By Bryan Harley, Cruiser Editor

A show-quality bagger straight from the factory

We frequent the Rat’s Hole Custom Bike Show, cover the AMD World Championships in Sturgis yearly, and never miss a Willie’s Tropical Tattoo Old School Chopper Show, so we’ve seen a custom motorcycle or two. And since Harley-Davidson’s Custom Vehicle Operations makes show-quality bikes in-house, we figured we’d ponder the features of the 2013 CVO Road Glide Custom as if it were entered in a show, dissecting the individual details that make up the whole.

Though the Shark-Nose fairing has been gracing the front end of the Harley Road Glide since 1998 in one form or another, the frame-mounted fairing is wide from side-to-side and short top-to-bottom and has immediately recognizable lines. The Shark-Nose on the 2013 CVO Road Glide Custom sets itself apart from stock with the addition of a smoked Windsplitter windscreen and space-age headlights called the Daymaker, giving the ’13 CVO Road Glide Custom the distinction of being the first Harley-Davidson with factory LED headlights. A brushed-nickel skull medallion sits just below the sharp-looking windscreen, a hint at the hot rod bagger aesthetic Harley is trying to achieve. The fairing also sets the tone for the paint and graphic scheme that runs the length of the bike, a two-tone affair separated by a clean pinstripe.

The center of the CVO Road Glide Custom is dominated by the big jugs of the Twin Cam 110 V-Twin and the Screamin’ Eagle Heavy Breather intake. Its got a healthy 4-inch bore teamed to a 4.38-inch stroke generating a claimed 122 lb-ft of torque within the granite-colored heads. The cooling fin tips have been machined and contrast well with the gloss black rocker covers, and Harley has overall maintained an attractive balance between black and chrome in the engine department. The tank console has been trimmed down to sit more flush on the six-gallon tank in comparison to standard Road Glides and has a light-up Harley medallion located in the top-center portion. The gas cap sits flush to the tank and deploys with a simple push down on the cap. The two-tone paint scheme started in the front fairing is carried over on the tank and is also teamed with the Harley skull emblem, designed by the venerable Willie G. if memory serves us right. Drilled-out components like the foot controls and shift linkage are details easy enough to ignore because they complement the design discreetly. The diamond-patterned leather seat is wide in the middle before tapering off to the passenger pillion, which pops off easily for solo action, revealing more of the high-quality paint on the rear fender.

At first glance, the rear of the 2013 CVO Road Glide Custom doesn’t appear to deviate much from stock. A closer look reveals two 5×7 MTX speakers hidden beneath the color-matching saddlebag speaker lids. A view from behind reveals the fascia that cleanly fills in the gaps between the saddlebags and rear fender and houses the integrated turn/stop signals. The hard, locking saddlebags each have 2.26 cubic feet of storage and taper back and down to wrap slightly around the exhaust, exposing the sharp-looking tips of the four-inch touring mufflers.

Moving to a rider’s view of the cockpit, round analog gauges sit front and center, speedo on the left, tach on the right, providing a clear view of the most vital info. The neutral indicator light and other diagnostics mounted in the strip below those gauges are small and less visible, but a fuel indicator and a volt reader for the battery get their own dials nestled higher up in the fairing. Mounted above those is a Harman Kardon deck nestled just below the smoked Windsplitter, a regulator of the upgraded audio system on the 2013 CVO Road Glide Custom. The rest of the space in the cockpit is taken up by two more 5×7 speakers and bridged tweeters to go along with two small cubby holes for storage. Harley kept it classy by extending the lustrous paint and poppin’ metal flakes to the inside of the fairing as well.

As for that paint, what can we say? No other manufacturer can touch the quality of the coatings on the CVO models, as much of the paint is hand-finished. The Roman Gold/Burnt Emerald combo has deep underlying tones that shine through in direct sunlight, while the “Edge Graphics” are designed to give the illusion that cut metal lies underneath. The matching paint scheme extends to the fairing, upper fork covers, fenders and saddlebags, making the CVO Road Glide Custom look racy even when sitting still.

It’d be a shame to have a bike that looks this good but didn’t have the punch to back it up. This is not the case with the 2013 CVO Road Glide Custom. A twist of the throttle is all it takes to unleash arm-stretching power, the torque immediate and available. But it doesn’t stop there, as gearing on the six-speed transmission is wide enough to accommodate the generous powerband as the bike pulls like a mule through all six gears. After the initial hit from the Twin Cam 110, the 1803cc V-Twin keeps on giving in a more linear nature after that first big spike. It takes two gears to get up to highway speed, the rear tire chirping in both. Add its high performance intake to the equation and we reckon the 2013 CVO Road Glide Custom is the most powerful production Harley out there. We love how low you can allow it drop in the rev range and it will pick back up with requiring a downshift.

Having all this power would be a moot point if the 2013 CVO Road Glide Custom didn’t have a chassis that remains rock-steady while transferring the power to the rear. Since Harley switched out the stamped, welded single-piece frame for a cast single-spar, rigid-backbone frame on their touring motorcycles in 2009 and went with a more heavy duty swingarm, the big Harleys roll down the road so much smoother and the uneasiness of the front end is gone. Between the well-balanced chassis and bump-killing suspension, ride quality is high. The CVO Road Glide Custom upgrades to a Showa adjustable rear shock in place of the standard air shock. An air valve located between the left saddlebag and rear fender is hand-adjustable for preload but requires removal of the saddlebag. The front is anchored by a 41.3mm fork that does a splendid job of keeping the tire on the road without transferring every little imperfection to the handlebars like the old chassis did. The meaty fork is tucked in at a tight 26-degree steering head angle. Team that up with a fairly low center of gravity thanks to a laden 26.6-inch seat height and a 64-inch spread between wheels and you’ve got a bike with surprisingly good handling for a bagger. Thanks to rider floorboards that are placed up and out of the way, there is great side-to-side clearance and the CVO Road Glide Custom tracks rock-solid while riding the edges of its Dunlops.

