Harley-Davidson's Custom Vehicle Operations

Text: Neale Bayly • Photography: Kevin Wing

Tucked away at Harley-Davidson facilities is a small team of engineers and stylists that works as a separate unit under the acronym, CVO (Custom Vehicle Operations). Responsible for producing limited numbers of highly customized motorcycles since 1999, the group has four individual models to choose from in the lineup for 2007: a Softail Springer, a Dyna, a Road King, and the big-rig Ultra Classic. Pricing starts at $24,995 for the Springer and Dyna, and climbs to an eyeball-popping $33,595 for the Ultra Classic. The Softail and Touring CVO models are produced in York, but the CVO Dyna is produced in Kansas City. The motor for all of the CVO models, the Twin Cam 110", is produced at the Pilgrim Road Facility in Milwaukee.

I recently hopped a plane bound for sunny California just to see what makes these machines some of the most expensive production motorcycles on the road. The process begins with the basic model platform, and each of the four models undergoes intense attention to detail and some hardcore customization to all of the paint and cycle parts. However, the biggest difference between the standard Harley offering and the CVO models is the Screamin' Eagle power plant. The new 2007 Harley-Davidson lineup is using a 96 cubic-inch engine this year, but the four CVO models are running 110 cubic inches of American muscle. Quoting a gain of 20 ft-lbs of torque at 2500 rpm over the standard engine, though no horsepower figures are currently available, it is safe to say the power output is well up, but the Harley-Davidson technicians wouldn't divulge any numbers.

All of the CVO engines employ the new six-speed gearbox, and there is a small difference in the torque output, with the numbers a little lower on the Springer and Dyna. I assume, since they're more rev-hungry than the touring bikes, that they produce slightly higher horsepower figures, as they have a more sporting intention.

Inside the Screamin' Eagle engine, larger intake and exhaust valves are opened and closed by more radical camshafts, while down below massive four-inch forged pistons are used. A different head gasket increases compression from 8.8:1 to 9.3:1 and the ports have been cleaned up for more efficiency. Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI) is responsible for delivering the perfect amount of gas into the cavernous cylinders and providing faultless fueling under all situations: It was impossible to find any problems with the systems during my test.

Starting with the most expensive bike in the lineup, I took out the fully loaded Screamin' Eagle Ultra Classic (FLHTCUSE). Comfortable and featuring more custom parts than I could list, it also comes with an advanced GPS Audio Navigation system. Other nice touches include a dash-operated electric lock for the saddlebags and luggage, with top-of-the-line audio available for rider and passenger from the Satellite radio. Deeply luxurious seating, for rider and passenger, and the big, powerful 110 cubic-inch engine that's more than capable of propelling this 888-pound touring rig to the far corners of America make the Ultra Classic a highly refined piece of machinery.

Handling on the big Ultra is better than I would have expected from a bike of this nature, and swinging through the twisty California countryside was a joy thanks to the wide bars and comfortable seating position. Metal will drag if you get too enthusiastic, and the brakes need some advance notice to haul so much mass down from speed. But overall the CVO team has done a fantastic job with the Ultra Classic: the bike certainly has serious mile-eating capabilities at its disposal and appeal in spades, the kind that always draws a crowd at rest.

Swinging my leg over the minimalist Dyna after a stint in the saddle of the big Ultra, it took some adjusting for me to get comfortable. My legs seemed to stick out too far in front, and because this model weighs less, while producing a little extra horsepower, it was soon apparent the Dyna could use extra help in the braking department. It is just as stunning to look at as the rest of the range though, and certainly the most sport-oriented, evident from the inverted front fork and small belly pan. This makes the nature of the ride very different from the touring rigs, and for the lone wolf this one or the Springer is going to be the CVO of choice.

Sporting lots of chrome, the Dyna is a lean, muscular, and aggressive-looking ride. Screamin' Eagle does make some less restrictive mufflers for the Dyna, a motorcycle that would benefit from a slightly less muffled sound when the throttle is twisted earnestly. Handling is good, and apart from its ground-clearance limitations, spirited riding is encouraged. Otherwise, kicking the bike up on the stand and merely sitting back to appreciate the custom paint and the many chrome and plated custom parts is going to be high on the list of things to do for new owners.

The Springer feels very similar to the Dyna on the open road, and I prefer its old-fashioned look from the front end and the slightly more relaxed riding position. The ride is sporty, and the handling solid and predictable, even with a massive 200 series rear tire wrapping around the simply stunning, chrome Revolver wheel. It does get windy on the open road without a windscreen, but that is the nature of these machines - so no complaints. Paint options for the Springer are outrageous and diverse: Canyon Copper and Candy Red, Abyss Blue and Blue Pearl, or Amarillo Gold and Candy Tangerine, all with hand-painted tribal graphics for a show bike finish.

The CVO Springer has a lot of chrome too, and few parts have been left untreated. Stainless-steel brake lines take fluid to the brakes, smoked turn signal lenses indicate direction changes and an LED taillight keeps the cars off your rear end. The overwhelming amount of custom fitments on the Springer, as with the other CVO models, is enough to start your head spinning. The Springer and Dyna, the lowest-priced machines in the CVO quartet, retail for $ 24,995.

Firing up the Road King after riding the other three models, I was immediately surprised by the animalistic nature of the engine. On the other three CVOs, the engine ran smoothly and almost vibration free, but when the Road King jumped energetically to life, the bars quickly started bopping around in my hands. The gear selection, the same as the others, gave off loud metallic clunks when I didn't pay attention; and for those weaned on a diet of Japanese gearboxes, this will appear strange at first, but it's simply a Harley trait - and not a negative one, as missed shifts are rare.

The seating position on the Road King is in the same league as the Ultra, and the attention to detail and overall finishing of the cycle parts is enough to take your breath away. As I sat back reflecting on my ride, the Road King sat glinting in the late afternoon sun, with its deep luster paint, almost liquid smooth chrome, and attractive leather saddlebags certainly putting this motorcycle in a class of its own.

Coming with cruise control, a small windshield, and passenger backrest, the Road King is going to be almost as good for the long haul as the Ultra, but once in town, the lighter weight and increased low speed maneuverability are immediately noticeable. To facilitate these user-friendly manners, an eighteen-inch wheel with a sporting profile tire rolls between the chrome forks front. Matched in the rear, it's one of the most attractive wheels in the world of motorcycling, and I'm sure a lot of them will be making it onto stock machines this year, as they are available from the CVO catalogue.

I was most impressed by my day in California with the new 2007 CVO Harley-Davidsons. So if you're in the market for an extremely high-end custom motorcycle, and have the disposable income needed, what could be better than heading over to your local dealer, picking out your color choice, and riding home? Especially when you know that you'll have a serious hot rod engine, a virtual parts catalogue of cool, custom parts, and all the usual Harley-Davidson warranty and service options. No wonder Harley-Davidson sells every new CVO model they make!