Review: 2023 Harley-Davidson CVO Street Glide/CVO Road Glide

Review: 2023 Harley-Davidson CVO Street Glide/CVO Road Glide

The year 1903 was an auspicious one for mechanical invention. The Wright Brothers achieved motorized flight at Kitty Hawk, NC, while Harley-Davidson was founded in Milwaukee, WI. These two endeavors shared several traits.

Each involved unique machines using the relatively recently invented internal combustion engine, and each began humbly in small plywood sheds. Great things really do have small beginnings.

Today, 120 years later, flight has become an integral part of modern life, although the planes predominantly use jet engines. Meanwhile, Harley-Davidsons continue to roll down the world’s highways driven by internal combustion in their lauded V-twin configuration—only with some oh-so-much sweeter thunder than in those early efforts.

H-D has a unique and fervent fandom, the brand having spawned a lifestyle so prevalent it’s almost a cliche. All that aside, these motorcycles speak to a passion for riding that comes from the top, the company ardently run by riders for riders.

To reward those with the means, H-D developed the exclusive Custom Vehicle Operation (CVO) line. The concept brings the latest technical and aesthetic elements to bear on chosen machines, resulting in custom in-house creations that elevate the already vaunted motorcycles to rarefied spheres.

Evolution, Not Revolution

The 2023 Harley-Davidson CVO Street Glide and CVO Road Glide are examples of the company’s carefully orchestrated mandate of self-prescribed “refined evolution.” From a distance—only growing more pronounced upon approach—the new CVOs are laden with design cues that respect the established heritage while welcoming the future with open arms.

The classic teardrop gas tank has been given a distinctive bevel that creates a subtle shading effect. The CVOs enthrall riders with two livery options: Dark Platinum with Bright Smoked pinstriping, and the stunning (and aptly named) Whiskey Neat/Raven Metallic two-tone.

The latter colorway sports a deep orange base paint augmented by airbrushed accents, with hand-applied pinstriping ensuring no two bikes are exactly alike. Furthering the Whiskey Neat paint scheme of the bodywork are orange-accented engine inserts that artfully tie the color into the mechanical heart of the bike.

The additional $6,000 for the Whiskey Neat paint becomes a great deal more appreciable once you actually get to see it with your own eyes.

Both machines have streamlined profiles, with an inherent sense of speed fostered by the increased sweep of the Street Glide’s fork-mounted fairing, which now neatly integrates turn signals into its eagle-wing design. The Road Glide’s frame-mounted shark nose fairing has acquired heightened definition with integrated turn signals and adjustable wing deflectors and vents that allow the rider to tailor the cockpit airflow.

The LED lighting patterns light your way brightly after hours. Meanwhile, the saddlebags and side covers taper with the flow of the fairing and tank, creating a pleasant through-theme front to back.

Marvelous Mechanicals

Both the Street Glide and Road Glide are laden with the new Milwaukee-Eight VVT 121-cubic-inch (1977cc) V-twin. The heads tastefully conceal water-cooling, aided by a new water routing system. The variable valve timing (VVT) adds 8% more torque (139 lb-ft at 3,000 rpm) and 9.5% additional horsepower (115 hp at 4,500 rpm) over the previous 117 engine.

The power arrives over a more linear spread, broadening the power band and making those horses more usable and versatile. Additionally, the more efficient burn of the VVT helps improve fuel economy, with claimed gains between 3-5%.

Air intake has increased by 50% over the previous Milwaukee 117, delivering a full four liters of fresh air into the combustion process via a 58mm throttle body (up from 55mm). A high-performance exhaust has an increased 4.5-inch muffler diameter (up from the previous four inches) which beautifully trumpets the iconic exhaust note.

The six-speed cruise drive transmission spreads power delivery over a keenly-spaced set of gears, with the sixth acting as overdrive. The transmission is succinct with a tight feel of the heel-toe shift linkage. You can easily pull and engage the clutch with a fluidity that allows for smooth and precise take-off, with downshifts enhanced by slipper assist.

In the Cockpit

Sink into the plush seat, which sits at 26.7 inches, and place your hands on the ergonomically sound handlebar placement (of either bike). Your fingers settle naturally onto the adjustable levers.

Pulling the bikes off the sidestand, you instantly feel they’ve gone on a diet—the Street Glide has shed 31 pounds and the Road Glide 35. That’s some significant lost weight that further enhances the improved performance of the engine and brakes.

Prominently mounted front and center is a highly visible 12.3-inch TFT screen carrying essential information pertaining to the engine, ride, GPS, and communications. The anti-reflective surface has three display options—Cruise, Sport, and Tour—which present the screen contents in easy-to-read arrangements.

The grip warmer controller is smartly placed at the end of the left grip for simple activation.

Heading Out to the Road

I relished that initial throttle blip of the big Milwaukee-Eight as soon as I felt it. For such a large displacement engine, the response was immediate and electric. The power of the motor erases the sheer mass of the bike and will quickly have you smoothly and effortlessly cruising along.

