2020 Vision: New Harley-Davidson Touring Models Review

John Burns
by John Burns

One new 'Glide and a trio of CVOs

You really do need a program to keep track of all the players at Harley-Davidson. I’m still in a constant state of bewilderment even after all these years trying to keep track of the Glides and Ultras and FXRs and things as they come and go. After passing summary judgment on the new Low Rider S last week, it’s time to move on to the new Touring models, all of which at least still carry the prefix “FL.” (As do some Softails, possibly a Dyna or two – now retired – and possibly a trike. Let’s move on.)

The cool new touring bike for 2020 would be the Road Glide Limited. From the H-D horse’s mouth: The new Road Glide Limited model replaces the Road Glide Ultra model for 2020 and offers new premium luxury-touring features, including painted pin striping, a gloss-finish inner fairing, heated rider hand grips, Slicer II Contrast Bright wheels and new tank, front and rear fender medallions. The Road Glide Limited model is a long-haul, two-up touring specialist featuring the distinctive aerodynamic Road Glide shark-nose fairing with triple split stream vents that limit rider head buffeting. The standard Milwaukee-Eight 114 engine delivers smooth, powerful touring performance while dual Daymaker LED headlamps offer outstanding night visibility.

Road Glide Limited in Silver Pine/Spruce is one of several $29,349 two-tone options.

Premium Touring suspension includes an easy-adjust rear shock preload for a smooth, confident ride. Reflex Electronic Linked Brakes with ABS deliver confident braking performance. The Boom! Box GTS infotainment system with color touch screen offers navigation, communication and entertainment options.

Road Glides, as we all know, have frame-mounted fairings. This is a good place to sit.

Right, buried in paragraph two is the big news, really: Harley’s new Reflex Defensive Rider Systems (RDRS) is a new collection of technology designed to match motorcycle performance to available traction during acceleration, deceleration and braking. The systems are designed to aid the rider in controlling the vehicle while accelerating and braking in a straight line or while in a turn. A rider may find the systems most helpful when riding in adverse road conditions and in urgent situations. The systems are electronic and utilize the latest chassis control, electronic brake control and powertrain technology. The features of RDRS are bundled together, except where noted.

RDRS features are standard on all 2020 Harley-Davidson CVO, Tri-Glide Ultra and Freewheeler models, and the 2020 Harley-Davidson LiveWire model. RDRS features are optional on all MY20 Touring models in the U.S. (except Electra Glide Standard models).

Road Glide Limited in Stiletto Red.

When pressed, Harley says yes, they’ve inserted a Bosch 6-axis IMU into those bikes, and by doing so have given them lean-sensitive braking, traction control and other features that move them into the cutting edge of the current era, bumping up the ability to ride them even harder while leaving a wider margin for safety in place. Cornering Enhanced Electronic Linked Braking (C-ELB), which as the name implies links front and rear brakes, is standard on all 2020 CVO and Police models and optional on all 2020 Touring models in the U.S. (except Electra Glide Standard models).

Part two of RDRS would be the Cornering Enhanced Traction Control System (C-TCS) – designed to prevent the rear wheel from excessive spinning under acceleration when going straight or cornering. C-TCS can improve rider confidence when available traction is compromised by wet weather, a sudden unanticipated change in the surface, or when riding on an unpaved road. The rider may select one of two traction control modes: Standard Mode is optimized for dry surfaces; Rain Mode is optimized for wet surfaces. The system can also be turned off. The action of C-TCS is also tailored when cornering based on lean angle.

This C-TCS feature is standard on all 2020 LiveWire, CVO and Police models and optional on all 2020 Touring models in the U.S. (except Electra Glide Standard models).

RDRS also includes the Drag-Torque Slip Control System (DSCS) and Cornering Enhanced Drag-Torque Slip Control System (C-DSCS) – designed to reduce excessive rear-wheel slip under deceleration, which typically occurs when the rider makes an abrupt down-shift gear change or decelerates on wet or slippery road surfaces.

