2009 Harley-Davidson CVO Models Review

The best of Harley-Davidson


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“This just doesn’t seem altogether right,” was what I said to myself as I watched a patron sail through the large windows that open on to the sidewalk and let the evening costal breeze cool the remnants of a muggy summer day.

The erstwhile bipedal chap, now transformed into a flying mammal, landed on the tattered seat of a bicycle parked on the sidewalk. He was deemed troublesome by an athletic college lad who elected himself peacekeeper. Words were exchanged, gestures made, chests puffed up, but nothing came of it other than bruised egos.

Whiskey Richards, with its dearth of tables and chairs, punching bag machine as sole arcade game and grimy Men's room complete with busted-in-pieces non-functioning toilet, is where this bar room brawl took place, and it's about as hole-in-the-wall as a business could be. It really seems out of place in the tony ocean side community of Santa Barbara, CA.

Does this bridge lead to the next whiskey bar?
It’s in the name.

'Each CVO model gets the hopped-up Screamin’ Eagle 110 Twin-Cam, the largest engine Harley offers...'

In the game of Which One Does Not Belong that played continually in my head, the premium machines that brought me to Santa Barbara, the 2009 Harley-Davidson CVO models, fit much better in this town than Whiskey Richards.

For the uninitiated, CVO is short for Custom Vehicle Operations and is Harley's in-house custom line. Starting with an existing model in the standard Harley line-up, each bike is a rolling display of the thousands of accessories available in the fabled Harley-Davidson Parts and Accessories Catalog. The bikes have rap sheets of chrome bits and custom accessories too long to list. Each bike has three paint schemes available that are unique to the CVO line.

Each CVO model gets the hopped-up Screamin’ Eagle 110 Twin-Cam, the largest engine Harley offers; it's joined to the six-speed Cruise Drive tranny.

“CVO allows us to execute our premium vision from our styling team,” says Steve Earnshaw, Director of Parts and Accessories Marketing for Harley. He goes on to explain that CVO is “about introducing styling, performance and features to our consumers.” Then there’s the sense of “exclusivity and scarcity” that Harley hopes to build into CVO machines by, well, not building many of them. Annual production numbers for each model are a worldwide total, and not just for the U.S.

Something else that was said over the course of the day, one of those things that made me sit up and take notice, was that CVO owners reportedly feel these bikes “offer great value,” and they allegedly put on more miles in a year than most standard Harley riders do. That simply isn’t something I would have expected from someone riding a bike with a starting price of over $25,000. How presumptuous of me.

The Softail Springer and Ultra Classic Electra Glide return from last year as CVO models while new for this year are the CVO Fat Bob (a bike new last year to H-D’s standard line) and the venerable Road Glide.

2009 CVO Springer Softail
$26,999 ($27,099 in CA); limited production of 2,500 units

The 2008 CVO Springer Softail broke with Springer tradition last year when it came with a 130mm wide 18” front wheel. The wider front tire was a good improvement as it smoothed out ride quality and helped eliminate the tendency of narrower tires to seek out cracks or rain groves. This year the CVO gets chubby out back with the addition of a 240mm rear tire accented with new rear fender louvers.

Further functional changes include a new frame complemented by suspension that is, although specific to the Springer, tuned similar to the Rocker and other Softail models. More updates include a new single four-piston front brake caliper that replaces the older single-piston brake still employed on the Cross Bones.

2009 CVO Springer Softail in Candy Cobalt with Blue Steel Flames.

The saddle on this beauty is sculpted with a nice, deep recess for the rider; the minimal pillion’s shape and fit to the main seat makes a good support for the rider’s lower back. A nice touch on the seat is flame-stitching accents on the Buffalo leather insert.

A new 1.25-inch handlebar shaped with a bias toward easy ergos touts internally routed wiring to help keep the clean custom look that each of these CVOs strive for.

Though the Springer is powered by a 110-inch Screamin’ Eagle engine like the other CVOs, in this bike it is rigid-mounted but also counterbalanced, hence the B in 110B. The other three bikes in the CVO line have rubber-mounted mills. The Springer’s engine exhibits muscle-car appeal with the forward-facing exposed Heavy Breather intake adorned with a special “SE 110” tube emblem and chrome end cap. Claimed torque from this Vee is a devastating 110 ft-lbs at 3,000 rpm.

