is reported to have said. Instead, Hopper took the liberty of using songs he heard on the radio while editing the film. His personal playlist, so to speak. And this playlist included not only “Born to Be Wild” by Steppenwolf but also “Ballad of Easy Rider” by Roger McGuinn.




Harley-Davidson Pan America 1250
Engine: V2
Displacement: 1,252 cc
Power: 150 hp (112 kW) at 8,750 rpm
Torque: 128 Nm at 6,750 rpm

The Pan America 1250 is the first touring enduro from Harley-Davidson, powered by the new liquid-cooled 60-degree V2 from the Revolution Max engine family. The model is available in two versions, weighs only 245 kilograms in the basic variant, the tank holds 21.2 liters – and the equipment options are, of course, endless.


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