BARCELONA, Spain — “Guys, you really must stop crashing,” announced a distraught Matthias Kottman, designer of the 2018 BMW G310GS. “We have no more spare bikes for the following groups of journalists.”
This desperate plea came after the fourth “professional” rider pitched a brand-new G310GS to the ground, and this was before lunch — no one was hurt. It must be stated that these unfortunate dismounts had absolutely nothing to do with the machine, but rather more to do with overzealous moto hacks attempting to achieve road-racing lean angles for the camera, on and off the pavement — on an entry-level, small-displacement adventure bike.
Fortunately the ensuing delays didn’t eat into our ride too much and we had ample time to evaluate BMW’s second offering based on a made-in-India G310 platform, in a variety of conditions.
Much anticipated small adventure bike
My gauge as to just how much people have been anticipating this new small adventure bike was the comments to my Facebook post announcing its press launch. This is something I do regularly when I attend press intros, yet I have never before received so many comments inquiring about a bike.
“Really interested on your take on this unit…” Nice!” “Awesome!” were just a few of the comments. “Looking forward to your review,” times about 10.
It’s clear that affordable, small-displacement bikes are taking an ever-bigger share of the market, even here in North America where big bikes have ruled for more than three decades. Motorcycling needs new riders, and those new riders don’t want diminutive beginner bikes shoved down their throats; they want full-sized, easy handling and affordable motorcycles, and now there are several to choose from, including this latest GS.
At $6,450, the G310GS costs just $150 more than its only real competitor, the Kawasaki Versys-X 300, though it includes BMW’s three-year warranty, which for a beginning rider is a big factor to consider when thinking of long-term operating costs. However, it costs $1,200 more than the BMW G310R I rode last year, with which it shares most of its major components, including the frame, engine and brakes.
The main differences between the GS and the R are in the suspension components, bodywork and wheels. The GS has more suspension travel at 180 mm front and rear (140 and 131 mm for the R); it has a GS-inspired, frame-mounted half-fairing, a 19-inch front wheel versus the R’s 17-incher, a taller-profile rear tire (150/70R17 vs. 150/60), and it has serrated metal footpegs for off-road grip. It also has switchable ABS for improved off-road ability, and it can be switched on or off on the fly.
Its 313 cc liquid-cooled single is identical to the R’s, claiming 34 hp and 20.7 lb.-ft. of peak torque, though injection mapping is slightly altered to accommodate a different muffler.
Despite using the same frame as on the R, steering geometry is a bit more relaxed due to the taller suspension and different front wheel. Seat height is also 50 mm taller at 835 mm, though reach to the ground is still relatively easy, partially due to the softly sprung suspension.
The digital instrument panel offers a surprising array of information for a bike in this price range, and displays speed, engine revs, gear position, time, fuel level, two trip meters, and fuel consumption info. Some cost-cutting measures are also evident, including the limited suspension adjustability (only rear preload is adjustable), and the absence of reach-adjustable levers. Fit, finish and build quality, however, seem above par for its class, but a bit more on that later.
On the seat
The G310GS has an entry-level price and engine displacement, but it does not feel like an entry-level bike. This is a full-sized motorcycle, and it weighs in at 169.5 kg (373 lb) wet, 11 kilos more than the R but 5.5 kg lighter than the Versys-X. The riding position is upright, though the handlebar is too low for me when standing up. Some handlebar height could have been added by simply pivoting it upwards, though I’d install handlebar risers for my height. Legroom is also cramped with the standard seat, and I missed out on an opportunity to swap out the stock seat for the optional, taller 850-mm seat. Behind the seat is a very robust luggage rack, a cue that the G310GS is designed primarily for markets where small bikes carry big loads.
The bike takes off effortlessly from a stop, and at a fast pace on twisty roads your left foot is busy keeping the engine above 6,000 rpm to maintain momentum exiting turns. As I’d noted in my review of the G310R, the engine feels powerful enough to pull taller gearing, though the taller rear tire seems to have cured the bike of the short-ish sixth gear that had me searching for a seventh on the R.
