Road Test: The Milwaukee-Eight 121-VVT Street Glide CVO

Skol gets to spend the weekend on Harley-Davidson’s most expensive motorcycle.

IT WAS late Thursday and I was already packed and ready to ride to Gerzurgan (a biker commune at Hill End, an old gold mining town the other side of Mudgee, NSW) for the weekend when Harley Australia phoned and asked if I’d like to road test the new CVO Street Glide. “Hell, yes!” I said, my voice kicking up an octave in excitement. “I’ll pick it up tomorrow morning.”

The new Milwaukee-Eight 121-VVT Street Glide CVO (Custom Vehicle Operation) is a magnificent-looking motorcycle and you don’t have to look very hard to see all the trick parts—like the upside-down front forks, the Brembo brakes, heated hand-grips, that beautiful front wheel, etc. But, with a price tag of $63,000, you’d expect no less. Let me repeat that: $63,000. That’s an obscene amount of money for a motorbike.

The CVO Street Glide is the next generation of Harley-Davidson touring motorcycles. Its Milwaukee-Eight 121-cubic-inch motor has lots of new high-tech enhancements, like liquid-cooled cylinder heads, variable valve timing (VVT), and a new intake tract. So many enhancements, in fact, I’ll have to do a seperate list at the bottom of this feature.

And then there’s all the bells and whistles electronic/computer stuff happening. When you turn on the ignition, the huge touch-screen lights up and you’d think you were sitting in a Tesla. The handgrip controls too, are a mass of push buttons. Truth is, I didn’t use any of it—the blinkers maybe—so it was kinda wasted on me.

So, I left Saturday morning on the CVO 121 VVT Street Glide for my 300 km ride over the Blue Mountains (via the Bells Line of Road) to Gerzurgan. My wife could have gone on the back but decided to follow in the Jeep so she could bring the dog. My son also followed on his Royal Enfield 500 Bullet (the exhaust fell off but that’s a story for another day).

The CVO Street Glide has three ride modes: Road, Race and Rain (I did eventually find the right button on the handlebar controls). There’s also a couple of user option modes. I didn’t use it in Rain mode at all, mainly because it didn’t rain; and I only had it in Race mode once—boy, it sure gives it a very aggressive throttle. But! This bike is so fast, it has so much grunt in Road mode, it left me wondering why it even needed a Race mode. Seriously, this motorcycle hauls arse in Road mode.

This is a heavy bike—you notice it straight away when you pick it up off the side-stand—but once underway, it balances itself beautifully. It also handles like a dream. Riding up the twisty mountain road from Sofala to Hill End, I went into a corner a bit quicker than I should have a couple of times, and the CVO Street Glide kinda said, “No worries mate; just hang in there and I’ll get you out the other side okay.” ‘Confidence inspiring’, was the term I was looking for.

Ergonomically, the CVO Street Glide just ‘fits’. With its comfy seat, running boards, wide handlebars, I could ride it all day. The all-new batwing fairing keeps wind pressure off the chest and hence keeps the fatigue at bay on a long ride… except… the windscreen is too low and you get this really annoying buffering at eye level. It wouldn’t be a problem if you were wearing a full-face helmet, but, since I don’t own one, it was annoying.

One thing I did notice was the really-convenient rear-suspension adjuster on the left side. Sure makes it easy to change the rear suspension settings between ‘girlfriend’ and ‘wife’.

Heading onto the Gerzurgan rally site, I was confronted with a hundred campsites. I wasn’t sure where I was going to camp at this stage so I was riding around on an ungraded dirt-road thinking to myself, “Skol… it’s a $63,000 motorbike and it’s not yours… take it easy… and no burnouts!”

Gerzurgan is the granddaddy of biker rallies. It’s been running since 1978 and not much has changed—lots of old Harleys, rockin’ bands, plenty of beer, a dirt drag-strip which was going almost all day (no, I wasn’t temped to race the CVO Street Glide), and a bunch of bikers in party mode until the wee hours. Could life get any better?

