One was too much, one was too little, and one was just right.
I hate Florida. Hate it. I hate it with the furious passion of a million burning suns. Years ago I swore that I would never step foot in the Sunshine State again, a promise that I've kept religiously. Florida: Not Even Once. That said, when Harley-Davidson calls you up and personally invites you to Daytona Beach to ride brand new bikes and you haven't touched a bike in three months because Michigan winters suck, well, if you're me you find that even your most rigidly held beliefs are negotiable.
The Friday before Daytona Bike Week dawned cool and cloudy. I'd rolled in from Orlando International the previous evening around 20:00. After a lovely dinner with the Harley team and my colleagues—among whom was legendary MoJo and RA alum Peter Jones—and a good night's sleep, I was ready to ride some bikes. We convened for breakfast and the tech briefing, and after a fair amount of drinking coffee and dicking around, we piled into the hotel shuttle and off we went to pick up our bikes.
Bugs and I are of one mind when it comes to Florida.
Now, this wasn't going to be a typical press ride. We weren't all going to be riding the same bike all day. Not today. No, we were riding three different bikes—the new Softail Standard (which I can't stop calling the FX Softail), the 30th Anniversary Fat Boy, and the hi-po CVO Road Glide. The plan was for the four of us to trade bikes on and off all day so that we got seat time on each model. Kind of unorthodox, but I was into it. I mean, I hadn't touched a bike in three months due to winter and moving to a new house, so I was down for anything.
After an impromptu tour of the greater Daytona Beach metropolitan area thanks to our timid, easily confused driver, we arrived at Daytona International Speedway. The bikes were lined up all gassed up and ready inside Harley's demo fleet paddock. We got a quick overview of the bikes, took a few minutes for the requisite social media stuff, and finally hit the road.
We spent the next few hours really putting the bikes through their paces. Now, Florida isn't known for its stunning, technically challenging riding roads, but he Harley team did its best to find a route that wasn't all straight lines and swamplands. They were the kinds of roads Harleys thrive on—primarily straights with a few sweeping turns and the occasional corner just to keep us on our toes. Overall a really nice ride in pretty weather and not once were we menaced by an alligator or accosted by Florida Man.
Since this was a ride in which I rode three different bikes, I'm going to break up the reviews into three sections—one for each bike. At the end, I'll sum up my thoughts on all three as a group and give you all my final impressions which, I'm sure, is what you're all here for anyway. So, without further ado, let's talk about these sweet new Harleys.
2020 CVO Road Glide
The Road Glide is, hands down, my favorite Harley. It's my fave despite my general dislike for touring bikes and other big, bulky things that can't get out of their own way. I love its weird fairing, its close-set dual headlights, and its lines that, while clearly still based on an FL touring frame, seem longer and sleeker to me than their Electraglide siblings.
The monster, hi-po CVO is the Road Glide's apotheosis. It isn't just sleek and stylish, it's also big. From its over-large front wheel to its massive Milwaukee 8 lump to the big sound of the BOOM! sound system, it has all the presence and charisma of Shaquille O'Neil in a $10,000 suit—i.e. a lot.
At the CVO Road Glide's heart is a 117 cubic inch version of Harley's stout Milwaukee 8 mill mated to a six-speed transmission. This big stonking engine is the largest installed by Harley in a production bike and comes equipped with an upgraded performance cam and a big old Screamin' Eagle Heavy Breather (god I love that name) high-performance intake to let this monster breathe. The exhaust is a handsome two-into-two setup with a satin finish and black tips. We're talking some big iron here.
Out front is a huge 21-inch cast wheel with a skinny tire, a nod to the current, totally bonkers big wheel custom style (which I absolutely love). The wheel is finished in gloss black with smoked satin accents and looks pretty great in that classic FL front end. Aft is a matching, more traditional 18-inch wheels wrapped, like the front, in classic Harley Dunlop rubber. Braking is provided by four-piston calipers fore and aft, backed up by a slew of electronic rider aids like Harley's Reflex Defensive Rider Systems (RDRS), ABS, traction control, etc.
The CVO's infotainment package is the top of the line BOOM! Box GTS system. Controlled by a bright, easy to read, 6.5-inch touchscreen, it comes with everything Harley has to offer. There's the four-speaker—two in the fairing and two in the leading edges of the saddlebag lids—600 watt stereo, integrated navigation, and Apple CarPlay (with Android Auto coming down the pipe soon). It also features the new Harley-Davidson app, its very own cellular relay, and a slew of customization options. To top it all off, Harley throws in a BOOM! Audio 30K Bluetooth helmet comms system—a reskinned Sena 30K—with every purchase.
