2020 Harley-Davidson CVO Road Glide FLTRXSE: Factory-Made & Modified

Text: Steve Lita • Photography: Brian Nelson

It is no secret that Harley-Davidson owners like customizing their bikes. The practice has spawned more than a few niche parts businesses and has added to the OEM’s bottom line through sales of its own popular Genuine Parts & Accessories catalog for decades. But some folks asked a question: “Why not have someone do the work for me?”

And so was born the Harley-Davidson Custom Vehicle Operations (CVO) program, which has been cranking out fully loaded versions of select models every year since 1999. The CVO department is responsible for creating factory custom bikes with distinctive finishes, materials, technology, and accessories. All CVO models are available in limited numbers, and the bikes sell out fast. In past years, you could find Softails and Dynas receiving the CVO touch, but the most popular CVO bikes have long been the full-size touring models.

CVOs have actually been strictly based on these touring models for the past three years, and 2020 follows suit with the CVO Tri Glide, CVO Limited, and the CVO Street Glide models. The CVO Road Glide was released mid-year, rounding out the collection. The Road Glide model has been a favorite of mine for open road travel since I first swung a leg over the saddle and rode one home from Sturgis years ago.

This CVO version is one of four Road Glides available. The other three are the stripped-down Road Glide, the blacked-out Road Glide Special, and the touring boat Road Glide Limited. The CVO RG is more sporty than the fully bagged Road Glide Limited with its tall handlebar. In fact, the popularity of the Road Glide pushed Indian Motorcycle to develop its own take of a frame-mounted American V-twin, the recently released Challenger. But there’s no mistaking the genuine article, so when I heard of some updates that were made to the CVO Road Glide, I welcomed the opportunity to climb aboard once more. 

All the Right Parts

There are plenty of features in this bike that make it so appealing. It all starts up front with the 21-inch front wheel. This is the only H-D touring bike equipped with such a tall front rim, and the suspension and brakes are re-tuned to accommodate the size. The exclusive split seven-spoke Knockout wheels (an 18-inch one in the rear) are finished in Gloss Black and Smoked Satin, and look like aftermarket custom wheels.

The Road Glide’s iconic “sharknose” frame-mounted fairing is visually connected to the fang-like chin spoiler with body panels and complemented with attractive engine guards. The package cleans up the lines of the Road Glide and “finishes” the look. There’s an accessory version of these lower body panels available from H-D Genuine P&A for owners of non-CVO Road Glides.

All CVOs are powered by the Milwaukee-Eight 117 powertrain, which produces 125 lb-ft of torque. It’s the largest displacement and most powerful factory-installed version of this engine. This larger version features the same four-valve/dual spark plug head arrangement with pushrod-operated rockers and self-adjusting lifters, a 10.2:1 compression ratio, a high performance cam, and a Screamin’ Eagle Heavy Breather intake with a washable filter element.

All over the bike you will find bits and pieces of H-D’s Kahuna Collection accessories, including heated hand grips, pegs, muffler end caps, and rider and passenger boards. Red accents match the engine’s red rocker box spacer and CVO striping on the saddlebags. The low-profile two-piece fuel tank console boasts a lighted CVO logo, and a flush gas cap on the right tank keeps with the contemporary smooth look.

Brains and Brawn

Aside from looks and power, this bike has brains too. H-D’s new Reflex Defensive Rider Systems (RDRS) matches motorcycle performance to available traction during acceleration, deceleration, and braking. While the RDRS is a $ 995 option on some models, it comes standard on the CVO. It adds high-tech features like traction control, cornering-ABS, electronically linked braking, Drag-Torque Slip Control (rear-wheel slip), and tire-pressure monitoring (TPMS). TPMS used to be my favorite electro-gadget on a bike, but that was until I met H-D’s new Vehicle Hold Control (VHC).

The VHC uses brake pressure to hold the bike from rolling on inclines, being essentially a hill holder. It activates the rear brake at zero mph when you squeeze the front brake lever hard while at a stop and while holding the clutch lever in. The six-axis inertial measurement unit measures the angle of the bike to apply rear-brake pressure to keep it from rolling down the incline. The rider feels haptic feedback on the front brake lever when the system is activated. Deactivation requires simply releasing the clutch or squeezing the brake lever again. The system cannot activate at speed and it does not work when the bike is in neutral or when the engine is off, so it cannot be used as a parking brake. This is a feature I wish was available long ago. It’s really useful when having to stop and hold a heavy bike like this on an incline.

The CVO treatment also includes H-D Connect, a subscription-based cellular connectivity system to keep riders connected to their motorcycle through their smartphone using the Harley-Davidson App. The CVO Road Glide is shipped with a Boom! Audio 30K Bluetooth helmet headset designed for use with the Boom! Box GTS infotainment and mesh intercom system that can connect with 16 riders over a distance of up to five miles. The infotainment system has four bi-amped speakers, two in the fairing and one in each saddlebag lid, rated at 150 watts per channel from two separate 300-watt amplifiers for 600 watts of total power.

The dash-mounted 6.5-inch color touchscreen can also be controlled by voice or hand controls, and it includes a navigation system, Apple CarPlay, and integration with the Harley-Davidson App. For those who think tech is difficult, think again. It took me only eight seconds to pair my phone to the bike.

The bike is available in a single color choice: Premium Sand Dune monotone finish with pearl topcoat and subtle graphics highlighted by Smoked Satin Chrome, Gloss Black, and Black Onyx finishes. Former CVO models have seemed garish to me, with all that chrome and custom paint. However, this version comes off as more cool and sporty. It looks like a customized bike right from the factory, and as I already mentioned, almost every Harley-Davidson fan wants a customized bike. The styling, performance, and tech upgrades on the CVO Road Glide will set you back a hefty $ 40,999, but it will leave you wanting for nothing.