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Clearwater CANopener Review

Part 1: Clearwater Lights CANopener and the BMW CAN Bus

The Clearwater Lights CANopener system is an innovative auxiliary lighting management system like nothing else available.

The CANopener is compatible with the BMW R1200GSW, GSAW and RTW (W for water cooled) and the K1600GT+ models.

The system provides owners with an integrated programmable system for Clearwater LED auxiliary lights (reviews) in the front or the new Clearwater LED tail/brake light module in the rear.

The CANopener also exploits (in a totally neutral way) the onboard CAN and LIN (Local Interconnect Network) bus network components on BMW motorcycles.

This includes integration with the multi-media/multi-function controller found on the left handlebar nacelle of recent BMWs.

The CANopener consists of a small control unit with wiring harness. It installs easily by plugging directly into the existing Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) connectors on the BMW with no other modifications to the motorcycle needed.

Once installed, the rider can control the brightness of the Clearwater LED lighting using the Multi-Function Controller (MFC) if so fitted, or the Clearwater handlebar-mounted digital encoder knob.

More functions are available with BMW motorcycles equipped with the MFC and the BMW ambient light sensor is also utilized to provide automatic day/night brightness memory. The lights can also be switched on and off via the bike’s turn signal cancel button and instant full brightness is available using the high beam, Flash-to-Pass or horn buttons.

A speed-sensing brake light option is also under development and we had an early production version that will also be described in this review.

The results are more than worth it. The Clearwater CANopener system is a well thought-out accessory that is revolutionary in its approach and there is no denying its capabilities and ease of use for auxiliary lighting management for both the front and rear of a motorcycle.

Clearwater CANopener Control Module
Close-up of the Clearwater CANopener control module.

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As Clearwater Lights aptly states, “With the CANbus system, BMW brought motorcycle electrical design into the modern age by allowing direct monitoring and control of nearly every component on the bike, while eliminating the heavy, bulky wiring that would normally be required.”

This is a worthwhile goal because it can be frustrating to add accessories like auxiliary lights, horns and even LED bulb replacements that require either a separate wiring harness, work-arounds to fool the CAN bus, load resistors and extra switches and dials to control the lights.  The CANopener solves this problem for both front- or rear-facing Clearwater auxiliary lights.

Why the CANopener?

For the past several months, we have been giving the complete CANopener system a workout. Our system includes the Clearwater Erica LED lights (review) and Clearwater Darla LED lights (review) mounted at the front of a BMW R 1200 GSW and a prototype Clearwater LED tail/brake module installed at the rear. The entire system has been well used and well tested under all riding environments.

Heightened visibility front and rear on a motorcycle is never a bad thing and being able to use the CANopener system to selectively and dynamically manage the lights output to enhance the road or trail ahead makes it even better. And one of the most positive capabilities provided by the CANopener system is how it integrates with the BMW’s CAN bus system to adjust the light output without requiring extra handlebar controls, buttons or dimmer wheels.

This capability then allows the rider to almost instantly activate features like a high output flashing or strobe pattern from the LED auxiliary lights using the bike’s Flash-to-Pass, horn or hazard controls.

One example: the CANopener can be programmed so that a light touch of the horn button activates the very loud Stebel horn (review) and flashes the LEDs at full output. This never fails to get the desired result in alerting or warning other road users…safely.

The ability to see, be seen, be responsive, be courteous and be safe are motorcycling tenets we cannot and should not ignore, ever. Requiring a significant investment, the Clearwater Lights CANopener system provides both dynamic auxiliary lighting management and significant returns for safety. I won’t give mine up.

Clearwater CANopener With Wiring Harness
The Clearwater Lights CANopener system module and wiring harness.

And Don’t Forget the Rear…

At the rear of the bike, auxiliary LED tail and/or brake lighting seems to invoke far more discussion, despite the fact that many of the objectives — visibility, conspicuity, communicating actions or intentions and of course safety — are no different than when using auxiliary lighting in the front.