The CVO Street Glide did get a bit of attention from guys who wanted to know more about it, but, you know, Gerzurgan is more about old school choppers so it was a bit out-of-place. Actually, I’m sure some of the old restored, or chopped, Harley-Davidson Knuckleheads and Panheads were worth more than $63,000.

Now, the rear-view mirrors. Cool shape, fitted into the new batwing fairing, they actually work very well, unlike a lot of other Harley models which only give you a good view of your armpits. However, with no mirror stems, where do you put your helmet when you pull up? Sure, you can put it down on the road next to the bike; and at Gerzurgan, that means putting it down in the dirt.

The next morning it was time to do it all again—a 300 km ride back to Sydney via the Bells Line of Road—only this time with a bit of a hangover. Now you’d think that Sunday afternoon, heading back to Sydney from the west, you’d be spending a lot of grey matter looking out for cops, but, with the cruise-control set to the speed limit, I could just sit back and enjoy the ride.

The CVO Street Glide is a beautiful motorcycle to look at. The new design creates a dynamic flow among the key components of the motorcycle — the fairing, fuel tank, side covers and saddlebags — that’s clearly evolved from the familiar shapes of previous Harley-Davidson Touring models.

And the new Milwaukee-Eight VVT 121 engine delivers smooth power in any gear. My guess, next year the new motor will start to appear in a few other select models as Harley-Davidson redefines its iconic motorcycles.

Here’s a list of the enhancements to the new motor according to Harley-Davidson:

The bragging rights of riding a motorcycle powered by the new Milwaukee-Eight VVT 121 powertrain are exclusive to owners of the 2023 CVO Street Glide and CVO Road Glide models. This 121-cubic-inch, 45-degree V-Twin engine establishes a new benchmark for factory-installed torque and displacement available in a Harley-Davidson Touring motorcycle — approximately 8 percent more torque and 9.5 percent more horsepower than the Twin-Cooled Milwaukee-Eight 117 engine — while further improving thermal comfort for the rider and producing an intoxicating exhaust tone. The Milwaukee-Eight VVT 121 is equipped with a number of new features, including optimised liquid-cooled cylinder heads with a new cooling system, variable valve timing (VVT), and a new intake tract. A single counter-balancer is tuned to cancel undesirable vibration.

Milwaukee-Eight VVT 121 Specs:

  • Displacement: 121 cubic inches (1977 cc)
  • Bore x Stroke: 4.075 inch (103.5 mm) x 4.625 inch (117.5 mm)
  • Compression Ratio: 11.4:1
  • Torque: 135 lb.ft. (183 Nm) torque at 3500 RPM
  • Horsepower: 115 horsepower (86 kW) at 5020 RPM

New features of the Milwaukee-Eight VVT 121 engine:

Variable Valve Timing (VVT) broadens the overall power-band, improves torque management and enhances efficiency to increase range from each tank of fuel (compared to the same engine with fixed valve timing). Through computer control, VVT advances or retards camshaft timing infinitely through a potential range of 40 degrees of crankshaft rotation (20 degrees of camshaft rotation). Riders may experience a 3 percent to 5 percent improvement in fuel economy over a standard drive cycle compared to similar motorcycles powered by the Milwaukee-Eight 117 engine.

An improved cooling system focused on the exhaust valve area of each cylinder head further improves thermal comfort for the rider, especially in low-speed riding situations and hot weather.

Redesigned four-valve cylinder heads incorporate new channels for coolant flow around the exhaust valve areas. An electric pump circulates a coolant solution first to the hotter rear cylinder head, then to the front cylinder head, and then to a new heat exchanger (radiator) located low on the front of the frame and backed by a thermostatically controlled fan. Air flow from the fan is directed below the motorcycle for enhanced rider/passenger comfort, especially at low vehicle speeds.

New cylinder heads feature a combustion chamber reshaped with oval intake ports, low-profile intake valve seats and an enhanced squish band, which combined increase intake air velocity and tumble and accelerate combustion to improve performance and fuel economy. The compression ratio is increased to 11.4:1 from 10.2:1 (2022 Milwaukee-Eight 117 engine) enhancing torque at lower RPM and improving fuel economy. Higher compression is enabled by improvement of the cylinder head cooling design, the burn rate in the combustion chamber, and enhanced knock sensing to protect the engine from pre-ignition.

