They had me at "sinister." I mean, who can deny a motorcycle promoted as ominous? I straighten up in my chair, and whisk goes the black veil from Harley-Davidson's latest addition to its Custom Vehicle Operations line. Wow! This Road Glide Custom is wicked. And it isn't just the skull medallions...
Harley's annual CVO press introduction is not so much a kid-in-the-candy-shop affair as a private showing at Tiffany's. Major glam. Traditionally, four new sparklers are unveiled at some suitably luxurious location. To sample the 2012 models, we were delivered to a resort in California's Napa Valley-the kind of place that oozes wine and cheese. Never mind the fact that this group of moto-journalists is a beer-and-pretzels bunch; slip some Two Buck Chuck in those varietal-specifi c Riedel glasses and we'd be none the wiser!
Not so easy, however, to sway our judgment of fi ne motorcycles. The new factory customs we were there to sample included souped-up and highly stylized versions of the Street Glide, Softail Convertible and Ultra Classic Electra Glide-all three of which are repeat platforms. The only bike that's not the same slice wearing new frosting is this seductively "sinister" Road Glide Custom, which replaces last year's darling, the CVO Road Glide Ultra.
Harley offers two production-level Road Glides, both powered by the Twin Cam 103 engine in 2012. The standard Road Glide Custom is the slightly less endowed version of the two, set up more for boulevarding than touring with a shorter windscreen, no trunk and a 40-watt Harmon/Kardon stereo. The Road Glide Ultra gets a taller screen, a touring trunk and an 80-watt stereo, along with key fob-controlled security and ABS as standard equipment. The security package with ABS is optional on the Custom. The CVO Road Glide Custom ups the ante with a monster 200-watt sound system, TC110 engine, and quite a bit more.
The most noticeable element of any CVO-edition Road Glide Custom is its magicwand styling. All paint colors are custom onetime mixes and graphics are hand-painted. For the Road Glide there are three available color combinations, with the white-and-ghostflamed-black being the wickedest. Color choice aside, what makes this Road Glide truly sinister are the black powder-coated powertrain, gloss-black engine covers, black billet muffl er end caps with chrome spears and black-shrouded "Heavy Breather" air intake jutting out the right side of the engine.
The Road Glide looks fast, and an early morning rip through Wine Country's quilt of vineyards proved it. Torque from the TC110 is a claimed 115 lb.-ft. at 4000 rpm, and the much-improved frame and two-piece swingarm are able to provide more than just straight-line thrills. The bike tracks smoothly and steadily through fast sweepers with nary a wiggle, and though seat height is a low 26.6 inches, cornering clearance was rarely an issue.
At first blush, the custom leather touring saddle feels comfortable enough, and the new "Wind Splitter" smoked windshield effectively minimizes buffeting. General ergonomics are neutral, with the only profound compromise in comfort occurring if your legs are long enough that your right knee bumps against that sexy intake stack.
Because CVO buyers want to be heard as well as seen, high-output audio systems are a hallmark of the line. And this year the bikes are louder than ever. The new Street Glide's system, for example, pumps out 400 watts of power through eight speakers, including two 5x7-inch units mounted in the saddlebag lids. Even the little Softail Convertible is pumping bigger sound this year, and receives MP3 adaptability via a new Garmin 660 GPS. The Road Glide's system is no slacker with 100 watts per channel and four speakers. Needless to say, it was a little like Horton Hears a Harley with 10 journos testing 10 systems at once!
Back at the resort we're supposed to be tasting wine, but it feels more natural to opine about the bikes we've spent the day riding. Though prices have barely risen since last year, the CVOs are still an expensive lot, ranging from $29,699 for the Softail Convertible to $37,249 for the Ultra Classic Electra Glide. This new CVO Road Glide Custom costs $30,699-almost $10K more than the mass-produced model. Of course you get that juicy 1800cc engine, a vicious sound system, all the spiffy paint and powertrain finishes, and if you're a chrome hoarder, a catalog's worth of shiny bits, too.
When tasting fine wines, you're encouraged to describe their attributes using romantic adjectives like "velvety" and "woody." When considering the positives of Harley's CVO line, common identifiers would be "top drawer" and "flashy." In the case of the CVO Road Glide Custom, "sinister" may be the only word you need to know.