Plug-and-play rear LED systems range from basic to sophisticated and many are quite innovative. For example, some auxiliary tail/brake light systems will change the levels of brightness or flashing when connected to the motorcycle’s rear lights.

The optional Clearwater LED tail/brake light being developed (and for which we have been providing feedback) is a prototype “intelligent” brake light module that utilizes sensor data carried on the CAN bus.

Like other advanced or “intelligent” brake light systems under development, the Clearwater brake light system utilizes accelerometer, braking, transmission and other related data, along with algorithmic software, to vary the intensity and pattern of the rear-facing and very bright red LEDs. The idea is to give following traffic a warning as the motorcycle speed decreases but where the rider may not yet have applied the brakes.

Similar capabilities that are either stand-alone with their own sensors and micro-processor, or which leverage sensor data collected and processed by on-board systems, will be coming to market (one is currently being evaluated for a future wBW article).

But for now the Clearwater Lights CANopener system is unique in allowing the rider to program both front and rear auxiliary lights – a major difference and a distinct advantage.

Clearwater CANopener Configuration
The CANopener can be programmed to control a Clearwater LED lights installation.

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CANopener Features and Capabilities

We have version 1.72 of the CANopener, which includes the following capabilities:

  • Dimming Feature: Allows dimming of up to two sets of Clearwater lights using the MFC. The light output is adjustable over ten steps, from 10% to 100%, in day/night or high-beam modes (Note: this feature not available without the MFC fitted).
  • Automatic Dimmer: The programmable Clearwater Lights dimmer setting compensates automatically for ambient light using the motorcycle’s in-dash photocell. Some factory pre-sets are used but discrete settings for day, night and high beam modes are done with the Mult-Function Controller (if installed).
  • Light Switching: Erica or Krista lights can be switched on or off using the turn signal cancel (TSC) button.
  • Horn Activation Mode: Clearwater LED lights can be programmed to illuminate or strobe when the horn button is pressed (off-road use only).
  • Hazard Flasher Alert Mode: Clearwater lights can be programmed to strobe when holding the hazard flasher button (off-road use only).
  • High Beam Mode: The Clearwater Erica/Krista lights can be programmed to either remain off or to activate when the high beam or flash-to-pass (FTP) is engaged.
  • Clearwater Brake Mode (Prototype): The optional LED tail/brake light module can be programmed to function or to dim over a 10-step adjustable range for tail and brake light output. Flashing and timing modes for the brake light can be programmed currently with other enhancements to come.
  • Auxiliary Relay Drives: More features can be included in the CANopener in the future.
  • Factory Default Reset: Resets all functions to the default settings if necessary.

The BMW Multi-Media/Multi-Function Controller (MFC) or “Wonder Wheel” is not a gimmick but rather a fantastic addition to newer BMW motorcycles.

Clearwater takes advantage of this capability to allow the rider to configure one or two sets of Clearwater LED lights and the tail/brake light module using two discrete CANopener programming channels.

But don’t despair if you don’t have the MFC installed. Just be sure to specify your bike’s configuration when the CANopener order is placed with Clearwater. BMW owners without the MFC can order a kit with a Clearwater encoder knob, which provides dimming control for the lights, although separate day and night settings and the dual (channel) programming feature will not be available for bikes without the MFC.

CANopener Programming Input Controls

The BMW CAN-Bus Issue

In evaluating a product like the Clearwater Lights CANopener, two issues emerge early on: the first concerns the use of front or rear auxiliary lighting for motorcycles and the second is how to best tackle the challenge presented by BMW Motorrad’s sophisticated CAN bus (Controller Area Network) in fitting and using electrical accessories.

And during the course of our long-term evaluation, both issues remained key and both are discussed in this review.

Auxiliary lights are one of the most popular accessories fitted to motorcycles, usually for all the right reasons. With proper installation and adjustment and when used in a safe, responsible and legal manner most issues are mitigated.

 Next: Part 2 The BMW Can Bus 

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