2009 Harley-Davidson CVO First Rides

July 22, 2008
Bryan Harley
Bryan Harley
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Our resident road warrior has earned his stripes covering the rally circuit, from riding the Black Hills of Sturgis to cruising Main Street in Daytona Beach. Whether it's chopped, bobbed, or bored, metric to 'Merican, he rides 'em all.

Who d have thought that the little project that started as the CVO program in 1999 with the FXR2 would still be going strong ten years later.
Who’d have thought that the little project that started as the CVO program in 1999 with the FXR2 would still be going strong ten years later.

It’s been an eventful year for the Black and Orange crew out of Milwaukee. The much-anticipated Harley-Davidson Museum officially opened its doors. The Motor Company impacted its influence in the European market with the acquisition of MV Agusta. The 105th Anniversary celebration is right around the corner. Now it’s time to add another milestone to the Harley resume as its Custom Vehicle Operations (CVO) program reaches the decade mark.

What started out as two motorcycles with a few upgrades and some extra chrome in 1999 has progressed into an annual four bike affair featuring hopped-up performance, show-stopping paint, and has turned into a vessel for H-D to introduce its latest technological advances. In that span we’ve seen the initial 1340cc Evolution engine used in the FXR2 evolve into the Twin Cam 103 mill in 2005 to reach its current 1800cc plateau in the Twin Cam 110. We’ve witnessed the coming-of-age of The Motor Company with the premier of anti-lock brake systems and electronic throttle controls in the 2008 FLH CVOs. And we held our collective breaths the first time we got a look at the 2006 CVO drag bike, the VRXSE Screamin’ Eagle V-Rod Destroyer. Such is the beauty of the Custom Vehicle Operations program. It demonstrates to what extremes the Harley-Davidson platform can be taken, from balls-out drag bike to highway-cruising Royal Caribbean luxo-tourer.

This year’s cream-of-the-crop Harleys continue to carry the torch of its forebears. To keep things fresh, H-D has shaken up this year’s lineup with the return of the CVO Road Glide and the debut of the CVO Fat Bob. The duo takes the place of last year’s Screamin’ Eagle Road King and Dyna models. The CVO Ultra Classic Electra Glide and the CVO Softail Springer made the cut and are repeat performers for 2009.

Providing the pavement-pounding pulse of the quartet is the Screamin’ Eagle Twin Cam 110. The TC 110 continues to be the largest-displacement factory engine Harley produces, earning its Big Twin designation with 4-inch forged pistons cranking out a claimed 115 ft-lb of torque at 3000 rpm. Jetting and air intake might make that number fluctuate slightly in each model, but power numbers overall are fairly consistent across the board (113 ft-lb of torque at 3750 rpm in the Ultra Classic and 114 ft-lb of torque at 3500 rpm on the Softail Springer). The Twin Cam 110 can spin the tires on the CVO Fat Bob like Andrew Hines staging at Gatornationals or have you humming comfortably along at 3300 rpm going 75mph in sixth gear on the Ultra.

Controlling the fuel flow is Harley’s Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection, which provided hiccup-free delivery during our 140 mile jaunt up the California coastline and into the Santa Ynez Mountains. The CVO foursome also uses H-D’s rugged self-adjusting clutch with hydraulic actuation that engages with a modest pull at the lever. The 6-speed Cruise Drive transmission continues to be de rigeur, with the familiar clunk in the lower gears intact. And while the powertrain on the 2009 models remains pretty much the same, this isn’t to say that strides haven’t been made in other areas, like chassis and frame modifications to this year’s tourers. So without further adieu, allow us to introduce the CVO Class of 2009.

The new Fang wheels for the 2009 CVO Fat Bob look sharp when they re rollin .
The new Fang wheels for the 2009 CVO Fat Bob look sharp when they’re rollin’.

2009 CVO Fat Bob

This wasn’t the Fat Bob I remembered when the most recent member of the Dyna family made its debut last summer. H-D gave it a dose of attitude. The one I rode before had the flat Crimson Red Denim paint job which didn’t help it stand out much. But let the talented group at Gunslinger Paint work its magic and the bike takes on a new persona. Add depth and luster on its namesake tank with the Black Diamond and Fire Quartz combo, give the front fender and wide Bobtail rear fender the same treatment, then color match the frame, swingarm, and a few covers and the bike looks center-spread sharp.

When you look at a Fat Bob, your eyes immediately dart to its wheels. The 130mm patch of rubber up front is an attention grabber, and the ‘Big Block’ tread pattern only adds to its bold stance. H-D’s new Fang cast-aluminum wheels are certain to attract their own share of attention. They get a dose of dark treatment via a black powdercoated slotted center. The solid black rims are lined with chrome rim flanges that have bolt-on ‘fang’ inserts. The flanges provide a gleam of silver when you’re rolling.

