BMW ostensibly created the adventure bike market segment with its 1980 R80G/S, the GS standing for Gelände/Straße, loosely translated to off-road/road. A balancing act of on-road, off-road and touring capabilities defines the adventure bike genre, and now most major motorcycle manufacturers have adventure bikes of one kind or another in their lineups. The 2018 G310GS is the smallest GS in BMW’s current roster. Does it live up to the storied GS designation?
The bike features a 313cc single-cylinder engine that puts out 34 hp and uses a unique reversed cylinder head design. The cylinder is tilted rearwards instead of the more conventional forward tilt, and the cylinder head has the intake tract on the front of the engine and the exhaust port on the rear. This reversed design was attempted on Cannondale’s failed motocross bike from 2001, but surely will be more successful in this application. Liquid cooling, DOHC, four valves, electronic fuel injection, a Nikasil coated integrated cylinder sleeve, and “Diamond Like Carbon” (DLC) coated valvetrain rocker arms round out the engine’s bag of tricks. A 6-speed gearbox routes power from the engine through an O-ring chain and onto the 17-inch rear wheel. As is common with BMW’s GS models, the front wheel is a 19 incher, and both wheels are shod with dual-purpose Metzeler Tourance tires.
Suspension duties are handled by a beautiful-looking upside-down fork and a single rear spring and shock mounted directly to the swingarm. Forgoing a linkage for the rear shock undoubtedly saves both weight and cost, and the lack of progression that a linkage would give is partly made up for by the use of a progressively wound spring. As befitting of a bike of this price, the fork is non-adjustable, and the rear shock features spring preload adjustment only. The frame is tubular steel with a bolt-on rear subframe and a standard luggage rack. BMW’s accessories catalog for the bike includes two options for topcases to bolt to the luggage rack, as well as a tank bag, BMW GPS system, smartphone holder, heated grips, 12-volt socket, centre stand and higher and lower seat options.
The bike is available in Cosmic Black, Racing Red, and Pearl White Metallic (a $75 option). Price is $6,450 with ABS standard.
What’s it like to ride?
Ergonomically, the G310GS has a very upright riding position, tall and wide bars, and a fairly soft saddle that is 835mm from the ground but is quite short from front to back. The footpegs sit just ahead of a vertical line drawn down from the back of the tank, putting the rider’s feet slightly forward. Rider comfort is important in a motorcycle designed for adventure, and the GS does not disappoint. However, wind protection is minimal, so for extended highway riding an add-on to the small windshield would be well advised.
Engine power is best described as adequate, with a lawnmower-like thump at idle that rises to an almost sporty two-stroke-like howl (albeit muted) in the upper rev ranges under wide open throttle. Proper gear selection is vital to avoid getting bogged down at lower RPM. However, on my tester, gear selection was a bit problematic at times, especially the 3 to 4 upshift, and on one particularly hot day, the box returned more than a couple of false neutrals at speed. Further break-in may have smoothed things out, as the tester had only 35 kilometres on the odometer at the start of the test.
How does it handle?
With a bike that has to make so many compromises for dual-purpose duty while keeping costs low, it handles far better than it has any right to. The GS is light, flickable and fun, especially at lower speeds. Illegal velocities are unnecessary to have fun on this bike, as the sensation of speed is somehow amplified, and the simple act of slicing through corners at 5/10ths speed is still a joy. The high centre of gravity allows the bike to tip into corners willingly. Find a twisty section of road, and the amusement factor can be at a 9 when the speed factor is only at a 5, compared to many sport bikes that tug at the leash and beg to go faster until the rider is suddenly being asked for licence and registration.
Braking power is good, even with a single front disc, as there is not much weight for the brakes to contend with. Under hard stopping, the fork dives considerably, but the bike remains stable and unfazed by the chassis pitch. Disarming the ABS by pressing the ABS button on the left handlebar for several seconds, the rider can then play like a child on a coaster-brake bicycle and rear-wheel-skid into home base at stop signs, if the mood should strike. Such is the light, upright and confident handling of this bike that it does feel like a bicycle at times, in a good way.
Being an adventure bike, the GS lives up to its calling and encourages exploration. The comfortable ergonomics, fun factor and easy-to-ride nature goad the rider into going a little farther, and the bike is capable on anything that could conceivably be labelled a road. The dual-purpose Metzeler tires lean more toward pavement handling, but gravel surfaces are still easily navigated, and the suspension soaks up rough roads admirably.
Does it do what it’s intended for?
Aesthetically, the G310GS seems to hit all the right buttons. It does not look as small as it is, and its futuristic styling caught the eye of every passerby as I took photos in an alley off the Danforth. BMW did a great job in making the bike beautiful, but it also looks very high-quality and well put together. A bike this good-looking with the BMW roundel on the fairing has no business being this well-priced.
Reading through the BMW literature on this bike, the word “versatile” is liberally used, and that illustrates this bike to a T. The little GS cuts through city traffic and boogies down a gravel road with equal athleticism and looks really good doing it, living up to its GS billing. Being the smallest and least-expensive GS in the BMW arsenal, this bike would also make a satisfying starter bike, fuel-efficient commuter, a low-cost toe-dip into adventure riding, or an affordable re-entry into motorcycling nirvana for those who have been away from the sport.
2018 BMW G310GS key specs:
Engine: 313cc single
Curb (wet) weight: 169.5 kg
Power: 34 hp @ 9,500 rpm
Torque: 21 lbs.-ft. @ 7,500 rpm
Wheelbase: 1,420 mm
Length: 2075 mm
Seat height: 835 mm (optional lower seat)
Brakes: Single 4-piston fixed caliper and 300mm disc front, single 2-piston floating caliper and 240mm disc rear, standard ABS
Front suspension: 41mm upside-down fork, non-adjustable
Rear suspension: Central spring strut, directly mounted, preload adjustable
Tires: 110/80 R19 front, 150/70 R17 rear