2018 Harley-Davidson CVO Limited | Road Test Review

2018 Harley-Davidson CVO Limited
As Harley’s top-of-the-line touring model, the CVO Limited offers more torque, more luxury and more curb appeal than any long-hauler in the lineup. (Photos by Kevin Wing)

Back in 1999, when there was worldwide worry about computers failing because of the Y2K glitch, Harley-Davidson launched the Custom Vehicle Operations (CVO) program. Those were the days when Harley’s stock price was rocketing toward the moon and demand for its motorcycles outstripped supply, motivating some dealers to sell bikes far above MSRP and buyers to flip new bikes for profit. The idea behind the CVO program was to build small batches of coveted factory customs, exclusive models that would fetch exclusive prices.

2018 Harley-Davidson CVO Limited
Sitting in the lap of luxury. With good upper and lower wind protection as well as floorboards and supportive, heated seats with backrests for the rider and passenger, the CVO Limited takes you there in comfort.

Greg’s Gear:
Helmet: Shoei Neotec
Jacket: Joe Rocket Classic ’92
Pants: Scorpion Covert Pro
Boots: Fly Tradesman

With production limited to just 900 units each, the first two CVO models were cruisers, the FXR2 and FXR3, with special paint jobs and “an abundance of chrome,” bikes that were “designed to not only fulfill the dreams of motorcycle customizers, but to inspire them.” Even though Harley-Davidson introduced its new 1,442cc Twin Cam 88 V-twin on Dyna and Touring models in 1999, the inaugural CVOs were powered by the older-tech 1,340cc Evolution V-twin.

2018 Harley-Davidson CVO Limited
In high relief on the gas tank is a two-layer, black-over-orange bar-and-shield logo that manages to be bold and understated at the same time.

The following year CVO began producing models with hot-rodded engines, starting with the Screamin’ Eagle Road Glide and its 1,550cc Twin Cam 95. As the program evolved, the number of CVO models offered each year increased from two to four, and the limited-production runs became less limited, multiplying from 1,800 in 1999 to more than 14,000 in 2015. (CVO production has since been dialed back, with about 6,000 units for the 2018 model year.)

2018 Harley-Davidson CVO Limited
The Tour-Pak is so big it’s easy to lose something in there. (Photo by Carrie Drevenstedt)

With the all-new Softails hogging the cruiser spotlight, Harley’s Custom Vehicle Operations group rolled out a Touring-only lineup for 2018: CVO Street Glide ($39,949), CVO Road Glide ($41,399), CVO Limited ($42,949) and 115th Anniversary CVO Limited ($43,949). Yes, those dollar signs are followed by big numbers. In the case of the CVO Limited tested here, it costs $15,950 more than a standard Ultra Limited in Vivid Black ($26,999). What does that extra dough get you? A lot, actually.

2018 Harley-Davidson CVO Limited
The CVO-exclusive 117ci Milwaukee-Eight is the largest production engine available from the Motor Company.

Bragging rights start with what’s between your legs, and this year all CVO models boast the largest, most powerful stock engine ever offered by Harley-Davidson: a 117ci (1,923cc) Twin-Cooled Milwaukee-Eight with special cam timing and a claimed 125 lb-ft of torque—10 percent more than the standard 107ci engine on Touring models. Setting the CVO 117 apart from other Harley V-twins is an exclusive orange finish on the rocker box lowers, which matches the black-over-orange bar-and-shield logo that stands in high relief on the gas tank. There’s also a wish list of accessory upgrades, everything from the blacked-out Airflow Collection (grips, controls, floorboards and highway pegs) and Contrast Chrome Slicer wheels to a Hammock heated touring seat with rider and passenger backrests, power saddlebag and trunk locks, a tire-pressure monitoring system and a pair of wireless headsets with an interface module.

2018 Harley-Davidson CVO Limited
Also exclusive to CVOs is the orange finish on the rocker box lowers.

What really sets CVOs apart from the herd is their paint and finishes. According to Harley’s VP of Styling and Design, Brad Richards, who had very big shoes to fill when he took over for Willie G. Davidson, “When it comes to CVOs, we sweat the details.” A CVO needs to convey a premium, desirable quality whether you see it ride past on the street, walk around it at a bike night or get down on your knees and inspect it up close. Every surface and fastener is considered, from gauge faces to contrast stitching on the seat to exhaust tips. With the CVO program approaching its 20th anniversary, Richards and his design team decided the time had come to take styling in a new direction. Replacing the in-your-face colors and dramatic graphics of the past is a more toned-down palette. For the first time there are three distinct paint/finish schemes for each model, ranging from a bold, bright look aimed at older, more affluent “core” CVO customers (but still not as “loud and proud” as before) to a more contemporary, understated look geared toward younger, performance-oriented riders. As Richards describes it, the 2018 CVO lineup reflects “the current trend in design, which is to ‘walk softly and carry a big stick.’ By pulling back, we actually give the bikes more presence.”

