Factory Custom Tourers - Arlen Ness vs. Willie G.

2010 Harley-Davidson CVO Street Glide vs. 2010 Victory Arlen Ness Signature Series Vision

This is a double-dutch throwdown of two Motorcycling Heavyweights: Arlen Ness, the self-proclaimed King of Choppers, versus the man who helped re-define cruisers, Willie G. Davidson. Arlen, a longtime supporter and proponent of the Harley brand, banished to the wilderness by a Milwaukee giant eager to keep aftermarket dollars in-house, has shifted his design focus to a young upstart company whose flowing designs jibe so well with his own. Willie G., scion of the founding fathers, has honed the H-D design team to a point where it arguably contributes more to H-D's success than anything else. When these two guys go to town, it might be a good idea to lay low until the thunder passes.

Destroying the paradigm that expensive tourers tend to be heavier bikes, these two designers instead created a Luxury Light Touring class, offering both style and substance. Somewhat akin to Mercedes' AMG brand, the machines are exclusive versions of the originals, dripping with style, features, and power. But each of the bikes takes a slightly different path to that power.

Both are air/oil-cooled V-twins of similar displacement, with the Vision sporting overhead cams, while the Street Glide has pushrods. Both churn power through a six-speed gearbox, sport a feet-forward riding position, six gallon fuel tanks, and weigh in a tic over 800 pounds dry. From there, they diverge.

Arlen's signature Victory is most like a stripped and blinged version of the Vision Tour. Losing the top box and dropping the suspension and seat height improves the handling of the bike immeasurably, by effectively lowering the center of gravity. She's still a big girl, dwarfing the H-D when parked side-by-side, but much more manageable than in full "Tour" form. The Vision is taller and more spread-out thanks to its liberal use of lightweight aluminum in frame and chassis components.

Unfortunately, since Victory's perceived demographic for this bike is the more casual rider, some of the premium touches of the Vision Tour have been left off, with no ABS, and heated grips/seats and powered reverse coming only as add-on options for additional cost. The power-adjustable windshield (chopped, of course) and radio remain, and the Vision still boasts an easy-to-use multifunction display, awesome wind protection from the huge fairing, and a rigid, responsive chassis that tracks the road at any speed.

What the Ness Vision does bring is the bling, with diamond cut cylinder heads, a custom stitched seat, billet side covers and grips, HID headlight, and billet wheels.

Harley's CVO Street Glide got a raft of improvements over the base model 'Glide, but that stands to reason given its $12k higher cost. The motor has gone from 96ci to 110, blowing right past the Vision's 106 in the process, though only pulling into the neighborhood as far as output goes. It also features Harley's stealthy ABS, a Harmon-Kardon premium stereo (including a CD), extended saddlebags, security system, built-in highway pegs on the engine guard, and cool, heavily detailed, 18-inch wheels.

Not to be out-blinged, Willie G threw the book at his upmarket machine. Unlike the rest of H-D's lineup, which gets painted using a process akin to powdercoating, this bike is done the old fashioned way, including some very nice golf-leaf and hand-painted flames. The paint doesn't stop there either, with colored "beer can" forks, and a color-matched inner fairing. Minimalist LED taillight/turnsignals sit in the molded-in space between bags and fender, while custom metallic gauges stare back at the rider. Unique to H-D's CVO lineup is a grey/chrome motor with custom side covers and controls hand-picked from the P&A; catalog, while chrome abounds on nearly all surfaces not already painted.

Settling into the Street Glide, you'll find the well-worn and well-done compact ergo package common to all Harley Tourers. But on this one there is an extra place to put your feet-up on the hard rubber pegs mounted to the highway bar. Unfortunately, one of these fell off after 1200 miles on our test. The flat-ish seat looks cut-down and custom, but provides good support with a built-in bump-stop. We wish the same could be said for the passenger seat, which is on the small side.

The Vision's ergo package wasn't quite as universally loved, with bars slightly close for taller riders, but the mile-long boards gave us tons of places to rest our dogs, with the option of riding fairly upright or laid-back. Adjustable shift and brake levers let you realign yourself in minutes. The seat was fantastic though. By taking some foam out of the standard Vision perch, the Ness edition gains a huge backrest, allowing the rider to settle into a deep pocket.

Out on the road, the Ness Vision's wrap-around bodywork cocooned the rider in a bubble of turbulence-free air; adjust the windshield down and fiddle with the plexiglass wings under the mirrors and the wind is in your face. This contrasts with the more stripped Street Glide, which has no lowers, wings, or adjustable shield. That said, wind protection was pretty good on the H-D until about 70 mph. A good portion of our early winter trip was at altitude, cruising past operating ski resorts, two of us wrapped in full heated gear. One tester was about to give up riding as the sun set over 8500-foot Big Bear, CA, but swapping him onto the Vision gave enough protection that he made it down the hill to warmer temps in comfort.