Another cool custom touch to the CVO Fat Bob is the addition of the Heavy Breather intake system. Sure, it’s claimed to add a few numbers to torque output, but we know the real reason it’s there – it just looks freakin’ cool. The sleek forward-facing cone has a special chrome end cap and a ‘110 SE’ emblem to make no doubts about where it’s getting its power from.

With a tight rake that I’ll assume is in the 29-degree range of the 2008 Fat Bob and a comparable low 27.1-inch seat height, the CVO Fat Bob is easily the best handling of the four. The 49mm fork gives you more confidence in the front end than the Springer. The meaty tires are grippy and the lowered front fork and re-tuned rear shocks mean you can turn in confidently in the corners. Being one of the lighter bikes, the big Twin Cam 110 makes the ’09 Fat Bob fun to ride. It’s a complete package – adrenaline-inducing power, sporty handling and rumbling blunt-cut Tommy Gun Exhaust.

There’s also a few other notable details that have improved the Fat Bob’s appeal. The granite and chrome chin spoiler tidy up the bottom of the frame. The Ironside Collection handgrips, footpegs, shifter peg and brake pedal pad complement the bike’s pro-street appeal. The rear fender sports a cool-looking smoked LED tri-bar tail/brake light with a chrome slotted cover. Even the seats got a little makeover. It now features Alcantara accents for the seating surface. Alcantara looks and feels like suede but is a synthetic material that is weather and wear resistant. The sides of the seat are still familiar black leather.

For a first-time CVO model, I don’t think 2450 CVO Fat Bob’s will be enough. I predict it will be a hot ticket for The Motor Company. It’s the least expensive of the ’09s, ringing in with a $25,299 sticker price. There’s three smokin’ color combos to choose from – Yellow Pearl with Platinum Quartz; Black Diamond with Fire Quartz; and a color for the Levi lover in your life, Denim Granite with Electric Blue Fade (CVO’s first-ever combo of matte and gloss paint finishes). And it’s a blast to ride, giving it all the pieces to the puzzle.

The Road Glide returned to the CVO lineup after a seven-year hiatus.
The Road Glide returned to the CVO lineup after a seven-year hiatus.

2009 CVO Road Glide

The slashing symbol of the Screamin’ Eagle first adorned the VR Racing Orange Fairing of the CVO Road Glide in 2000. The motorcycle would again make the lineup the following year, and was rotated out after that and replaced by the Road King. But after a seven year hiatus, the Road Glide is back amongst the CVOs, and this year’s version looks too good to be a touring bike.

Harley-Davidson has made a few tweaks to give the bike better front-to-back balance. The first of these modifications include lowering the front fender by three-quarters of an inch by virtue of a new mounting bracket. The combination stop/turn/tail lights are now integrated into the rear section, achieved by putting filler strips between the saddlebag and rear fender. LEDs replace the traditional fender-mounted lights and signals. Composite skirts have been added to the saddlebag bottoms and wrap over the exhaust pipe outlets, giving the ’09 CVO a little lower profile than the standard model. With 2.26 cubic-feet of storage space, the skirted saddlebags easily held my backpack and camera during the ride.

For 2009, Harley-Davidson has worked hard on improving the smoothness of the Touring family’s ride. The CVO Road Glide has a redesigned frame and swingarm. It also has a new motor-mount system aimed at reducing engine shake at idle. These changes are not CVO exclusive, but will be included on all 2009 Touring models.

New 180mm Dunlop Multi-Tread tires, claimed to have a longer tread life and give 27% more luggage payload, are slapped onto equally new 18-inch Blade forged aluminum wheels. The new wheels and chassis add up to a smooth-handling tourer that rolled through the curves of Stagecoach Road. Give an assist to the trademark frame-mounted fairing, which makes it much easier to handle than other fork-mounted setups.

While the work to improve handling was noticeable, even more impressive was the fun to be had with every twist of the throttle. Harley has the Electronic Throttle Control dialed in tight. The CVO Road Glide lurches in the first three gears and gets the most out of the Screamin’ Eagle performance package. Response is instantaneous, with a solid power surge up to around 4000 rpm.

Once you’re rollin’, there’s no problem stopping when you squeeze the billet brake lever. The dual Brembo discs with four-piston front calipers easily dip the front end down when summoned to duty. Chrome screens and a CVO emblem on the braking system shows the styling team paid attention to the little details. And as with all H-D Touring models, ABS is standard. The system still pumps hard against your foot when you press firmly on the brakes but serves its purpose well.