On the highway, the engine spins at just around 7,000 rpm at 110 km/h and there’s ample passing power available from about 80 km/h. The counterbalanced engine is relatively smooth below 100 km/h but buzzes through the handlebar, footpegs and seat above that speed. One thing I hadn’t noticed was the piston-slap-like knocking that I noted on the G310R when it was hot at idle; it seems BMW performed some improvements before beginning production, an effort confirmed by the product manager, who told us that production of both G310 models was delayed while quality control was improved to meet BMW standards, especially with suppliers.
We began the day with a 45-minute highway ride, where aside from feeling buzzy at speed, the G310GS felt very comfortable sustaining 120 km/h. The fairing offers some wind protection for your torso, and an accessory taller screen will no doubt be available soon offering even better wind protection.
We then turned onto some winding roads that led to a brief off-road section of the route. We were on winding gravel roads for only about 15 km, but this was enough to reveal the GS’s surprisingly compliant suspension, which made small bumps, dips and ruts disappear without wallowing. The dirt roads we sampled were ideal for this machine (now there’s a surprise – Ed.), as they were mostly smooth, with some humps that served as small jumps at speed.
The suspension is well suited for light duty off-roading, though the fork topped out with a light clunk when the front wheel left the ground off these humps, and although I never jumped the bike high enough to bottom the suspension hard, it did soak up all of its travel and bottomed lightly after landing from more enthusiastic launches. Its easy-handling nature inspires confidence on hard-packed dirt, which is what may have led a couple of the riders to push harder than the street-oriented dual-sport tires could handle.
In the afternoon we rode on some very twisty roads, and this is where the GS really impressed. We picked up the speed to what I consider a “very spirited” pace, and the GS handled everything from tight, near-switchback-like curves to fast sweepers without a hiccup. The Metzeler Tourance tires have enough grip to erase any traces of chicken strips, and despite its soft suspension, the bike never wallows or weaves, displaying exemplary stability.
The only caveat — and this is due to the soft, long-travel suspension — is that you can’t approach corners while hard on the brakes. The bike dives considerably when on the binders, so you have to brake sooner and smoother, to which it responds with an impressive amount of cornering speed. When riding at the bike’s limits, you have to work the gearbox frequently, though this adds to the overall fun, and it shifts smoothly with a light touch.
However, it’s not all praise for the G310GS. The journalists who’d sacrificed their reputations in the interest of crash-testing the GS earlier in the day provided some informative revelations. One was that the G310GS doesn’t crash very well.
In one case a bike sustained substantial damage after its rider washed out the front end on a gravel road during a photo shoot. Admittedly I didn’t see the crash, but the bike just fell on its right side, and it seemed like a relatively minor low-speed get-off since the rider’s street gear wasn’t torn or otherwise damaged. Yet on the bike the muffler had pushed into the swingarm, its mounting bracket bent, and the handlebar was bent upwards significantly. But the most revealing damage to me was to the master cylinder. The brake lever bent upwards without breaking, but in doing so it also bent its master-cylinder mount, causing the lever to swing up and down excessively, requiring replacement of both lever and master cylinder. This type of crash damage tells me that some of the alloys used are soft. Or maybe not, since I’m not a metallurgist, but as a former mechanic I’ve seen my share of crashed bikes, and master cylinders can usually take a fair amount of abuse.
Who wants one?
The 2017 BMW G310GS checks several boxes that should make it a success. It has a small-displacement engine that’s powerful enough to be engaging, while claiming a very frugal 3.3L/100 km. Due to its smaller displacement it will be inexpensive to plate and insure. It’s an attractively styled, light-duty adventure bike that’s sized for adults rather than being a three-quarter-scale beginner bike, and it’s a great urban runabout. It’s also attractively priced.
If you’re looking to partake in more aggressive off-roading, the bike can probably handle it with some suspension modifications — installing firmer fork and shock springs might do the trick.
Like the bigger GS models, this one is ready for a wide range of conditions, and it should serve as a great stepping stone to larger adventure bikes for budding adventure riders.