Tested: Denali CANsmart and D2 spotlight review | Plug-and play electrical controller

Tested: Denali CANsmart and D2 spotlight review | Plug-and play electrical controller

 

Date reviewed: August 2019 | Tested by: John Milbank | Price: £227.99 | www.rg-racing.com

 

The Denali CANsmart is a small device that allows you to power and control spotlights, a high-power horn, auxiliary brake light and other electrical devices, without the need to touch the wiring loom on your bike.

CANbus circuits allow vehicles to control various components with minimal wiring by sending data signals on some of the cables, but this can make tapping in for a switched feed very difficult, not to mention the fact that if you do cut into your wiring, you risk voiding a new motorcycle’s warranty. With this system, you don’t need to worry.

CANsmart is available for CANbus-equipped Harley-Davidsons and the following BMWs:

  • R1200LC
  • R1250
  • R1200 Hex head
  • K1600
  • S1000XR
  • F850GS
  • F750GS
  • F800
  • F700
  • F650
  • K1200GT
  • K14300S

 

Tested: Denali CANsmart and D2 spotlight review | Plug-and play electrical controller

These Denali D2 lights have been on three different bikes over four years – they’re proving a really good investment

 

What can CANsmart do?

The unit is designed to work with Denali’s range of spotlights, brake lights and horns, so it comes pre-wired with the sockets to suit the current range. You also get two extension cables with splitters for two pairs of lights, an extension for the horn and a fly-lead for the brake light.

 

Tested: Denali CANsmart and D2 spotlight review | Plug-and play electrical controller

The CANsmart comes with two spotlight looms, each for a pair of lights, a horn loom and a lead for an auxiliary brake light

 

By plugging in a PC or Mac laptop and downloading a well-designed app, the following can be very quickly set up:

With spotlights:

  • Separate control of high and low beam intensity for each pair of lights, with settings for both day and night use
  • Strobe one or both pairs of lights when the horn’s pressed
  • Strobe one or both pairs of lights when the lights are quickly flashed three times
  • Alternate flashing of one or both pairs of lights when the hazards are active
  • One or both pairs of lights off when the indicators are on

 

With an auxiliary brake light:

  • Adjust the brightness in running light mode
  • Adjust the brightness in brake light mode
  • Set the brake light flashing on, off or California legal
  • Automatically flash under deceleration (California legal mode also available)

 

The spotlight connections have three wires – power and a dimming lead – that should work with most three-wire lights (and of course all Denalis), but the unit can also dim two-wire LED lamps; you just might notice a little more flickering at lower outputs.

Each of the four channels on the unit (two for spotlights, one for brake and one for horn) can also be set to a circuit override, which turns it into a simple feed that comes on with the ignition.

 

Tested: Denali CANsmart and D2 spotlight review | Plug-and play electrical controller

The app, which works on Mac and PC, is very simple to use, and makes customising the CANsmart a breeze

 

Denali’s CANsmart can handle a total output of 25A – it has a traditional 30A fuse on the battery cable, but then each channel has its own solid-state fuse, which if overloaded is reset simply by turning the ignition off and on again:

Spotlight channel one

Max continuous 10A; max peak (for 20 seconds) 25A

Spotlight channel two

Max 4A

Horn

Max continuous 10A; max peak (for 20 seconds) 25A

Brake light

Max 4A

 

How easy is the Denali CANsmart to fit?

This really is a plug-and-play device – it has a pair of wires, ready-terminated with ring connectors, that fit to your battery terminals along with a connection that picks up a switched feed and the CANbus data from a plug suitable for your bike – on this K-series model, which also supports the S1000XR, it uses the plug for the DWA alarm, whether fitted or not.

 

Tested: Denali CANsmart and D2 spotlight review | Plug-and play electrical controller

On the K-series BMWs (and the S1000XR), the data signal is picked up from the alarm plug – no cutting or soldering is needed at all

 

I’ve had a pair of Denali D2 lamps for about four years that I’ve used on a Kawasaki Versys 650 and a KTM 1050 Adventure; they’re not cheap, but they certainly last well. Using them with the CANsmart eliminates a huge amount of the lamps’ original wiring, and also means I don’t need to tap into the headlamp circuit for them to ‘know’ when I switch to main beam. Not only does that save time, but on my KTM I was unable to use the auto-switch feature at all as the main beam circuit also carries the crank position data; after tapping in it caused the lights to flicker. CANbus really is a tricky beast to work with.