DSCS is standard on all 2020 CVO and Police models and optional on all 2020 Touring models in the U.S. (except Electra Glide Standard models). C-DSCS is standard on all 2020 LiveWire and Trike models

Last but not least: Vehicle Hold Control (VHC): VHC applies and holds brake pressure when activated and prevents the motorcycle from rolling after the rider has released the brake controls… The rider activates VHC by momentarily applying extra pressure to either the front-brake hand lever or the rear-brake foot control after the motorcycle has come to a complete stop. If rider brakes very hard to a stop, and holds the brake pressure after stopping, VHC may also set without any added squeeze. A VHC indicator light will illuminate to confirm that the rider has activated VHC, and the ABS system will hold brake pressure after the rider releases the brake control. VHC is disengaged automatically as the rider begins to pull away from a stop, or if the rider applies and releases either brake control.

And really last but not least, RDRS includes a Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS), which is also a really nice thing to have when rear valve stems are hard to get to.

Road Glide Limited in Vivid Blue looked pretty purple to me. I called him Barney.

In any case, it’s a longstanding tradition among us coastal elites to bag on Harley-Davidson, but their dang touring bikes continue to close the gap every time it looks like the imports are about to pull away. The new Road Glide Limited is a nice case in point. How a motorcycle this big can be such a hoot on tight backroads is hard to figure, but it is. And the addition of seven more cubic inches of Milwaukee-Eight, along with the aforementioned rider aids, makes it more fun than ever. A line of these things running down a swervy backroad feels like riding in a brightly colored high-speed freight train that can lean.

The new Road Glide Limited is a Touring motorcycle, and for me touring always includes checking out peoples’ goats and chickens and landscaping projects as I roll through the outback. Sometimes tight corners sneak up when you’re distracted like that and riding sportily in a group. With the new RDRS, it’s not a problem: Blow into a corner hot and mash the brakes, the RGL just leans in and rolls through the corner like an excellent personal assistant, acting as if nothing’s out of the ordinary at all. All the cool bikes have an IMU now, and if you ride in the rain, you’d be a fool not to check that box if you can afford it – which you can if you’re shopping in this Harley aisle.

Critically, the FLs all roll on modern radial tires – 130/70-18 and 180/55-18 – and that makes all the difference in the world compared to offerings like the Low Rider S we rode the day before. The FLs feel like modern, albeit large, motorcycles. Longtime Harley PR guy and roadracer Paul James tells me the LR-S would smoke an FL in the curves. I’m not convinced.

Other distractions include the excellent Boom! Box GTS infotainment system, whose color touch screen offers navigation, communication and entertainment literally at your fingertips. The sound is so good now you can listen to talk radio at 80 and understand every word. In the morning I listened to Rush Limbaugh, in the afternoon to NPR.

I deserve it: CVO Limited in Moonlight Blue/Deep Sea Blue with Tomahawk wheels.

I was pretty content and preparing to write what a great travelling bike the new RG Limited would be, until I swapped onto the new CVO Limited and realized what a fool I’d been. This one’s got a thicker seat that feels like it’s stuffed with cool air and hummingbird feathers; it’s exceedingly comfortable, and with a lower handlebar than the Road Glide, this thing really is the catbird seat. Being a CVO, it also gets three more cubic inches of Twin-Cooled Milwaukee-Eight power for a total of 117 inches, rated at 125 lb-ft of torque – 3 more lb-ft than the 114’s claimed output. I can’t feel it, but we all know my piston’s bigger, don’t we – by 1.5mm. Says so right there on the engine.

It’s hard to say why that makes the CVO Limited way more expensive than the RG Limited, but exclusivity isn’t cheap. And for $44,039, you’re getting the whole nine yards. (If you want the Reflex system on your RG Limited, that’ll be another $995 on top of the $28,299 basic black base price, but on the CVO you get it all.) Also the top-o-the-line Boom! GTS with 150 watts per all 4 channels, etc.

