All-new Harley-Davidson cruisers don’t come around very often which is why the 2023 CVO Street Glide and CVO Road Glide are a big deal. While the American brand has recently diversified into adventure bikes and a new breed of introductory Sportsters, all based around its new, liquid-cooled ‘Revolution Max’ V-twin, its traditional ‘big twin’, air-cooled, pushrod activated V-twin cruisers and tourers, ranging from the Softail to the Ultra Glide full dresser, have at least appeared largely unchanged since the 1980s. In reality, of course, a series of significant technological updates have been implemented over that time, including a switch to fuel injection, a succession of capacity increases, the adoption of uprated brakes, suspension and ‘infotainment on its tourers under the 2014 ‘Project Rushmore’ and an all-new Softail cruiser frame in 2018, but there has been little fundamental change, not least to the bikes’ styling… until now.
The two new CVOs change all that. Built as premium-priced, limited editions (although Harley isn’t saying how many will be made) by Harley’s premium, hand-assembled Custom Vehicle Operations unit, they are comprehensively reinvented versions of its best-selling Street Glide and Road Glide ‘baggers’. Both feature the same significantly uprated engines with extra capacity, liquid-cooled heads and, in a Harley first, variable valve timing, all helping make them the most potent Big Twins yet. They’re also the first Big Twins to get switchable electronic riding modes. On top of that they have uprated suspension and brakes, the latter comprising another Harley Big Twin ‘first’ – radially-mounted Brembo calipers. There’s also a massive, all-new TFT touchscreen dash and accompanying switchgear, all controlling a myriad of functions ranging from SatNav to Smartphone connectivity and an uprated audio system. While most strikingly, progressively and conspicuously of all, both also get all-new bodywork and styling which is the biggest progression from Harley’s traditional touring style yet and includes all-new LED lights and indicators.
The two new CVOs are in most respects the same except for their fairings and handlebars. The CVO Road Glide has a slightly larger, frame-mounted fairing, a slightly higher, wider handlebar and costs £500 more. The CVO Street Glide has a slightly smaller handlebar-mounted fairing and narrower and flatter handlebar and is the version we’re focusing on here. Everything else, even colour options, are identical.
Looks, nuts and bolts
Harley bosses say the motivation behind the CVOs was what it calls the growing ‘used park’ – the huge quantity of used Harleys on the market which, due to 35 years of only minor styling changes acts as a disincentive to buying new.
“That was our challenge,” said Brad Richards. Harley’s VP of Design. “To create a motorcycle that was clearly superior to the previous generation in terms of performance and technology.”
But he added: “We couldn’t go too crazy. We couldn’t come up with something that didn’t look like a Harley, so getting that balance right was crucial.”
The result, he said, was a Street Glide and Road Glide that “looks like it’s been to the gym.”
Styling is sharper, cleaner, more modern with added athleticism. The sleeker fairings were developed in a wind tunnel to improve buffeting and wind noise. The striking new LED headlight – called the ‘Omega Light’ – simulates Harley’s ‘eagle wing’ motif (with the Road Glide gaining a more aggressive update to its classic ‘Sharknose’ style). There’s a new ‘edginess’ to the whole look – and added practicality, too, with larger panniers, for example.
Inside the fairing and elsewhere the new CVOs are even more impressive and progressive. Dominating the riders’ eye is an all-new – and huge – 12.3in TFT touchscreen display which fills the full width of the dashboard, is beautifully clean and clear and utterly comprehensive. Three custom screens are available, displaying all the bike info, SatNav map and audio information relating to the new, upgraded sound system you require. (This audio system, incidentally, now comprises a radio tuner, Smartphone connectivity via both Bluetooth AND WiFi, an uprated four channel, 500w amplifier and four new speakers.)
Working with this new dash is all-new switchgear which is also pleasingly intuitive yet comprehensive and solidly made. The right-hand block, starter and right-turn signal apart, is devoted mostly to audio controls. The left, lights and left turn signal apart, is mostly for scrolling through displays and other functions. The new riding modes, meanwhile, comprise five different settings – Sport, Road, Rain and two Customisable options, all easily scrolled through via a left-hand rocker on the right indicator switch. Other standard fit electronic goodies on the new CVOs include cornering ABS and traction control, rear cylinder deactivation to aid cooling in traffic and heated handlebar grips.