 

Tested: Denali CANsmart and D2 spotlight review | Plug-and play electrical controller

This is all the original wiring from the Denali D2 lamps that’s no longer needed…

 

Unfortunately my lamps had the older-style Tyco Superseal connectors (inline three-pin), whereas the CANsmart ships with the company’s newer Sumitomo MT plugs, with pins in a triangular formation. I bought a couple of Denali 3-pin pigtails from Nippy Normans for £2 each (plus £2.99 delivery), then replaced the old plugs on the lamps. These cables could also be used to adapt other lamps to suit the CANsmart leads, if you wanted, but for those buying Denali lamps now, it won’t be an issue.

 

My older lamps had incompatible connectors, so I bought a couple of adaptors and wired them on

 

Fitting can take minutes, but as I spent ages finding the best wiring route, and also wanted a clever position to mount the lamps, it took me several evenings (you can see how I fitted them in the video below). Besides having to modify the leads on the lamps and machine sections out of the lamp mounts to get them to fit where I wanted, I didn’t need to mess around at all; while I’m reasonably confident working with electrics, I really appreciated not having to interfere with the BMW’s loom.

 

Tested: Denali CANsmart and D2 spotlight review | Plug-and play electrical controller

Because I didn’t want to mount the lamps in the airflow around the top fairing (which is the common method using an aftermarket bracket), I machined sections out of the lamp mounts so they’d tuck in just behind the indicators.

 

The D2 lamps only draw 1.6A, so I used the low-power lighting circuit, leaving the other available for future projects. I don’t have an auxiliary brake light, so I switched that channel over to a simple circuit and modified the supplied fly lead to power my TomTom; while an adaptor is available from Nippy Normans to power any sat-nav from a plug in the BMW loom, it costs £19 so I just wired it into the CANsmart.

The S1000XR horn is pretty loud, so I also switched the horn channel to simple circuit mode and modified that cable to terminate in the connector for my Keis heated kit. While the fuse rating can be set to 25A, that’s a peak only, and Denali recommends a maximum sustained current draw of 10A. My heated vest pulls 7A and the trousers 3.3A when on full power so I should be fine, but if I wanted more I could use the spare high-power light circuit.

 

Tested: Denali CANsmart and D2 spotlight review | Plug-and play electrical controller

Setting the unit up requires it to be plugged into a computer, so a laptop is a great help. You do need the device to be fitted to the motorcycle, so if you only have a desktop PC, you’ll need a long micro USB cable!

 

Is there anything else like it available?

CANsmart is made for Denali by Hex Innovate, the company behind the GS-911 BMW diagnostic tool. It also makes the ezCAN, which is very similar to the CANsmart, but costs £186. However, whereas the Denali CANsmart comes with two full bike-length spotlight wiring looms, a bike-length horn loom and an adaptor cable for the brake light, the Hex just has the Sumitomo connectors with short pigtail leads attached, leaving the owner to make their own looms.

If you’re using Denali kit the extra cost is well worth paying as it saves work and results in a very tidy installation. If you’re paying to have it installed by a dealer, it will also save on labour costs in them making up looms.

However, if you’re using other brands of kit, Hex’s own ezCAN will likely be the better option, as long as you’re competent with a soldering iron and know your way around heat-shrink tubing. In my case I still had to modify the wiring due to my old-style lamps and my desire to use other parts, but to be honest the quality of the looms supplied with the Denali made for a great finish, so even if you aren’t using Denali lights, the additional wiring supplied is extremely valuable. My only disappointment with the CANsmart is that it doesn’t come with connector blanks, so the one channel I didn’t use has an open plug that I needed to wrap with insulation tape.

If you want to be able to control more power per channel than 10A, other options include Denali’s £109 PowerHub2 – a relay-controlled fuse block – or Rowe’s PDM60, which is an excellent solid-state programmable six-channel power controller that can handle up to 60A for £169.95 (I used one on my KTM with great success). However, both are bulkier than the CANsmart, they both require tapping into the loom to pick up an ignition-switched feed, and neither offers any of the CANbus-enabled control of the CANsmart (or ezCAN).
Hex’s latest (Gen II) ezCAN does have 10A max circuits on all four channels, as opposed to two at 10A and two at 4A on the CANsmart, but as the total max output is still 25A, there’s little real benefit.

