Harley-Davidson CVO Breakout Test
It wasn’t exactly a dark desert highway – it was California Highway 1 through Big Sur, actually – but despite it being mid-morning and riding with a group of buddies, the cold, brooding tendrils of foggy marine layer covering the road ahead made me feel quite alone; just me and the Harley.
You can probably guess the song I was humming to myself as I wound my way south along the ruggedly breathtaking Cabrillo Highway.
I had departed the Carmel Valley Ranch, a gorgeous property located just inland from the bay in the Santa Lucia Mountains. Yes, it was hard to leave Spa Aiyana, the Pete Dye-designed par-70 golf course, and the Heuvos Rancheros Tostada breakfast at the Lodge Restaurant, but the cool morning air begged to be pierced on two wheels.
California in the summer shouldn’t have felt this chilly, so the zipped vents on my River Road jacket were closed to keep me warm. I was hunkered down on Harley’s new Breakout – a fist-forward hot rod from The Motor Company’s Custom Vehicle Operations – and its Screamin’ Eagle’s 110 motor music became the song in my head. Unlike the other three CVOs for 2013, the Breakout does not come with any on-board audio system; the balanced motor emits such an emotive, tangibly metallic thumping sound through those slash-cut pipes, that it would definitely be a shame to spoil it.
Of the four 2013 CVOs, the Breakout is the only entirely new model of the bunch. Starting with Harley’s Softail chassis, the design team added the Twin Cam 110B engine, the Slipstream Collection of controls, specially designed wheels, and a level of custom detailing currently unmatched on any production motorcycle.
The CVO program is often used to introduce new custom components and techniques before they are offered as individual accessories. These limited production bikes are very carefully designed, and then finished with spectacular and exclusive paint treatments – no two of which are quite the same.
Beneath the pretty paint job beats the heart of the CVO: The Screamin’ Eagle 110 cubic inch 45-degree V-twin. Harley has now included a downshift slip assist feature to the clutch that prevents the rear tire hopping with aggressive downshifting. The clutch redesign also doubles its life, according to Harley, and the lever hold-in force has been reduced by a useful 17 percent.
Applying slight pressure to the clutch while riding produces a mild pumping feeling at the lever, which will feel familiar to sportbike riders, and less so to cruiser guys. However, it is not an indication that anything is wrong, so don’t get disconcerted.
The new clutch is mated to Harley’s excellent six-speed Cruise Drive gearbox, and the shifting is as expected – heavy and relatively slow. Yet, the lever action is also positive, and missed gears are never an issue. Gear positions are noted on the LCD portion of the excellent combination speedometer/tachometer instrument pod slung below the handlebars.
Though the motor is a gentle giant, it absolutely has the chops to deliver as promised. If you haven’t ridden a 110 before, you will be very pleasantly surprised. Frankly, I don’t find the 103 lacking in power, but once you have gone to a 110 and felt that instant torque, there’s no turning back – you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.
The ride-by-wire throttle has a nice long twist to it, so small increments are easy to apply. When rolling the power on from low speed, the excellent fuel injection comes in smoothly and produces copious amounts of power whenever you feel the need.
One downside to Highway 1 in summer is that it is packed with unhurried tourists winding their way dreamily through the gorgeous scenery. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but 25 mph for mile after mile can get exceedingly tedious, especially if you are stuck behind a giant RV and can’t see anything anyway.
The Breakout is good at rumbling along at those very modest speeds; fortunately it also possesses Harley’s best-ever power-to-weight ratio, and the substantial 112 ft/lbs of torque (at 3500 rpm) is available instantly on command when you want to zap past a slower vehicle. No need to shift gears; just twist the throttle and make sure you are hanging on.
This impressive motor is counter-balanced and rigidly mounted. The 110B is smooth enough to avoid fatiguing you, while thumping enough to connect you to what it is doing. The sound and feel really are very different to the H-D rubber-mounted touring motors, and the metal-on-metal sense and sound of the balanced motor is as hard to define as it is pleasant to experience.
Inhaling through a forward-facing conical air intake, the deep, throbbing note from the mufflers is throaty, though street legal and not overly loud; I realize almost every Harley owner immediately changes his pipes, but on the Breakout you will be just fine if you don’t.
The Breakout’s 697-pound claimed curb weight feels planted in a straight line, even over big bumps, and its excellent balance translates into absolute confidence when cornering. Perhaps the real surprise here is just how well Harley has integrated the fat 240mm section rear tire that juts out so aggressively from the stubby rear fender – it only makes its presence felt when you are looking at it.
Aside from the spectacular scenery, Highway 1 is famous for its awesome tarmac ribbon. As the road twisted and turned, the Breakout carved through the corners impressively. I could pick a line and the Breakout would hold it nicely. If I needed to tighten things up a little, no problem, the Breakout responded without objection.
Hard exits from slow corners is where the real addictive fun lies; that fat rear tire gripped the tarmac like a fiend and the motor just launched the bike toward the horizon. Overall the handling is smooth and predictable – and the feet-forward controls give a surprising amount of ground clearance for a Softail.
Handling is neutral and intuitive, thanks to a well balanced chassis; like all Harleys, it carries its weight low. Coupled with the user-friendly 110B motor, I can see this motorcycle also appealing to those less experienced riders looking for a machine that is easy to control.
The Softail chassis mimics the clean lines of a vintage hardtail frame, with the rear suspension provided by twin shocks mounted horizontally and out of sight – within the frame rails and under the transmission. With a 67.5-inch wheelbase the Breakout is definitely long. It is some three inches longer than the Heritage, as well as around an inch longer than the Blackline, and my old Night Train.
