2012 Harley Davidson CVO Softail Convertible Review

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2012 Harley Davidson CVO Softail Convertible Review: Introduction

2012 Harley-Davidson CVO Softail Convertible
A rear view of the CVO Softail Convertible, seen here in Crimson Red Sunglo with Scarlet Crystal Graphics. Photo © Riles/Nelson

Harley Davidson's new-for-2012 Switchback model makes headlines with its quick-change abilities and $15,999 starting price, but the original 2-in-1 Hog is the pricier, limited edition CVO Softail Convertible.

What does this $29,699 custom cruiser/tourer have to offer that the humbler Switchback doesn't? To find out, read "The Goods."

>>Click here to see the 2012 Harley-Davidson CVO Lineup>>Click for a review of the 2012 Harley-Davidson CVO Road Glide Custom

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The Goods: Gadgets and Gizmos Aplenty... plus, LOTS of Chrome

2012 Harley-Davidson CVO Softail Convertible
Chrome welded, internally wired 1.25-inch mini-ape handlebars frame the CVO Softail Convertible's cockpit, which includes a Garmin zumo 660 navigation system and 3.5 inch 2-way speakers powered by a 20 watt/channel amplifier. Photo © Riles/Nelson

Custom Vehicle Operations Harleys are limited edition motorcycles baked in chrome, hand-painted details, and the biggest v-twins the Motor Company will stuff into their color-coordinate frames. Of this year's four bike CVO lineup, the Softail Convertible returns for the third year in a row, with a price of $29,699, plus $380 in freight fees and an additional $200 for California emissions. Limited to 1,500 units, the CVO Softail Convertible is the rarest of the 2012 CVOs; for a little perspective, the highest volume bike is the CVO Street Glide, which will see 3,500 units.

As with all CVOs, the Softail Convertible is powered by a 110 cubic inch (1,802cc) air-cooled v-twin producing 105 ft-lbs of torque at 2,750 rpm. The mill is mated to a 6-speed Cruise Drive transmission, and together they're capable of achieving a combined fuel economy figure of 45 mpg. In keeping with the Softail platform, this engine is counterbalanced and rigid-mounted to the frame. The pushrod-actuated twin runs with a 9.15:1 compression ratio, fed by a 5 gallon fuel tank; the rear wheel is driven via belt drive.

Unique Features
Front and center with the CVO Softail Convertible-- just like the Switchback-- is its easily changeable personality. Like the Switchback, the windscreen and saddlebags can be quickly removed without tools. For 2012, the Softail's screen underwent computational fluid dynamics development for re-worked airflow, resulting in better wind protection. Unlike the Switchback, the Softail's lockable, sealed bags are finished in distressed leather (in satin pewter) or reptile inserts. Additionally, the CVO model's custom leather seat is backed by a removable pillion seat and a backrest pad.

Standard items include keyless ignition, anti-lock brakes, cruise control, a Roadtech zumo 660 navigation system, and an integrated stereo. The stereo is built into the detachable fairing, and consists of an integrated set of two 2-way, 3.5-inch speakers connected to a 20-watt/channel amplifier. An audio cable in the glove box can be connected to an iPod, and instrumentation includes a digital speedometer nestled within an analog tachometer. Looming over the gauges are chrome welded, internally-wired 2.5-inch mini-ape handlebars, and just behind is a backlit CVO emblem that illuminates when the keyless ignition fob is within range.

Custom Bits
This CVO's got a lengthy laundry list of accessory components and painstakingly finished pieces, one that's too long to cover here. But a few highlights include the fuel tank's hand-painted skulls, Rumble Collection grips, floorboards, pegs and mirrors, and tons of chrome finished parts, including chrome finished 18-inch Stinger aluminum wheels with a 3D spoke design.

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On the Road: Touring Cruiser, or Cruising Tourer?

2012 Harley-Davidson CVO Softail Convertible
The 2012 Harley Davidson CVO Softail Convertible will only see 1,500 units produced. Photo © Harley-Davidson

Saddling up on Harley's CVO Softail Convertible reveals a similarly close relationship between saddle and tank as the Switchback. But the CVO's ergonomic setup is a bit more spacious, thanks to a seat that's 1.7 inches lower, higher-reach handlebars, and 2.1 more inches in overall length. The Softail is also a whopping 70 pounds heavier than the Dyna-based Switchback, since it doesn't benefit from the Switchback's smaller engine, reduced weight components (like its aluminum headlight nacelle), and (relative) lack of chrome.

Fire up the CVO, and its 110 engine kicks to life with a loud rumble and a smooth idle. The engine's counterbalanced internals help reduce 90 percent of primary vibrations, unlike the Dyna's intentionally vibe-tastic pulse that transmits through the seat and floorboards. The 110 cubic inch engine's peak torque occurs at 2,750 rpm, and acceleration is frisky enough off the line to feel that you don't have to rev excessively in order to extract entertaining performance from the mill. Thanks in part to its state of tune, considerable heat emanates from the engine when ambient temperatures rise.

