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2023 HARLEY-DAVIDSON CVO ROAD GLIDE – GAME ON, BITCHES

And the game has changed profoundly...

IMAGES BY NICK EDARDS

Road presence is everything.

The last time I rode a CVO I wanted to torch it on the side of the road.

 

I’d managed to get maybe halfway up the Newcastle freeway, and I was feeling for the lighter in my pocket and a place to pull over. I had doubts I could walk, and was prepared to set it alight on my knees if I had to.

This is what the top end of town looks like.

My son was on the back. But he may well have become my daughter by this stage, and I was left wondering how a bike that cost north of 60 grand was so utterly inadequate in its stated niche.

 

My review at the time reflected my disappointment. This was Harley’s flagship tourer – all sexy-shiny with trick Screamin’ Eagle engine bits – delivering pretty much the same ride experience a stock Road Glide offered for many thousands of dollars less.

This is what using a wind-tunnel does to the iconic hammerhead fairing.

And it’s not like I was asking it hard questions. This was the freeway, after all – and we weren’t running from the cops or rushing home so the stripper I’d liberated from the club could smear her body-glitter all over my face. No urgency attended this ride.

 

But it being Australia, and this being the busiest freeway in the country, it’s perfectly normal for sections of it to be utterly shit. The only positive is that the section north of the twin servos is great for seeing how good or bad your suspension is. And it challenges even the best suspended bikes. I’ve fired Öhlins-equipped beasts along that stretch late at night at very high speeds, and felt them struggle. Punting a Harley, any Harley, along there at 120, will hammer your spine like a steam-mallet. It’s so bad you won’t care the outlandish air-intake has bruised your knee, and the seat has fundamentally failed to assist your spine. You won’t care how gorgeous the paint is, because your pillion’s grunts of pain can be heard over the roar of the wind and the buffeting the rather inadequate fairing provides.

Once again, it was a bit damp when we went to take photos.

I am now convinced someone sent that review to Milwaukee, and Milwaukee decided to actually do something about my complaints. And it did. And it’s worked. And the game has been changed.

 

There was a lot of noise about these new CVOs – the Road Glide and Street Glide – before they arrived on our shores. But there is always a lot of noise whenever Harley releases anything – most of which comes from the Harely mags who celebrate a new colour scheme like the second coming of Christ.

This is one of the best screens in the business. And it likes it when you touch it.

But the noises sounded (and the numbers accompanying them looked)…well, a bit serious this time around. Was Harley finally getting serious where it needed to get serious?

 

I’m thinking it had to. CVO is Harley’s acronym for Custom Vehicle Operations and designates bikes that have been tweaked and jazzed and pimped to justify the premium price-tag, and any bike bearing those three letters needed to be a bit special. It had to be more than a great paintjob, and some Screamin’ Eagle engine bolt-ons – which didn’t really do the performance any special favours.

The level of finish is next-level. The bike, not me. I still look like an angry homeless man.

And now, at the end of 2023, the two new 121-cube CVOs finally and truly were a bit special.

 

And more than a bit. Once you’ve ridden one, going back to the normal 114- and 117-cube offerings is very difficult. They just seem entirely…well, underdone by comparison.

The spoked wheels are stunning and the brakes work like brakes should.

The heart of the whole matter is the 121-cube engine which comes with Variable Valve Timing. Better economy, and much better performance.

Gone is the knee-bruising (but admittedly cool-looking) air-intake. The new one is well tucked away.

The air-cleaner no longer brutalises your knee.

This bigger and more modern engine is great. The difference is immediately noticeable. There’s now some venom in it. There’s also a really good top-end. I didn’t wind it all the way out, but I was looking at just the other side of 190 before I felt I’d seen enough.

Variable Valve Timing is a new thing for Harley.

The suspension and brakes have also been upgraded. The 47mm upside-down forks at the front, and an upgraded premium unit on the back, along with 32mm fixed, radially-mounted Brembos up front (with a corresponding but axially-mounted single rear jobbie) – now offer what can honestly be termed “real-world” performance.

The embroidered seat is wonderously comfortable.

I was able to push the CVO much, much harder than I would have ever dared to push a normal Harley through my favourite twisties. The ground clearance was more than up to it. So, rather than a spirited run on a normal Harley being a command performance of terror, bravado, and swearing accompanied by bits of bike being turned into sparks, the new CVO made it…erm, normal.

A very clean and neat back-end and you won’t complain about the ground clearance.