Interestingly, the front doesn‚Äôt feel particularly raked out, although with that minimalist front nacelle, headlight and skinny fender, it looks like it from the side. It’s also low and, where the Deuce and Night Train had those flowing rear fenders, the Breakout’s bobbed rear fender is just long enough to stay legal. It shows off that rear 240 oh-so-nicely. A side-mounted license plate is a necessary evil, but the small combination stop/turn/tail lights are cool and leave the wide rear fender uncluttered.
Comfort-wise, I didn’t find my legs overly stretched, though I do have a long inseam. The pegs seem reasonably placed and I would think most people would not find the positioning a problem.
Nepenthe is the quintessential rustic and relaxed Big Sur restaurant. It is located right in the heart of the Pfeiffer State Park and perched high on the western cliff, hundreds of feet above the ocean below. By the time I got there, the marine layer had cleared and summer had arrived.
As you might imagine, the views are absolutely stunning in every direction, and the back-to-nature feel of the outdoor section blends perfectly with the sheer rawness of Big Sur.
Lunch was great, and I was filled to bursting by Nepenthe’s signature-dish – a medium-cooked one-and-a-half pound Ambrosia burger and fries. I waddled back down the steps to the parking lot and my waiting Breakout.
As I swung my leg over and tightened my helmet strap, a nice-looking couple and their kids walked past headed for the restaurant; they had been traveling in the beige minivan parked a couple of spots over. I expected the husband to give me the usual thumbs up or surreptitiously envious glance, but it was actually his wife who smiled and said “nice bike,” as they walked past. The freedom and charisma epitomized by Harley-Davidson certainly pulls (almost) everyone in, and the CVOs do it particularly well.
The Breakout means business, being a clever blend of muscular machismo and pretty boy good looks. The exposed tires are mounted on probably the coolest wheels I have ever seen – super-aggressive looking mirror-chrome, 21-inch front and 18-inch rear turbines that have their spokes pulled to the edge of the rim to maximize the wide look.
The belligerence continues with Breakout’s wide front end that spreads the forks approximately 1.75-inches wider than previous FX Softail models to allow fitment of a 130mm wide front tire. The entire front assembly is chromed, and it includes the nacelle, headlamp bucket, and the internally wired chubby handlebar that offers a neutral riding position. The integrated chrome riser incorporates a mount for the four-inch combination digital speedometer/analog tachometer and LED indicators, which are positioned below the riser.
However, it is the three color and style choices that take production motorcycle paint to a new level of individualism. The hand finishing required makes each set of bodywork unique; two of the schemes feature hand-polished steel sections on the fuel tank and fenders, and the third paint option incorporates hand-laid lace stenciling. Each comes with a Granite powdercoat-and-chrome powertrain.
My favorite is the Hard Candy Gold Dust and Liquid Sun with Pagan Gold graphics. Paired with a black leather seat, opinions will polarize on this one; for me, put a big check mark in the “yes” column. The polished-steel sections on the fuel tank and fenders are candy clear coated and tinted to give the polished areas the gleaming Liquid Sun tone that is essentially another type of chrome. There is a definite greenish hue to the color, but that just adds to the drama. Gold Dust is created by applying large metal flake over a black base, and finishing it with the tinted clear.
The other two choices are almost as dramatic. Also paired with a black leather seat, the Black Diamond and Molten Silver with Crushed Slate graphics combination features polished steel areas on the fuel tank and fenders that require 10 hand-sanding passes, beginning with 150 grit and finishing with 3000 grit, and a three-step final polishing treatment. This process produces a high-luster finish with intentional hand-worked marks that make each part unique. The color elements are then applied, followed by coats of candy and standard clear that let the polished steel shine through.
Each leather seat and pillion in black or brown leather is accented with an embossed hornback gator hide pattern; they are all shaped to provide good lower back support for the rider and I found the seat comfortable on my 250-mile day-ride. The pillion pad may be removed without tools to fully expose the paint on the rear fender.
Unlike the Black Diamond and Hard Candy Gold Dust, the Crimson Red Sunglo and Scarlet Lace with Hammered Sterling graphics comes with a brown seat. The paint is subtle compared to its two brothers, yet equally as striking in its own way. The graphic effect on the lower portions of the fuel tank and fenders is achieved by spraying Black Candy through lace fabric placed over a silver base color, and finished with a layer of Scarlet Candy. Because the lace is applied by hand, no two painted parts will have the same pattern.
Despite the retro classic looks, the Harley-Davidson Breakout is a superbly modern machine with ride-by-wire fuel injection, electronic cruise control, anti-lock brakes, a keyless ignition system, and the Harley-Davidson Smart Security System that will help keep your machine yours.
Purchasers of this CVO limited edition get Harley-Davidson’s Customer Care package that includes an indoor/outdoor storage cover with CVO logo, a comprehensive tool kit, microfiber detail cloth, and a Harley-Davidson jiffy stand coaster.
Riding Highway 1 through Big Sur shows that Harley’s new Breakout is much more than a bar bike with a pretty paint job, it is a true custom motorcycle. Carefully designed by a small team at the Harley-Davidson factory in Milwaukee, it is a head-turner, so feel free to pose all you like; you can smile to yourself, knowing that this bike delivers in the handling and performance departments, too – the 2013 Harley-Davidson CVO Breakout is a bike for real riders.
Photography by Riles & Nelson