A high-performance camshaft with higher lift and longer duration than the Milwaukee-Eight 117 camshaft contributes to increased power and torque. The valve-train is updated with high-capacity lifters and inner cam bearing, and valve springs capable of higher lift, to maintain durability with the more-aggressive camshaft in place.

A new intake tract contributes to increased power and lower exhaust emissions. The throttle body diameter is increased to 58 mm from the 55 mm used on Milwaukee-Eight 117 engines, and the throttle body is positioned closer to the centre of the cylinder spacing and to the intake valves to enhance intake air flow. The new contoured aluminium intake manifold offers a more-direct air path and creates a smooth transition from the round throttle body to the oval intake ports. New induction components improve tumble and increase mass flow by 7.5 percent and port velocity by 10.3 percent. High-capacity (5.5 gram/second) fuel injectors match fuel demand of the engine.

A new airbox replaces the Heavy Breather intake used on previous CVO Milwaukee-Eight 117 engines. Airbox volume is 4.0 L, approximately 50 percent more than Heavy Breather, which helps improve power by providing more room for the in-moulded velocity stack radius and greater volume of clean air. The new intake is lighter, requires fewer parts and has no exposed fasteners, and significantly muffles intake sound compared to the Heavy Breather.

Charging output increased by 20.8 percent to 58 peak amps from 48 peak amps (Milwaukee- Eight 117 engine output). Current capability at both idle and cruising speeds is increased to support added vehicle content and accessories while maintaining optimal battery health.

High-performance exhaust unlocks engine performance. Muffler diameter is increased to 4.5 inches from the previous model 4-inch diameter. A high-flow design complements the engine tuning. Exhaust tone and level are enhanced to produce an exhilarating sound, especially on acceleration, that set the CVO Street Glide and CVO Road Glide models apart from other Touring models equipped with stock exhaust. 

An improved shift drum with redesigned neutral pocket geometry in the 6-Speed Cruise Drive transmission makes it easier to select and find neutral on the first attempt.

Ride Modes 

For the first time the CVO Street Glide and CVO Road Glide models offer selectable Ride Modes that electronically control the performance characteristics of the motorcycle and the level of technology intervention. Each Ride Mode consists of a specific combination of power delivery, engine braking, Cornering-Antilock Braking System (C-ABS) and Cornering-Traction Control System (C-TCS) settings. The rider may use the hand control MODE button to change the active ride mode while riding the motorcycle or when stopped, with some exceptions. A unique icon for each mode appears on the display when that mode has been selected.

Road Mode: Intended for daily use, Road Mode delivers balanced performance. This mode offers less-aggressive throttle response and less mid-range engine power than Sport Mode, with a higher level of C-ABS and C-TCS intervention.

Sport Mode: Sport Mode can maximise the rider’s connection to the motorcycle. The rider can experience the full performance potential of the motorcycle in a direct and precise manner, with full power and the quickest throttle response. C-TCS is set to its lowest level of intervention, and engine braking is increased. 

Rain Mode: This mode is designed to give the rider greater confidence when riding in the rain or when traction is otherwise compromised. Rain Mode is also an appropriate setting for riders building confidence as they become familiar with the motorcycle. Throttle response and power output are programmed to significantly restrain the rate of acceleration, engine braking is limited, and the highest levels of C-ABS and C-TCS intervention are selected. 

Custom Mode: Within two available Custom Ride Modes the rider may create a set of performance characteristics to meet personal preference or for special situations. To create a Custom Mode the rider uses the touch screen display to select their combined preference of engine torque delivery characteristics, engine braking, throttle response, and C-TCS and C-ABS intervention, within specific ranges.

Technologically Enhanced

To complement the power of the new Milwaukee-Eight VVT 121 engine every aspect of design that could impact overall performance and the comfort of rider and passenger was carefully considered during the development.

