Harley Davidson DENALI CANsmart

By: Julie “Squirrel” Nordskog Andrews

In 2020, I had the opportunity to put my Harley’s DENALI auxiliary lights to the ultimate test.

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I was one of 130 riders on the 10,000-mile Hoka Hey Motorcycle Challenge. The gist of this challenge involves navigation without GPS on secondary and tertiary backroads—sometimes more “back” than “road.” While this isn’t a race, we are all trying to finish within a reasonable time frame. (The minimum allowable finish time is ten days, for safety reasons.) For me, this meant fourteen days of riding day and night, sometimes in the searing summer heat on state highways, sometimes in the pitch black of more remote areas such as desert, in critter-filled wooded areas, in dense early-morning fog, and rain. 

Harley Davidson DENALI CANsmart

To prepare my Harley-Davidson Road Glide, I installed a set of DENALI Electronics D7s offset from the turn signals) and a set of D2s on the engine guard. I also installed the Gen 2 DENALI CANsmart harness for Harley-Davidson so I could customize settings and adjust intensity for variable riding conditions by using the motorcycle controls. I have to say, Denali’s auxiliary light customization is brilliant. (There’s a pun in there somewhere.)

Harley Davidson DENALI CANsmart

DENALI CANsmart settings

The DENALI Electronics website explains the Harley’s DENALI CANsmart Controller (or harness) “connects to the Harley-Davidson diagnostic port to access over 35 programmable accessory settings designed to control factory passing lamps, auxiliary lights, turn signals, horns, brake lights, or any accessory you can imagine.” Note that CanSmart is also available for select BMW and KTM models as well. 

Using the DENALI CANsmart software, downloaded from the DENALI Electronics website, I connect my laptop to the Controller using the “USB to micro USB” cable which comes in the box. But, if the cable provided is misplaced, then a regular USB cable should work. 

The first basic setting I want to customize is light intensity. For each light pair (up to two sets) you can assign different intensities on low beam for daytime and for night. You can also set daytime and night intensities on high beam for each light pair. 

For example, I run my low beam lights a little brighter during the day to help drivers see me. Presently, I have the daytime low beam (basically, the running lights) set at 30% intensity for the D7s—my “upper” lights next to the turn signals. I have the D2s, my “lower” light set on the engine guard, set at 20% on low beam during the day. I use these as shoulder spotlights and don’t need them as much during the day. I suppose I could set the D2s on low at 0% during the day, but I’m going for that motorcycle triangle of conspicuity. 

Why would the low beam settings be any different at night? Let me share my lesson learned. These lights are bright! I originally had my nighttime low beam set at 20% for both light pairs. Even so, while riding at night on unlit roads, oncoming traffic would flash their bright lights— and some would even leave them on to blind me as if to prove a point. Rude, right? I adjusted the nighttime low beam down to the sweet spot at 10% intensity. And still, when a car appears over the hill or around the corner, I give them a quick flash to tell them: (1) yes, I’m here, and (2) no, I’m not running my high beam right now. (So, you can stop flashing me. Ha ha!)

My nighttime high beams are set at 100% for both light pairs. I use these when riding, say, in a solitary forest on the lookout for deer. I travel in my glorious, personal tunnel of light. On the 2018 Hoka Hey I rode a stock bike with no auxiliary lights. I often felt I had to stop for the night, and sacrifice progress toward the finish line, rather than risk a deer strike. You may be thinking: why would you stay on the road at all? On a regular day I might turn in early. On the Hoka Hey, however, I feel compelled to clock as many miles as I reasonably can in a day. Indeed, with the DENALI lights at night and experience under my belt, I improved my 2020 finish time by seven days.

The DENALI auxiliary lights also can be set to flash inversely with the hazard lights. If I must pull over to the side of the road or am caught in heavy rain, then I’m confident my flashing hazard lights in combination with the auxiliary lights will be seen. And, frankly, I feel safer knowing my bike’s lights stand out when I need them to. 

“Flash to pass” is a brief strobe triggered by quickly flashing the high beam three times.  This is a programmed setting that I can turn on or off. It activates when I quickly push my high beam three times. When I want someone to move out of the fast lane in front of me, it’s effective (and fun). I can also program the lights to strobe when the DENALI Soundbomb horn is activated. But, a word of caution, the strobe may not be legal in some states. 

Another setting I especially like has to do with how the auxiliary lights interact with the turn signals. As mentioned, the auxiliary lights are especially bright and can, in effect, outshine the turn signal. When I first installed the DENALI lights and CANsmart, I thought I would use the programming option to turn auxiliary lights off when the turn signal is activated. During the day this is a good option. But– another lesson learned– in the dark of night, not so much. I’ve gotten comfortable in my tunnel of light and just as I’m about to turn…. Noooooo, there goes my light. I don’t know that my eyes or brain want to adapt that quickly. The lights fade back on in a few seconds, but still I decided I don’t like this function. 

The most recent software upgrade, however, solves the issue! Now I can program the auxiliary lights to flash with the turn signal. To do this, I’ll need to install an updated cable with turn signal connectors. Now my auxiliary lights will make the turn signal more conspicuous. 

What happens when I’ve programmed a setting but need to make changes on the fly? Functions can be turned on or off using the DENALI CANsmart software and a laptop. Some, like the flash to pass option, are only triggered when I take an action. I can adjust others, such as light intensity, by using motorcycle controls. 

Harley's DENALI CANsmart


1 thought on “I’m a Control Freak: I love my Harley’s DENALI CANsmart Controller

  1. Great write-up! It really lets me understand what the CANSmart can do and how its functions were helpful on the (back)road.

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