Tested: Denali CANsmart and D2 spotlight review | Plug-and play electrical controller

The PDM60 is an excellent alternative if you want higher power capability, but it has no CANbus control

 

What’s it like in practice?

Once fitted to the bike, I downloaded the app to my Mac laptop then plugged in the CANsmart using the supplied micro-USB cable (the rubber blanking plug on the Denali is tiny and not retained, so take care not to lose it). An update was immediately required so being connected to the internet is essential, but it took seconds and completed with no bother.

The app is extremely simple to understand and tailored for Denali; it’s really obvious what to do to get each setting, and changes are instant.

The logos for each channel are colour-matched to the wiring and warnings are clear if you exceed the power limitations. Plus, a diagnostics panel shows the average and peak current draws, as well as the temperature of the device.

 

Tested: Denali CANsmart and D2 spotlight review | Plug-and play electrical controller

A small green LED constantly flashes on the CANsmart, even when the bike is turned off, but don’t worry – I measured it and it only pulls 0.18mA. That’d take getting on for six years to flatten your bike’s battery.

 

As soon as the BMW’s ignition is turned on, my spotlights now fade quickly and smoothly up, rather than snapping on. If I indicate, they turn off instantly, then fade back on once the indicators are cancelled. This looks odd at first when riding in the dark, but I turned this option on as I have the lamps mounted right next to the indicators, so drivers would otherwise not be able to see the turn signals for the bright white light.

And bright these D2 spotlights are; by default they’re at 50% intensity when the bike’s on dip in both daytime and night, and 100% when the bike is on main beam. The first time I rode with it in the dark, every car was flashing me; I tilted the lights down a touch, but was still getting a lot of grief.

By pressing and holding the control wheel on the bike’s bars, the lamps flashed to confirm they were ready, then I was able to turn the dial to adjust the brightness; I got them to a position that stopped complaints, waited a few seconds and the setting was stored… all in less than a minute while riding down the A47 from Hunstanton.

When I got home, I plugged the laptop in and saw that the night-time dip intensity of the lamps was now 30%. Because I’d set it at night, it hadn’t affected the day intensity. Brilliant.

It’s also possible to turn the lights off while you ride by using the indicator cancel button – press and hold for three seconds for lamp set one, or tap three times for lamp set two (the channel I’m using).

When I hit the horn the Denali D2s now strobe, and if I turn the hazard lights on they flash opposite to the indicators, making a really noticeable display. And if I tap the flasher three times, the lamps follow by strobing three times. I might turn this off, as it happens after you’ve hit the button so can result in you strobing vehicles you didn’t mean to. Still, the option’s there and the settings are easy to change.

 

Tested: Denali CANsmart and D2 spotlight review | Plug-and play electrical controller

The diagnostics window is a handy way of checking how much power is being drawn

 

Would I recommend the Denali CANsmart?

I’m really impressed with this bit of kit. The control offered over your lamps especially makes it feel completely integrated with the bike; like a factory option. It took no modification to the bike or its loom, so my warranty remains intact, and setting up really couldn’t be easier.

Sure, the Hex ezCAN version may suit some people, but if you’re using Denali lamps it makes a lot of sense to go with the CANsmart. I’ve just two minor gripes – the fact that blanking plugs aren’t supplied for unused connectors, and that I’d like to have the option of a delayed start for each channel (like there is on the PDM60) – as everything is powered up as soon as you turn the ignition on, it’s feasible that a high-draw device could reduce the battery’s ability to turn the bike over (especially if it’s getting tired). The option to delay power for a few seconds means the machine can be fired up before the lamps, for instance,  are turned on. In my case, with minimal power being pulled besides my heated kit (which I turn on once the engine’s running), I don’t foresee any issues, but maybe it’s something for Denali and Hex to consider in a future firmware update…

Denali is not known for making budget gear, and while there are many much cheaper lighting alternatives on eBay and the like, the £334.99 D2s have thoroughly proven themselves over several years; on their third bike now I’d say they’re a solid investment, and when combined with the CANsmart, they make for one of the best accessories I can recommend; they look and work great, they light up the road well and they make you far more visible.

If you’ve got a compatible BMW or Harley-Davidson and you want to add lights (or a horn and other bits), you really should splash out on the CANsmart.

 

See the Denali CANsmart in use

John demonstrates the system on his BMW S1000XR

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