Looks-wise, the bike comes in a fantastic color that Harley calls Premium Sand Dune. It's a kind of bone-white color with a satin pearl finish on it. Depending on the light it looks white, beige, or haze gray and it looks deep and rich in the sun. The color is offset by satin black and red accents, including very nice CVO logos on the saddlebags. The classic Road Glide shark-nose fairing is enhanced by "Fang" lowers which look rad and keep more wind off the rider. It's an extremely good looking bike.
On the road, the CVO Road Glide is stately, king-like. It has gravitas. It also has an acceleration best described as glacial and a hilariously low, 5,500 rpm redline. I was constantly bouncing off the rev limited in first gear under heavy acceleration, which honestly is mostly my fault since I'm used to high-strung, 40-year-old, Japanese triples and inline-fours. That said, once you lug the CVO up to speed it moves. The big M8 117 pushes the bike along at a very respectable clip and provides the rider with short bursts of blinding straight-line speed which belie the bike's bulk. Much like a gator or, since we're talking about him, like Shaq.
The engine does its best work in 4th gear, loping along at around 2,200 RPM at 60 miles per hour. there's a seemingly bottomless well of torque to draw from, too. The engine is rated at 125 foot-pounds and it pulls like a tractor in every gear. It's honestly kind of impressive.
My biggest complaint about the CVO Road Glide is its size. It's a handful, especially at low speeds. Despite the bike's front suspension being specially set up for it, that big 21-inch wheel I like so much does the handling no favors. I found it kind of numb in traffic, and thanks to its sheer bulk, maneuvering the bike through tight spaces was hair-raising, to say the least. The CVO Road Glide is a lot. Almost too much, if you ask me.
To be fair, high-po, limited edition, $40K touring bikes aren't exactly my cup of tea. If such a machine is your cup of tea, though, I think you'll dig the CVO Road Glide. The combination of power, comfort, and looks is a potent one. It's an excellent addition to Harley's CVO collection. If you have the means, I highly recommend you pick one up.
2020 Softail Standard
Slid into the Softail lineup as a basic, blank-slate model perfect for customization, the Softail Standard is an extremely good looking bike. Offered only in black with a subtle throwback logo on the tank in dark gray, it's a stripped-down, no-nonsense, short-ranged cruiser.
As befits a base model bike, all the fat has been trimmed off the Softail Standard. Harley pared away the bits, bobs, and superfluous systems. What's left behind is simply a motorcycle—nothing more, nothing less—and probably the purest Harley experience currently available in the MoCo's lineup. From its laced wheels and mini-apes to the basic 107ci Milwaukee 8 and mid-controls to the solo saddle, short rear fender, and simple two-into-two shotgun exhaust, the Softail Standard is just a good, solid bike.
The Softail Standard's biggest selling point, according to Harley, is that the bike is a blank canvas for customization. To that end, Harley launched four complete custom bolt-on packages that new Softail Standard owners can have bolted on at their dealership. First, there's the "Day Tripper" package that adds passenger accommodations, forward controls, and a small swingarm bag. Second, a "Coastal Custom" package that adds a quarter fairing, two-up seat, and new bars, risers, and footpegs. There's a "Touring Custom" package that adds small saddlebags, a more comfortable two-up seat, a windshield, and assorted accouterment to improve comfort and turn the bike into a respectable touring machine. Finally, there's the "Performance Custom" package that upgrades the engine with a Screamin' Eagle Stage II kit and a host of intake, exhaust, and tuning upgrades.
I gotta admit, I really like this modular custom package idea. Harley touts them as a starting point, a way for new owners to see various ways in which their new bikes can be customized. They're a pretty good deal, too, and run between around $1,100 (Day Tripper) to $1,700 (Touring Custom) Yankee Dollars. It's a nice way to bundle popular accessories for riders who want a touch of customization but don't want to go hog wild with it, as it were.
Now the bad(ish) news. Out of the three bikes we rode during the press ride, the Softail Standard was my least favorite. Sure, it looks phenomenal as you walk up to it and I really like its clean lines, but as soon as you throw a leg over it you discover something disconcerting in a Harley—it's small.
Thanks to the weird ergos—mid controls, low-slung solo saddle, mini-ape handlebars—the Softail Standard feels cramped and tiny, especially if you're a, uh, rider of size like I am. At 6'1 and 240 pounds with a 34-inch inseam, I was incredibly uncomfortable while riding this thing. The whole time I was aboard I was sitting right on my tailbone and had to keep shifting my weight around to relieve the pain in my lower back. I also could never find a good place for my feet on those pegs, especially since there's no heel rest anywhere to be found.
