Harley-Davidsons New 121ci CVO Engine Has VVT

A couple of days ago, we were tipped off by Harley-Davidson blogger Dr. Dan Morel about photos of an alleged new CVO Road Glide and CVO Street Glide taken from the factory floor. Morel has since sent us another photo, offering a clear look at the CVO Road Glide’s right side, including evidence that the new 121ci engine uses variable valve timing.

Here’s the full image we received:

Immediately, we noticed two details that further support our original report. The large intake prominently features the number 121, suggesting a 121ci displacement (that’s about 1982cc, in metric numbers). This matches the 121 shown on the derby cover on the right side of the motorcycle. The other detail we can see is the small tab on the bottom right side of the tank badge. Right below the “ON” in “Harley-Davidson,” there is a chrome tab jutting downward with some faint lettering. Looking closer (click on the image above to see a larger version) and you can make out the letters “CVO,” further confirming this is a new entry to Harley-Davidson’s Custom Vehicle Operations line. We already assumed all of this in our initial report, and the new evidence further confirms it.

But there is one more secret revealed in this photo. Look closely at the camshaft cover right above the floorboard and you’ll notice the familiar Bar-and-Shield logo. Now compare it to the same area on the 2023 CVO Road Glide Limited Anniversary below:

On the Anniversary model, and on all Harley-Davidson’s existing models with a Milwaukee-Eight engine, the camshaft cover is perfectly circular, with the mounting bolts located to either side of the Bar-and-Shield. On the new 121ci engine, the cover has the bolts above and below, and it is no longer fully circular, with an oblong shape protruding toward the front of the bike. We cropped the photo tighter below, and despite the pixelation, three small white letters are visible on this protruding section: “VVT”.

Harley-Davidson already offers VVT on its Revolution Max models like the Pan America, but so far, all of its Milwaukee-Eight engines employ a conventional timing system. With emissions restrictions getting tighter and tighter, VVT could help its air-cooled V-Twins remain compliant for a few more years.

A new VVT system would also explain one of the questions we had about the engine’s displacement. As we noted in our original story, the 121ci is a new engine size, and unexpected, as the existing CVO Milwaukee-Eight 117 engine already had a Screamin’ Eagle Stage III upgrade kit that would take it to 122ci. It seemed odd that the new CVO Road Glide didn’t just adopt that kit as standard. The only logical explanation is that the new CVO offered something else that required further changes from the existing engines, such as VVT.

There also appears to be a change to the transmission cover, the piece with “Harley-Davidson” on it located in the curve of the exhaust pipe. That cover, which typically hides the transmission bearings, differs quite a bit from the cover on the 117ci engine above that says “Six Speed.” On the 117ci engine, the mounting bolts are flush with the casing behind the cover whereas on the 121ci engine, the mounting bolts are recessed. The different transmission casing suggests a significant change to the gearbox, such as the addition of a reverse gear, perhaps.

What other secrets does Harley-Davidson have in store with its new CVOs?

It’s becoming clearer and clearer that Harley-Davidson has significant changes coming for its 2023 CVO Road Glide and CVO Street Glide, with some of those changes possibly carrying over to other non-CVO Milwaukee-Eight models for 2024 and beyond.

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