The 2008 Harley-Davidson CVOs are no ordinary motorcycles. They are the apex cruisers and tourers in the H-D lineup, beefed up with Screamin’ Eagle performance kits, tons of chrome, and rad custom paint.
It would be easy to live on your laurels after being in the motorcycle building business for 105 years. But when you have an impassioned army of leather wearing loyalists ready to defend their American motorcycle company with a bust in the chops, complacency is a lethal cocktail. With winds carrying word of an Indian uprising and Victory’s recent Vision’s of grandeur ready to gobble up market share, you’d better be ready to take it to the next level. Harley-Davidson’s 2008 Custom Vehicle Operations (CVO) lineup answers the call to keep the company in the higher echelons of the industry.
So why do a limit-production, super-accessorized, high-end motorcycle? Look no further than the 896-page H-D Genuine Motor Accessories and Parts catalog to find the answer. What better way to stir the pot and demonstrate the possibilities of what can be created with a little determination and a pocketful of money. I don’t know of any other brand of motorcycles whose owners like to customize their bikes more than Harley-Davidson’s. The stock bikes roll out of York looking the same, but it doesn’t take long before owners stick on new pipes, switch out handlebars, and start sticking on chrome covers until their bike has been transformed into an extension of a rider’s personality. A Harley-Davidson owner is equal to the sum of their motorcycle’s parts.
For this year’s CVO lineup, the Harley-Davidson Planning Committee decided to let last year’s cast return for another curtain call in 2008. Headliners start with two hard-charging power cruisers, the Screamin’ Eagle Softail Springer and Dyna. Sharing the 2008 spotlight are the dynamic touring duo of the Screamin’ Eagle Road King and Ultra Classic.
The number of bikes in the CVO lineup continues to grow since the 1340cc Evolution-powered FXR2 and FXR3’s were unveiled as the first CVO models in 1999. The lineup expanded to three bikes running the Twin Cam 103B mill in 2005. The number jumped again in 2007 as Harley offered four bikes for the first time, powered by its largest-displacement production engine ever, the 100 cubic-inch Twin Cam 110B. Though I’m certain H-D flirted with the idea to bump up displacement even more for 2008, they resisted the temptation to go bigger as the ’08 CVOs are powered by the same 1800cc lump as ’07, albeit with a new exterior.
Our invitation to ride the 2008 CVOs in Milwaukee included a rare chance to visit Harley’s Pilgrim Road Powertrain Operations facility and watch the Twin Cam 110Bs rolling down the assembly line. The facility actually produces powertrains for 31 different models, but our interest lie mostly on the 110B-powered CVOs. The smell of machine oil permeated the air as we donned safety glasses and entered the floor of the buzzing assembly plant. Horns beeped four times as the J-hooks moved to the next station as another piece to the engine puzzle was torqued into place. Seeing the 110B’s 4-inch cylinders before it got its forged pistons gave me a deeper appreciation of the big-bored V-Twins. Now I see how the 110B’s compression ratio jumped to 9.3:1, up from the 103’s 8.8:1.
The 1800cc Twin Cam 110B is the same powerplant used in the 2007 CVO line and is the largest-displacement engine to date for Harley-Davidson.
“Attaching the cylinder heads is one of the more challenging jobs,” said H-D’s Brian Wort. As Wort was saying this, I noticed that almost every job Wort mentioned as being one of the most difficult in the plant was being done by a woman. Rosy the Riveter would be proud.
I watched as builders and operators read red and white model cards to see what part to put on next. The cards are integral to Harley’s production. Just look at the Twin Cam 110B. It has a long list of unique components – its wrist pin, heads, head gasket, cylinder base o-ring, modified cases and 255 cams. Take the number of components unique to the 110B and multiply by 30 other engines and the importance of the cards is clear.
We got to watch the 110Bs receive its new granite and chrome finish. Gone is last year’s black and chrome scheme. The granite on the 2008s isn’t glossy, but still has a sheen to it that gives the powertrain a textured surface. This texture is due to chips of stainless steel in the granite. The finish gives the engine a rugged look that matches its powerful output. And when you boast of torque numbers of 115 ft-lb at 3000 rpm, you don’t want a wimpy looking engine that puts out such a hearty grunt.
