Since its debut for the 2006 model year, the Harley-Davidson Street Glide has been at the top of the touring class as well as one of the most popular bikes in Harley’s stable. While the idea for the Street Glide was to take an Electra Glide and essentially make it cooler by the subtraction and addition of accessories, the OE (Original Equipment) Street Glide as offered from the dealer is still rather understated as custom bikes go.
For the better part of Harley’s illustrious 100-plus year history Harley provided a canvas to riders and then stocked dealerships with parts and accessories (PA) to tailor and customize as wanted and needed. As the 20th century was fading and perhaps due to extenuating circumstances the factory started the Custom Vehicles Operations (CVO) division to offer factory customized, limited-edition motorcycles. Over the years a few generalizations regarding CVO bikes have become apparent.
We say generalization because it is unlikely there is a CVO rulebook somewhere deep behind the red-bricked Juneau Avenue headquarters. The first of the CVO bikes was based on the famed FXR chassis that was a half-decade since discontinued by 1999. Over the first two years of the CVO program Harley offered three different iterations of the FXR: the FXR-2, -3, and -4 and each was powered by the 80ci Evolution motor that ironically was also phased out on the rubbermount Big Twins in 1999.
The Softails carried the venerable Evo one more year, into 2000, when the balanced Twin Cam motor debuted for the solid-mount Big Twin motorcycles. Like its future siblings the CVO FXRs were prettied up with the addition of Harley-produced paint sets only available on the CVO, along with wheels and lots of chrome goodies. Much of the paint and graphics processes are done by hand and with the highest quality control to assure the premium and unique qualities expected of a CVO.
For those of you following Harley and the CVOs the bikes did carry the Screamin’ Eagle moniker, beginning in 2000 with what would become the future of the program: Screamin’ Eagle Road Glide with a 95ci Twin Cam motor. The black and orange bike with white highlights had a large and bold Screamin’ Eagle graphic that stretched from the rear of the saddlebags to the front of the fixed fairing. There was a more subdued version of that bike as well.
That styling idea of offering paint schemes from wild to more subtle on each CVO model has also become somewhat of a trademark of the CVO bikes. Since the CVO FXRs all of the CVO models has been based, sometimes loosely, on an existing model in the OE lineup.
One of the many strengths of the CVO program is its ability to conceive and produce motorcycles that are relevant to what is happening in the marketplace when they are released. Styles and fads change and it’s not easy to predict if last year’s trend will be next years dud. These machines are the biggest and baddest bikes coming out of the Milwaukee manufacturer, although the bikes are assembled in York, Pennsylvania.
A select group of engineers and designers create cutting-edge bikes that incorporate the latest technology and innovations aimed at the premium crowd. Big motors, big paint, and big style are targeted to H-D’s core and primarily affluent customers. Harley has done extensive research to offer these customers a more exclusive experience.
Contrary to what we hear on the streets, CVO owners actually ride more miles per year on average than do non-CVO riders. And although the CVO bikes come loaded with the latest in parts and accessories they still shell out more cash on PA.; While the owners love the bikes, the CVO motorcycles also create aspiration among prospective buyers who seek the ultimate in rideable art while still having a bike that comes with full factory and dealer support.
Many of the custom touches added to CVO bikes are available in the PA; catalog, so an OE bike owner can add touches as time, money, or desire warrant. For owners that know what they want the CVO motorcycles are a value as it’s impossible to build the same bike from parts for less money. It appears Harley may even use the CVO program as a testing ground for future motor developments as the larger capacity engines that made their way in to the OE models were first offered only on the limited number CVO bikes.
While the main goals of the CVO program are to produce cutting-edge features and performance, they also develop what the company calls “a custom of one,” a close relationship between all customers and PA. Harley uses real world data from riders and from the streets to rallies of the world to offer what riders want. A lot of energy is put into the fit, function, and style of new PA.
There is interplay at work between the OE Harley engineers and designers that helps both independently operated units. The rideable art philosophy of the CVO program must quickly identify and adapt to current trends and the pace is extremely fast from discussion to market. It has to be or the bikes could appear dated.
At the heart of the CVO program and a mantra among the CVO members is to take a good stock bike and make it better through style and design.
While much is known regarding the CVO motorcycles we wanted to get a better understanding of the inner workings of the department. We reached out to Jennifer Hoyer our main communications contact at Harley and she set up an exclusive interview with Randy Klopfer, the CVO Team Manager for the Street Glide platform. Each specific model of CVO has its own team of engineers and stylists responsible for that machine from idea through production.
Julie Chichlowski, an extremely focused and energetic woman, is the Director of the CVO program. There are four CVO models this year (and the past five years) so there is a CVO Team Manager for each platform. Also at the core of each team are an Assistant Team Manager, two engineers, a designer, and two purchasing personnel.
