2017 Harley-Davidson CVO Street Glide and Limited First Ride Review

More cubic inches, more fun.

There has never been anything subtle about Harley-Davidson's Custom Vehicle Operations (CVO) models, a fairly outlandish group of Main Street fighters if there ever was one. And now with the coming of the Milwaukee-Eight engine and chassis refinements—can we even say that when talking about CVOs?—there's even more performance.

All 2017 CVOs use a version of the Milwaukee-Eight with slightly more bore and stroke to displace 114ci, up 7 cubes from the mainline bikes. Makes sense, the 2016 offerings were 103ci for the standard line and 110 for the CVOs.

2017 Harley-Davidson CVO Street Glide
Bright, brash, and a little bit loud, the 2017 CVO Street Glide brings Harley's biggest Milwaukee-Eight engine to the party. All 114 cubes of it.©Motorcyclist

I rode two CVO models around Blackhawk during the daylong press preview, the slammed and aggressive looking Street Glide and the effervescently bright CVO Limited. Both feature versions of the new suspension, with a cartridge-style fork up front and emulsion shocks out back. The Street Glide uses the shorter suspension travel of the two for that slammed stance. Even with reduced travel, the Street Glide remained composed around Blackhawk, gleefully grinding its shiny floorboards. The track is relatively smooth so finding places to test the SG’s compliance was a bit of a challenge, but the first impressions are good. (I rode a 2016 Street Glide CVO back to the hotel from the track, some 80 miles, and it felt both slower and a lot less refined.)

Of course, the big deal for CVO owners is performance, and neither the Street Glide nor the CVO Limited disappointed. Harley says torque is up 10 percent over the 110ci engine from 2016, which would be about 127 pound-feet. The acceleration says the power is there, but the engine’s newfound sophistication effectively masks the rawness that comes through the Twin Cam 110. I won’t say the new bike doesn’t feel faster, but it’s sneakier in the way it gathers speed. I predict owners will be surprised by how easily the new CVOs gather velocity. All told, the Milwaukee-Eight is much smoother at idle, has better throttle response, a much lighter clutch, and kicks off noticeably less heat. As with the 107ci version, it holds power well up the rev band. Once or twice, I hit the rev limiter hard in the lower gears, and thankfully the system is incredibly smooth. (It first retards spark, then starts to reduce fuel, and then, if you’re still WOT, will begin to close the throttle plate for you.) The M8’s gearbox is typical Harley in that you can tell the gears are large but the shifter throw is relatively short; finding neutral was a challenge on these almost-new bikes.

One of the benefits of the Milwaukee-Eight redesign is newfound mechanical quiet, which allows Harley to uncork the intake and exhaust a bit. Both CVOs honk through the Screamin’ Eagle air cleaner and emit a modest amount of exhaust burble. Conquest customers will think the CVOs sound just right, while the faithful will probably consider them far too quiet.

2017 Harley-Davidson CVO Limited
For a more long-haul CVO, you'll want the Limited. A classic batwing fairing leads the way, pushed hard into the wind by the 114ci Milwaukee-Eight engine.©Motorcyclist

Both CVOs get the revised Bosch ABS with electronic brake-force distribution, and that’s a great thing. The previous system’s poor linearity and slightly unpredictable nature took a lot of getting used to, but the new setup is far more intuitive. And powerful: All touring-class Harleys have Brembo-sourced brakes, and they’re plenty strong with reasonable initial bite considering the mission. The active linking system doesn’t upset the bike even when trail-braking into a corner. Yes, Harleys can do that, too.

Harley’s CVOs have always been bright and brash, and this year’s examples are no exception. Only now they have upped performance and an extra measure of refinement that feels more in line with their $40K price tags.