After watching Pilgrim Road pop out a new engine every 58 seconds, we stepped outside as Harley reps were eager to demonstrate its new ABS. Harley-Davidson has developed its own system that comes standard on its 2008 Screamin’ Eagle Road King and 2008 Ultra Classic Electra Glide.
“It differs from the system used on the H-D police bikes that have been in production for the last couple of years,” said Nathan Boyd, our H-D emcee during the demonstration.
Boyd described the ABS’s fundamental purposes, to keep the wheels rolling and to give riders better steering control. To demonstrate, H-D brought out a rider aboard an Ultra equipped with outriggers. He quickly ran through a couple of gears before jamming on the brakes on a rock-strewn road. Without the ABS on, rocks flew, the front tire buckled, the handlebars shook hard, the bike hopped around and without the outriggers, a painful high side would have been waiting for the rider. With the ABS engaged, the rider once again wound the Ultra up and broke hard right in front of us. Rocks flew, the wheels kept rolling, the rider was able to maintain control of the motorcycle and the bike came to a stop not much off the rider’s original line. Not only did it perform to standards, but the system is unnoticeable when the bike is in motion. Harley-Davidson’s engineering and styling team went to great lengths to incorporate the system on the bikes without it being an eyesore. The wheel speed sensors are integrated into the chrome front wheel bearing spacers. The ABS Module is tucked neatly away underneath the seat. The braided stainless steel brake lines sit behind the thick, chrome fork.
Though the Twin Cam 110B is the mill of choice in all four bikes, the way the motorcycles utilized the available 1800cc power output differed according to a bike’s weight, aerodynamics, and fuel system.
Harley reps said that riders would feel a pulsing sensation in the control lever when the ABS is engaged, but the reality was a little more unnerving. While riding the ’08 Ultra Classic, I broke hard to test the system. I felt the pulse in the hand controls but I was not prepared for the thunk I felt against my right foot as the brakes started to pump. You have to fight the urge to let up on the pressure being applied to the brakes. The ABS did exactly as described, but it’ll take a few times using them before a rider is fully confident in the system because of the strange pulsing at the foot control.
We left Pilgrim Road with impressions of efficient powertrain production and ABS demonstrations fresh in our short-term. Next up was a trip to Calibre Paint, the company responsible for the eye-catching colors that set the CVOs apart from production models. I don’t know if they are the ones responsible for coining the catchy names of colors like Inferno Orange with Fireburst Flames or Black Diamond with Smoked Candy Flames, but I do know they do a damn good job of implementing gold leaf graphics on Harley’s Serialized 105th Anniversary CVO packages. In the days of mass-production, it was refreshing to see the amount of handwork that goes into the painting process. Minor imperfections were buffed out by hand. In the grinding rooms, workers made swirl patterns on metal tanks and fenders with hand-held tools. Most impressive of all was the island of workers who hand-painted the striping. It was impressive to watch them as they applied straight, smooth lines free-hand without so much as a stencil. The attention to detail and pain-staking process by which the CVOs paint is administered helps these bikes earn their custom designation.
At the end of the tour, employees were given a break so they could come out to check out the bikes we had ridden to the plant and see the end results of their hard work for the first time. Faces lit up with smiles and there was a lot of nodding heads as workers circled the bikes. The women who we admired earlier as they did the striping by hand impressed me once again. They could tell who painted the stripes on each bike with only a glance at the work. The pride in their craftsmanship was obvious.
With the tours aside, it was finally time to ride.
2008 FXSTSSE Screamin’ Eagle Softail Springer
At this year’s CVO press intro, the 2008 Springer was hard to ignore. With a fatter rear than the other bike’s, a low profile, a signature front end and a new forward-facing intake, the bike looked as ready for a night down Sunset Blvd. as it did for a custom show.
The ABS on the 2008 Ultra Classic Electra Glide worked as described, but you have to fight the natural tendency to let off the brakes the first few times until you become familiarized with the system.
