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Motorcycle News, Editorials, Product Reviews and Bike Reviews

A Quartet of CVOs: New models from Harley-Davidson’s Custom Vehicles Operations

CVO Fat Bob

Cruiser riders have always been inclined to customize and personalize their machines, and the after-market has responded with a mind-boggling range of gadgets and doodads to help them do just that. There’s also quite a substantial cottage industry of custom motorcycle fabricators of the kind featured so prominently on television.But it’s become equally clear that people will buy factory-built “custom” bikes so long as there is an acceptable degree of exclusivity involved in the deal. This makes a lot of sense, since factory developed and installed accessories tend to fit better, last longer, and meet more stringent safety requirements.

Another bonus is that it’s possible for a factory to equip and customize a basic model at a lower price than consumers are likely to be able to manage on their own. Quick to realize these advantages, Harley-Davidson has been producing hand-built, limited-edition CVO versions of various models since 1999, and will produce four of these specially equipped and customized motorcycles for 2009-the 10th anniversary of the program.

Three of the models in the CVO line-up have been featured in the program before. These are the CVO Road Glide, the CVO Softail Springer, and the CVO Ultra Classic Electra Glide, but there are important differences in the 2009 line-up, which we’ll get to in a moment.

CVO Fat Bob

Joining the CVO stable is the Fat Bob, based on the stock H-D Dyna Fat Bob introduced in 2008. Only 2,450 examples of the CVO version will be made, at a price of $25,299 per copy. Unless you live in California, where you pay an extra $200. Like the other CVO bikes (and only the CVO bikes), the Fat Bob is powered by a Screamin’ Eagle Twin Cam 110 engine boasting 1800cc, wearing a granite powder-coat finish, and breathing through a cone-shaped Heavy Breather intake system.

Unique to the CVO Fat Bob are 16-inch Fang wheels, which are cast aluminum items with a powder-coated slotted center, a chrome rim flange and bolt-on “fang” inserts over each slot. The front forks have been lowered, while the rear shocks are chromed and retuned. Chrome is mentioned quite a lot in the description of the CVO Fat Bob’s front end, as it’s included everywhere from the axle covers to the triple clamps, the handlebars, switch housings, levers and master cylinders.

The saddle’s seating surface features a suede-like material called Alcantara, which is used a lot on upscale cars. The rest of the seat is black leather, with a recessed chrome H-D medallion. Replete with exclusive styling touches and chrome accents (the list is over a page long), the CVO Fat Bob is offered in two colors with quartz graphics: Sunrise Yellow Pearl with Platinum Quartz, and Black Diamond with Fire Quartz. It’s also supplied in a first-ever CVO combination of Denim Granite with Electric Blue Fade. All versions looked pretty cool to us.

They ride pretty well, too, with less vibration than I’d expected, and with good throttle response from the electronic injection system. Torque is, as you might expect, the machine’s strong suit, with 114 pound-feet of torque from what feels like, oh, about 900 rpm. (Actually, it peaks at 3500 rpm, but the curve is evidently fairly flat.) You need only spin the engine to get into its vibration-free sweet spot. Once there, you can vary the speed quite a bit without either shifting or experiencing anything but a comfortably smooth surge of power.

With six gears in the Cruise Drive gearbox, there’s no need to lug or wind this engine out, and the casual avalanche of torque encourages a relaxed riding style. You could do it all day were it not for the exposure to the wind the typical cruiser upright riding position enforces. The blast becomes wearisome after a while, but it’s usually long before any discomfort caused by the seat. That Alcantara-covered perch is pretty supportive.

CVO Softail Springer

CVO Softail Springer

One of the most overtly custom bikes in the range, the Springer gets a 240 mm rear tire and louver accents on the wide Bobcat rear fender in 2009. Mounted in this unique frame design is a retro springer front fork with chrome springs, an 18-inch Road Winder front wheel and a 130 mm tire. A new four-piston brake caliper straddles the single disc rotor.

As on the other CVO models, the Springer is powered by the 110-inch twin, and is adorned by a plethora of custom components and chromed items. These include a custom seat with real Buffalo inserts, a five-inch speedometer with a spun aluminum face, slash-down dual mufflers with full-length exhaust shields, Bullet mirrors, and even a chrome dipstick. There must be 40 items on this bike that are either in chrome or some other exotic finish. It’s a real sight to behold.

For all its retro panache, the Springer too, rides with the authority that big Screamin’ Eagle engine provides. It doesn’t steer nearly as strangely as the retro fork design and faux hardtail setup suggests, going about its business with a natural sense of balance that belies the hefty weight and extended turning circle.

