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February 14, 2018

Small-displacement adventure for the masses

Story by Costa Mouzouris

Affordable small-displacement bikes are taking an ever-bigger share of the market in North America, where big bikes have ruled for more than three decades. Many baby boomers, responsible for feeding the motorcycle industry since about the mid-1980s, have since grown out of motorcycling and into other leisurely pastimes like boating and RVing. Motorcycling can therefore use an influx of new, young riders, but those new riders don’t want to be forced onto diminutive beginner bikes; they want full-size, easy-handling and affordable motorcycles. To meet those needs, Japanese and European bike makers have introduced several appealing sub-400 cc models in the last few years, including sport bikes, naked bikes and dual sports. Among them is this latest offering from BMW, the G310GS adventure bike.

You may have read Jamie Elvidge’s travel article through the Pyrenees aboard a G310GS in Mojo’s December world travel issue. I also got a chance to ride BMW’s smallest adventure bike at its world launch, and was afforded ample time to technically evaluate the second BMW model based on the made-in-India G310 platform in a variety of conditions – it proved to be a worthy addition to this growing market segment.

Close Competition

Front of The 2018 BMW G310GSAt $6,450, the G310GS costs just $150 more than its only real competitor, the Kawasaki Versys-X 300, though the former includes BMW’s three-year warranty, which for a beginning rider is a big factor to consider when looking at long-term operating costs. However, it costs $1,200 more than the G310R, 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 serrated metal foot pegs for an improved foothold off-road.

You can also switch off the ABS when hitting the dirt, and you can do so on the fly.

Despite utilizing the same frame as on the R, steering geometry is a bit more relaxed thanks to the taller suspension and larger-diameter front wheel. Seat height is also 50 mm taller, at 835 mm, though reach to the ground is still relatively easy, partly 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, like 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 more on that later.

The 2018 BMW G310GS At A ParkThe G310GS has an entry-level price and engine displacement, but it doesn’t feel like an entry-level bike. This is a full-size motorcycle, and it weighs in at 169.5 kg wet, 11 kilos more than the G310R, but 5.5 kg lighter than the Versys-X. Its 313 cc liquid-cooled single is identical to the R’s, claiming 34 hp and 20.7 ft-lb of peak torque, though fuel-injection mapping is slightly altered to accommodate a different muffler.

On the Highway

The riding position is upright, though the handlebar is too low for my six-foot stature when standing up. Some handlebar height could be added by simply pivoting it upward, though aftermarket handlebar risers would be a good addition for tall riders. Legroom is cramped with the standard seat, and during my ride, I missed out on an opportunity to swap out the stock seat for the optional, taller 850 mm seat, which would have been more accommodating. 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 2018 BMW G310GS In Front of MountainsA light clutch launches the bike easily, and at a fast pace on twisty roads, my left foot was busy keeping the engine above 6,000 rpm to maintain momentum while exiting turns. As I’d noted in my review of the G310R (Motorcycle Mojo, May 2017), the engine feels powerful enough to pull taller gearing, though the taller rear tire on the GS seems to have cured the bike of the shortish sixth gear that had me searching for a seventh on the R.

On the highway, the engine spins at around 7,000 rpm at 110 km/h (redline is at 10,000 rpm) 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, foot pegs and seat above that speed. One thing I hadn’t noticed was the piston-slap-like knocking that I had noted on the G310R when it was hot at idle; it seems BMW performed some improvements before beginning production, an effort confirmed by product manager Jörg Schueller, who told us that production of both G310 models was delayed while…

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