One of the best features of the CVO Softail Springer is its redesigned front end. The color-matched rigid fork and upper triple clamp hold a wider front fender and restyled mounting bracket. A sporty chrome strut stretches down the right side of the shiny springer. The front tire is smaller and wider than last year’s CVO Springer. H-D dropped it down from 21 to 18 inches and fattened it up to 130mm. The front brake also got moved to the left side to allow more attention to be focused on the 10-spoke forged aluminum front wheel. Throw in some braided steel front brake lines and you’ve got the best-looking front end of the four. Better yet, the ’08 CVO Springer’s redesigned front end combines with the wider front radial blackwall for better traction up front. Though there weren’t an abundance of tight twisting turns in the dairy lands surrounding Milwaukee, the grippy front end tamed any turn we encountered.
Another attention grabber is the ’08 CVO Springer’s new forward-facing “Heavy Breather” intake system. The exposed air filter shoots off the right side and funnels a high volume of air to the air-cooled Twin Cam 110B. H-D claims a 5% increase in torque over the ’07 FXSTSSE thanks to the “Heavy Breather.” I saw the same intake on quite a few of the bikes entered in the 2007 Laughlin River Run Custom Show, minus H-D’s end cap with the 110 ci badging.
The combo of the new forward-facing intake, a brutish1800cc Twin Cam 110B engine utilizing large intake valves and high flow ports teamed with a six-speed Cruise Drive transmission made the Springer hook up and go. You can’t help but feel like a bad-ass behind its handlebars. It inspires attitude.
The seat height should be in last year’s 26.5-inch range and for me, at six-feet tall, the Centerline collection grips and foot pegs left me relaxed but ready. I did notice how high a 6’6″ motojournalist’s legs were hugged up next to the tank and thought about how I’d hate to be his back after a few hours in that position, but admittedly he looked much more comfortable in the Ultra’s saddle.
The quality of Calibre’s work heightened the ’08 CVO Springer’s curb appeal. Never been a big fan of orange, but I’d shell out the $24,995 MSRP for the Inferno Orange with Fireburst Flames Springer in a heartbeat if I had the bling. Trying to describe the scalloped flame metal grind scheme is the same as looking at a two-dimensional picture. Neither one does the work justice. The effect is only enhanced by its numerous color-matching components, from the headlight bucket to the powdercoated frame to the swingarm.
A Harley-Davidson Smart Security System with Smart Siren will put your mind a little more at ease since you’ll be plunking $25K down for a chance to be one of only 2500 people who can say they own an ’08 CVO Springer. With its limited production, I don’t see these bikes lasting long before they’re all scooped up. Riders looking to score a 105th Anniversary package will pay an extra $495. Gold leafing graphics don’t come cheap, you know.
In days when automation is the standard, it was refreshing to see how much work on the ’08 CVOs is done by hand. These pinstripes were painted freehand.
2008 FXDSE Screamin’ Eagle Dyna
With an overall length and wheelbase almost spot-on the Springer’s, the 2008 Screamin’ Eagle Dyna’s dynamics gave it almost the same performance as the Softail. If you’re looking at the bike from the left side, it’s easy to mistake the two until you see the small front spoiler at the bottom of the Dyna’s frame. But when you climb on, other differences become apparent, like the Dyna’s higher seat height and tighter rake.
The Dyna’s also a few lbs lighter than the Springer, a difference measured at 26 lbs last year, and since the weight on the ’08s aren’t yet available, we’ll assume it’s in the same territory. Since the rear tire’s a little slimmer, 170mm instead of 200mm, and the rake’s a little sharper, the Dyna is a tad quicker off the line and turns slightly better but felt a little more floaty than the wider-tired Springer.
Instead of the forward-facing air filter of the ’08 CVO Springer, the Screamin’ Eagle Dyna has a low restriction air cleaner that feeds H-D’s standard Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection (ESPFI). This shouldn’t be any surprise, as even the long-time carburetor-fed Sportster got ESPFI this year. What the Sportster doesn’t have is the ’08 CVO Dyna’s chrome staggered shorty dual exhaust and straight-cut mufflers with full-length covers that spits out a hearty exhaust note.