The CVO team working at the Juneau Avenue building works closely with Harley’s overall styling department at the Product Development Center and PA throughout the process.
While CVO is a division of Harley-Davidson it is operated like a free standing business in that CVO makes its own decisions and owns its model content. CVO employees are generally ex-OE Harley employees that are at the top of their game. Most of the people working for CVO are the best of the best at what they do, and since many of the CVO concepts become integrated into Harleys OE bikes it makes sense that the CVO program is afforded such respect and independence.
CVO members personally attend events, dealerships, and ride the streets looking for inspiration and seeing what’s going on from the rider’s perspective.
Each Team Manager is the kind of person (yes, men and women) that inspires, someone completely capable of running and operating their own successful business. For example, a new CVO model has a maximum idea to market time of 18 months, but the real work is less than a year. Following the launch of the new CVOs (usually August of each year) the teams immediately start on building next years bikes.
But building in this case is complicated by factors not necessarily applicable to other custom bike builders: feasibility of the ideas and cost. Although CVOs are premium bikes the cost has to be justifiable to prospective owners, whereas a custom builder can offer an estimate and the price can change along the way depending on adding or subtracting options.
CVO positions are highly sought after within H-D and among a particular skillset such as engineer or designer, CVO members must have a quick-to-market mindset, can work under tight timeframes and deadlines, and have a thorough understanding of the production process of building motorcycles at the factory and consumer level. Each CVO team has a brainstorming session and after the styling and model have been decided the Team Manager must put together a business plan with every aspect such as manufacturing, supply, and engineering of the motorcycle accounted for, the target audience, justification, costs, etc.
If a new part or technology is sought after the Team Manager must do the research and find out who is producing such part. In the case of the CVO Street Glide here, Randy had to consult with Apple to produce the interface between the Apple iPod docking plug and the Harman/Kardon audio unit. Then the cost and delivery aspects of the part must be factored in before the plan can move forward.
If a new part or process is to be sourced from within Harley, the Team Manager musty have a thorough understanding of how the process works, and what it takes and how long from order to shelf. Any glitch in any of these and the bike may not get produced on time.
Even with such a tight schedule the development of each CVO is an iterative process that goes down different paths throughout development. After approval of the Team Managers proposal and the budget and resources devoted to the project by H-D corporate the teams get to work. A lot of communication must occur between the styling departments and the PA division—the success of H-D as a whole, PA, and CVO are critically dependent on teamwork.
It’s an orchestrated dance between creative types with big ideas and engineers and production personnel to assure the goal of getting parts that people want to market on time and within budget.
Each Thursday throughout the year the teams get together with H-D’s other styling people including Willie G. Davidson to assess progress and make necessary changes. The paint is one of the most distinctive aspects of a CVO motorcycle and a lot of resources go into the choices made here. After the color, the graphics are decided upon. Sketches are made and debated. Colors must be mixed and then tested on real bikes.
This process takes about six months and the paint is observed inside, under different lighting conditions, as well as outside in the direct sunlight. It’s a labor-intensive process and serious business—the pride comes through on these bikes. Each CVO model employs differeng levels of “flashy” as well; from subtle paint and graphics to the high-impact “look at my CVO” colors and graphics.
All of the exclusive to CVO paint design is done locally in Wisconsin at Calibre where a team of workers attends to the painstaking process of producing what the stylists and designers envisioned. Pinstriping, buffing, and sanding are all done by hand. When we visited the Calibre factory it was surprising to see that all of the pinstripers were women.
After our tour of the facility we invited all of the workers to come outside to see their handiwork in person as a group of us rode CVOs from H-D’s factory to Calibre. It was a moving moment to see the pride on these people’s faces and how their hard work and attention to detail was appreciated by riders.
Even the badges that appear on CVOs are unique and a lot of energy goes into making them spectacular. After a drawing is made and decision made the badge is constructed three-dimensionally in a computer program. Even then, the design has to be feasible from a manufacturing perspective and have impact. Paul Martin a graphic designer from the styling department was responsible for the eagle badge on the Street Glide.
Paul worked closely with other stylists and led by Brian Nelson, the main content designer. Brian bridges the gap between H-D’s OE styling and that of CVO.
On the motor front CVO gets to try new coatings and configurations before anyone else. In 2011 the Kryptonite bike was a trial for H-D’s black engine. In 2012 the Road Glide will get a black engine while the Street Glide gets a chrome version. Going to a larger motor also necessitates other changes.
The exhaust had to be retuned for sound, but it also produces more power. While the engineers were at it, the lower frequency sounds of the exhaust were increased while still staying compliant to federal sound standards. It sounds better to us and that’s ultimately what’s important to riders—looks, sound, and power.