For the first time, a Harley felt rather modern to me. Of course it still felt like a Harley – that Big Twin “feel” is the feature that makes Harleys what they are. People who ride them, love the way they go about their business. But, let’s be honest, that business was altogether rather anachronistic compared to what the competition was offering.

 

That’s not the case anymore.

The grips are beautiful.

Gone were the clanging gear-changes. The new gearbox was smooth and positive, like gearboxes should be in 2023. Gone was the clunking suspension straight out of my feckless, cop-running 80s and 90s. Gone was the feeling of vagueness in the steering and complete lack of any feel with what the front-end may or may not be doing.

 

The CVO Road Glide could be chucked into corners, powered out of corners, and ridden for long periods of time without the rider resorting to drugs, cursing, and that shameful whimpering when he got off. That shit really cruels one’s epic arrival among the hot bitches.

Rockford-Fosgate – look it up. Be impressed.

But Harley was not done yet. Aerodynamics was now something someone at Milwaukee understood. And implemented.

 

And while my mate and long-time Harley afficionado, Paul Bailey, lamented the new tank shape, because there’s now a crease that runs the length of both still-tear-drop-shaped tanks. I was less fussed by it. Purists will always complain. It’s what purists do.

I loved the headlight- and it was quite good at night. There’s a lot of it.

What’s gone is the buffeting the hammerhead fairing used to serve up. The hammerhead fairing on the Road Glide is frame-mounted, unlike the fairing on the Street Glide, which fork-mounted. It stands to reason the Road Glide will steer easier. I’ll let you know when I finally get a crack on the Street Glide, but it’s rather a no-brainer, and has always been the case. What’s different is that one can actually use the word “handling” in the context of a Road Glide and not get laughed at.

 

So having made it bang and permitting the air to flow around it and you, rather than smash against you both, Harley now turned its attention to some pretty high-end electronics.

If you can’t touch-control the screen because you’re riding and it’s a long way in front of you, use this.

The sound system and speakers are now from Rockford-Fosgate – an American company that has been producing world-class sound gear for automotive and marine applications since the 80s. Its gear is built to last in the uniquely hostile-to-such-things environment one finds on motorcycles.

 

The massive, all-colour TFT dash works via touch with your gloved hands, but is also push-button operated via the normal switchblock access.

Note the crease that runs the length of the left-hand tank. This is what is upsetting the purists.

All of everything can be connected to it via USB cable or Bluetooth, and you can electronically voodoo yourself to your geek-heart’s content. Because it’s a CVO, Harley will also supply you with a complete compatible headset that will fit inside your helmet so you can take and make phonecalls, order pizza from afar, or tell your pillion to stop pushing her boobs into your back. There’s even a very cool navigation app which will superimpose the weather map over your navigational map, so you’ll know if you’re riding into storms.

 

And every possible electronic rider-assist has been loaded aboard as well. To wit: Electronic Linked Braking (ELB),

Traction Control System (TCS), Drag-torque Slip Control System (DSCS), Vehicle Hold Control (VHC), Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS), Cornering Enhanced Anti-lock Brake System (C-ABS), Cornering Enhanced Electronic Linked Braking (C-ELB), Cornering Enhanced Traction Control System (C-TCS), and Cornering Drag-Torque Slip Control System (C-DSCS).

The fairing does an excellent job in keeping the elements off you.

Yea, verily – this is a Harley for today and tomorrow.

 

I loved it. How could I not? It was such a huge improvement over the previous CVOs (and Big Twin Harleys in general), it was impossible for it not to re-activate my always-present Harley gland and make it juice once again.

 

This is the game-changer for Harley. Make no mistake, because Milwaukee hasn’t – unless you consider it offering you the option of a brown one rather than the lovely metallic grey one I had. Not sure calling that colour “Whiskey Neat” changes the fact that it’s really “Old Person Brown”, but once no-one buys that colour they’ll stop making it.

So much glamour in this gig.

All jokes aside, Harley really has come out with all guns blazing with the new CVOs. The factory has tried and it shows. It’s only a matter of time before these improvements start to make their way into the non-CVO range of models, but that’s as may be.

We are dealing with the “now”, and right now the new CVO Road Glide is a serious contender in a very competitive segment. At this end of town, the customers like their bling. Harley has not only given them all the bling – electronic and finish-wise – it’s also built a bloody great real-world bike.

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Boris Mihailovic

Boris is a writer who has contributed to many magazines and websites over the years, edited a couple of those things as well, and written a few books. But his most important contribution is pissing people off. He feels this is his calling in life and something he takes seriously. He also enjoys whiskey, whisky and the way girls dance on tables. And riding motorcycles. He's pretty keen on that, too.

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