Plug-n-Play

CAN bus Handlebar swapping made easy

CAN bus Handlebar swap

Before...

Photo: Jeff G. Holt

The folks at Hill Country Custom Cycles just want you to be happy—so much so that they take all the guesswork and troublesome issues on the new crop of Harley-Davidson motorcycles with CAN bus electrical systems. Take our buddy Phil, for instance. He just picked up a brand-spankin’-new H-D Softail Slim and wanted to get a set of mid-rise apehangers for it. Well, a few years ago all he would have to do is cut and splice some wires, get some longer cables and brake hoses, and he would be hanging ’em high in no time. Well, sorry, Phil. With CAN bus-equipped bikes this simply can’t be done.

What the hell is CAN bus, you say? The “CAN” in CAN bus stands for “Controller Area Network.” And the “bus” is pretty much layman’s terms for a common interconnection point that’s a method of transportation of information or electricity. In short, CAN bus is a computerized method of hardware and software communicating between one another. Yes, it is complicated, but it’s been the standard in the auto industry for years, and now it’s come to your motorcycle.

The good thing about CAN bus is that the system has proven to work quicker and with smaller amounts of wiring and hardware. Functions, such as traction control and ABS, require fast information processing. Also, Harley-Davidson is now using CAN bus to monitor operation of the headlight, taillight, brake light, and the turn signals.

This technology is actually a really good thing until you try to swap parts. Many have found this out the hard way by tapping into the electrical system adding an extra electrical gadget with not-so-stellar results. The CAN bus system senses this, and the computer thinks, rightly or wrongly, that the bike has a problem. Then error codes are thrown, and in some cases the bike shuts down thinking something catastrophic is going to happen.

That’s where the crew at Hill Country Customs comes in. They have taken the guesswork out of getting custom bars on CAN bus bikes with their Create Your Own kits. These kits come in a few variations, but the one we like best is the Complete Package Kit.

There are two ways you can order these kits. The first option is taking your hand controls off and sending them to Hill Country. It’s really easy because they send you a UPS return label to ship them your controls. Once your controls arrive, the technicians at Hill Country build your custom handlebars to order within 24 hours and ship them to you complete with the correct length cables, brake lines, and any installation accessories your given bike needs. This option would normally leave your bike down for at least a week with all the shipping and service times.

The other option is the fastest and the one we think is best; when you make the purchase from them either online or on the phone, Hill Country charges you a $495 core charge on top of the price of the handlebar kit. They build your handlebar kit to your specs then ship it to you. Inside the box is a pre-paid return label to send your existing switch components back to Hill Country. Once they receive your core switches safe and sound they refund the $495 back to you. This gets bars you want on your bike quickly, and it’s virtually hassle-free.

This is the option our pal Phil went with. And although he could have done the installation of these bars at home in his garage with only a few specialty tools, we went to Scotty’s Speed Metal to shoot all the action. It’s easy to figure out just what height and style of handlebars you want on the Hill Country website. Here’s how it went down.

CAN bus Handlebar swap

...after.

Photo: Jeff G. Holt

CAN bus Handlebar swap

Once ordered, the Complete Kit shows up by way of UPS with everything needed to install the new bars on your model bike.

Photo: Jeff G. Holt

CAN bus Handlebar swap

We chose black-on-black bars and controls to complement the look of the Softail Slim.

Photo: Jeff G. Holt

CAN bus Handlebar swap

Our pal and certified H-D tech Scotty at Scotty’s Speed Metal starts the bar swap by loosening up the clutch cable and stock handlebars and components.

Photo: Jeff G. Holt

CAN bus Handlebar swap

The clutch cable had to be replaced with the new longer one from Hill Country.

Photo: Jeff G. Holt

CAN bus Handlebar swap

The old bars were removed from the bike, and the switches were sent back to Hill Country via a UPS return slip, which they provide.

Photo: Jeff G. Holt

CAN bus Handlebar swap

As you can see there is a vast difference between the stock bike’s “Hollywood” bars and the new Hill Country apehangers.

Photo: Jeff G. Holt

CAN bus Handlebar swap

Scotty installs the new apehangers on the stock H-D risers and snugs the bolts down.

Photo: Jeff G. Holt

CAN bus Handlebar swap

The pre-wired bars from Hill Country are properly routed and attached to the stock wiring via OEM-quality Deutsch connectors.

Photo: Jeff G. Holt

CAN bus Handlebar swap

Scotty then installs the clutch cable and adjusts it to factory specifications.

Photo: Jeff G. Holt

CAN bus Handlebar swap

The front brakes were plumbed and adjusted using the longer brake line provided in the Hill Country kit.

Photo: Jeff G. Holt

CAN bus Handlebar swap

Once the throttle cables were installed and everything was adjusted and tightened to factory specs, the Hill Country bars were ready to ride!

Photo: Jeff G. Holt

CAN bus Handlebar swap

The Hill Country “Complete Package Kit” is just that. It allows just about anyone to install a new set of bars on their bike without a ton of experience, time, and money.

Photo: Jeff G. Holt