Despite a plump 240-section rear tire the Springer handles well, belying its fat-tire nature.

Once aboard this premium Harley the rider gets the picture that this bike has a vast amount customization from a company producing motorcycles on such a large scale. The premium, hand-detailed paint, acres of chrome, quality leather saddle, and loads of little details say it was built with love.

'The bike initiates turns easily and steers with limited effort.'

The bike fires instantly, the sequential-port EFI is smooth and throttle response is very good. Slam the throttle open, dump the clutch and there’s no question as to the performance boost the big 110 gives as the rear tire lights up effortlessly. The transmission is classic Harley, shifting with an audible ka thunk at lower revs but rowing through the box at speed is effortless and can be done clutch-less. Engine vibes are kept well in check for a rigid-mount engine.

The reach to the bars is humane and the saddle is cozy, but I was little less enthused about the abundant chrome on the forward controls that occasionally made for a slippery surface. The open riding position is only a challenge at freeway speeds where windblast is formidable. Yet at the same time you’re hugged into that carved-out seat so some of the effort to hang on is relieved.

Bikes with such fat rear tires usually have me anticipating a bike that’s reluctant to tip into a turn and resistant to maintaining a line, preferring instead to right itself. Score one for H-D engineers. The bike initiates turns easily and steers with limited effort. Ride quality is very good save for damping over the sharpest of bumps or imperfections; ground clearance is better than one would expect, pegs scraping only at the extreme angles – or as extreme as can be on a cruiser.

CVO Springer Softail in Sunrise Yellow Pearl with Volcanic Fury Flames.

About the only fly in the custom ointment is the new four-piston brake. It may produce sufficient stopping force, but it was often too difficult to tell as it lacked virtually all feel. There was little, if any, travel in the lever upon initial pull. I’d much rather sacrifice some power in order to gain more feel. Frankly, I think the single-piston caliper this new four-pot job replaces is a better unit.

This bike isn’t my first pick as an all-out fave, but it does the best job of exemplifying the word “custom” in Custom Vehicle Operations.

The 2009 CVO Springer Softail is available in Black Diamond with Emerald Ice Flames, Candy Cobalt with Blue Steel Flames and Sunrise Yellow Pearl with Volcanic Fury Flames.

2009 CVO Fat Bob
$25,299 ($25,499 in CA); limited production of 2,450 units

The Fat Bob was introduced last year as a new addition to the Dyna line. This year Bob gets gussied up as one of two new CVOs.

No major structural changes were given to the Fat Bob, but suspension is 0.75-inch lower than the O.E. model in order to give it “that slammed look,” and it’s been tweaked and tuned to offer a forgiving ride without sacrificing the excellent handling characteristics that had me calling it Harley’s sport bike when I rode it last year.

The saddle retains a similar shape to that of the standard Fat Bob but has some exquisite detail work. CVO designers wanted to give the saddle the suede look but know all too well how poorly suede weathers. Exterior seat material is called Alcantara, named for the Italian company, Alcantara, S.p.A., that manufactures the faux suede finish. The final touch is a tasteful Harley-Davidson badge sunk deeply in the seat.

2009 CVO Fat Bob in Black Diamond with Fire Quartz.
Exclusive Fang wheels on ’09 CVO Fat Bob. The chrome “fangs” that line wheel perimeter are bolted in as final step to wheel assembly.

Along with the twin side-by-side streetfighter style headlights retained from the standard Fat Bob is the trick “Tommy Gun” exhausts system. Only difference this year is that the dual over/under mufflers end in a “blunt cut” style rather the slash cut style of the standard bike.

'For not being a touring model, this is one comfortable cruiser.'

The biggest styling coup on this bike is something that had CVO Manager, Jeff Smith, beaming with pride. The ’09 CVO Fat Bob rolls on a pair of what are called Fang cast wheels. The wheels are powder coated black and chromed in what Harley says is a proprietary process. No secrets were revealed, no matter the amounts of free booze flowing. These “fangs” that decorate the perimeter of the wheel are bolted in as a separate piece. It’s a neat set-up and looks the business upon inspection, but I found that the pair of large front brake rotors obscured too much of this special wheel. An added bonus for you standard Fat Bob owners is that the new Fang wheels will be available in the mighty Parts and Accessories catalog.

