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2011 Harley-Davidson CVO Road Glide Ultra Review (video)


by Marc Cantin ,

Custom Vehicle Operations (CVO) represents Harley’s nobility, producing extensively dressed-up and mechanically upgraded models in limited volumes that help keep exclusivity, demand and resale values high. The models rotate year-on-year, providing excellent examples for owners who like to personalize their own bike without going whole-hog (Pun intended). CVOs may be pricey ($41,919 for the CVO Road Glide Ultra, compared to $22,119 for the more popular Road Glide Custom and $26,119 for the Road Glide Ultra), but are in fact a great deal for the added value and the improvements you are buying.

The bike's looks and quality stand out, not only for Harley lovers, but also for virtually everyone we met during the test. (Photo: Philippe Champoux/

The base Road Glide, a member of Harley’s Touring line, dates back 40+ years and reflects the aerodynamics of the day. The unique-looking model has survived thanks in part to several styling and aero revisions. The latest Road Glide evolution receives the full CVO Ultra treatment for 2011, and we rode the machine in dry and wet autumn weather in the Great White North, complete with leaves on the ground.

First impressions are usually correct, and the CVO Road Glide Ultra (RGU) hits you in the face with the sheer girth and mass when you first walk up to the bike and climb aboard. The engine quickly settles down to a low-vibration idle, and pulls well after a thirty-second throat-clearing moment – i.e. the time it takes to slip your gloves on. On the road, the bike turns agile as torque and power flow easily from the upgraded engine and well spaced out ratios. And the saddle does accommodate my vast tush with ease in a well cushioned and supported embrace.

Now for the details!
This 2011 CVO RGU features Harley’s 110cid version of Twin Cam engine family, aka the TC110. I last rode a 110 on a 2009 model and that engine felt a bit temperamental under 3000rpm, a little bit like long-ago car engines with a hot cam – think early Camaro Z28 or Porsche 911S. Those motors begged you to go up in revs where they came alive, much like the 2009 TC110 when it reached 3000rpm and provided Honda Gold Wing-like acceleration up to 150kph.

The 2011 version of the 110 feels more civilized, with the usual Harley torque from just above idle and quick throttle response all the way up to the red line. And it gets better still, as the engine never baulked at idle, an important factor when riding such a top-heavy bike in traffic.

I suspect that the ignition and injection mapping has been improved, and that the wise men of Milwaukee have installed a slightly heavier flywheel on the latest 110. Heavier flywheels trade a little throttle response against smoother operation at low rpm and extra inertia torque just off idle. This means no more humiliating dead engine and subsequent fall when waiting for people to cross the street on their green light before turning right, as well as easier U-turns.

Well chosen gearbox ratios help keep the engine in the right rev range effortlessly for any type of riding. As an added bonus, the 110’s extra torque and power turn sixth gear into a fully usable ratio, rather than a simple steady-speed cruising gear as on the weaker TC96.

So much for the drive train; let’s turn to the suspension and brakes. The RGU behaves flawlessly on smooth roads, right up to illegal speeds, especially when the rider makes good use of the adjustable preload at the rear to reflect the total load, and if you keep away from the bumps. The bike’s easy agility turns twistier roads into fun territory, as long as you remain in the “reasonable” speed bracket.

This love story cools off however when you up the pace or ride over bumpy roads, especially as you approach the maximum gross weight of the machine, an impressive 617kg. Weak fork damping and rubber mounted bars also reduce front wheel feedback.

The TC110 engine features gobs of torque, power and,,, chrome. The oval cover hides the air filter - you can hear it gobbling up air loudly every time you crack the throttle open. (Photo: Philippe Champoux/
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