Like you to me, so to you: BMW versus Harley-Davidson

Dhe German-American relations are entering a new phase. What has been fades in the face of a new constellation that was barely thought possible until recently. Joe Louis versus Max Schmeling, D-Day, Marshall Plan and Airlift, I’m a Berliner, Elvis in Bad Nauheim, Siegfried and Roy in Las Vegas, NATO double decision, Tear down this wall, President of the Polter and what else a role in the transatlantic relationship may have played – history.

Now BMW and Harley-Davidson are putting German-American friendship to the test. No more peaceful coexistence, from now on it’s against each other. Both have decided to rob each other’s territory, and do it properly. In search of new customers, they leave their usual territories, target exactly where the heart of the other beats. Across the Atlantic: like you to me, like you to me.

BMW has recently started making cruisers, Harley-Davidson builds travel enduros, the motorcycle world is upside down. Harley attacks in the field of function, BMW in that of emotion, where the other has perfected it over decades. Both do this not timidly, but with hard determination, in order to avoid that their advance ends in embarrassment.

The first large-scale enduro from Harley-Davidson in 118 years of company history

Obviously, BMW is drawing lessons from an episode in the second half of the 1990s. An attempt to challenge the American cruiser empire seemed awkward at the time, probably half of Milwaukee choked on the hamburger, snorting, when BMW shyly showed up with a model called the R 1200 C. Nobody laughs anymore. And if someone chokes, then at most out of respect for the R 18 with its monumental boxer engine.

Without such a history, but also without any previous experience, Harley-Davidson is now building a large enduro for the first time in its 118-year history. The Pan America is the alternative to the Bavarian bestseller R 1250 GS, the universal talent and super SUV. Attempts have been made again and again to take the Bavarians’ lederhosen off, but to this day it has never been successful. As before, “the GS” is the leading figure in the travel enduro segment, and nobody in the Motor Company makes a secret of the fact that during the development of Pan America, the GS, this unique conglomerate of very diverse skills, was measured. Although Ducati, KTM and others also have competent machines with a globetrotter attitude at the start.

You cardan, me chain: Harley's Pan America (left) drives your rear wheel with a chain.  BMW relies on the universal joint shaft, which is so valued by many touring enduro fans.

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BMW versus Harley-Davidson

Tit for tat

The developers of Pan America and the more extensively equipped sister model Pan America Special started from scratch. Engine, chassis, electronics, ergonomics, off-road competence – there was nothing to fall back on. The starting position was no different for the BMW men, who were faced with the task of coming up with something convincing with which to survive on the cruiser market against Harley-Davidson.

No doubt about the independence of BMW

Has it succeeded? To find out, we swung our saddles: BMW R 18 in the touring variant “Classic” and the Harley counterpart Softail Heritage 114 on the one hand, Harley-Davidson Pan America Special and BMW R 1250 GS on the other hand were the pairings. Many kilometers came together.

On the surface, BMW seems to have copied a lot with the R 18 Classic. Elongated silhouette, rigid frame look, saddlebags, chrome embossing, windshield and a face with main and auxiliary headlights and indicators – an amazing resemblance. Even more amazing, however, is how different the two are after all, which is due to the fact that BMW revives its own history without looking too much at Harley.

Instead of a toothed belt, as was the last time in the fifties, an openly rotating cardan shaft drives the rear wheel of the R 18 as an enchanting mechanical spectacle. Anyway, doubts about the independence of the BMW are swept away by the newly designed two-cylinder engine, which uses many technical quotes from the past and is the greatest series boxer of all time. From a displacement of 1.8 liters, it produces 91 hp and continuously delivers more than 150 Nm of torque between 2000 and 4000 revolutions. The combination of majestic appearance, powerful acceleration, pulling at the lowest speeds, smoothness, deeply relaxed vibrations and the absence of any aggression would not be there for whom the same applies: Harley-Davidson’s Milwaukee-Eight 114. Cubic V-Twin with 95 hp and 155 Nm, on the other hand, and refuses to retreat even a single millimeter.



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