The chrome 1.25-inch diameter handlebar is internally wired for a clean look and better yet, it’s adjustable. In the middle of the handlebars is a new 4-inch spun aluminum tachometer. I found the tach on the Dyna much easier to read than the one on the Road King, which sits below the speedo on the fuel tank console. The ’08 CVO Dyna’s speedo also sits on the chrome full-length fuel tank console, which is great for styling purposes, but does require taking your focus off the road for a split second to get a reading off the dial.
The Dyna is decked out with Harley-Davidson’s Stealth collection footpegs, shift peg, brake pedal pads and hand controls. I did have difficulty getting solid footing on the right footpeg. The footpeg is placed so that the cam cover constantly pushed against my ankle. I could only rest half of my foot firmly on the footpeg because of the crowding from the cam cover. Braking was also a challenge because my foot never sat flush on the brake pedal. I could only depress it with the inside of my foot and it slipped off completely a couple of times. I’d suggest swapping out the foot pegs, but if you go with longer ones, you might sacrifice a few degrees on your lean angle, so it’s a tough call.
After riding on the land-cruising Road King, the ’08 Dyna’s suspension was set a little stiffer. The covered low rear shocks had a hand-adjustable preload, and if I would have been spending the entire day in the Dyna’s saddle I would have tried out different settings, but we were never on the same bike for any length of time.
The 2008 CVO Softail Springer’s front end was the sportiest in this year’s lineup, with a wider front fender, a color-matched rigid fork, and a cool chrome strut running parallel to the springer.
This is the Dyna’s fourth year as a CVO model. It’s MSRP is also $24,995. H-D only made 2500, and of those, 1050 are the serialized 105th Anniversary models. The Anniversary Package is a sharp-looking Crystal Copper with Black Onyx scheme with gold leafing graphics, complemented by a color-matched air cleaner insert, chin spoiler, frame and swingarm. A serialized 105th Anniversary cloisonne that completes the package is just icing on the cake.
2008 FLHRSE Screamin’ Eagle Road King
The 2008 Screamin’ Eagle Road King is also back as a fourth generation CVO model. Though I almost pulled a groin trying to mount the ultra-wide 6-gallon fuel cell, once aboard the Road King, I better understood why Harley keeps bringing it back.
The lively throttle and the acceleration of the ’08 CVO Road King mirrored its lighter counterparts. With a good twist of the wrist, the big tourer moved on out thanks to its new Electronic Throttle Control (ETC). The fly-by-wire system is controlled by an ECU and is programmed to mimic a regular throttle. Though the technology is nothing new, the Road King is the first CVO to run the electronic fuel regulating system. The system performed seamlessly as I ran the Road King hard through its gears.
Powertrain-wise, the ’08 CVO Road King is the same as the other two. Twin Cam 110B, ESPFI, six-speed Cruise Drive transmission, and a high performance clutch with hydraulic actuation. Which makes me credit the ETC more for the Road King’s strong pull throughout its powerband. Same mill, more weight (somewhere in the 780 lb range) and still the ability to charge hard off the line for a bike its size.
And what better way to shag off some of the Road King’s speed than new Brembo’s front and back and standard ABS? In contrast to the Dyna, the ’08 CVO Road King’s Ironside floorboards and brake pedal pad made sure I got solid footing when it came time to stop.
The CVO Road King is equipped for the long haul. The fuel tank is bigger by a gallon, up from 5 to 6, and its cruise control is ready to give tired throttle-hands a break. The leather seat was comfortable and had that new leather smell. The leather rider and passenger backrests are detachable. The custom leather saddlebags with chrome trim strips add a classy touch to a classically-styled tourer and have removable custom leather inserts.
I’ve never been a big fan of orange on any type of vehicle, but I’d buy the Inferno Orange with Fireburst Flames on the ’08 CVO Springer in a heartbeat.
I mentioned the CVO Road King’s deficiency in the placement of its hard-to-read tach underneath the speedo. But the spun aluminum metal-faced fuel tank console looks sharp and adds to the overall curb appeal of the bike.
