The Harley-Davidson CVO Softail Custom

We take the Harley-Davidson CVO Softtail Custom out for a ride.

CraveOnlineby CraveOnline


It’s not a secret to motorcycle fans that Harley-Davidson has been looking to reinvent itself in recent years. The evidence is right in front of your eyes when you view they’re ever evolving model line.

The traditional Harley-Davidson image features a big touring bike, perhaps kitted out with saddle bags and a fat faring. The brains behind the Milwaukee-based company realize they must continually reach out to younger riders, and that new generation is constantly tempted by metric street models, Japanese and Italian racers and dirt bikes.

So, America’s oldest and biggest maker of motorcycles trotted out new, smaller sleeker models with a more modern attitude, like the Dark Custom Iron 883, the Street Bob and – my personal favorite – the Night Rod Special.

But, even during this youth-centered re-invention, Harley-Davidson knows it has a solid cadre of veteran riders across the country who still want that meaty motorcycle– a sit-straight bike with a big V-twin and a comfortable seat to trot out come warmer weather.

The Harley-Davidson CVO (Custom Vehicle Operations) Softail Convertible is both a look back at those beefy rides that built Harley-Davidson’s legend – with a slathering of the modern technology surging through the changes in the midwestern assembly lines. Essentially, the CVO line’s intention is to provide the top of the Harley-Davidson line.

The concept of the CVO Softail Convertible is to serve up a technology and feature rich motorcycle that can be quickly and easily converted with optional features. Depending on what options you choose to trick out your ride, you can build up a massive, broad shouldered touring bike with a thick fairing, stereo, hard or soft saddle bags, etc. Or, the owner strip it down to a cruiser minimalist look – with its metallic fleck-painted frame and chrome pipes.

The convertible concept is unique to the CVO Softail Convertible. A detachable pillion, a windshield and saddlebags come with the motorcycle. The rider gets to choose which elements he or she wants to keep on the bike depending on functional needs and aesthetic tastes. In a sense, a a CVO Softail Convertible buyer is purchasing a transformer – or two motorcycles in one frame (a touring bike and a street cruiser).

These kind of features don’t come cheap. For the considerable price tag of $30,000+, the CVO Softail Convertible packs an air-cooled Twin Cam 110B engine with electronic sequential fuel injection, providing 105 ft. lbs. of torque. There are also features like GPS, ABS and stereo audio. Essentially, if Harley-Davidson has a technology in their shop, it goes into the CVO line.

With broad, heavy pedals and high-hanging handle bars, the CVO Softail Convertible’s ergonomics are comfortable enough. It’s extremely stable even at higher speeds. I confess that I nicked a chunk of road debris with my rear tire north of 50 mph. Such a bump in the road might have left me off balance and ready to dump a smaller bike. But, the big CVO Softail Convertible never broke stride.

It’s not a bike for everyone – regardless of whether a prospective buyer likes the CVO Softail Convertible’s comfort, stability and visual design. Its weight and construction – its general beefiness – make it feel like a cycle for a veteran rider with some physical strength and two-wheeled experience. The clutch and front brake levers require the kind of grip that little guys complain about when they encounter an aggressive handshake. It has the sort of unforgiving turning radius that gets would-be riders flunked on their road tests.

But those challenges shouldn’t be a problem for a CVO Softail Convertible buyer. An experienced rider can control and enjoy this bike – and very few beginners are in the market for motorcycle selling north of $30,000.

In the end, there are daintier bikes to ride. And there are countless more affordable motorcycles on the market. But the CVO Softail Convertible is a traditional Harley-Davidson’s owners dream bike – the kind of vehicle they save up their money to ride.

And, as smooth and dignified a ride as it is, that’s why this particular make is not the motorcycle for me. It’s a little too much of everything. Too built up and too heavy. If I was buying a Milwaukee-made motorcycle this week, I’d instead head for the smaller, sleeker and more modern Dark Custom entries, such as the Iron 883, the Nightster, or the VRod Muscle.