Why Does Harley-Davidson’s ADV Bike Have Chain Final Drive?

Comparing final drives on The Motor Company’s 2021 Pan America and Bronx.

Pan America
Chain final drive isn’t Harley-Davidson’s only departure from tradition with the Pan America adventure-touring model. This example of the Revolution Max-powered V-twin is outfitted with brush guards, prominently knobbed tires, and utilitarian luggage.Harley-Davidson

From 1992, rubber tooth-belt drive was adopted for all Harley-Davidson streetbikes. Now have a look at the forthcoming Bronx and Pan America models powered by the new liquid-cooled Revolution Max 60-degree V-twin engines in rounded-off 975cc and 1,250cc displacements; Bronx has a belt but Pan America has a steel roller-chain final drive.

There are good reasons to adopt belt drive: It requires no lubrication, lacks the sound of a roller chain, and cannot stretch because it doesn’t have a chain’s 100 or more joints to wear. So why back to chain on this new “adventure-touring” model?

steel roller-chain final drive
Ready for whatever you can throw at it? Harley-Davidson has equipped the new Pan America with steel roller-chain final drive, not the usual rubber tooth belt found on the other motorcycles in its current model line.Harley-Davidson

I phoned Paul James, Harley-Davidson’s marketing channels manager, and asked him. When he called me back on the same day, he said the official answer is threefold:

  1. Pan America is an off-road application. The subtext is that in that environment, Foreign Object Damage (FOD) to a belt is always a possibility. A pebble getting between belt and sprocket can break belt fibers.
  2. A steel chain affords more durability in the worst conditions—think mud, sand, fording streams, etc.
  3. Repairing or replacing a chain is comparatively easy anywhere in the world. Chain is “made by the mile and sold by the foot” while a belt can’t be repaired and a replacement must be exact.

My advice is, if you find yourself upset every time Harley-Davidson breaks with one of its established traditions, get used to it. The existence of Pan America shows that The Motor Company will go wherever its market studies predict it can make sales. That is survival in the world of business.