2018 Harley-Davidson CVO Limited
Taking in the view of Sierra Nevada peaks from 9,200-foot Sherman Pass. (Photo by Greg Drevenstedt)

In addition to the 115 Anniversary edition, with its solid Odyssey Blue “de-saturated” finish and anniversary graphics, the CVO Limited is offered in two top-to-bottom fade paint jobs. Our CVO Limited test bike transitions from dark Burgundy Cherry Sunglo on top to lighter Molten Red Sunglo down below, creating the illusion that it’s lit from underneath, and the rest of the bike has a mix of chrome and black finishes. The other option is darker and more subtle, with Black Earth fading into Nebula Silver and everything else blacked-out. Getting the fade just right on different body panels was technically difficult—“hard to do, hard to copy,” as Richards puts it—which reflects the degree of extra effort that goes into making CVOs special. These new-generation CVOs also have subtle branding. The only places you’ll see the name “Harley-Davidson” are below the infotainment touchscreen on the dash and embossed on the back of the Tour-Pak’s luggage rack. Elsewhere there are simple bar-and-shield outlines and a handful of small Custom Vehicle Operations logos.

2018 Harley-Davidson CVO Limited
Bright LED lights lead the way.

When EIC Tuttle asked me to test the CVO Limited, I grabbed its black-and-chrome key fob eagerly. I love big-engine, big-boned touring bikes. Tempt me with a family-size bucket of finger-lickin’, arm-straightenin’ torque. Spoil me with plush two-up seating, benevolent wind protection and kitchen-sink luggage capacity. Indulge me with an audio system, navigation, heated grips and seats, cruise control, anti-lock brakes, a big gas tank and more. Yes, please, thank you.

2018 Harley-Davidson CVO Limited
Carrie loves big trees, and the sequoias at Trail of 100 Giants are some of the biggest. (Photo by Greg Drevenstedt)

Since the CVO Limited is Harley’s ultimate two-up touring bike, my wife Carrie and I loaded up the saddlebags and Tour-Pak (with 133 liters of capacity, we had room to spare), donned our Boom! Audio 20S EVO Bluetooth headset-equipped helmets and ventured into the mountains for the weekend. We had perfect weather, with crisp, clear, sunny autumn days. I settled into the deep cradle of the Hammock seat, which uses an internal sling to suspend the rider and two inches of dual-density foam above the seat pan, and Carrie nestled herself into the wrap-around backrest, both of us with our feet up on floorboards. As we ascended State Route 33 to 5,160-foot Pine Mountain Summit, the temperature dropped into the upper 40s, so I closed the fairing-lower vents and turned on the grip and seat heaters. We cruised along at a moderate, unrushed pace, savoring the scenery and our bubble of comfort.

2018 Harley-Davidson CVO Limited
Dunlop tires designed specifically for Harley-Davidson and Reflex Linked Brakes with ABS stand up well to the CVO Limited’s massive weight.

Soaking wet, the CVO Limited weighs 940 pounds—it’s one of the heaviest bikes we’ve tested—and fully loaded we used every bit of its 420 pounds of load capacity. That’s a lot of mass to move through time and space, but the 117ci Milwaukee-Eight did so without breaking a sweat. On Jett Tuning’s rear-wheel dyno, it belted out 111 lb-ft of torque at 3,600 rpm (more than 100 lb-ft are on tap from 2,100 to 4,900 rpm) and 96 horsepower at 4,900 rpm. Throttle response is immediate and there’s pulling power everywhere. The Milwaukee-Eight is a fine example of internal combustion, providing just the right amount of rumble and report, never offensive, though fury can be unleashed with a downshift and a handful of throttle. Harley’s 6-speed Cruise Drive transmission shifts authoritatively, but it’s clunky in lower gears, neutral can be elusive and the clutch requires a strong pull.

2018 Harley-Davidson CVO Limited
Custom gauge faces are beautiful, but they’re hard to read in bright sunlight. Boom! Box 6.5GT infotainment system and wireless headsets are standard.

Like all Touring models, the CVO Limited is equipped with Showa suspension front and rear, with a non-adjustable dual bending valve fork and a pair of emulsion rear shocks with a remote preload adjuster. Before our trip, I dialed in the right amount of preload and on smooth pavement we enjoyed a comfortable ride. But the best views are on the least trafficked roads, and those are the ones for which maintenance is often deferred. As we ascended tight, narrow roads in the Sierra foothills just days before their winter closure, cracks and seams became more common and suspension compliance became less forgiving. After a while, especially when Carrie felt the need to sit forward so the backrest wouldn’t jolt her in the spine, it became unforgivable.

2018 Harley-Davidson CVO Limited
Layers of time at Red Rock Canyon State Park. (Photo by Greg Drevenstedt)

Steering the CVO Limited, with its heavy batwing fairing (which houses the infotainment system and speakers) mounted onto the handlebars, requires effort and the front end feels disconnected from the rest of the chassis. There’s a decent amount of cornering clearance and the linked Brembo brakes are gorilla strong, but the bike prefers graceful curves just as much as smooth pavement. Overall wind protection and seat comfort are top-notch, but the windscreen is not adjustable; I enjoyed relatively smooth, quiet airflow, but Carrie struggled with helmet buffeting.