Exhibiting tremendous pull, the big Milwaukee-Eight’s power is accented by a respectable and welcome vibration ebbing up through the bike to remind you you’re on an H-D. The torque available right off the bottom accommodates a wide range of riding styles.

You can lug it just off idle or scream it to get full power—the CVOs are happy in all situations.

Gear shifts were exquisitely smooth. It was no longer a chore to find neutral when stopped, thanks to the improved shift drum with redesigned neutral pocket geometry.

The gear ratios are spaced evenly, with first making it easy to get moving and each subsequent shift found with the slightest movement of the heel-toe shifter.

With its lower handlebar and less bulk in the fairing, the Street Glide provides a more sporty feel. The Road Glide is fitted with a taller bar that delivers a comfortable highway feel, settling you back into the seat for long-haul riding.

Both the Street and Road Glide are surprisingly nimble for large bikes, with ease and predictability on turn-in. The weight reduction is a welcome trait and can be felt whether maneuvering in slow traffic or tossing the bike around in corners.

The Brembo brake components exude aplomb at bringing the sheer mass of the motorcycles down from speed. And that’s saying something. In fact, the braking performance was highly intuitive with an actual sporting feel, as opposed to pure workman functionality.

In one word, the riding was fun.

The CVOs suffer from the bane of large displacement V-twins—a good deal of heat comes off those big header pipes. You can really feel that when stopped at a traffic light, with heat radiating directly onto your thigh.

It might be a welcome feature in the winter, but definitely not in summer heat.

The CVOs have five ride modes on tap for tailoring the riding experience. Road, Sport, and Rain modes provide varying combinations of intervention on power delivery, engine braking, the cornering-ABS, and cornering-traction control systems. The additional two modes are programmable so you can customize the engine and ride performance to personal taste.

The Rolling Stock

Both bikes sport a steel tube chassis in a two-piece backbone design with a bolt-on subframe, unchanged from H-D’s last major overhaul in 2009. Yet, it’s dramatically enhanced by new 47mm inverted Showa forks with 4.6 inches of travel and no external adjustment.

They are mounted in a fully reworked triple clamp that has shed some seven pounds. Twin Showa shocks grant three inches of rear-wheel travel and have an easy-to-reach preload adjustment knob just in the front of the left saddlebag.

Even with factory settings, the suspension covered a wide range of situations. It soaked up road irregularities without transferring the energy to the rider while being stiff enough for spirited riding and also extremely comfortable for the long haul.

However, encountering potholes at freeway speeds bottomed out the forks and produced a jarring reverberation up through the chassis and into the seat and grips.

Augmenting the aesthetics of both bikes are Combo Cast Laced wheels in a 19-inch front and 18-inch rear configuration. The black machine-cut cast aluminum rims are set off nicely against the spokes.

Braking performance on the CVOs is dynamically enhanced with top-of-the-line Brembo brake components. The floating dual discs at the front have been increased from 300mm to 320mm and are mated to radially-mounted four-piston calipers.

At the rear, a single 300mm disc is married to one caliper. This balanced setup infuses the CVOs with tremendous stopping power and provides real confidence, whether you’re finessing the levers with light inputs or grabbing the binders in aggressive stopping.

The brake performance further helped dissolve the machines’ heft. Still, leave plenty of room for a safe braking zone, as the bikes have a lot of mass to bring down from speed.

The Street Glide and Road Glide exemplify the essence of cruising, either bike capable of long hauls and, by equal measure, relatively sporty riding. With their lighter weight, more responsive power, ride modes, suspension, and brakes, the new machines provide an indulgent platform, both in terms of comfort and performance.

The Bottom Line

There are actually two bottom lines here with these bikes. On one hand, there’s the evolution of the CVOs, which look great, work exceptionally well in virtually all situations you’re likely to put them in, and possess enhanced aspects of the essential H-D gene pool of cool.

Then there’s the bottom line of price tag. The CVOs represent exclusivity and that comes at a price.

For all those thousands, though, you get a unique, super premium motorcycle reserved for the most discerning of riders.

Technical Specs

+ exclusivity worthy of a king with performance to match
– the exhaust header heats up at long lights and in stopped traffic

Distributor: Harley-Davidson
MSRP: $42,999
Engine: Milwaukee-Eight VVT 121, liquid-cooled, V-twin, 4-valve
Displacement: 1977cc (121cu-in)
Power: 115hp @4,500rpm; 139lbft @3,000rpm
Transmission: 6-speed, multi-plate wet clutch, slipper-assist, belt final drive
Rake/Trail: 26°/6.7in
Weight (Wet): 838lbs (Street Glide); 862lbs (Road Glide)
Seat Height: 26.7in
Fuel Capacity: 6gal
Fuel Consumption: 43mpg (estimated)
Fuel Grade: premium
Color: Dark Platinum with pinstriping, Whiskey Neat/Raven Metallic