Other little details include a “granite” and chrome chin spoiler, rear axle covers that do a great job of concealing the axle nut assembly and a new one-piece chrome handlebar riser that serves to hide ugly wiring.

The CVO Fat Bob is the only bike other than the CVO Springer Softail that comes with the Heavy Breather forward-facing intake. Claimed torque from this rubber-mounted 110-inch Screamin’ Eagle is 114 ft-lbs at 3,500 rpm.

For not being a touring model, this is one comfortable cruiser. My 5-foot 8-inch frame would have preferred mid-controls that are available on the standard Bob; alas it’s forwards only on the CVO version. The chunky 130mm front and 180mm rear tires provide good handling and do well at isolating road imperfections, but the ride suffers a bit over poor road surfaces thanks to the lower suspension.

If you’ve an eye toward sporty riding, the Fat Bob is the bike to consider when considering a Harley. And if you need some extra glint, glitter and goodies in your life, then the CVO Fat Bob is the one.

The 2009 CVO Fat Bob comes in Denim Granite with Electric Blue Fade, Black Diamond with Fire Quartz and Sunrise Yellow Pearl with Platinum Quartz.

2009 CVO Ultra Classic Electra Glide in Ruby Red and Typhoon Maroon with Forge-Tone Graphics.

2009 CVO Ultra Classic Electra Glide
$35,499 ($35,699 in CA); limited production of 4,200 units

Like the Softail, the Ultra is a returning favorite. It has enjoyed the longest continuous CVO run of any bike. People like their Harley tourers.

The Ultra line (standard models included) receives some notable updates for ’09. One of the basest parts, the frame, is now a two-piece design (similar to a main frame and subframe on other motorcycles) that is 100% robotically welded and bolted together. It has a new engine mount system and is joined by a wider, longer swingarm that adds five-tenths-inch to the wheelbase. When taken as a whole, the chassis (that is frame, wheels, swingarm, etc) is claimed to be 30% more rigid than the previous FL chassis.

'...the Ultra...has enjoyed the longest continuous CVO run of any bike.'

Suspension was reworked for better ride quality, wheels now wear dual-compound tires from Dunlop and the rear tire is covered by a wider fender. Radio and CB antennae are shortened and the 2-1-2 exhaust has been rerouted beneath the frame eliminating the left-side headpipe in the process.

Of particular interest to touring folk will be two key changes. The saddle is what Harley is calling “suspended.” Imagine if you will the seat in profile and cutaway so that you can see the internals. Now envision the foam just under the top surface that rides on a flexible plastic “hammock.” Below this upper material is a large gap between it and the bottom of the saddle. This support material and open space beneath allows the seat to give and return without obstruction while under load. This suspension effect applies only to the rider portion of the seat, but both rider and passenger seats are heated and come in shark print leather.

The other important touring updates are stronger saddlebags and Tour-Pak (trunkbag) that each has a payload increase of five pounds. Be careful, though, not to confuse payload with bag volume that is unchanged.

CVO touring bike. The best in Harley touring.

Additional styling upgrades include new 2-inch backlit gauges in the robust dash, Roulette wheels and the Rumble Collection trim package that includes windshield trim, mirrors, foot controls, saddlebags and heated hand grips.

Torque output in the Ultra is a claimed 113 ft-lbs at 3,750 rpm.

With a hefty claimed running order weight of approximately 901 pounds, the Ultra isn’t the bike for the inexperienced rider primarily because it carries much of that weight rather high. I’m not a seasoned MSF instructor but I’ve put on more miles in the past 15 years than many do in a lifetime of riding, and I still find maneuvering the Ultra at parking lot speeds a distinct challenge.

Once under power the ride may be the best in the biz. The suspension offers a very forgiving ride without numbing feel of the road. And the ergos, oi vay, the ergos are the best! The rider triangle is very relaxed and roomy at the same time yet it doesn’t prohibit good riding technique. Handling is responsive for such a big beast and I couldn’t help note that the added chassis rigidity for this year may have reduced the hinge-in-the-frame feel that I often experienced on previous FLs when trying to tip-toe the bikes through U-turns or crowded parking lots.