Dry weight has been reduced significantly, by 14 kilograms for the CVO Street Glide model and by 15 kilograms for the CVO Road Glide model, compared to the models they replace. This reduction was achieved by shaving grams whenever possible. The result is an improvement in every aspect of performance — braking, handling and acceleration — and in rider comfort in regard to lift-off the side stand, balancing at a stop and even moving the bike around the garage.

High-performance suspension components are designed to promote confident handling and provide a dramatic improvement in rider comfort compared to previous CVO models.

Front suspension is 47 mm SHOWA inverted forks designed to promote confident handling by keeping the tyre in contact with the road surface. Front suspension travel is 4.60 inches (117 mm). 

Rear suspension travel is 3.0 inches (76 mm), a 50 percent increase in travel compared to comparable 2022 Grand American Touring models. SHOWA dual outboard emulsion technology shock absorbers feature a new remote hydraulic pre-load adjustment knob located forward of the left saddlebag. Adjustments can easily be made to rear suspension preload without tools or removal of the saddlebag to accommodate up to an additional 100 pounds of cargo loading or short-term passenger adjustments beyond the primary suspension loading condition. Pre-load adjustment for the primary loading condition (the condition that the bike will most often be used in, for example rider only or rider plus passenger) is accomplished by removing the right saddlebag and adjusting the threaded preload adjuster with the provided spanner tool. Rear suspension rebound damping is also adjustable to provide ideal suspension performance across a wide range of loading conditions. Adjustment is made using a dial on the bottom of each shock absorber, which requires removal of the saddlebags.

Braking provided by premium Brembo components offer outstanding braking feel and performance for added rider confidence. Dual front disc brakes feature new radially mounted four-piston Brembo calipers designed to offer the rider more braking power. The front brake rotor diameter is increased to 320 mm from 300 mm (previous models). The single rear brake features a four-piston Brembo cal liper. Rear brake rotor diameter is 300 mm.

Lighting is all-LED, designed to deliver style, outstanding performance, and to help make the motorcycle conspicuous to other motorists. The LED headlamps are designed to produce an even spread of light, eliminating distracting “hot spots.” 

New signature lighting on both models includes one element surrounding the headlamp plus elements extending along the left and right sides of the fairing. The result is signature lighting with a distinct appearance that identifies these motorcycles as the new CVO models. A shutdown sequence keeps the signature lighting illuminated for 10 seconds after vehicle is turned off, a dramatic effect curb side. 

Front turn signals are integrated within the fairing behind the same lens used for the signature lighting. The signals are eye-catching and create a smooth, integrated look for the front of the motorcycle. Combination rear brake/tail/signal lighting is located between the rear fender and the saddlebags.

Rider Safety Enhancements by Harley-Davidson, a collection of technologies designed to enhance rider confidence during unexpected situations or adverse road conditions, are featured on the CVO Street Glide and CVO Road Glide models. Rider Safety Enhancements are designed to match motorcycle performance to available traction during acceleration, deceleration and braking. The systems are electronic and utilise the latest chassis control, electronic brake control and powertrain technology. These models include the following elements of Rider Safety Enhancements by Harley-Davidson:

  • Cornering Electronically Linked Brakes (C-ELB) 
  • Cornering ABS (C-ABS) 
  • Cornering Traction Control (C-TCS) with modes 
  • Cornering Drag Torque Slip Control (C-DTSC)
  • Vehicle Hold Control (VHC) 
  • Tyre Pressure Monitoring (TPMS)

Aero and Thermal Comfort are informed by all-new fairings with a “floating” windshield design, part of a completely new aerodynamic system. Each aero system element was created using CFD (computational fluid dynamics) tools, wind tunnel analysis and real-world subjective testing with an emphasis on reducing rider helmet buffeting at highway speed. Many riders will find that the combination of improved aero design and adjustable elements results in a significant improvement in overall aero comfort compared to the fairing/windshield combination of previous Grand American Touring models.

In wind tunnel testing, subjective helmet buffeting is reduced by an average of 60 percent compared to equivalent 2022 models. 