See one of these coming down the road in Sunrise Yellow Pearl with Volcanic Fury Flames, and it’s unlikely that most people would consider it a production motorcycle. The other two color combos are Candy Cobalt with Blue Steel Flames, and Black Diamond with Emerald Ice Flames. They look pretty hot, too. Detachable saddle bags are available. The price is $26,999 ($27,999 in California.)

CVO Road Glide

CVO Road Glide

The Road Glide has undergone the CVO makeover twice before, notably in 2000, when it flaunted Screamin’ Eagle heads on its VR Racing Orange fairing. That iconic design is echoed discreetly on the new CVO Road Glide with a more subtle Screamin’ Eagle on the fairing, accompanied by ghosted flamed feathers in the accent stripe on the fairing, tank, side covers and bags.

For 2009 the CVO Road Glide also benefits from the new chassis that underpins all 2009 Harley-Davidson touring models, based on a redesigned frame and swingarm intended to improve maneuverability. In this application, the 110-inch V-twin produces 115 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm (different induction and exhaust packaging varies the big twin’s performance in different models).

The fuel-injection system incorporates electronic throttle control, and the clutch is a self-adjusting hydraulic unit. A Sportster-style air-filter cover exposes a Stage 1 Screamin’ Eagle element, and a new 2-into-1-into-2 exhaust system with a one-piece front exhaust shield is fitted.

Over the only 18-inch wheel in the range (a chrome forged aluminum design known as the Blade), CVO has dropped the front fender about three-quarters of an inch. It also added composite skirts to the saddlebag bottoms to wrap over the exhaust outlets, and filler strips between the saddlebag and rear fender, on which are mounted LED stop/turn/tail lights.

Like the other CVO models, the Road Glide is slathered in chrome. There are three color combos: Yellow Pearl with Charcoal Slate, Stardust Silver with Titanium Dust, and Electric Orange with Vivid Black. You gotta love those names, don’t you?

Equipped with Brembo brakes, ABS, and cruise control as standard, along with a two-speaker Harmon/Kardon radio, CD and MP3 system, the CVO Road Glide retails for $30,999, or $31,195 for those lucky California residents.

I didn’t get to ride this one at the Santa Barbara preview, for some reason, but since it shares the FL architecture with the Ultra, I assume the essential character will be similar.

CVO Ultra Classic Electra Glide

CVO Ultra Classic Electra Glide

The initial impression one gets from this bike is that it’s really heavy. And at over 900-pounds, it’s certainly no featherweight. Just lifting it up off that clever Harley locking sidestand gives you an idea of how much ground-hugging mass this baby possesses.

But that heft works well on the road, where the heavy-duty forks and rear suspension do all the work. There’s just too much mass in the frame for it to move much in response to bumps. At least, that’s what it feels like. The Touring-exclusive air-adjustable rear suspension probably helps. And since it also has the isolating engine mounts common to the tourers in the family, engine performance is smooth.

There’s a ton of stuff on the CVO Ultra. New Roulette wheels with a 180-tire on the back, a suspended, dual-heated seat with shark print inserts. So-called Rumble Collection foot controls and heated hand grips. Matching rider and passenger backrests. Two-inch backlit gauges. Braided stainless steel clutch and brake lines. And that’s not the half of it.

Despite my aversion to seriously heavy motorcycles, the CVO Ultra is undeniably good at swallowing miles. It handles surprisingly well for such a hefty beast, and it responds to the steering in a satisfactory fashion. The cornering clearance is obviously limited by the footboards, but you soon get an idea of how much is available, helping you gauge corner entry speeds without the heart-stopping realization that the bike will not describe this arc at that speed.

Harley has a clever rear-cylinder deactivation system to control heat in slow-going situations, and it undoubtedly helps. But you’ll still feel radiation from the rear cylinder and its bazooka exhaust header on hot days. That and the peculiar sound in fifth gear the big CVO Ultra makes-a sort-of soft grinding/machining sound-are basically my only beefs. Oh, and maybe the price. Harley wants $35,499 (or $35,699 in California) for each of the 4,200 examples of the CVO Ultra that are rumbling off the end of the line at Harley plants in York, PA, and Kansas City.

Colors? How about Ruby Red and Typhoon Maroon, Autumn Haze and High-Octane Orange, or Stardust Silver and Twilight Blue, all with Forge Tone graphics. Chrome? Yeah, they got that too.