Engine, chassis, and what it all means…
All of which adds up to little more than the emperor’s new clothes if the new CVOs didn’t have the ‘go’ to match the new ‘show’, but they do – and then some.
The combination of extra cubes (via a longer stroke), a larger airbox, improved inlet tracts, higher compression head, a form of variable valve timing (a ‘phaser’ between the cam sprocket and camshaft varies timing according to rpm) and larger diameter exhaust adds up to a healthy 10% power boost to 115bhp at 4500rpm. Peak torque, meanwhile, is an equally respectable 139lb.ft at 3000rpm.
That alone would be noticeable and welcome, but the improved performance is further heightened by the CVOs’ lighter, uprated chassis. Thanks to a series of weight saving measures including a simpler fairing design, lighter gauge steel used in the tank, new triple clamps (alone saving 7lb) and engine changes (saving a further 12lb), the CVO Street Glide is a full 31lbs lighter than the existing model while the CVO Road Glide is 35lbs lighter than its current equivalent.
That, allied to the improved suspension including 50% extra rear end travel not only gives a lighter, more nimble and somehow more precise and easily controlled ride through tight turns but also enhances its acceleration and drive in a straight line. In Road mode, the new CVO is an excellent, lighter, more modern but largely still familiar classic bagger with a flash dash. But in Sport it has a sharper, more aggressive, more explosive side that’s a significant step up from before.
The changes introduced by the new CVOs add up to the biggest modernization of Harley’s tourers in a generation. Every aspect is improved – performance, handling, equipment and style.
For me, however, although all are welcome (and arguably overdue), it’s the latter two aspects that impress most. The CVOs’ slick TFT dash is a true class-leader and surely the standard others must follow. The reinvented style is a necessary, overdue modernization that makes previous Harleys seem archaic, and long must it continue.
But it all comes at a price, too – a very hefty one that can’t be ignored. The new CVO Street Glide starts at a whopping £38,295 (a full £11K more than the old one) and if you want the bronze ‘Whisky Neat’ colour option, it’s £6500 on top of that. The CVO Road Glide is £38,795, plus £6K more in bronze. Whichever way you look at it – that’s a near-40% price rise – it’s a massive premium that’s difficult to justify. That said, maybe it doesn’t matter. These updates are sure to trickle down to more affordable models and the CVOs are already selling well with, in the US, the bronze Road Glide already sold out.
Nor is that the only benefit of the uprated engine and lighter chassis. Braking, thanks to the new radial calipers but also the reduced weight, is noticeably more powerful, immediate and controlled with the front stoppers almost rendering the rear redundant – and when was the last time you could say that about a Harley bagger?
Harley-Davidson CVO Street Glide specification
Engine: 1977cc V-Twin, pushrod, two valves per cylinder, liquid/air cooled, VVT
Power: 115bhp (86kW) @ 4500rpm
Torque: 189Nm (139lb-ft) @ 3000rpm
Transmission: Six-speed, belt final drive
Frame: Tubular steel double cradle frame
Suspension: (F) Showa non-adjustable 47mm USD fork, (R) preload-adjustable twin shocks.
Wheels: ‘Combo Cast Laced’, 18”/17”
Tyres: (F) Dunlop Harley-Davidson series 130/60 x 19, (R) Dunlop Harley-Davidson series 180/55 x 18
Brakes: (F) 2 x 320mm semi-floating discs, radially mounted Brembo calipers, 4-piston, (R) 240mm disc, 4-piston Brembo floating caliper. Bosch Cornering ABS as standard equipment
Weight: 380kg (kerb)
Seat height: 715mm
Fuel tank: 22.7 litres
Fuel consumption: 47mpg (claimed)
Service intervals: 5000 miles/12 months
Warranty: 24 months unlimited mileage
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Words: Phil West
Photos: Brian J. Nelson and Kevin Wing