The new adjustable control vane in the fairing centre vent of both models allows the rider to dial in airflow for comfort in most conditions and riding gear choices. The fairing vent balances air pressure behind the fairing to minimise helmet buffeting at speed for rider comfort. 

New adjustable vanes at the trailing edge of the CVO Road Glide fairing can be used to channel more or less air to the rider’s torso area for desired comfort. 

New Air deflectors located on the fork skirts of the CVOTM Street Glide model may be adjusted to reduce wind turbulence to the rider’s head. 

The new engine cooling system will further improve thermal comfort for the rider compared to the precision cooled Milwaukee-Eight 117 engines in previous CVO models, especially in low-speed riding situations and hot weather.

Long-Haul Ergonomics 

A redesigned seat shape and padding materials offer a significant improvement in long-range comfort for most riders. The seat is shaped to rotate the rider’s hips to a neutral position relative to the spine, reducing fatigue on a rider’s back and neck. Laden seat height of the CVO Street Glide and CVO Road Glide models is 26.7 inches (678.18 mm). 

The front brake hand lever is adjustable for reach, to best match rider hand size or preference. 

Two pre-wired connection points for heated gear are provided, located below the seat. 

Standard heated hand grips may now be adjusted on the grip or through the infotainment display. 

CVO Road Glide handlebar has a wider, flatter bend than the previous shape, which puts the rider’s hands in a more natural, comfortable position for long-haul riding and enables 27-degrees of adjustability.

CVO Street Glide Model Fairing

While an all-new batwing fairing exclusive to the CVO Street Glide model retains the iconic “T” shape, the silhouette has been updated to present a faster overall look with the split-stream vent now fully integrated into the design. Undercuts beneath the headlamp are more pronounced. Signature LED lighting is used as a distinctive design element and provides instant recognition of the new model, even at night. Amber LED turn signals are seamlessly integrated into the left and right lamp elements, eliminating separate turn signals for a cleaner over-all look. 

The front fender is trimmed at the rear and has less skirt depth to reduce visual mass at the front of the bike and to reveal more of the distinctive wheel, the inverted forks and Brembo radial brake calipers. The six-gallon fuel tank presents a new taut and stretched surface, with a distinctive shoulder bevel. The side covers are shaped to create a linear pull through the centre of the motorcycle to the saddlebags, which have three-dimensional shape in harmony with the fairings and fuel tank. While the new luggage appears more compact, it actually has slightly more volume for speakers and cargo.

The new Combo Cast Laced wheels (19-inch front/18-inch rear) make a bold custom statement, with a black machine-cut cast-aluminium rim and laced spokes for a look that is both rugged and exclusive. This design also enables TPMS (tire pressure monitoring system) on a laced wheel. 

Standard Dark Platinum with Bright Smoked Satin pinstriping and colour-matched inner fairing. Powertrain and air cleaner are Gloss Black with Scorched Chrome accents on the engine inserts. The lower rocker boxes, pushrod tubes and exhaust are finished in Scorched Chrome. Adversary Collection accessories are finished in Black powder-coat with machined highlights.

All-New Infotainment Powered by Skyline OS

The CVO Street Glide and CVO Road Glide models introduce an all-new suite of infotainment technology powered by the new Skyline OS. A TFT colour touch screen is the most tech-forward display ever offered for a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. It replaces all analogue instrumentation and most switches as found on previous CVO motorcycle models. This premium display is bright and well-organised, is customisable within three distinct view options, and is compatible with Apple and Android devices. 

The CVO Street Glide and CVO Road Glide models each feature the following new infotainment features:

The 12.3-inch (diagonal measurement) TFT screen is 90 percent larger diagonally than the 6.5-inch BOOM! Box GTS screen featured on previous CVO models and offers more than 400 percent more screen area. It offers a bright presentation and can display more information in a clear, easy-to-see manner. The screen has anti-reflective and anti-fingerprint coatings. 

The touch screen functions when a rider is wearing gloves and is not affected by rain or other natural inputs. The touch screen is not disabled when the motorcycle is moving, but some features are disabled. The interface was designed for primary use with hand controls to minimise touch interaction. 