To handle the extra power from the larger engine the CVOs employ a hydraulically activated clutch along with a redesigned and heavier clutch spring. The hydraulics make clutch pull easier and another benefit is no maintenance compared to cable actuated clutches.
There are little things that the CVO team focuses on that make a big difference. The front wheel on this year’s CVO Street Glide (the third year in a row for this model) is 19 inches, but the wheel “appears” larger than that. The drop center (distance between the rotors and edge of the rim) of the wheels was reduced and that makes the wheels appear larger than they are.
From an engineering standpoint there is always a delicate balance between handling and looks, as well as tire availability. A lighter wheel is beneficial to handling, and even acceleration and braking. To reduce mass and the spinning inertia of the wheels, CVO employed a casting process instead of the billet approach of many custom wheels.
The Agitator wheels on the CVO Street Glide are hollow. You’ll also notice there is no carrier for the floating brake rotors. This reduces complexity but also reduces any squeal from resonance that some rotor-wheel combinations can experience.
Helping out the wheels is a suspension that was tuned for the bike. The rear hydraulic shocks are customer friendly, requiring no air or tools to adjust. The shocks are more responsive and more resistant to bottoming out compared to the OE air-assist units.
We’ve saved the best part of the new CVO Street Glide for the end: the audio system. Never before has such a sound system been employed on a factory produced motorcycle. In total there are eight speakers driven by the Harman/Kardon Advanced Audio System: four in the inner fairing, two in the fairing lowers, and two more in the saddlebag lids; two 200-watt amplifiers, iPod dock with charging capabilities.
Before the details are revealed here is some insight into how a model like this comes to market. CVO targeted a younger CVO customer based on the premium audio, paint, and the low profile two-piece seat, all attributes seen in the custom hot rod bagger scene. Market research determined an average age for the CVO Ultra is 52 versus the CVO Street Glide at 48.
In addition, CVO heard loud and clear from customers of the 2011 CVO Street Glide, that the audio was great and they wanted more. CVO knew they could implement what the aftermarket was exploiting on H-Ds. With that in mind the CVO Street Glide was designed as the flagship aspirational CVO model for specific outreach markets, and specifically young adults and African Americans.
As a comparison, the CVO Ultra has premium audio also but is not the over-the-top audio like the Street Glide, specifically chosen to be different. The CVO Road Glide would have also benefited from the speaker in the saddlebag lids but was a differentiator feature between the Road Glide and the Street Glide that CVO wanted to be separate.
Borrowing from the aftermarket Harley and CVO designed fairing lowers to carry 61⁄2-inch speakers and saddlebag lids to house 5×7-inch speakers. The inner fairing has two 51⁄4-inch speakers as well as the addition of two 2-inch tweeters. This is big, high-end audio—it’s not a system adapted from a boat supply store but designed to work in the environments motorcycles experience.
A major challenge was overcoming wind and engine noise and getting the proper balance between high and low frequencies found in music. Each speaker was “tuned” to provide the right sound while not having to make the speakers or enclosures too large and insightly. The bigger a box or speaker that is used the more low frequency (bass) sound can be generated and heard.
To get more power to the speakers the audio head unit was augmented with two small amplifiers.
Extensive testing was done for the best sound and weather protection for the new speakers. For weather protection, each speaker has a one-piece cone without a seam and a seal surround to keep out the elements. Speakers were treated to testing that put them through the extremes.
For water resistance the speakers were put into a chamber that replicates the worst rain imaginable, the so-called 100-year downpour. The “HOGwash” test was used to simulate a one-hour powerwashing. The speakers were even filled with water and frozen solid before turning on the radio.
Apparently, as soon as the signal was applied to the speaker, the vibration immediately began melting the ice. That may sound extreme but Harley needs to stand by thousands if not more speakers that will be subject to all kinds of abuse. We’ve seen H-D employees riding motorcycles in the winter. Speakers were left out in the Arizona sun and subjected to dust and dirt to make sure they would withstand anything a rider could throw at them.
A simulated 18,000-mile ride over bumps was done while cranking the music at high levels.
Once all of those attributes were developed it was time to actually listen to and tweak the speakers even more. A lot of on-road testing was performed because a stereo might sound great in the parking lot and terrible once up to speed. Even the angle of the saddlebag speakers had to be taken into account, as the mechanical movement of a speaker cone can be altered and sound different when highway speed wind hits a speaker.
Harley-Davidson has state-of-the-art sound facilities that are used for development of motors, exhausts, etc. This acoustic lab facility was used to further tune the frequency response of the speakers with and without engine and exhaust noise.
