Anybody who’s seen stunter extraordinaire Jimmy Burnouts sling the “Slide Glide” around like it’s a toy or witnessed George Bryce destroying the quarter-mile with “Bag Zilla” knows baggers are being pushed to higher performance levels than ever. Big, slow, and cumbersome no longer applies to the niche. These days, throwing on high-end suspension kits, powerful braking systems, and boosted engines is the new norm. Baggers have definitely transcended beyond utilitarian purposes.

For almost 20 years, Harley-Davidson has used its Custom Vehicle Operations (CVO) unit as a springboard for technological development, as a showcase for new accessory lines, and as a pinnacle of Harley ownership. The Road Glide made its first appearance in the 2000 CVO line with the debut of the Screamin’ Eagle Road Glide FLTRSEI1, the first production Harley outfitted with a 95 cubic-inch Twin Cam. Over the years, the CVO platform has continued to serve as the launching point for Harley’s latest engine, from the Twin Cam 103 in 2003 to the Twin Cam 110 in 2007 to the 117 cubic-inch Milwaukee-Eight in 2018.

The 2019 CVO Road Glide's 117 cubic-inch Milwaukee-Eight is the biggest engine Harley serves up in a production motorcycle. 

The Milwaukee-Eight 117 is the biggest powerplant Harley-Davidson’s offered in a production motorcycle to-date. The 1923cc V-Twin is a big reason the 2019 CVO Road Glide is the baddest bagger The Motor Company makes. Not only is it a monster mill, the top-shelf Road Glide has a high-performance camshaft, a Screamin’ Eagle Heavy Breather intake and burly dual crossover pipes. Harley bumped up engine compression a tad and peak torque output is said to be 125 lb-ft. It hits like a Deontay Wilder right cross with the first whack of the throttle and hustles up to highway speed quicker than any other Harley bagger I’ve tested. Even more impressive are the gains on the top end in the middle gears as the spread of power is broader and roll-on improved. The engine is well-balanced and efficient, while throttle response is immediate and rewarding. I had high expectations for the Milwaukee-Eight 117 and it didn’t disappoint.

All this power would be a moot point though if ride quality was sacrificed, but again the 2019 CVO Road Glide shines. Between the dual bending valve front end and emulsion shocks on the rear, the ride is plush. Premium comfort levels make long days in the saddle easier and I’d chart a cross-country course for Sturgis in a heartbeat on this bike. Surprisingly, it’s the only Harley tourer with a stock 21-inch front wheel, but you don’t notice the larger front hoop during turn-in thanks to slight tweaks to the fork internals. The CVO Road Glide is composed at lean and rolls fluidly through corners. While 21 inches is a drop in the bucket compared to the extremes of the big wheeled bagger craze, you get the best of both worlds in the Glide’s Knockout wheel, a custom appearance without compromised handling.

2019 Harley-Davidson CVO Road Glide in the Lightning Silver & Charred Steel with Black Hole paint combo. 

Another reason the 2019 CVO Road Glide is Harley’s baddest bagger is its braking system. The Reflex Linked Brakes work both ways, applying a little pressure to the rotor on the opposite end electronically based on speed and brake pressure. The Glide’s discs are hulking and its trio of 4-piston fixed calipers are powerful. On the front, the bite is aggressive and pressure is steady and even. Anti-lock brakes are included in the package and it takes a healthy amount of pressure on the back brake pedal to get the ABS to engage. In Harley’s first-generation ABS the pulse at the pedal was disconcerting, but the system has evolved considerably. It’s less intrusive these days and the pulse in the ball of your foot is much milder. While I’m not always an ABS advocate, in the case of bikes with as much mass in motion as the CVO Road Glide, having the extra layers of a linked, anti-lock system definitely benefits riders.  

Harley invested a lot of resources to upgrade the infotainment system on the 2019 CVO Road Glide. The Boom! Box GTS features a full-color TFT screen with cell phone-like friendliness that’s also easier to see in sunlight. The system also boots up much faster than before and its nav refreshes faster, too. Riders are able to connect to their phones using Bluetooth and run voice commands through it. Then there’s the sound. With four Stage II bi-amped speakers (two in the fairing, two in the saddlebag lids) fed by two 300-watt amps, the speakers are pushing 150-watts of power per-channel. Yes, it truly does go boom, but the sound is crisp and clear, too. If I’m headed out on a multi-state tour, music helps set the tone and makes the miles melt away a bit easier and more enjoyably. The new Boom! Box GTS directly addresses the shortcomings of Harley’s old system and the quality of the sound is likewise much improved.

The Boom! Box GTS on the 2019 CVO Road Glide boots up faster and has a more interactive, cell phone-like TFT display than before. 

And while the last reason I really love the 2019 Harley CVO Road Glide is arbitrary, a motorcycle’s paint and graphics have a way of sealing the deal. If ever a paint job matched the disposition of a bike, it’s the classic star-spangled Harley-Davidson 1 job on this year’s CVO Road Glide. Officially called the “Lightning Silver & Charred Steel with Black Hole” paint combo, it sets the tone for the hot rod bagger. Sprinkle in the forward-facing heavy breather and a handful of goodies from Harley’s Kahuna Collection and this bike just strikes all the right chords for me. And if this particular color scheme isn’t your cup of tea, no worries, the 2019 CVO Road Glide comes in three color combos. Harley is known for its premium paint jobs, particularly on its CVO models. A prime example is the Mako Shark Fade on the CVO Road Glide, a lighter to darker fade as it moves up on the motorcycle which creates the illusion that the bike’s lit up from below. Cool stuff. There are three styling treatments available on the CVO powertrain, from a shiny chrome package to a combination of dark and bright bits to a blacked-out look. If you choose the dark styling treatment, you can also have a matching Black Onyx finish put on the exhaust. Harley said the process is a carry-over from the mil-spec sector and the Black Onyx is thin, so thin that in bright light the underlying chrome is visible beneath the finish. You can even match up wheel treatments to paint schemes as the Knockout wheels come in either contrast chrome or contrast anodized. These options mean owners can customize their 2019 CVO Road Glide to their own personal taste, another reason this factory bagger stands out in the Harley crowd.

Sometimes a paint and graphics combo just speaks to a rider. This one on the 2019 CVO Road Glide does to me.