2018 Harley-Davidson CVO Limited
Late light does justice to the fade paint job.

A motorcycle as premium as the CVO Limited creates high expectations, and after living with it for a month and putting close to 2,000 miles on it, for the most part it has delivered. It fulfills the desire of owning a top-of-the-line custom motorcycle for those who have the money but not the time, inclination or patience to do it themselves. Hands down the CVO Limited is the most beautiful motorcycle I’ve ever ridden, and its torque-rich V-twin, fit-and-finish, creature comforts and touring capability have won me over. But, relative to other luxury touring bikes we’ve tested, its handling, chassis dynamics and suspension compliance fall short. Over the past few years the Touring platform upon which the CVO Limited is based has come a long way, especially with the Milwaukee-Eight engine and Showa suspension that were introduced last year. But the steel frame that holds it all together hasn’t changed since 2009. Touring models have gotten heavier and more sophisticated, and—as with the new Softails—they need a chassis that can keep up. Also, especially at an ultra-premium price point like this, more rear suspension travel and the magic-carpet ride that comes with electronic semi-active suspension would elevate the riding experience. Because that’s the thing about beautiful motorcycles—we should derive as much pleasure riding them as we do looking at them.

2018 Harley-Davidson CVO Limited
Few things are better than watching a sunset from the seat of a motorcycle.

2018 Harley-Davidson CVO Limited Specs
Base Price: $42,949
Warranty: 2 yrs., unltd. miles
Website: harley-davidson.com

Engine
Type: Air/liquid-cooled, transverse 45-degree V-twin
Displacement: 1,923cc (117ci)
Bore x Stroke: 103.5 x 114.3mm
Compression Ratio: 10.2:1
Valve Train: OHV, 4 valves per cyl.
Valve Insp. Interval: NA
Fuel Delivery: Electronic Sequential Port Fuel Injection
Lubrication System: Dry sump, 5.0-qt. cap.
Transmission: 6-speed, hydraulically actuated wet assist-and-slipper clutch
Final Drive: Belt

Electrical
Ignition: Electronic
Charging Output: 625 watts max.
Battery: 12V 28AH

Chassis
Frame: Tubular-steel double cradle w/ two-piece backbone, steel swingarm
Wheelbase: 64.0 in.
Rake/Trail: 26 degrees/6.7 in.
Seat Height: 29.9 in.
Suspension, Front: 49mm stanchions, no adj., 4.6-in. travel
Rear: Dual shocks, adj. preload w/ remote knob, 3.0-in. travel
Brakes, Front: Dual 300mm floating discs w/ opposed 4-piston calipers, fully linked & ABS
Rear: Single 300mm fixed disc w/ opposed 4-piston caliper, fully linked & ABS
Wheels, Front: Cast, 3.00 x 17 in.
Rear: Cast, 5.00 x 16 in.
Tires, Front: 130/80-B17
Rear: 180/65-B16
Wet Weight: 940 lbs.
Load Capacity: 420 lbs.
GVWR: 1,360 lbs.

Performance
Fuel Capacity: 6.0 gals., last 1.0 gal. warning light on
MPG: 91 PON min. (low/avg/high) 32.3/35.1/39.0
Estimated Range: 211 miles
Indicated RPM at 60 MPH: 2,300

2018 Harley-Davidson CVO Limited

8 COMMENTS

  1. $42,000 for a motorcycle??? Think of all the nice cars & trucks one could buy. There’s no reason the bike should cost that much.

  2. as a retired softtail owner harley has great product/but too expensive/ordinary people cant pay 40 grand for a toy clint

  3. I suppose at the time of this writing no one knew much about the siphoning of transmission fluid into the primary.
    That alone will stop me from wanting one of the M8’s….and agree with f.fernandez…BMW K1600 Grand America (based on the K1600B) would be the one to have.

  4. I’ll stick to my tried and true Goldwing GL1800. Smoother and user friendlier. Better gas mileage and holds more gas besides.

    • Not to sure about the fuel Mileage partner… My 2017 M8 gets 42-45 MPG…. isn’t an 1800 rider I know getting that. The M8 is super smooth. I have owned an older GL1500 and the 1800 is very smooth, the clutch is nicer on the forearm in traffic then the M8 but the new 2018 Honda has less storage, lower fuel mileage and holds less gas. I prefer the look and ride of the Harley myself. I see the appeal of the Honda as well. And I hope they both do well since good competition makes each bike better over time. Oh, and I am rider that puts down 15-25k miles per year rain or shine, unlike many owners of Harleys.

  5. I concur with other riders on the cost of touring Harleys . I’ve owned seven Harleys since 1997 and the price has escalated $500 . to over $1000. a year . I have to say their extremely reliable and good mileage,got 43 to 47 mpg.I PUT ON ABOUT 10,000.MIES PER YR. AND THE ONLY FAILURE I’VE EVER HAD WAS A BROKEN CLUTCH CABLE. AT 68 K. .AND THEIR SUSPENSION NEEDS AN OHLINS FORK REPLACEMENT. P.S. 440,000 MILES IN MY LIFETIME!! 68 YRS OF FUN ON THE ROAD.

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