In an economy no one has the audacity to call “upwardly mobile,” you might assume that sales of premium-price Harley-Davidson models would have felt the pinch. Not so. In fact, the limited-edition CVO (Custom Vehicle Operations) line has done very well for The Motor Company, providing both a recognizably aspirational step up for loyal customers and a conduit for trying new ideas in small production numbers. What happens in CVO doesn’t necessarily stay there.
For 2012, Harley-Davidson keeps the CVO lineup at four models on two basic platforms: The CVO Softail Convertible; the CVO Street Glide; the CVO Ultra Classic Electra Glide; and the newest member, the CVO Road Glide Custom, which replaces a touring-oriented version of the RG found in the 2011 line.
All CVO models rumble to a similar tune, using the muscular 110-cubic-inch, air-cooled V-Twin introduced in 2007, all with the standard six-speed Cruise Drive transmission. (Does Harley have to name everything?) Notable differences among the four engines relate to the chassis they’re in: The Softail gets the counterbalanced B-model engine while the three FL-based bikes rely on the chassis’ rubber mounting to make life happy for the rider.
During our two-day ride in Calistoga, California, the CVO Road Glide Custom got the most attention. To create this model, H-D started with the recently updated FLT chassis—the one that received a massive increase in stiffness for 2009 to cure the noodle-like handling for all of Harley’s touring rigs—mated to the familiar frame-mount Road Glide fairing. In aerodynamics and its effect on handling, the frame-carried fairing is superior to the more-popular (and iconic) batwing fairing screwed solidly to the triple-clamps on other FL models. Airflow behind the stubby windshield is smooth up to 75 mph for anyone 5-foot-9 or shorter—a speed at which the same pilot on the Ultra Classic Electra Glide or Street Glide CVOs is getting his gray matter partially rearranged by turbulence.
2012 Harley-Davidson Street Glide CVO
Moreover, putting the burden of the fairing on the frame rather than on the front suspension allowed Harley’s engineers to ease off the spring and damping rates for an overall smoother, more-composed ride. Plus, the Road Glide Custom steers more precisely than the other FL-based CVOs on hand. During the last afternoon’s thrash back to the resort, our lead Harley rider (who shall remain unidentified) decided to wick it up, but the CVO Road Glide Custom had no trouble keeping the pace. Those shiny floorboards graze the pavement just a bit later than you expect, and the Brembo ABS brakes are more than capable of putting serious whoa on more than 1000 pounds of bike and rider.
Thanks to well-mapped fuel injection, the CVO Road Glide’s 110-inch engine is amazingly well-mannered and flexible. It gets the extra displacement over the standard Twin Cam powerplants through a 4-inch bore (up one-eighth in. over the 103-in. motors that now are stock on all regular-production 2012 models except the 96-in. Dyna Street Bob and Dyna Super Glide Custom) to go with the same 4.38-in. stroke used in all Twin Cammers. Primary imbalances are well-controlled through rubber mounting (or counterbalancers in the Softail), so the combustion pulses are now delightfully prevalent.
This year, the CVO Road Glide is the most torque-rich of the CVO models, with a claimed 122 ft.-lb. at 3750 rpm; Harley doesn’t list peak horsepower. But the Road Glide is up 7 ft.-lb. over the two other FL-based CVOs and is 17 ft.-lb. stronger than the CVO Softail. Maybe it’s the Road Glide’s Heavy Breather (we’re not making that up) air-filter assembly.
Each of the 2012 CVO machines comes with a top-notch sound system, cruise control, ABS and security systems. For the Road Glide, tunes come through a Harman/Kardon system cranking out 100 watts per channel with 5×7-in. speakers in the main fairing plus two tweeters taking the place of engine gauges. You get CD/AM/FM/weather band plus dashboard control for the included Apple iPod nano that resides in the right-side saddlebag lid. (The interface works with most iPods and iPhones.)
Winner of the Most Outrageous Sound System award is the returning CVO Street Glide. Eight speakers—four (including two tweeters) in the batwing fairing, two in the lowers and two in the saddlebag lids—convey music with the force of 100 watts per channel (400 total). In less boisterous news, the CVO Street Glide returns with three new paint schemes, a special low-profile solo leather touring seat, matching passenger saddle with backrest pad, and Diamond Cut-themed treatments of the instruments and various engine covers.
While the Street Glide appears the most “bad boy” of the bunch, it’s also a reasonably refined ride. Compared with the Road Glide, the Street has steering that’s a bit heavy and easily influenced by crosswinds playing on the batwing fairing. The suspension seems slightly less compliant than the Road Glide’s, perhaps due to its heavier wheels and the mass on the steering head. What’s more, the shorty windscreen sets up a fearsome amount of turbulence for anyone 5-foot-9 or taller. Of course, optional windscreens abound.
2012 Harley-Davidson Road Glide CVO
Harley’s evergreen CVO Ultra Classic Electra Glide parades its way onto the 2012 roster with three new paint schemes, including a marvelous Crystal Citron/Diamond Dust two-tone (don’t call it yellow). Mirror Chrome Chisel wheels are new this year, along with a BOOM! speaker kit for the tail trunk that uses tuned ports to improve bass response. A navigation interface module, factory fitted with a Road Tech zumo 660 GPS by Garmin, is standard; voice prompts from the GPS are automatically fed to the audio system. Now you’ll know you’re lost in vibrant, full-range stereo.
Full-dress Harleys rarely are screamers, but the CVO Electra Glide comes closest. Although we didn’t ride it two-up or with any appreciable baggage, the bike’s solo performance suggests more than acceptable all-hands-aboard alacrity. That 110-inch engine surely does its part, causing a full-on ruckus during hard acceleration and then slipping seamlessly into the background as you trail throttle and ease into the flow of traffic.
Harley brought improvements to the fourth member of the CVO range, as well. The CVO Softail Convertible retains most of the features owners loved last year, including easily removable hard saddlebags and windshield, lowered suspension, way-down-there floorboards and chrome everywhere you look. New for 2012 is a taller windshield that, along with extended lowers flanking the headlight, provides better coverage for the prototypical 5-foot-10 rider. Last year, the audio system bolted to the inside of the windshield could be fed by an iPod; but now, the CVO Softail Convertible comes with a Road Tech zumo 660 GPS that not only tells you just how lost you are but also kicks out tunes loaded as MP3 files. Simple power and volume controls reside below the GPS mount. In all, it’s a clean installation that stays together when you remove the windshield.
Two of the three new paint schemes come with hand-airbrushed ghosted skulls so well done that you don’t notice the detail at first. We’ll also call attention to one color scheme, Satin Pewter with the distressed-leather seat and saddlebag covers, that is nothing short of stunning in the flesh.
MSRP for the CVO Ultra Classic Electra Glide is $37,249; the CVO Street Glide is $32,699; the CVO Road Glide Custom is $30,699; and the CVO Softail Convertible lists for $29,699. The CVOs will be trickling into dealerships as you read this.