The Eagle head rides again! Welcome back CVO Road Glide
The Eagle head rides again! Welcome back CVO Road Glide

The Road Glide gets a new 2-1-2 exhaust system with a one-piece front exhaust shield. The chrome four-inch touring mufflers stretch long and low, jutting out just past the saddlebags. The new exhaust system aims to create more space between passenger and pipes, so they don’t get as much heat blast.

The signature front fairing also has a few new wrinkles. The clear headlight cover of the regular-production Road Glide is gone. The twin headlights sit recessed and open-aired. The inside of the fairing between the cockpit-style wrap around instruments are color-matched to the frame. This makes the shiny spun-aluminum faces of the two-inch gauges easy to see. The metal-faced electronic speedo and tach are also backlit, improving their visibility as well. And being a touring bike, it’d better have a kickin’ sound system. I cranked the Harman/Kardon Advanced Audio System while I rode, which always sounds better when the volume is up high.

I must confess that I hadn’t spent much time on the Road Glide in the past. But when I first saw the 2009 CVO Road Glide in Electric Orange and Vivid Black, I knew I had to ride it. I wasn’t disappointed. It handled well, had a lively throttle, and solid brakes. Even though I’m partial to the Orange and Black scheme, Harley gives buyers a choice between Yellow Pearl with Charcoal Slate and Stardust Silver with Titanium Dust as well. Ownership of these factory-custom tourers will cost you $30,999, and only 3000 lucky people will get to claim that yes, that sweet-looking CVO Road Glide is mine.

2009 CVO Ultra Classic Electra Glide

The Screamin’ Eagle Electra Glide made its CVO debut in 2005. The addition of the 2009 CVO Ultra Classic Electra Glide gives the Glide a four-year run in the program, making it the veteran of this year’s group. You might think that they are running out of options to make the luxo-touring platform better. On the contrary, the ’09 CVO Ultra Classic showed some of the most notable improvements in performance of the bunch.

One of my biggest grievances against the Ultra in the past was the feel of the front end at speed. H-D addresses this issue first by switching out the rubber on the ’09 H-D CVO Ultra Classic, opting to run a new 130mm, 17-inch front tire and a wider 180mm, 16-inch on the rear that has a claimed higher weight rating. With a new interface between rider and road established, Harley set about building a new modular frame in hopes of increasing the motorcycle’s maneuverability. It is now a two-piece arrangement where the tail section bolts to the frame and uses cast parts instead of bent tubes. Harley went longer and wider on the swingarm as well.

The chassis adjustments to the  09 CVO Ultra Classic Electra Glide made a world of difference in the feel of the luxo-tourer s front end.
The chassis adjustments to the ’09 CVO Ultra Classic Electra Glide made a world of difference in the feel of the luxo-tourer’s front end.

H-D also retuned valves and springs in the front and rear suspension. Their efforts result in giving the front end a much better feel. It no longer translates every imperfection in the road through the handlebars. I got lucky and was able to ride the 2009 CVO Ultra Classic on California’s Highway 101 north out of Santa Barbara where I could open up the throttle and run through the gears on the 6-Speed Cruise Drive transmission. The familiar Big Twin melody echoed from new four-inch mufflers as the big tourer hovered just above 3300 rpm at 75 mph. Pushing it a little harder into what before was an area of uneasiness aboard the Ultra was steady as she goes, full steam ahead, Captain.

Being a big bike built for the long haul, storage space is paramount. This year’s heavyweight CVO tourer gets the Deluxe Ultra King Tour-Pak with Air Wing luggage rack that is said to increase load capacity by five pounds. The saddlebags also have new support structures/ guards and boast its own five-pound increase in payload.

Premium touring goodies include a 160-watt Advanced Audio System by Harman/Kardon, a CB and intercom, passenger audio with controls, standard XM radio, and an integrated nav system. And the list of amenities doesn’t stop there. New additions to the ’09 CVO Ultra Classic include matching rider and passenger backrests with suspended dual-control heated seats with shark print leather inserts. The seats are made to act like a hammock and are designed to take pressure points off your backside. I was already a fan of the Ultra’s super-comfy seat, and the new version only solidified my viewpoint.

The Screamin’ Eagle Twin Cam 110 gives the CVO Ultra Classic Electra Glide that extra push that I’d like to see in the production model. The blend of extra power and improved handling was a pleasant surprise in the platform. Load the Tour Pak up, top off the six-gallon tank, punch in your coordinates on the nav system and enjoy the ride. The 2009 CVO Ultra Classic Electra Glide is the total touring package, and highway pegs, foot controls, heated hand grips, windshield trim, mirrors and saddlebag latches from the Rumble Collection only help seal the deal.

