25 February 2024

Has Harley-Davidson created the ultimate touring motorcycle?


Will the newest incarnation of Harley’s iconic Road Glide raise the stakes in the most expensive motorcycle category? We ride the brand-new 121ci monster. 

Yes, I know that is a deliberately inflammatory assertion made in full knowledge of the several excellent contenders in the category of big bore tarmac tourers. 

Some of you will also surely argue the FLTRXSE is just Milwaukee finally catching up to the likes of Honda’s legendary Goldwing, Indian’s Roadmaster or BMW’s brutish K 1600 GTL. And if you’ve been reading my last few stories, you’ll know my leaning towards America’s favourite lump of heavy metal.

All that aside, let us try and be as objective as possible with our review of this landmark All American Tourer.

The thing that first drew me to this $64k+ machine was the introduction of the new 121ci (1977cc) Milwaukee-Eight engine with Variable Valve Timing (VVT). We all remember the fanfare back in 2018 when this clean slate powerplant in 'entry-level' 107ci form was introduced in the Softail and Touring range. 

Even though the ninth generation of Harley’s stalwart "big twin" engine incorporated numerous modern enhancements, like the use of eight valves instead of four, it retained pushrod actuation and air cooling, although fan-assisted oil cooling supplements the air in top range CVO models.

Notice the oversized airbox on the new 121ci Milwaukee-Eight (supplied)

The Motor Company quietly released details of the 121ci power plant back in June 2023 as well as enhancements to the CVO Road Glide which was then slated as the debut model to feature the new unit. Despite what you may read elsewhere, the 121 VVT unit is available in the Road Glide CVO (FLTRXSE) - which was our test bike - and for 2024, the CVO Street Glide (FLHXSE). Yes, CVO Road Glide ST (FLTRXSTSE) is also listed in the MY24 lineup. And I’ve confirmed all three 121-equipped models are listed on the Harley-Heaven dealer website although the ST features the extra special High Output (HO) non-VVT version tuned to produce 94kW and 193 Nm - H-D’s most powerful factory-fitted engine. Are you keeping up?

Even with the fancy new VVT, the eight valves are still pushrod activated and advanced or retarded with the camshaft timing adjusted infinitely through a potential range of 40 degrees of crankshaft rotation (20 degrees of camshaft rotation).

According to the factory bulletin, “The Milwaukee-Eight 121 VVT V-Twin engine produces 86 kW at 4500 RPM and 189 Nm torque at 3000 RPM.”

It goes on to mention “optimized liquid-cooled cylinder heads with a new cooling system and a new intake tract. A single counter-balancer is tuned to cancel undesirable vibration.”

The aforementioned “cooling system” actually involves various electric pumps and fans aiding the coolant solution which first attends to the hotter rear cylinder head, then to the front cylinder head, and then to a new fan-assisted radiator. Yes, I did notice the difference, especially when pulling up after a spot of spirited riding.

Also from my test ride and from factory press material, I can tell you other aspects of the Road Glide are enhanced for 2024. 

The cylinder heads have been reworked and besides the new cooling system, combustion chambers are reshaped with oval intake ports, low-profile intake valve seats and an enhanced ‘squish band’ (look that up if you need to), which together, 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 and the new airbox has 50 per cent more volume than the previous ‘heavy breather’.

The sharknose fairing takes on new life with a sculpted silhouette, fully integrated LED lighting, and a new windshield design. (supplied)

The distinctive Road Glide frame-mounted ‘Shark Nose’ now has a wide, single LED headlamp and “the aft edge of the new fairing relates to the fuel tank shape, and the edge of the lower portion of the fairing to the front engine cylinder.” Now I’m an average 174cm and I still found I was buffeted around at legal highway speeds although I was able to reduce that somewhat with use of the adjustable vane at the top edge of the fairing.

CVO models have always offered special paint schemes and so it is for 2024 with the optional Legendary Orange (+$10k) two-tone with color-matched inner fairing.

Out on the road, most of my riding was conservative and understandably cautious and after about 1000kms of both city and country riding, I came in at 4.2l/100kms. Fuel tank capacity is almost 23 litres, so a range of 500kms can be reliably achieved with care.

2024 CVO Road Glide (supplied)

This was using mostly ‘Road’ setting on the ‘Mode’ control with a mix of ‘Rain’ during the Huner Valley storms. I did get the opportunity to explore the ‘Sport’ setting when ominous dark clouds threatened to dump their load on me as I hightailed it southward on the newly resealed Castlereagh Highway to my accommodation at the comfy Commercial Hotel in Wallerawang.

I figured there was little chance of Highway Patrol or radar in such threatening conditions, so I pushed the envelope a bit and was delighted at the handling and responsiveness of the big twin on the numerous sweeping curves and rollercoaster crests. The intervention of the VVT is not as pronounced as some automotive equivalents where it tends to ‘bite’. Instead, it’s in constant, almost imperceptible adjustment, delivering theoretically ideal timing for any given rev range and governed, not by revs, but by oil pressure. I know, right?

All information and data is displayed on the 12-inch TFT screen (supplied)

I know Harley-Davidson would also want me to wax lyrically about the long list of technology and infotainment features on the CVO, but space prohibits this.

Suffice to say that the Rockford Fosgate 150W sound system will ensure everybody hears you coming, although personally I tend to equate motorcycle sound systems to ashtrays, yet clearly there is a demand for concert-level HiFi on top end Harleys. That same tech mainframe will interface with your Apple or Android phone via Bluetooth delivering music, communication and navigation on the wide, 12-inch TFT screen.

Naturally a host of rider aids will assist you manhandle this near-400kg beast. 

The list includes Cornering Electronically Linked Brembo twin-disc Brakes, Cornering ABS, Traction Control and Drag Torque Slip Control as well as Vehicle Hold Control and Tyre Pressure Monitoring.

For the detail obsessive, I encourage you to fire up the Google machine, put a rainy afternoon aside and search to your heart’s content. 

Full details, pricing etc can be found at www.harley-davidson.com

Test bike supplied by Harley-Davidson ANZ

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