5 things Motorrad fans should know about CANBUS

Posted on December 10, 2017 by Mohammad Ali

  1. CAN bus History

The history of CAN bus started in 1983 when an engineer at Bosch Uwe Kiencke started the development of a new serial bus system.

In February of 1986, Robert Bosch GmbH introduced the Controller Area Network (CAN) serial bus system at the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) congress.

Ultimately, the technology found its way into BMW and later recent Harley’s motorbikes. The technology has been extensively utilized especially by BMW as seen in their motorcycles such as R1200GS, K1600 and R1200RT.

  1. Drastically Reduce Wiring on BMW and Accessories Limitation

Before the invention of CAN, every component of the motorcycle was connected to the Electronic Control Unit (ECU) which results in a disastrous wire management and a nightmarish experience for both the consumer and the mechanics for maintenance.

With CAN bus, essentially there will be 2 wires namely Can-High and Can-Low that will allow individual connectors from the hardware to be connected to these wires as opposed to having individual connectors from every hardware connected to the ECU. However, having to deal with minimal cable clutter is only a ‘by-product’ of the CAN bus capability.

On the flip side, CAN bus limits the accessories that can be installed on the bike in the sense of riders can only use OEM supplied accessories that may not meet their needs or personal preferences.

  1. Unique Identifier

Every component is equipped with unique identifier. This would allow the system to recognize individual components.

CANBUS instructions


CAN bus Unique Identifier (Source: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/automotive-can-bus-system-explained-kiril-mucevski)

    1. Two types of CAN bus: 

i) For Diagnostic

One of the types of CAN bus available in the market right now is on-board diagnostic (OBD). OBD would allow the vehicle to have a self-diagnose and reporting capability. This will enable users or mechanics to gain access to the machine’s data. For example, if a mechanic is trying to look for any malfunctioning parts in the car, they will only have to retrieve the data from the CAN bus and will be able to determine the problem straight away. The connector can be accessed on the right side of the engine on my R1200GS.

ii) For Controlling Body Electronics

The CAN bus is also capable of controlling other electronics. For example, the CAN bus accessories controller -  VoloCan, allows users to use the existing controls on the handlebar on a BMW motorcycle which simplifies installation and provides an OEM feel to the third party accessories. (e.g. auxiliary lights, heated jackets). On my 2014 R1200GS, the connector is under the passenger seat.

  1. Instructions

Instruction is a unique data presented by individual hardware. For instance, when the horn button is pressed, the hardware will send an instruction (refreshed every 10 milliseconds) for the horn to generate the output.


CAN bus has been utilized and pushed to its limit especially in the transportation industry. It helps both riders and mechanics to be able to diagnose malfunctions in the system or hardware, and it helps to control other body electronics and ultimately reduces wire clutter.

Although CAN bus is capable of reducing wire clutter, unfortunately it also impedes aftermarket accessories compatibilities.  

The team at Vectolabs (https://vololights.com/) managed to turn this around with VoloCAN, which enables riders to easily install accessories offered by aftermarket manufacturers such as Cyclops Adventure Sports, SW-MOTECH and Wunderlich. These accessories can be controlled (adjust brightness, turn on/off, etc) by using factory handlebar controls – plug and play, and no additional switches needed. It is set to be released Spring of 2018. 

VoloCAN BMW CAN bus decoder

Enclosure design for the VoloCAN



Mucevski, Kiril. “Automotive CAN Bus System Explained.” Automotive CAN Bus System, 8          Dec. 2015, www.linkedin.com/pulse/automotive-can-bus-system-explained-kiril-mucevski.

NA, “History of CAN Technology.” CiA, www.can-cia.org/can-knowledge/can/can-history/.


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