The added power the Twin Cam 110 provides also means better binders than normal are required to confidently rein in the big tourer with a claimed dry weight of 817 pounds. Fortunately, the Brembo units on the front and back of the bike are up to the task; the 300mm dual floating rotors on the front are squeezed by four-piston fixed calipers. At the lever you can feel the pads biting into the discs with a modest pull, and ample stopping power is applied. The fixed 300mm rear also has a 32mm fixed four-piston caliper and again grips tight initially before experiencing a touch of fade. Grab a handful and you’ll activate the standard ABS, which still delivers a strong pulse in the ball of a rider’s foot. Gotta commend Harley for incorporating the ABS into the wheel hubs so the system is virtually unnoticeable though.

On the list of new features on the 2013 CVO Road Glide Custom is a hydraulic nine-plate wet clutch with a high-performance assist-and-slip design. The new “Assist & Slip Clutch Pack” makes for light action at the clutch lever and is designed for longer wear. The clutch engages early in the release of the lever and helps keep the heavy motorcycle manageable at lower speeds. Now if only the Six-Speed Cruise Drive transmission engaged with the same alacrity – but if it did, what we would have to bitch about if not the notchy nature of Harley’s transmission?

One of the best new traits of the ’13 CVO Road Glide Custom undoubtedly is its new LED headlamp called the Daymaker. Now, we’re not generally one to gush over something like a headlight, but the Daymakers look like they shoot lasers. We were privy to a nighttime roadside demonstration between the old stock Harley headlight and the Daymaker, and there’s no comparison. According to the numbers Harley provided, the Daymaker increases punch and spread. Punch is boosted a claimed 30 feet over halogen lamps, increasing from 315 feet to 345. Spread gets even better gains in the form of a 55-foot wider spread pattern, jumping up to 120 feet over the standard 65-foot measurement. Harley achieved this while reducing power consumption by a claimed 50%. After witnessing their effectiveness, we’re convinced the Daymaker headlight should now be on every Harley.

The other new addition to the Harley CVO Road Glide Custom is its new audio system. This year they’ve added another 200-watt amp, giving it two total. Six speakers connected to a Harman/Kardon sound system have both boom and clarity. Two 5×7 speakers with bridged tweeters audibly assault you from the front while two-way, 5×7 MTX saddlebag speakers hit you from the rear. It has an iPod cable in the right saddlebag that can be controlled via hand controls. It even comes with a special Harley-Davidson 8GB iPod Nano. This in addition to the standard AM/FM, CD, and WB programming. For long rides, nothing helps the miles melt away like some good tunes. The 2013 CVO Road Glide Custom has the audio system covered.

Another feature of the CVO Glide we appreciate is its Engine Idle Temperature Management System (EITMS). This helps cut down the inner thigh-roasting heat coming off Harley’s V-Twin by cutting fuel and fire to the rear cylinder when idling. It can be turned off and on by the rider at a full stop. All that’s required of the rider is to rotate the throttle in a clockwise position all the way to a stop, and as it bumps the cruise switch, it essentially stops the burn in the cylinder and reduces heat transfer to the rider.

Harley’s EITMS will activate once the engine temperature exceeds 284-degrees Fahrenheit, the twist grip opening is at idle, the vehicle speed is less than 1 mph and engine speed is below 1,200 rpm. It will automatically disable if engine temp falls below 275-degrees Fahrenheit, the twist grip is no longer at idle, the motorcycle speed creeps above 2 mph or engine speed goes above 1,350 rpm. It will also disengage if the clutch is released with the bike in gear.

Then there’s the list of CVO extras that sweeten the deal. These include a Harley-Davidson Smart Security System, a commemorative CVO ignition key with display box, an indoor/outdoor motorcycle storage cover with embroidered CVO logo, and a customer care package comprising a tool kit, microfiber detail cloth, and an H-D jiffy stand coaster. This to go along with a two-year, unlimited mileage warranty.

We did a couple of hours straight in the saddle of the 2013 CVO Road Glide Custom, and I barely shifted my weight. Ergos are upright, the forward-mounted controls allow riders to stretch out comfortably, and the seat is well padded. One demerit comes from the pipe coming off the forward-facing Heavy Breather, which is wide and hits the inside of my calf when reaching for the rear brake pedal. The Windsplitter windscreen and Shark-Nose fairing do an adequate job of sheltering the rider as wind was directed at the crown of my helmet. But when it’s time to punch through a strong headwind, our favorite feature of the CVO Road Glide Custom – its stompin’ Twin Cam 110 engine – lies at the ready of our right wrist.

There’s a reason baggers are a hot commodity. You can hot rod them out like we did with the Motorcycle Superstore “Super Bagger.” You can stuff the saddlebags full and head out on a cross country tour or pop off the pillion for a run to your local bike night. Wanna go two-up? No problem. They also serve as a fantastic palette for killer custom paint. If you’re looking for a bagger that’s as close to a show quality as you can get straight from the factory, then the 2013 CVO Road Glide Custom is the answer. Some might balk at the $32,999 price tag, but if you pieced out the upgrades individually and pondered the amount of time you’d be without your bike while its engine is upgraded and its body is lathered in lustrous paint, not to mention what somebody like Paul Yaffe or John Shope charges, all of a sudden $33k doesn’t seem like such a bitter pill to swallow.