It wasn't long after Harley Davidson announced the new Milwaukee-Eight 107 cubic inch (1753 cc) and 114 cubic inch (1868 cc) engines that some were calling it the next great engine revolution for the company. Then Harley started selling bikes with those engines, and the forums lit up with riders who either supported that statement or pointed out how the various engine, transmission and suspension changes made for some very un-Harley-like machines. Needless to say, when we had the opportunity to get our hands on a brand new 2017 CVO Limited powered by the Milwaukee-Eight 114 cubic inch powerplant, we couldn't wait to see what all of the hubbub was about.
Before we get into our impressions, we have to point out that we were told the list price on the bike we had for 10 days was around US$45,000. That's about $5,000 over the base price of this model, but we were never quite clear what kind of extras this bike had beyond those it already came with. Suffice to say, this was about as much luxury as you could get on two wheels.
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By price comparison alone, the Indian Roadmaster comes with similar features, but lists at about $30,000. But having ridden that bike, and most of the rest of the Indian lineup powered by the 111 cubic inch Thunderstroke engine, we can honestly say that the Harley Davidson has put Indian and the rest of the V-Twin world on notice.
The Milwaukee-Eight 114 is a twin-cooled, 4-valve per head, asphalt-eating beast that kicks out 124 ft lb of torque. By comparison, the 111 cubic inch engine in the Indian Roadmaster is rated at 119.2 ft lb of torque. Need we say more?
Lest you think Harley stuck this big engine on a newly designed chassis and didn't address potential vibration issues, think again. The only time you'll feel any kind of a shake or shimmy on this bike is at a dead stop. Once you roll on the throttle, all of that disappears. At speeds well over the speed limit, we never once felt a single buzz, rattle or vibration from any point on the bike. That's accomplished with rubber mounts and the use of an internal counter balancer that is said to cancel 75 percent of the engine shake.
Shifting is unbelievably smooth, thanks to the self-torque-boosting clutch with Brembo hydraulic actuation, and a redesigned transmission that keeps things quiet up and down the 6-speed range. Our only nit here was that Neutral was nearly impossible to get to.
While the exhaust on the CVO did not have the familiar "po-ta-to, po-ta-to" sound of a typical Harley at rest, it still emitted a nice throaty note once you opened it up. New owners will no doubt be rushing to install aftermarket exhausts to try to resurrect that familiar sound and give it more rumble.
Cornering is pretty effortless and belies the heft of the bike. You can't necessarily dive into corners, but taking them at speeds double the warning limit isn't that difficult or disconcerting. This can mostly be attributed to a new 49-mm fork that the company says incorporates "dual bending valve fork technology." We still aren't sure what that means, but it does the trick.
Bringing this nearly half-a-ton (940 lb/426 kg) version of a fast-as-hell barcalounger to a stop is an ABS system featuring Brembo brakes. As a result, braking is relatively smooth and definitely effortless.
Where we found the CVO limiting was in its ergonomics. Harleys, in general, place the rider closer to the handlebars. If you're not used to that, you're going to feel a little cramped, especially compared to riding other big V-Twins like a Victory or an Indian, both of which have a more stretched-out tank and a feeling that there's more leg room.
That close feeling is accentuated by floorboards that aren't particularly spacious, oversized passenger floorboards that are large enough to hit the back of your calves, and a brake pedal that's about the size of one you'd find in a car. Couple this with a seat height of 29.9 inches (76 cm) and you get the feeling you're sitting on the bike rather than in it.
For those who like a high degree of comfort on their long or short rides, the CVO delivers. The list includes heated grips (controlled on the left hand grip), cushy heated seating for both rider and passenger, a lined and lit trunk, and lights mounted under the passenger armrests that light up the top side of the saddlebags.
The fixed windshield does a fine job of cutting the wind and keeping buffeting to a near minimum. But we're wondering why Harley decided not to include an electric windshield on a bike at this price. That's a standard feature on the Indian Chieftan and Roadmaster, and the Victory Vision.
Harley also added an interesting locking feature we actually wish all bikes came with. Remember the day when you could lock the front fork with your ignition key? In this case you turn the front fork to the lock position, turn a locking knob then hit the lock button on your ignition fob. The latter also remotely locks the trunk and side bags; the latter of which is great for holding small items, but you'll never get a helmet of any size in them.
The CVO also comes with Harley's multi-function Boom Box entertainment and media system housed in a 6.5-inch, in-dash mounted touch screen. The system features multiple screen and handlebar-mounted buttons that let you quickly shuttle between various functions. This includes a plethora of radio bands, Bluetooth and USB connectivity, and a comprehensive navigation system.
Our favorite feature was the 75-watt per channel sound system that delivered clear sound at any speed.
Finally, the fit and finish is superb. The paint sparkled, the chrome shone bright and there were no rattles or buzzes coming from anywhere. For $45,000, this is as it should be, but this is an area Harley has typically been noted for, particularly in its CVO bikes.
At one point, though, we found all of the buttons and electronics a bit distracting. We get that these are the features that help make long rides more enjoyable, but we wonder at what point do they take away from the raw feeling that riding a bike gives you. There's something to be said about riding without feeling like you have to be able to take a call or having to stop and admit you're lost and have to ask for directions.
So would we recommend this bike? For those who don't mind spending this kind of money on what is essentially a factory made, semi-custom, and if you can somehow forgive the slightly compressed ergos, we say go for it. The rest of you might want to forego the CVO version and head downstream to the touring bikes with the slightly smaller Milwaukee-Eight 107 and satisfy your Harley itch for about $20,000 less.
Harley-Davidson isn't saying what other bikes will be equipped with the new Milwaukee-Eight engines, but we're hoping that the 114 and all of the power it kicks out ends up in a cruiser sooner than later. We'd stand in line to ride that.
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