The Twilight Blue and Candy Cobalt with Ghost Flame graphics was another hot number put together by Calibre Paint. It lends to the artistry of chrome, leather, and steel that comprises the 2008 Screamin’ Eagle Road King. Even little things like the bike’s bullet-style rear turn signals and tombstone-shaped tail lamp are just the right choice for this motorcycle.
The ’08 CVO Road Kings are also limited production. There will only be 3150 lucky people who will get a chance to own one. The price for H-D’s tourer climbs to a suggested $29,290 MSRP. It’s a strange relationship amenities and price share. They always seem to go up together.
2008 FLHTCUSE Screamin’ Eagle Ultra Classic Electra Glide
The 2008 Screamin’ Eagle Ultra Classic received many of the same performance upgrades as the CVO Road King. New Brembo’s in front and rear and standard ABS, a larger touring-friendly six-gallon tank, and the same Electronic Throttle Control. Both models also come with Harley-Davidson’s Isolated Drive System (IDS).
“The Isolated Drive System is basically a rubber cush drive in the rear sprocket. It comes standard on all 2008 FL models. IDS improves ride quality under acceleration, shifting and cruising, while reducing noise and vibration to the rider,” said Paul James, H-D’s Director of Product Communcations.
The ’08 CVO Ultra Classic also has a new stabilizer system to help reduce engine vibration. And while the stabilizer and IDS work to reduce vibration and noise, the Touring-exclusive air-adjustable rear suspension works to smooth out the road and further enhance the riding experience. The motion reminded me of riding in the backseat of my uncle’s Cadillac with its slow, heavy roll as we sped across the plains of the Texas Panhandle.
Though the bike wouldn’t receive the highest scores in wind tunnel tests, it does try to deflect a little windblast with its adjustable air deflectors. A Harley rep claimed the side wind deflectors came in handy when they rode from Talladega, Alabama, to Phoenix, Arizona. I didn’t get anywhere near that time in the CVO Ultra’s saddle, so I’ll have to take him at his word.
The combination of the ’08 CVO Dyna’s slimmer tire out back, sharper rake angle up front and overall lighter weight gives the Dyna the edge off the line and through the corners over the Springer.
Because of weighing in at the 860 lb range, the Twin Cam 110 Powertrain didn’t push the bulkier CVO Ultra like it did the CVO Road King. I also didn’t feel as confident cornering the bike as I did on the Road King either because of its higher center of gravity. The ’08 CVO Ultra has to be close to the ’07 version’s seat height of 29.3 inches and I had to do a few toe touches while I acclimated to the motorcycle’s ride.
The’08 Screamin’ Eagle Ultra Classic ranks high for having plenty of storage capacity presented in an attractive package. The Deluxe Ultra King Tour-Pak comes color-matched and has a premium luggage rack, storage pockets, saddlebag liners and wrap-around lights. Additionally, there are color-matched vented fairing lowers with storage compartments. The bike’s got more storage space than my old VW.
The cockpit is attractively layed out in a custom leather dash with chrome accents. It’s full of luxo-touring goodies, from a 40-watt CD/AM/FM/WB/MP3 Advanced Audio System by Harman-Kardon, to a CB and intercom, passenger audio with controls, XM Radio and an integrated navigation system. If that’s not enough, there’s always the CVO Ultra’s heated grips and seat or its new power locking system with a remote/barrel key fob. It’s got more than enough buttons to push and gadgets to play with.
The apex of the Harley-Davidson touring line, the 2008 Screamin’ Eagle Ultra Classic Electra Glide doesn’t come cheap. It’ll run you a cool $34,995 to call one your own. You only have a one in 4200 chance even if you did want one. Limited production, just like the rest.
There is one bad side effect from riding the 2008 Harley-Davidson CVO line. With its Screamin’ Eagle performance kits, powerful mill, and eye-popping paint and graphics, it’s hard to go back to riding a stock motorcycle. The CVO’s definitely aren’t your meat-and-potatoes bike. They are more akin to a center-cut filet of aged Kobe beef. I’ll take a Road King-sized slice, please.
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