Road test: 2012 Harley-Davidson CVO Street Glide
Calistoga, Calif. • I have ridden the impossible; or, at least, the improbable: a Harley-Davidson that is the most powerful production motorcycle on the planet. Yes, you read that right. Recalibrate your motorcycle mojo because, as incredible as it may seem, there is one Harley more powerful than anything the Japanese or Germans have to offer. No rice rocket can compete, BMW is strangely silent in comparison and Ducati isn’t even in the game. This is a motorcycle so powerful that is has no less than 400 … watts of harman/kardon ear-splitting, bass-pumping tuneage.
What? You really thought Harley had suddenly snuck back into the horsepower wars? Well, as much as the motorcycle in question is a CVO — as in Custom Vehicle Operation — model, it does boast more horses than common from a Harley, probably in the order of 100 horsepower from its enlarged and freer-breathing 110-cubic-inch V-twin. But that’s hardly new as the 1,802-cubic-centimetre version of the Big Twin was introduced to the CVO model line back in 2007.
But the Street Glide (otherwise known as FLHXSE in Harley’s indecipherable hieroglyphics) boasts a quadraphonic sound system with no less than 100 watts per channel. Eight speakers, too, including two special 5×7-inch jobbies with bridged tweeters moulded into the lids of the rear saddlebags.
The Street Glide’s harman/kardon system is to motorcycles what Bang & Olufsen is to car audio systems, what the Vienna State Opera is to concert halls and the Colosseum to amphitheatres. All motorcycle stereo systems that have come before it are diminished. The sound is crystal clear, the decibels prodigious and the bass pounding. Imagine yourself at a live Eagles concert — albeit a windy one — and you have some idea what it was like to cruise down the famed 101 highway on a sunny California afternoon, the Harley’s exhaust burbling underneath a crystal clear rendition of Peaceful Easy Feeling. Motorcycling purists will blanch at the thought, their version of biking a minimalist experience of just human against element, but I can tell you that combining two of the finest things in the world — one’s favourite music and the lure of the open road on two wheels — is as good as it gets in the terrestrial world; or at least my terrestrial world.
The Street Glide gives much more to be content about. One can grouse that Harley had to bore its aging V-twin engine all the way to 110 cubes — a whopping 1,802 cc — to get performance any four-cylinder touring bike would take for granted, but at least it’s adequate, more than I can say for the last 96-cu.-in. version of Harley’s touring platform I tested. It has more than enough power to haul two up past long semis and it does so with an exhaust rumble — at least when you’re not blaring The Headpins’ Don’t It Make Ya Feel at 100 watts per — the envy of other bikes.
Harley has even revised its chassis of late enough that they handle with a modicum of competence. Yes, the Street Glide still has that monster of a billboard-like fairing mounted to the front fork, which causes some havoc with steering, but thanks to a stiffer frame, firmer suspension (with hydraulically adjustable rear spring load, will wonders never cease) and some low-profile radial tires including a every sportsbike-like 180/55B18 in the rear, the Street Glide wanders through twisty roads better than any 372-kilogram cruiser has a right to.
Nor is the audio system the only high-tech item on the motorcycle. Harleys may be all about bad-ass image, but the company has one of the most well-sorted electronic fuel injection systems in the business and all CVO models feature anti-lock brakes. Of course, this last has Harley’s own special touch. Most motorcycle ABS systems have a largish ring gear built into each wheel that’s used by the ABS computer to detect wheel speed. It stands out and, according to Harley, wouldn’t look good on its oh-so-fashion-conscious CVOs. So the company engineered a teeny, tiny replacement, a wheel speed sensor so small it fits inside the hub of the wheel along with the bearings, giving the impression that the Harley has good, old-fashioned human-manipulated brakes when in fact they are computer-controlled. Safety as a boutique fashion item — only on a Harley-Davidson. The calipers, meanwhile, are equally fashionable and very powerful Brembos.
Much of the rest of this Street Glide is typical CVO fare, that is to say tons of chrome and paint deep enough it looks like you could swim in it. The detail touches are exquisite and seemingly without end. Of course, the one complaint one could wage against anything CVO is price. At $32,699, it is expensive. And though Paul James, Harley-Davidson’s chef de public relations, notes that accessorized individually any CVO would cost far more than what Harley charges for its finished products, the upgraded Street Glide is still very pricey. On the other hand, Harley sells every one of the 10,000 or so CVOs it produces each year. Besides, we’ve all seen what the orgy of price chopping has done to the Japanese motorcycle industry, so perhaps there is method to Harley’s madness. That Harley has not altered the CVO lineup mechanically substantially for 2012 doesn’t change the fact that this Street Glide is genuinely more desirable than ever.
Indeed, CVO ownership may require rejigging your perceptions. Think not of the Street Glide as just another overpriced custom motorcycle. Think of it instead as a 110-cu.-in. ghetto blaster, able to carry you to epic adventure all the while cocooning you in the sweet embrace of AC/DC’s Highway To Hell.
Harley-Davidson upgrades sound systems on new CVO models
Harley’s other CVO products, the FLHTCUSE Ultra Classic Electra Glide (US$37,249), FLTRXSE Road Glide Custom (US$30,699) and FLSTSE Softail Convertible (US$29,699,) all get new audio systems this year, although none are quite as sonorous as the ones in the Street Glides.
Still, even the Convertible’s quick-detach windscreen houses a new MP3 player that just happens to be a Garmin 660 GPS system, as well.
One presumes even the “One Percenter” crowd hates getting lost these days.
Oh, and like the Street Glide, they all feature easily deciphered Apple iPod (housed unobtrusively in the lid of the left saddlebag) connectivity that should be the envy of even automotive electronics.
— David Booth
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