New Wi-Fi connectivity enables wireless connection to a rider’s device and to provide live services such as traffic, weather and navigation map updates. 

The new Voice Recognition System is conversational rather than “fixed prompts” and allows the rider to make general commands like “Find me a gas station” to perform a search on Navigation. Free map updates for the embedded navigation system are available for three years. 

The new built-in user interface on the touch screen allows the owner to activate the ECU programming required for installation of certain accessories (for example fog lights, HomeLink, heated grips); these updates previously were completed by an authorised Harley-Davidson dealer. The owner can now complete installation of these accessories. 

DAB (Digital Audio Broadcasting) is now available for Australia and certain other markets. The AM/FM/DAB antenna is located within the fairing, replacing the whip antenna that could conflict with luggage. 

The Bluetooth receiver for wireless headsets is now built into the system — a separate module is no longer required. 

The CVO Road Glide inner fairing incorporates left and right-side media storage compartments, each sized to hold most current mobile phones in a case. The door for each is opened by pressing down to release the latch, and the door springs open on its own and stays open. The right compartment is equipped with a USB-C connection point. 

The CVO Street Glide inner fairing incorporates a single media storage drawer located directly below the infotainment display screen. It opens and slides out at the push of a button and has a premium liner to protect mobile devices from scuffs. Measuring approximately 10 inches (254 mm) wide by 8 inches (203 mm) deep, this drawer has significantly more volume than the previous batwing fairing media compartment and is designed to hold most current mobile devices in a case. It is equipped with a USB-C connection point. 

The CVO Street Glide and CVO Road Glide models are equipped with a premium, high-performance Harley-Davidson Audio powered by Rockford Fosgate Stage II audio system powered by a new 4-channel, 500-watt RMS amplifier.

The audio system includes Harley-Davidson Audio powered by Rockford Fosgate Stage II 3-way 6.5-inch fairing speakers, 150 watts RMS power handling per speaker and Stage II 3-way 5×7-inch saddlebag speakers, 150 watts RMS power handling per speaker.

Multiple preset EQ curves are available (eg., Rock, Dance) through the touch screen; 7 Band EQ is available for creating Custom EQ settings.

The new 500-watt amplifier is capable of powering Harley-Davidson Audio powered by Rockford Fosgate Stage III 6×9-inch saddlebag speakers available from Harley-Davidson Genuine Motor Parts & Accessories.

Screen Display Options

The rider can choose from three screen display options: 

Cruise: The most traditional presentation depicts a separate speedometer and tachometer with satellite gauges for fuel level and engine temperature. Minimal widget info may be contained within the tachometer. 

Sport: Intended for performance riders, this view places a dial tachometer in the middle of the display with a digital speedometer in its centre. This view expands spaces for widgets to give the rider opportunity to display more information. 

Tour: Intended for long-haul riders and displays a centred navigation map and turn-by-turn instructions from Apple device projection or the embedded navigation display. Widget information can be displayed to the right of the map, or the rider can change to Full View to expand the map over more of the display area.

High Contrast Mode: The rider can change the display appearance to High Contrast Mode. If Auto Day/Night Mode is enabled with High Contrast, the display will automatically change between High Contrast and Dark Mode based on ambient lighting conditions.

Widgets: The rider may use the Trip Switch to select the widget they want shown. In addition, there is a “Blank” widget for users that want to display minimal content. 

The Cruise layout has space for minimal widget information: Compass, TPMS, Outside Temp + Range, Trip-A/B + Avg. Fuel. 

The Sport and Tour layouts have more information options: TPMS + Target Inflation, Trip- A/B + Compass + Avg. Speed + Trip Time, Outside Temp + Date + Range + Engine Temp, Playlist/Station View. 

Harley-Davidson Ride Planner: 

Routes configured on the Harley-Davidson Ride Planner website can be transferred to the embedded navigation system using the H-DTM App. The H-DTM App also informs the owners of any firmware updates available for their infotainment system.

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