Since the Ultra is a touring machine it retains the throttle-by-wire and ABS introduced on last year’s CVO touring bikes. Throttle response is very good but the feel from the throttle return spring is lighter than I prefer. Braking from the ABS-controlled Brembo calipers is outstanding with very good feel and plenty of power (same on the Road Glide we’ll be covering below). Braking is so good that I kept thinking what a dream it would be if the system would find its way across more of the Harley line.

Riding on this ultimate Harley is a treat with all the amenities offered (XM satellite, Harmon-Kardon sound system, cruise control, heated this, heated that, etc.), but buffeting from the windshield is brutal at anything 80mph and above. In the summer months the lower wind guards shielding your lower legs prevents air flow and the rider is subsequently roasted from heat radiating off the engine and/or exhaust. And gear whine at low rpm in 5th gear is still present; without earplugs or when wearing an open face or half helmet the noise can be prominent at times.

If you’re a long-distance fiend and love going in style, the ’09 CVO Ultra Classic Electra Glide is your mothership.

The 2009 CVO Ultra Classic Electra Glide comes in Ruby Red and Typhoon Maroon with Forge-Tone Graphics, Autumn Haze and High Octane Orange with Forge Tone Graphics and Stardust Silver and Twilight Blue with Forge Tone Graphics.

2009 CVO Road Glide

$30,999 ($31,195 in CA); limited production of 3,000 units

This isn’t the Road Glide’s first CVO dance; it appeared in CVO trim in 2000. According to CVO Manager, Phil Zagrodnick the “Road Glide is one the customers keep asking us to bring back.”

The Glide is a touring bike with the emphasis on bike. It has two saddlebags, yet only a small passenger backrest rather than a trunk. Though it has floorboards, and very accommodating ergonomics, its main fairing is subdued and essentially lacks a windshield (sorry, I don’t count that glorified fairing trim piece as a windsheild). It’s also equipped with same frame as on the Ultra as well as a new Dunlop Muti-Tread 180mm rear tire.

CVO updates for the Glide include thin and long turn signal/brake/taillight LED strips integrated into the rear of the saddlebags. Said saddlebags have 27% more payload capacity and have “extensions” that create a very custom look as they blend perfectly with the new dual exhaust that allows for just over half an inch more passenger leg room. A lowered front and rear fender accentuate the custom vibe as they encase 18-inch wheels found only on the CVO version of the Road Glide; the standard model rides on 17-inch hoops. Suspension, as on the Fat Bob, was lowered a tad and retuned for better ride quality.

2009 CVO Road Glide in Electric Orange and Vivid Black.

Other styling changes are a flatter cover over the dual headlamps; the rider-side of the main fairing is color matched to the rest of the bodywork and the same Rumble Collection as found on the Ultra Classic has a home on the Road Glide.

Claimed peak torque from the SE 110 is 115 ft-lbs at 4,000 rpm.

The Road Glide would be the bike I would ride away on if given a choice. Though that big fairing gives the sensation of a lot of plastic acreage out front, it does a better job than the Ultra’s windscreen of deflecting wind. Once over the idea that you’re reaching toward a big billboard, the size of the fairing melts away in the mind. The saddle is really comfortable as is the relaxed reach to the pull-back bars and floorboards.

If there was one defining trait about the Glide, it would have to be ride quality. Harley engineers provided this bike with a very forgiving ride without sacrificing handling. The air-adjustable rear suspension is super supple, yet the chassis doesn’t flex causing a wallowing feel when cornering.

Pete believes the Road Glide offers the best ergo comfort and ride quality from the suspension coupled with very good Brembo-powered ABS braking to make it his favorite of the four CVO models.

Since this is a touring model it comes with same potent and effective Brembo calipers and ABS found on the Ultra. And, naturally, being a CVO, the Road Glide has all the XM, premium sound, internally wired handlebars and cruise control type amenities as standard.

The 2009 CVO Road Glide comes in Electric Orange and Vivid Black, Yellow Pearl and Charcoal Slate and Stardust Silver and Titanium Dust (Accent stripe on all schemes has ghost flame feathers).

Just like I didn’t expect to see a man fly across the room that evening at Whiskey Richards, I didn’t expect to hear that CVO owners are such devoted, hardcore riders. After spending a day aboard the latest batch of factory customs from Harley-Davidson, my mind easily accepts that there is something altogether right about a CVO bike.


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