Throttle Jockey: Gilding the lily on a Harley-Davidson CVO bagger

When I first started riding motorcycles, the first one I bought all those years ago was a lowly used Honda, but it was a lowly Honda with a liquid-cooled V-twin engine and the ability to take me pretty much anywhere the pavement would go. It wasn’t fast (although, at the time, it felt Millennium Falcon fast to me), fancy or high-tech in the least.

But it was my ticket to ride, and after a time, that crusty but reliable old Honda became something like a faithful hound dog, always ready for a road trip, its V-Twin heart thumping along as the miles rolled by. Good boy.

When Harley-Davidson visited the Rose City recently, I got that old feeling back as I rolled around the city on the V-twin powered Forty-Eight and the biker-spec Low Rider, both bikes being simple, powerful and fun – just like that old Honda, except for the powerful part (in retrospect).

But the one bike I wasn’t really prepared to like, and in fact, didn’t want to like and wasn’t planning on riding really at all, was the way over-the-top 2016 CVO Street Glide, or as I like to call it, The Bagger To End All Baggers.

2016 Harley-Davidson CVO Street Glide

Custom Vehicle Operations or “CVO” Harleys are bucks-up limited-edition machines slathered with everything but the kitchen sink, although if you look hard enough, you may be able to find the sink on the bike somewhere. They are H-D’s Mustang GT, their Corvette Z06, their Airstream, their AMG, all rolled into two wheels and a lot of glossy paint and chrome. Base price: $36,799. That’s before options, what few they left out anyway.

Let’s run down the feature list, shall we? Powerhouse Twin-Cooled 110 cubic-inch engine, 600-watt Boom! Stage II audio system, GPS, satellite radio, linked triple-disc ABS Brembo brakes, 7-inch infotainment screen, tire pressure monitoring (TPM) system, lots of gauges, hydraulic clutch, LED lighting all around, a clever hidey spot in the fairing for your celly that also plugs it into the audio system, and paint so deep you want to put your hand in it like Neo at that mirror in the Matrix. Remember, this is a motorcycle were talking about.

A batwing-style fairing the with barest mention of a windscreen deflects the bugs and out back, two sloping side cases will hold all the Gucci and Langlitz goodies your credit card can bear. Where there isn’t paint, there’s chrome. Lots of chrome. Or carbon fiber. And that gorgeous leather seat? All day comfortable – for two people if you feel like sharing.

Another journalist had swiped my Low Rider for a leg of our open-road journey, so the H-D folks prodded me towards the red and chrome rolling sculpture that is the CVO Street Glide, likely wondering what the hell my aversion to one of their top-tier bikes was. OK, OK, I’ll ride it.

2016 Harley-Davidson CVO Street Glide

Thumb the starter and I could fairly hear the electrons laboring to turn the big mill over, and once started, I could practically count the power pulses of the monster motor at idle. Lever it off the side stand and the mass of the thing just keeps going – this ain’t no flyweight bike.

Toe the shift lever, though, and the weight penalty seems to be declined once underway. The CVO is a product of a recent major redesign effort at Harley called Project Rushmore, and besides loading the bike with enough tech to make NASA jealous, the big girl is easy to ride. Maybe too easy.

On a long stretch of Highway 35 that climbs up the flanks of Mt. Hood, I queue up some tunes on the satellite radio, crank it up to about half – which is deafening – and totally forget about the speed limit. Just like that, I’m at 90 in 6th gear and it feels like the CVO is barely breathing.

The “Twin Cooling” moniker, as Harley-Davidson calls it, made me snicker a bit at the marketing slight of hand. Look, it’s liquid-cooled, just call it what it is. Except, in truth, they’re right, it really is “twin cooled” by water jackets around the hot points in the top of the engine and good old air cooling everywhere else. So Twin Cooling it is.

2016 Harley-Davidson CVO Street Glide

Like their innovative in-hub ABS technology that dispenses with the toothed rings on the wheels, the sensors and wires that everyone else uses, Harley has become a bit of magician at hiding their tech in order to preserve the more elemental appearance of their bikes (the CVO’s blatant tech offerings somewhat excepted).

The engine radiators that are part of the Twin Cooling system are well-hidden within small pods on the crash bars; the engine appears to be a standard air-cooled unit. If you didn’t know any better, you’d swear it’s 110 cubic inches of power kept in check by nature’s good graces, but it’s not, so H-D has jacked the 110 up to a high output level. Twist the throttle in any gear and the CVO just powers forward on an ocean of torque and horsepower, twin exhaust pipes roaring (how did those get past the EPA???) and speedo dancing. It never got old.

In sweeping corners, the redesigned chassis and suspension are spot-on, although I was not about to test the limits on a bike costing a majority of may annual income. Suffice to say the CVO was planted, supremely comfortable, confidence inspiring, and really, pretty damn easy to ride.

2016 Harley-Davidson CVO Street Glide

Once acclimated to the CVO, I toyed with the many toys on board from the GPS to the audio system to the big display, all operated by two small thumb controllers on each handlebar pod. It didn’t take long to figure out how to work the system, and dear God the stereo is LOUD. “Boom” seems like an eye-roller of a name for an audio system, but in this case it’s an apt descriptor. The volume level also rises and falls according to road speed so you don’t have to babysit it. And sound quality from the quad 3-way speakers and 600 watt multi-amplifier system is as impressive as the volume levels it can generate. Stereo go BOOM!

Eventually, we rolled into the parking lot at historic Timberline Lodge and played swap-a-bike once again. I angled again for the Low Rider, which felt like a MotoGP bike compared to the mass and complexity of the CVO.

But despite the cost, complexity, and general overkill the CVO provides, I must say, I was grinning the whole time I was aboard. They won’t have to ask me twice to ride a CVO the next time.

What’s the lottery up to this week, anyway?

2016 Harley-Davidson CVO Street Glide

Bike photos by Bill Roberson. Riding photos by Riles and Nelson. Other photos courtesy of Harley-Davidson. Harley-Davidson provided meals and accommodations during this review. 

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