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"Baggers", June 1, 2012



WORDS: Jeff G. Holt

PHOTO: Jeff Leighton

Exclusivity is the word I think of when I see any Harley-Davidson Custom Vehicle Operations (CVO) bikes both in the showroom and on the road. The phrase I think of regarding this line of bikes is “factory custom.” Yes, this usually is a major oxymoron, but in the case of Harley’s CVO division, it truly is the proper designation.

Thirteen years ago Harley started pumping out a few aftermarket parts and showcasing them in its Parts and Accessories catalog. It since had become its own entity and items like chromed-out doo-dads, free-flowing mufflers, big motors, and show-quality paint have become a large staple of the MoCo’s business.

In 1999 H-D introduced the CVO division and set its sights on low volume models with more horsepower and loads of upgraded parts. Each bike also had CVO-only paintwork making the bikes uber exclusive. To top that, these bikes also featured accessories that couldn’t be bought anywhere else or for any other bike. If you crashed your bike and wanted it repainted to its CVO greatness, you would have to present your CVO Vehicle Identification Number to get it restored from the factory. Business must have been good, because by the next year a second assembly line was opened in Harley’s York, Pennsylvania, assembly plant and the first bagger CVO, a Screamin’ Eagle Road Glide, was produced.

Today’s CVO Road Glide Custom (CVO RGC) is light years ahead of that first CVO touring bike in many ways. Starting with the power, the 2012 CVO has a 110 Sequential-Port fuel-injected Twin Cam engine that pushes out a beefy 122 lb-ft of torque at 3750 rpm. Shifting is done of course through a six-speed Harley-designed transmission that shifts into gear flawlessly even when speed-shifting at high rpms.

Differentiating the CVO RGC from the standard Road Glide Custom is well, just about everything but the frame. The bike has just about every chrome and/or Screamin’ Eagle accessory (intake, exhaust, floorboards, hand and foot controls, fork lowers) and a ton of other componentry such as the handlebars, mirrors, primary, and fork bells all powdercoated a nicely contrasting black.

When I first sat on the bike I didn’t much find the handlebars too fitting for me, but I did find the custom saddle with removable pillion very comfortable and had no butt pain the four weeks that I had the bike, no matter what kind of miles were peeled off. In that amount of time I had the chance to ride the CVO RGC in a myriad of conditions including bumper-to-bumper traffic, deserted freeways, assorted canyons, and Pacific Coast Highway.

Once I got used to how the bike handled with the 19/17-inch wheel combo and increased ponies, I lit the wick, took it through some twisties, and was surprised at both how fast this bike was and how well it handed compared to the box-stock Road Glide Custom. It felt lighter and seemed to beg being held at almost redline before being shifted into the next gear. Ah, the joys of a big-displacement pushrod motor.

The body also has some major upgrades over the stock Road Glide. It comes with stretched bags and really good looking rear fender treatments. Up front the shark nose gets a 100-watt Harman/Kardon stereo with 5x7 speakers in it was well as a set of tweeters where the old gas and temp gauges sat. To top of the audio aggression you can hook up the included iPod Nano to the direct port in the saddlebag and let it rock with all the band, title, and track information being shown on the head unit front and center in the fairing. The CVO RGC has three color combinations to choose from; White Gold Pearl and Starfire Black with Real Smoke Graphics, Maple Metallic and Vivid Black with Real Smoke Graphics, and Candy Cobalt and Twilight Blue with Real Smoke Graphics.

Sure, these bikes are packed with performance and have just about every one of the parts from the P&A catalog thrown at them, but after the time in the saddle I spent with the CVO RGC I had a couple of gripes. First is the ergonomics of the handlebars. I couldn’t ever get the bars in a comfortable position where either my shoulders didn’t feel hunched or my wrists felt kinked. Come to think about it, I have never heard a person say that they were 100 percent happy with any Road Glide bar, so please Harley do something about this.

The second issue I have is with the suspension. It needs an upgrade. Putting a bigger motor in and lowering it is not the answer. It bottomed out when ridden aggressively and just felt limp at times. Maybe some sort of proprietary CVO suspension package upgrade with Ohlins, Progressive Suspension, or Race Tech could do this bike some good?

My consensus is this; some people just have to have the top-of-the-line products. Whether it be razor blades, shoes, cappuccino, or motorcycles, some only just think that if it’s the most expensive that it automatically is the best. Well, as we all know this is rarely true, especially when it comes to high-end motorcycles.

All that aside, I am glad to say that when it comes to the CVO Road Glide Custom at $30,699, it is well worth the money and actually one hell of a deal when you think about the sum of it’s parts and factory warranty. If one were to buy a Standard Road Glide Custom at $19,994 and outfit it with similar customization it would cost mountains more that the $10,705 price difference between the two. I would just make sure to spend even a bit more and give it a proper suspension as well as some slightly higher handlebars.

Does anybody need a $31,000 motorcycle? No, but it’s sure nice to be able to live at the top of the line sometimes. And if you can justify doing so, I highly suggest it.

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