We have to say that the audio system rivals some of the best home audio equipment we’ve ever heard. After riding home from work we found ourselves hitting the beach and just parking the bike to wind down with some tunes. Because of the system aspect of the eight speakers the dynamic range is amazing—producing thumping bass that can be felt in your chest to the highest cymbal crashes.
Even at speeds well above the speed limit the audio is crystal clear, able to discriminate the most subtle of musical passages. We’ve said this before and it’s never been more true: big audio is the new loud pipes. This audio system will easily get you noticed and pulled over by the police if possibly just to know who makes such a fine system.
It’s no secret that the Street Glide has been a favorite motorcycle of this magazine. The 2011 CVO Street Glide was an awesome bike but for 2012 the CVO Street Glide fills in the audio gaps. With the inclusion of Harley’s premium speakers and amps we have dubbed this FLHX the BOOM! Glide.
If we had our choice this is the one bike we would own. It’s not as plush or smooth as an Ultra due to the lowered and tuned suspension, but all in all this machine delivers outstanding performance, style, and unmatchable sound. B
2012 CVO Street Glide Features
• Twin Cam 110 granite powdercoated powertrain with 110 Screamin’ Eagle identifiers on cylinder heads
• Automatic cylinder head compression releases
• Black high-torque 1.4kW starter
• High-performance clutch with hydraulic actuation
• Hydraulic rear shocks with hand-adjustable preload
• Harley-Davidson Smart Security System with immobilizer and siren
• Three exclusive paint schemes: Dark Slate/Black Diamond with Phantom Flame graphics; Hot Citrus/Antique Gunstock with Phantom Flame graphics; Ruby Red/Typhoon Maroon with Phantom Flame graphics.
• Color-matched components include: fairing lowers with speaker housings, license plate light cover, saddlebag latch covers and rear strut covers
• Custom console insert with chrome CVO emblem and LED back light
• Color-matched rear fascia panel incorporates LED stop/turn/taillights
• Custom low profile, solo leather touring seat with an embossed pattern
• Matching detachable passenger pillion and passenger backrest pad
• High-output amplified audio system with 100 watts of power per channel (400 watts total) and eight custom speakers
• Saddlebag lids molded to hold custom 5×7-inch speakers with bridged tweeters
• 8GB Apple iPod nano and iPod holder
• Diamond Cut, Charcoal faces on speedometer, tachometer, and 2-inch gauges
• Diamond Cut, Charcoal inserts for timer cover, derby cover, and ignition switch
• 19-inch, seven-spoke Mirror Chrome Agitator Custom front wheel and Agitator floating brake rotors with chrome center web
• Side-fill fuel tank (a la Road King) with chrome flush-mount LED fuel gauge and flush-mount cap
• Smoked, 7-inch Electra Glide wind deflector
• Customer Care package that includes a tool kit, microfiber detail cloth, and H-D jiffy stand coaster
• Rumble Collection includes grips, rider floorboard inserts, passenger and shifter pegs, and brake pedal pad
• Anti-Lock Brakes (ABS)
• Electronic Cruise Control
• Smoked turn signal lenses with amber bulbs
• Carry-out saddlebag liners
• Injection-molded, extended saddlebags, full depth with contoured bottoms and increased storage
• Chrome Accessories: voltage regulator, classic front axle nut covers, lower triple tree cover, front wheel spacer, valve stem cover caps, dipstick, rider footboard supports, passenger footboard supports
Harley-Davidson Boom! Audio Custom Touring Sound System
Aside from the deep, pearl-filled paint, accessories, and 110-inch motor, the CVO Street Glide arguably boasts the highest quality sound system ever offered on a motorcycle anywhere. The clarity and volume of sound rivals most riders’ home audio systems.
At the heart of the system is the Harman/Kardon Advanced Audio System that is found on all ’06-later radio-equipped Road and Electra Glide models. Dual Amps and eight speakers deliver exceptional sound clarity. The Boom!
Audio Custom Touring System (PN 76000209, $1,895.95) found on the 2012 CVO Street Glide is available from Harley-Davidson Genuine Motor Accessories. The speakers and system combines inner fairing, fairing lower, and saddlebag-mounted speakers to envelop the rider and passenger in music.
Fits ’06-later Street Glide and ’06-09 Electra Glide Standard models equipped with Advanced Audio Radio. Requires separate purchase of a Vented Color-Matched Fairing Lower Kit and appropriate Saddlebag Lids. Not compatible with Tour-Pak, Heavy Breather Air Cleaner, and some other audio accessories.
The Dealer Digital Technician software update is required and dealer installation is recommended. A Boom! Audio Saddlebag Speaker Kit (PN 76000202, $369.95) and Boom!
Audio Fairing Lower Speaker Kit (PN 76000050, $219.95) are available as separate items. See an authorized Harley-Davidson dealer for fitment details or harley-davidson.com .
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