If you were hoping for electronic suspension or something, sorry. Same as the regular ’Glides, complete with 2.1 inches of rear wheel travel. It’s how we keep the seat 27.7 inches low. In spite of that minuscule wheel travel, these things ride uncannily nice. There’s something about weighing 900 pounds…

Then there’s the CVO Street Glide in Smoky Gray and Black Hole, starting at $40,539.

If you wanna really get frisky on a CVO, though, you could ditch the trunk and about 78 pounds, and find yourself on the new CVO Street Glide, which H-D says weighs in at 866 pounds ready to rumble with six gallons of gas.

CVO Street Glide in Sand Dune with Fugitive wheels. I dare you to not love these things even if you’re not a Harley person. I’m going to use the i word: Iconic.
I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a kitchen sink that reveals itself when you press the right button. The CVO of course gets all the gadgets along with RDRS, etc. In addition to Boom! Audio Stage 2 (75 watts x 4 speakers), the voice recognition software speaks English (US/UK), German, Spanish (Mexico/Spain), French (Canada/France), Italian, Portuguese (Portugal/Brazil), Russian, Czech, Polish, Dutch, Turkish and Japanese.

The surprise (to people who haven’t ridden them before) is how competent and fun these things are on winding backroads. Their real forte, though, is sucking up vast expanses of middle America in high style. Set the cruise control and settle in while the big radial engine drones along at 2500 rpm. BMW’s K1600B won our last bagger comparison, but at least a couple of MOrons claimed the ’Glide is the bike they’d buy. If patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, sign us up.

The real last refuge, though, would be the CVO Tri Glide, resplendent in Black Stardust with Magnetic Gray and Wicked Red – only $48,999.

Slightly surprisingly, H-D tells us these aren’t just for riders who feel themselves aging out of riding; just as many Tri Glides are bought by new riders as well as young and old experienced ones too. H-D says a CVO version was highly clamored-for, “the most-requested model in the history of Custom Vehicle Operations.”

Why not? You get all the latest hard and software, including a special three-wheel version of RDRS, 4 x 75-watt Boom! Infotainment, 6.8 cubic feet of storage. And, at 1269 pounds gassed up, the third wheel only adds around 400 lbs to your two-wheeled Glide.

Curvy roads are not the Tri Glides bailiwick at all, unless your goal is to get an upper-body workout. But rolling along on the flats, you can almost forget you’re on a trike. Smooth flats, anyway. On bumpy roads, one is reminded of the great Peter Egan’s observation that the main purpose of the trike is that it allows you to experience all the bumps in the road.

There it is for 2020. Harley-Davidson continues to go its own way. In some cases, we’re not big fans. But when it comes to these FL touring rigs, there’s really nothing else quite like them in the world, and there really isn’t another motorcycle out there as well attuned, as hardwired into the American psyche, as these things. Right now in US history, a CVO looks like as good an investment as anything, as well as an excellent thing to ride. We would not talk you down.

John Burns
John Burns

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3 of 62 comments
  • Stephen Watson Stephen Watson on Sep 23, 2019

    I'm done, ( after 8 HD's), with HD. Their service costs border on the ridiculous. $30k+ bikes that now only come with one key fob, no tool kit and no bag luggage. New models, as I understand it, (I own a '19 Limited), don't even have a heel/toe shifter. Congrats HD...your finding your way back to the old AMF days.

    • Alyson Quinn Tim Quinn Alyson Quinn Tim Quinn on Sep 24, 2019

      I agree with you: no heel shifter, one key fob, and other stuff like that on the 2020 models flat-out sucks. Penny pinching at its worst!

  • Icemilkcoffee Icemilkcoffee on Sep 27, 2019

    I don't understand why they don't put auto transmission in Harleys. Their riders mostly do leisurely touring, or boulevard riding anyways. Seems to be the perfect application for an auto trans.