Due to its low-slung geometry, the Softail Convertible has a maximum lean angles of 26 degrees on either side, a limitation which became apparent the moment I pulled out of the Calistoga, California hotel parking lot where the 2012 CVO product press launch was held: the Softail's floorboards scraped along the road as I banked it towards my intended path, reinforcing the concept that this bike isn't a canyon carver (particularly when compared to the CVO Road Glide Custom, which has a surprising knack for handling twisty stretches.)

Along Napa Valley's backroads, the Softail cruised with composure and its stereo offered decent sound from within the windscreen's canopy, which provides noticeably better wind protection compared to last year's model. The stereo is no match for mightier systems like the thundering 8-speaker setup found on the CVO Street Glide, but credit is due for its compact proportions and clever packaging.

After several hours in the saddle, I started wondering about whether or not this CVO was really intended for long distance rides; as it did on the Switchback, my tailbone started getting sore from a pressure point on the saddle, which seemed to stem from my 5 foot, 11 inch frame attempting to fit into a relatively small rider triangle (the relationship between the grips, saddle, and footpegs.) The bike cruised comfortably and handled big slabs-o-interstate with confidence and a nice, tall 6th gear that allowed the engine to hum along at low rpms. But the CVO's limited luggage space, high handlebars, and less-than-cushy saddle make it, at least for this reviewer, more of a cruising tourer, rather than a touring cruiser. For more on that distinction, read "The Bottom Line."

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Bottom Line: A Pricey Toy, But Caustic Critics Should Save Their Breath

2012 Harley-Davidson CVO Softail Convertible
It takes 8 days to hand paint a CVO tank; atop this Softail Convertible's tank is a backlit CVO emblem that indicates when the keyless ignition is armed. Photo © Riles/Nelson

Touring is gritty business.

Riders who pile on mile after mile tend to appreciate purposeful machines and don't mind getting splattered with bugs and all manner of road debris. Their rides tend to be purpose-oriented tools, not chrome slathered garage queens with custom paint jobs. That said, the Harley Davidson CVO Softail Convertible's touring pretensions are a bit half-hearted. I mean, look at it-- this is a glimmering, sparkly thing of two-wheeled beauty that you want to polish, not use to pound pavement. So while CVO customers are a dedicated bunch that aren't necessarily afraid of riding, the Softail Convertible (like the Switchback) feels better geared towards long-ish stretches on backroads and highways, rather than all-out long distance tours.

Don't get me wrong; what the CVO Softail Convertible does, it does very well. Its components integrate elegantly, its chrome and custom painted bits are intricate and beautifully executed, and anyone with the slightest attention to detail will appreciate why this limited production bike carries a nearly $30,000 price tag.

So while the Convertible may not fully exploit its touring potential, it succeeds at improving the delicate balance it holds between city bike and interstate cruiser. Oh, and those critics who will inevitably find fault with the bike's astronomical MSRP? They can rest assured that Harley-Davidson will have the last laugh; not only do CVO models constitute less than 4 percent of the nearly quarter million bikes the Motor Company produces yearly, these relatively rare motorcycles consistently manage to sell out.

>>Click here to see the 2012 Harley-Davidson CVO Lineup>>Click for a review of the 2012 Harley-Davidson CVO Road Glide Custom

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Specifications, Who Should Buy the Harley Davidson CVO Softail Convertible?

2012 Harley-Davidson CVO Softail Convertible
The CVO Softail Convertible's 110 cubic inch (1,802cc) v-twin puts out 105 ft-lbs of torque at 2,750 rpm. Photo © Riles/Nelson
  • Price: $29,699, plus $380 freight and $200 for California emissions
  • Engine: 110 cubic inch (1,802cc) air-cooled, fuel-injected v-twin
  • Output: 105 ft-lbs of torque @ 2,750 rpm
  • Transmission: 6-speed, Cruise Drive
  • Final Drive: Belt
  • Fuel Economy: 45 mpg
  • Frame: Mild steel tubular frame
  • Suspension: 41.3mm telescopic forks, rear hidden, horizontally-mounted coilover
  • Rake/Trail: 32º, 5.8 inches
  • Maximum Lean Angle: 26º
  • Brakes: 4-piston front, 2-piston rear with ABS
  • Seat Height: 26.2 inches (unladen), 24.4 inches (laden)
  • Fuel Capacity: 5.0 gallons
  • Curb Weight: 788 pounds
  • Warranty: 24 months, unlimited mileage
  • Service Interval: First 1,000 miles, every 5,000 miles thereafter
Who Should Buy the Harley-Davidson CVO Softail Convertible?
Deep pocketed custom motorcycle lovers who appreciate painstakingly detailed bikes that can switch personalities between short and medium-haul riding at the drop of a hat.

>>Click here to see the 2012 Harley-Davidson CVO Lineup>>Click for a review of the 2012 Harley-Davidson CVO Road Glide Custom