Sitting in a trendy resort in the artsy California community of Calistoga, I’m beginning to understand the correlation between the four CVO motorcycles I’m staring at and my surroundings. Harley’s Custom Vehicle Operations are a taste of American exotica, the cream-of-the-crop coming out
of Milwaukee. They are layered in show-quality paint, pinstriping and graphics painstakingly applied by the same handcrafted method as a one-off custom. The paint Harley uses on the CVOs as well as its Twin Cam 110 V-Twin is exclusive to the line. The bikes are high dollar and limited production, maintaining their aura of exclusivity. And it targets the exact demographic as the people that are staying in this California wine country resort, people with more discretionary income than the average guy who isn’t afraid to spend a little more to get what they want.
A CVO is the pinnacle of Harley ownership as it represents a bike that’s been lovingly crafted over the course of a year by a group of dedicated designers and engineers.What originally started 13 years ago as a couple of motorcycles Harley used as a way to showcase some of the goods in its extensive parts and accessories catalog has grown into a full-fledged, self-contained entity within the company overseen by Willie G. himself. It has blossomed into an outlet
for Harley to introduce new technology and performance uprgrades, many which trickle down into production models. The program targets what Harley-Davidson
calls its "Alpha Customer," one who is brand loyal and who prides themselves on riding the best The Motor Company has to offer. They're a person who realizes if they went out and sourced a higher performance engine, got their stock bike custom painted, and decked it out in as much chrome as a CVO they'd be footing an even bigger bill than the list price of a CVO. And what Harley enthusiast doesn’t want to own a project overseen by the venerable Willie G.?
Deciding which bikes to feature is a painstaking process. Just being selected to represent the Company is a prestige in and of itself. This year’s selections reflect current trends in the industry, the popularity of baggers and tourers. Saddlebags are a common denominator between the 2012 CVO Road Glide Custom, CVO Softail Convertible, CVO Street Glide and CVO Ultra Classic Electra Glide
. The bagger
segment has been particularly hot the last few years, so it’s no surprise Harley chose to feature both the industry leading Street Glide and Road Glide to this year’s CVO family. Three models are carryovers from last year, the Road Glide Custom being the exception. Still, it replaces a comparable bike, the 2011 CVO Road Glide Ultra
Another constant between the four 2012 CVOs is the use of Harley-Davidson’s largest displacement production engine, the Twin Cam 110. The big pushrod-operated mill has a healthy four-inch bore with pistons hammering down the 4.38-inch stroke. Claims put its output at 122 lb-ft of torque at 3750 rpm. It is mated to Harley’s proprietary 6-speed Cruise Drive Transmission and fuel is metered out through its Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection system. All 2012 CVOs are backed by a two-year, unlimited mileage warranty. Considering the cheapest one stickers for almost $30K, it’s good to know Harley’s willing to back up the investment.
Everybody likes to show off their potential. Harley-Davidson is no different. The Custom Vehicle Operations (CVO) program allows them to do just that – show to what heights a Harley-Davidson can be customized in-house, combining high-dollar paint, Screamin’ Eagle performance parts and
accessories available straight from Harley’s catalog.
We were fortunate to be among the first to hike a leg over Harley-Davidson’s 2012 CVO motorcycles at the recent press launch in California’s Napa Valley. We had one day and about 150 miles to sample four bikes through a variety of roads, from tight mountain switchbacks, rolling sweepers to highway miles. The first group to ride the new CVO models was members of the CVO team themselves who embarked on a one week, 2000 mile evaluation ride back in March. Fortunately, we didn’t experience the snow that they did! In this case, we don’t mind getting the second crack at riding them. And on that note, let’s take a closer look at the 2012 Harley-Davidson CVO lineup.