Since we were all wired up, we had a chance to test the electrical systems' charging capabilities. The Victory came up a bit short, as it would hesitate if the heated gear was plugged in prior to firing the motor, while the Harley battery was fine even if we left the gear on without the bike running for a couple of minutes. On the other hand, one of our heated gear controllers managed to scratch the hell out of the fancy paint on the H-D, while the Victory's plastic panels were a little harder to hurt. Hooking up electrical goodies to the Harley's battery is also a bit more of a ordeal, as not only is it harder to get under the seat, but the alarm has to be reset before riding it again. The Arlen Ness Vision's battery is inside the fairing behind the front tire for easy access, though some electrical devices might need a longer cord than usual.

In the motor compartment, this is one of the few times that a Harley-Davidson isn't completely outgunned. With a four cubic inch displacement advantage, you might expect the CVO to stomp the Ness, but you'd be wrong. The Street Glide has a distinct advantage in throttle response and an overall quicker-revving character, but in a very no-nonsense way, the Vision has a broader spread of power from bottom to top. The sound emanating from the pipes is deeper, and more soulful on the Harley, with a less-refined mechanical clatter coming from the Vision. The 110-inch Twin Cam of the CVO is so good, we'd really like to see it in the entire Harley range.

The engine character of each bike fits their handling strong points perfectly. The CVO was at its best on a twisty back road, slaloming from side-to-side quickly and solidly, while the torquey motor allows the bike to squirt from corner to corner. The Vision was no slouch, but carries its weight higher, so it's a bit more work to glide corner to corner, and encourages the rider to take it a little easier.

In more open terrain, the roles are reversed. The Victory handles sweepers like it was on rails, with its strong motor making your speed control subject only to your good judgment; in other words it won't be the bike holding you back. The Harley is so much better than the H-D tourers of years past that it's like riding a different motorcycle. To the two of us with long histories of riding FLs, it's a revelation, especially with that Twin Cam 110 engine. But no matter how controlled the ride is, the smooth rubber-mounted engine Harley will never be as solid as the solid-mounted aluminum-framed Victory.

Though Harley transmissions have a reputation as "clunky, but positive," the Street Glide's tranny was positively "clicky", maybe owing to its handmade heritage on the CVO line. The Ness was actually a little on the vague side. Both bikes have perfect gear ratios, matched well to their power bands, and humming along at 80 on the interstate, neither needed a downshift to pass a car.

Out on the interstate, tunes were best listened to on the Vision, but at lower speeds the Street Glide's more powerful audio system takes the cake. With the adjustable wind management on the Victory, you can create a bubble to listen in, while on the Harley the wind just overtakes the stereo at about 70mph. On backroads cruising however, the CVO's system has a richer quality and more volume. Integrated cruise/stereo controls on the Street Glide are easier to use and better looking than the afterthoughts on the Vision. Cruise is also easier to use on the Harley-Davidson, as the controls are easier to adapt to and are aided by the electronic throttle, which works very instinctually and never gives "push-back", like on the Vision.

Slowing in a hurry was best done on the Harley. While the Vision's linked brakes do a good job of slowing the rig, they were a touch vague, perhaps owing to the extra piping of a linked system. The ABS-equipped CVO not only had the added confidence of anti-lock, but a very nice bite from the Brembo calipers when engaging the brakes, plus a lot of feel.

Suspension action on both machines was very good. Ironically, Harley pioneered air-adjustable suspension preload decades ago, but abandoned it for a simple clicker, accessible behind each saddlebag. While the Vision relies on a pump (which eats up saddlebag space), it is infinitely adjustable and makes a huge difference in ride height and handling. Even with a couple of inches taken out, the Victory still has more travel than the Harley, which is especially welcome on bumpy roads.

In case you hadn't noticed, we really got into these bikes. Not satisfied to just take them out for a day ride, we hauled them around to the tune of about 1500 miles. And despite styling that suggests they might not be serious riding machines, they never let us down. As machines at the top of their class, they live up to the hype. Powerful, fun to ride, and chock full of accessories and bling, they are equally at home on the Sunset Strip, or riding off into the sunset.

Despite the loving hand of the King of Choppers, we can't help but think that the Vision is outclassed on custom details, as well as comfort/performance bits. But when you add in the Vision's monster motor and killer chassis, the difference is more than made up.

When it came down to picking a winner, we were split, and (again) it came down to price. The Vision may not have as many cool add-ons as the CVO Street Glide, but it doesn't need them. That said, the styling is not everyone's cup of tea, and there is a certain something about the feel and sound of the H-D motor that nobody outside of Wisconsin has been able to replicate or improve upon (WI-based S&S; being the exception). It costs more and you get more. If you're a Harley guy at heart, we all agree that the Vision is not going to do it for you, but those that go their own way will be better served saving the extra cash and trying something new.