My personal favorite was the Ruby Red and Typhoon Maroon version, but variety is the spice of life, so H-D offers it in an Autumn Haze with High Octane Orange and Stardust Silver with Twilight Blue as well. The American V-Twin luxo-tourer tips the scales as the spendiest of the 2009 CVOs, ringing in at a princely $35,499. However, The Motor Company must have confidence that they’ll sell because along with the highest sticker price, it takes top production number honors as well with 4200 units being released to big-eyed buyers with deep pockets.

The Heavy Breather intake system of the 2009 CVO Springer Softail gives it custom-show appeal.
The Heavy Breather intake system of the 2009 CVO Springer Softail gives it custom-show appeal.

2009 CVO Softail Springer

The CVO I thought had the most custom-show quality touches last year was the Softail Springer. The nostalgic front end, the forward-facing air filter, impeccable paint – the combination just worked really well. So it should come as no surprise that this year’s rendition continues in that vein. The ‘Heavy Breather’ intake system is back, as well as the namesake front end. But the ’09 CVO Softail Springer borrows a few tricks from the recently released Rocker that distinguishes it from Springers of yore.

The 2009 version uses the Rockertail frame and chrome-plated wide swingarm introduced in the 2008 Rocker where a form-fitting fender is mounted directly to the swingarm over the rear tire. The Rocker was already equipped to run on a 240mm rear tire, so the CVO Springer rolls on the same. Offsetting the new fat rear end is a 130mm front tire mounted on an 18-inch Road Winder wheel. The single disc up front has a new four-piston brake caliper with a chrome forged mount. The front and rear brakes include Road Winder rotors and the calipers have the same granite treatment as the engine.

Even though it has a 240mm rear tire, it doesn’t handle like a wide-tired bike. The CVO Springer Softail has a tighter rake than the Rocker, giving it a better feel up front, and the retuned rear suspension isn’t as unforgiving as my initial experience aboard the more rigid Rocker. Potholes still impact the Springer fork hard and it doesn’t quite match the solid feel of the CVO Fat Bob’s standard fork, but that’s a given for a Springer. And even though the four-pot setup on the front brakes is new for the model, the single disc doing the duties up front is a little soft. Again, it just didn’t quite match up to the CVO Fat Bob’s dual arrangement.

Unlike the other three 2009 CVOs, the big V-Twin is rigid-mounted to the Softail frame and uses internal counter-balanced shafts to curb vibrations. The mill can get the bike rolling with rubber-burning quickness. The motorcycle gets a new set of chrome slash-down staggered dual mufflers that run off the right side and have full-length exhaust shields.

The 2009 CVO Softail Springer borrows one more styling cue from the Rocker. It has the same chrome cast aluminum horseshoe oil tank. Since just about every cover in the engine compartment is chromed down, it ties in well with the overall design. And while I am a fan of the look of the forward-facing air intake, the thick chrome tube connecting the cylindrical cone to the engine sticks out just far enough that, combined with the location of the Centerline brake pedal, it’s difficult to get solid footing on the rear brake pedal.

The final areas of customization on the CVO Springer include a new full-length chrome fuel tank console with a five-inch speedo that has a sharp-looking spun aluminum face. The Bobtail rear fender has three louvers accenting it, and the seat pan is new and features contrast-cut embroidery with real buffalo inserts.

2009 Harley-Davidson CVO Springer Softail
2009 Harley-Davidson CVO Springer Softail

As comes standard with all 2009 CVO models, owners of the Softail Springer will get the H-D Smart Security System with Smart Siren to protect their investment, an indoor storage cover with an embroidered CVO logo, and a H-D collectible gold key in a presentation box.

The trio of colors the ’09 CVO Springer Softail is available in is a wicked Black Diamond with Emerald Ice Flames (the green in the flames is sick), Candy Cobalt with Blue Steel Flames, and Sunrise Yellow Pearl with Volcanic Fury Flames. You can race away with one for $26,999, and I’m certain that 2500 fans of The Motor Company will gladly fork over the dough for the prestige of owning one.

Though a high-end, limited production motorcycle in these uncertain economic times might be a tough sell, you’re talking about a company that survived the AMF years. And since the CVOs showcase what can be done with the ginormous resources of the Genuine Motor Parts and Accessories catalog, riders will be looking to buy that ‘Heavy Breather’ intake system for their bike, or those Centerline grips that they saw on the Ultra. The bikes will sell, don’t get me wrong, but there’s a trickle down affect that will equate to dollars and sense. Because even though other areas were down last quarter for The Motor Company, Parts and Accessories had an increase of $2.3 million over the year-ago quarter. Harley owners love their aftermarket parts. And the CVOs light the way.

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