Bryan Harley, Cruiser Editor

One smooth, beautiful hot rod bagger

Up to this point, the ride on the 2012 CVO Road Glide Custom had been very sedate. Curvy roads and blind corners out of Calistoga have kept speeds in check and gearing seldom above third. Though we haven’t gone beyond cruising speed, action on the front end is light thanks in part to frame mounting the shark-nose fairing. We spit out close to Highway 101, and the on-ramp finally provides a chance to open this baby up. What good are 1803cc and a high-flow intake if you don’t get to open it up now and again? I downshift to make the turn and then unleash a healthy dose of throttle. The CVO Road Glide Custom lurches beneath me. Kicking it into the next gear, the rear end slides out with the surge of roll-on power. As a grin creeps across my face, I’m thinking “Impressive hit for a factory bagger.” And that summation comes after recently testing Kawasaki’s Vaquero and currently riding the 2011 Star Stratoliner Deluxe.

Harley claims there’s only one all-new CVO model for 2012, the 2012 Road Glide Custom, but there was a Road Glide CVO last year in the guise of the Road Glide Ultra. This year The Motor Company ditched the topcase and hot rodded its bold bagger even more with a big engine, boomin’ audio and bitchin’ paint. The pushrod-operated engine is the most powerful V-Twin Harley offers in a production motorcycle, and you’ll only find it currently on the CVOs. Harley’s added a Screamin’ Eagle Heavy Breather Intake and chrome dual exhaust with four-inch touring mufflers to spice up the CVO Road Glide Custom package.

On the amenity side, Harley stuffed its largest speakers to date in the Road Glide Custom’s fairing, a pair of big 5X7s, to go along with a set of two-inch tweeters, to handle the output of the kickin’ Harman/Kardon stereo system, which pumps out 100 watts per channel. Having a stereo system that you can hear over the rumble of the bike’s pipes at 80 mph is a bonus. Having clean sound is even more impressive. There’s a spot to hook up an Apple iPod Nano, which comes with the bike, in the right saddlebag for times you’re not listening to the AM/FM radio or a CD.

There’s a reason other manufacturers try to emulate the quality and look of Harley’s fit and finish. Such is the case with the cockpit of the 2012 CVO Road Glide Custom. Features like cockpits don’t usually excite me, but this arrangement is top-notch. First, they blacked it out. Second, the layout is clean, small round gauges for a speedo and tach with industrial-looking faces surrounded by the cleanly integrated new speakers. The color-matched console with its illuminated back-lit CVO emblem adds to its classy styling. To showcase its great-looking blacked-out cockpit, the CVO Road Glide Custom gets a new black, internally wired handlebar with matching black hand controls all complemented by the smoked Wind Splitter windscreen (straight from the Parts & Accessories catalog).

With forward-mounted floorboards and a seat set at 27.5 inches, ergos are stretched out and comfy with a slight forward tilt to reach the bars. The stock saddle is well padded and the two-piece custom seat comes with an easy-to-remove pillion. Harley’s done an excellent job of matching up the bike’s aesthetics, as the black billet aluminum muffler end caps match the aluminum cut-backs of the Heavy Breather air intake and complement the contrast cut of the Chrome Agitator wheels.

The 2012 CVO Road Glide Custom is one smooth ride. Throttle response is immediate, its steering is lighter than its fork-mounted counterpart, the CVO Street Glide, and the suspension is dialed-in to provide a plush ride. Rip open the throttle and this thing will hook up and move out. Its Heavy Breather intake feels like it adds a few ponies and gearing is definitely wider than a stock Road Glide. Redline comes on a couple hundred rpm later. Its only drawback is that the pipe on the Heavy Breather intake is so wide it prevented me from getting my foot flush on the rear brake pedal.

There’s a very creative individual who comes up with the names of the colors Harley offers the CVOs in. Case in point. The 2012 CVO Road Glide Custom’s options are called White Gold Pearl and Starfire Black with Real Smoke graphic, Maple Metallic and Vivid Black with Real Smoke Graphic, and Candy Cobalt and Twilight Blue with Real Smoke Graphic. Creative, but different. Will give them credit, though. We like all the striking combos the CVO Road Glide Custom is offered in. Production of Harley’s factory custom bagger is limited to 2,100 units, each with an MSRP of $30,699. It’s available with the optional color-matched Tour Pak. A treat to look at and even more fun to ride, the 2012 CVO Street Glide Custom is indeed one hot rod bagger.