H-D CVO Street Glide Arlen Ness Victory Vision
BASE PRICE $30,999 $24,999
COLORS Rum (shown), Concord, Tequila Black
STANDARD WARRANTY 24 months, unlimited mileage One year, unlimited miles
TYPE Air/oil-cooled 45-degree V-twin Air/oil-cooled 50-degree V-twin
DISPLACEMENT, 1803cc, 1731cc,
BORE X STROKE 101x111mm 101x108mm
VALVE TRAIN OHV pushrod two valve SOHC, 4 valves per cylinder
COMPRESSION 9.15:1 9.4:1
TRANSMISSION 6-speed 6-speed
OVERALL LENGTH 96.2" 103.5"
WHEELBASE 63.5" 65.7"
WEIGHT 805 lbs. dry 804 lbs. dry
SEAT HEIGHT 27.9" (26.5 w/180lb rider) 24.5"
RAKE/TRAIL 26-degree/6.69" 29-degree/5.4"
WHEELS 7-spoke contrast chrome 5-spoke machined billet aluminum
FRONT TIRE 130/70-18 130/70-18
REAR TIRE 180/55-18 180/60-16
FRONT BRAKE Dual 320mm 4-piston caliper with ABS Dual 300mm floating rotor with 3-piston caliper
REAR BRAKE 320mm 4-piston caliper 300mm rotor, 2-piston caliper (linked to front)
FRONT SUSPENSION 41mm fork , 4.6 in. travel 46mm fork, 5.1 in. travel
REAR SUSPENSION Dual preload-adjustable shocks; 2.0 in. travel Single damper air-adjustable; 3.65 in. travel
FUEL CAPACITY 6 gal. 6 gal.
INSTRUMENTS Analog speedometer, tachometer, air temp gauge, oil pressure gauge, fuel gauge, dual trip meters, voltmeter, distance to empty, clock. Analog speedometer, tachometer, fuel gauge, voltmeter, digital gear indicator, air temp, miles to empty, average fuel milage, instant fuel milage, timer, clock, average speed.
FUEL MILEAGE 37.3 mpg 38.6 mpg
AVERAGE RANGE 223.8 miles 231.6 miles

Riding Positions

Mark Downs
6ft. 2in.
214 lbs.
34in. inseam

The CVO seemed to come with most everything you need ... the bike was very comfortable up to around 70 mph, at which point I was wishing for a bit more windscreen. Ergonomically, everything felt good, in fact I found three different positions to change it up. My back definitely appreciated the bit of backrest the Harley offered, especially at speed. Power was good for a bike this size, making passing at any speed a non-event , just strong and smooth. I found the bike to be confidence-inspiring as it handled well at all speeds and was surprisingly light and nimble in tighter corners. If you are a Harley Man and want something with bags this might be the one.

After walking around the Victory a few times to check it out, I climbed on board the "Starship". I was skeptical at first, but after a short ride realized the Victory is very comfortable. The seat is deluxe, with a nice built-in backrest that I came to appreciate along with the motorized windscreen. The screen in the highest position seemed to really work with the stereo. it.

The Victory did not have the light, nimble feeling the Harley had in the tighter stuff but did not feel like a pig either. In fact, I really came to like the overall feel and really enjoyed going through the corners. It rides smaller than it looks, if that makes any sense. My take on this bike is that it is somewhere between the Harley and a Goldwing and I mean that in a good way. I enjoyed "Cruising" on the Starship, so the Vision is the winner in my book.

Brad Olshen
5ft. 10in.
180 lbs.
32in. inseam

When I picked up the 2010 Street Glide CVO with the 110 cubic inch motor I was super-excited to put it through its paces. I was very impressed with the horsepower of the 110 motor as it came from the factory, but it could use some more torque off the line. The frame and wheels made for some incredible handling in high-speed corners, at least compared to the way they used to be. With new Brembo dual calipers in front along with an ABS system, the bike is great.

But then I rode Victory's Arlen Ness Edition Vision. Wow! It looks great and handles superbly. I felt great back support from the saddle and the machine was easy to handle in aggressive situations. I would ride this bike cross-country in a minute, if only because of the way the fairing's design kept wind or cold air off me. The electric, adjustable windshield also proved to be very important on this cold trip. Too, the iPod hook-up worked very well through the handlebar-mounted controls.

Both bikes have their advantages, but for price and riding style, I would pick the Victory. My one complaint is that they should paint on the graphics, and not use stickers-it seems cheap.

Billy Bartels
6ft., 195 lbs.
33in. inseam

You can't go wrong with either of these fine machines, but if forced to pick a winner, I'd pick the Harley. Yes, it's way more expensive, but given the raft of options thrown at this bike, it's value for money. I feel like the Vision just got the blinged-out, pimpified treatment, but with no real substance in its upgrades, and in fact functional things off of the Vision Tour like heated grips and seat, or options like ABS, are just not there (and in the case of ABS, not even available). On top of all that I think Willie (or his CVO design team) simply beats Arlen in the production custom department. When the one thing your bike gets over a stocker is the pretty stuff-and not even that stacks up -that's not a winner in my book.

But it's not the pretty bits that make the Harley a winner to me, it's the overall package. I simply liked riding it more. On curvaceous back roads (my favorite kind), I had way more fun using that totally fun midrange power to rumble form corner to corner, and leaning it in. The Vision took a little more effort and concentration to do the same things. In more open, sweeping stuff the Victory took the lead, but not by too much.

Despite what you might read on the spec sheet, the Harley also has way more usable luggage space (the little extensions do help some too), and those latches are still the bees knees. The look, the feel, the power delivery and all that on the CVO Street Glide just knocks it out of the park for me.