Combine that with a vague-feeling shifter, weird spacing between the rear brake pedal and the footpeg (it's both too close and too far away, if you get my drift), and a wicked crosswind during our ride and I never felt like I was in complete control of the bike. I mean, I was, but every time I was in the saddle I kept worrying that I might not be able to handle a road emergency if one came up. That kind of thing doesn't really inspire rider confidence.
To be absolutely clear, I'm not saying that the Softail Standard is a bad bike. Far from it, in fact. Like I said earlier, I really dig its lines, its attitude, and those modular customization packages. Thing is, at its heart the Softail Standard is a short-range bike, built to bounce between stops close to home, not eat up the miles on the superslab. I'm sure it's great at that, but I was on this thing for an hour at a time and, no sir, I didn't like it.
My problems with the bike aren't primarily due to how it's built, they're due to how I'm built. Someone smaller and/or lighter probably won't have the same I did while in the saddle. If you are built like I am, well, caveat emptor big man. You might want to spring for some forward controls and more sensible handlebars (and a more comfortable saddle) if you're looking to pick one of these up.
2020 Fat Boy 30th Anniversary Edition
Thirty years ago, Willie G. Davidson stood in front of a jet black tractor-trailer with a new bike and changed motorcycling. That bike, the questionably named Fat Boy, was a burly, low-slung brute with a huge FL front end, fat tires, solid disc wheels, and about fifteen miles of Harley-Davidson attitude. Since then, the Fat Boy has been the go-to ride for legions of Harlista bar pirates, killer cyborgs from the future, and my dad. Now, after three decades at the top of the heap, Harley has released a limited edition 30th Anniversary Fat Boy.
I've had a soft spot for the Fat Boy ever since it came out, mostly due to Terminator 2 and the fact that my dad rolls a '96 model that's seen so many paint jobs, engine upgrades, and mods that it's essentially the Bike of Theseus at this point. There's just something about it, an undeniable presence that is, much like the Softail Standard, quintessentially Harley.
Look, I'm not going to lie to you all here. There's not a lot of blue sky between the 30th Anniversary Edition and a run of the mill 2020 Fat Boy 114. There's the paint job, which is, admittedly, phenomenal. It's Harley's vivid black color offset with copper-colored accents and a slightly redesigned OG Fat Boy logo on the tank. The paint, combined with the blacked-out M8, handlebars, and other brightwork, lend an air of menace to the already looming Fat Boy. It's just a paint job, though. Aside from the limited run, though—just 2,500 units—that's it. That's everything special about the 30th Anniversary edition.
Honestly, I was hoping for something more. Performance upgrades, maybe, or some one-off grips and floorboards to really set the 30th apart from its mass-market stablemates. That said, just because I felt that the 30th Anniversary Edition wasn't quite special enough doesn't mean that I didn't like it. On the contrary, I loved it. It was my favorite of the three bikes I rode during the press ride. It's comfortable, confident, surprisingly nimble, and respectably fast thanks to the big boy 114 engine. All that is, of course, chalked up to the huge overhaul the Softail line got in 2018, but still. The Fat Boy rules, and the 30th Anniversary Edition is like the cherry on top of an already delicious, and powerful, sundae.
Sorry about the length of this one, friends. After riding three different bikes over the course of just a few hours, I had a jumble of thoughts and impressions to work out, so thanks for sticking around this long. So, my final thoughts? At the end of the day, after thrashing each bike up and down Florida's Atlantic coast, I felt a little like Goldilocks in the Three Bears' house. Despite my love for it, the CVO Road Glide was too much—much too much—for me. The Softail Standard was too little, and its fantastic lines didn't make up for the cramped confines and sore lower back. The 30th Anniversary Fat Boy, though, was just right. It had everything I could have wanted in a single, good looking package.
All three bikes are fantastic Harleys, though. They do exactly what they're meant to and I reckon the MoCo's marketing team will land solid hits with each bike's target demo. I'm clearly not in any of those three target markets, but that doesn't mean you aren't. If you're a CVO buyer, a new rider looking to get into Harleys, or a long-term Fat Boy stan, these bikes are just what you're looking for.
Rider: Jason Marker
Build: A gentleman of size.
- Helmet: Shoei GT Air-II
- Jacket: Dainese Bardo Perforated Leather Jacket
- Gloves: FIRST Mfg. Co. Hutch
- Pants: Rev'It Lombard 2 with add-on armor
- Boots: Dainese Tan-Tan Boots