BMW G310GS Launch Test: Accessible Adventure Biking

First test at the global press launch of the second model in BMW’s range of affordable Indian-built models

As promised, BMW Motorrad has begun expanding its range of different models based on its new G310 single-cylinder entry level platform, which made its marketplace debut last year with the G310R roadster. This represented the first fruits of its partnership signed in April 2013 with TVS, which manufactures the bikes in India at its factory near Bangalore. Perhaps inevitably, next up is a GS version, and after debuting at last year’s EICMA Milan Show, the G310GS is now in production, ready to add to the 4,000 examples of the G310R that TVS will have manufactured in India by the end of this year.

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This new A2 licence-friendly accessible adventure bike conceived and developed in Germany but made in India, is also very affordable – well, to customers in developed markets, anyway. It costs Euro 5,800 in Germany including 19% tax (compared to Euro 4,750 for the G310R) and is available in three colours – Cosmic Black, Racing Red and Pearl White metallic. Elsewhere, in developing markets such as Brazil and Asia, it’ll be a prestige model with local pricing to suit – but any way you look at it, the new G310GS is a lot of motorcycle for the money.

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For thanks to the massive contribution to BMW profits which its R1200GS best-selling Boxer twin makes globally in all its various guises, the German company’s management is quite understandably hyper-concerned not to risk devaluing the iconic GS trademark with a badge-engineered 313cc bauble, whose primary merit is that it’s cheap. “Creating a small-capacity GS single that lives up to the brand values is one of the most challenging things we’ve yet had to do,” admits BMW Motorrad’s Head of Vehicle Design, Edgar Heinrich. But before assuming that role in 2012, he spearheaded the design of both the R1150GS and R1200GS, as well as numerous other key BMW Motorrad models. So in creating the new mini-GS based on an Indian-built platform, Edgar clearly had some points of reference to work with….!

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Riding the result of his and his team’s efforts in northern Spain for two full days, covering 610km/380mi in going from sea level at Barcelona to more than 2,300m/7,500ft in altitude to visit the independent principality of Andorra, climbing high up in the Pyrenees Mountains to cross over them into France, then back again to Barça, raised the cost-to-performance bar to levels that bikes with three times the capacity and twice as many cylinders might struggle to attain. That also included some good stretches of offroad riding on a bike that has genuine go-anywhere capability, so long as it’s got a reasonably hard surface under the Metzeler Tourance tyres that come fitted as standard on the five-spoke cast aluminium wheels. 

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And after riding the G310GS hard and long for two full days in challenging conditions, I’m frankly much more impressed with its all-round capability than I ever thought I would be. Regular readers will know that I’m a fan of street singles, quite apart from having road raced them for so many years. But even so, I’ll admit that when I saw the route that BMW was proposing I should follow aboard a budget-priced single-cylinder street enduro made in India with just a 313cc engine to vault the Pyrenees Mountains on, I was pretty curious about how well it would perform, as well as just a little doubtful. But I was also enticed by the challenge of spending a 320km/200-mile day constantly gaining altitude, with lots of diversions offroad to explore the Catalan countryside via rugged unsurfaced cart tracks. These led you to discover beautifully unspoilt medieval villages all but shut off from the outside world – albeit festooned that week with red-and-gold striped Catalan flags and bunting in the run-up to the fracas of the independence referendum-that-wasn’t….

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The mini-GS has exactly the same engine platform as its G310R sister model, with an identical level of tune [see Technical sidebar]. It delivers 25kW/34bhp at 9,500 rpm, with a 10,500 rpm limiter, and maximum torque of 28Nm/21ft-lb at 7,500 rpm, plus it has a kerb weight of 169.5kg fully loaded with 11 litres of fuel – 11kg more than the R-model roadster, with the same fuel load. The tubular steel chassis is the same, too – although the GS seems to have a greater sense of substance about it than the R-model. But when you come to climb aboard you realise that, at 835mm high its seat is 50mm taller, thanks partly to the longer-travel suspension, so it’s best for a 5’10”/1.80m tall rider to use the footrest to hop aboard easily. There’s a choice of aftermarket seats to lower or lift the riding position, and the 15mm lower one could make the bike more comfortable for female riders, who are a key target customer of BMW’s for this new model,

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This taller stance also delivers a notably more spacious riding position, thanks also to the broader, flatter one-piece handlebar mounted on 60mm risers, and the lower-mounted footrests – which aren’t however low enough to become an issue in terms of ground clearance. I predict this bike will become a favourite with couriers and anyone else who has to ride in cities, not just because it’s cheap to buy and economical to run – claimed fuel consumption is the same as the G310R at 3.33 lt/100km, equating to 70mpg/US, or 85mpg/UK – and there’s a massively sturdy cast luggage rack fitted as standard on the bike. But the taller stance also lets you see ahead over car roofs, so you can plan your route to best advantage. Together with a cleverly designed, well-sculpted dual seat seemingly featuring a restful squab that you can rest your lower back against when riding (in fact, it’s the front of the quite spacious stepped passenger seat pad), the G310GS proved improbably comfy on an all-day ride, thanks perhaps most of all to the complete absence of vibration from the little dohc four-valve engine.

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This has a single gear-driven counterbalancer which does its job to perfection – the Ducati Supermono I used to race was previously the smoothest single I’d ever ridden, but the much less costly G310GS matches that, even at higher rpm. As in, no vibes at all, zilch – not through footrests, seat or handlebar, even when approaching the 10,500 rpm limiter, after the white shifter light in the dash starts flashing at ten grand to remind you to shift up. For the one downside of the small capacity motor is that you do need to rev it pretty hard to build any kind of speed – it’s quite happy to plonk along slowly in traffic or sightseeing, but if you want to get any sort of acceleration you must keep the revs up above the 6,000 rpm threshold, when engine speeds start to pick up noticeably more smartly. Doing that entails using the gearbox quite hard, but this has really well chosen ratios, as well as a clean, precise shift action and a very light clutch. BMW has definitely improved this on the GS compared to the R-bikes I rode last year, and the shift action is now Japanese quality. This makes it no hardship riding the little BMW in traffic or narrow, densely-packed streets, like in the old section of the country’s capital Andorra la Vella, or in any of the Catalan hill villages we explored along the way. The G310GS is responsive to how you choose to ride it, so if you work the gearbox hard and use lots of revs it does deliver enticing performance that exceeds expectations, considering how small the engine is – but it’s also happy just loping along gently at slow speeds off the cam. It’s a bike that’ll appeal to riders of all levels of experience and skill, and will make each of them feel good about how they’re riding it.

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Although it’s not a slowpoke motor, even if it’s little, gradient as ever is the G310GS’s worst enemy in riding it hard – though not to the point that you’ll need to slip the clutch exiting a tight uphill turn climbing high up in the mountains. But you do need to be aware that you must always change gear to keep the revs up for a decent drive out of a turn – otherwise it struggles to build speed, and you’ll be left behind by your mates. The digital gear counter on the dash is your passport to riding this bike well. However, maintaining hard-earned momentum is relatively simple, since the mini-GS BMW’s handling is pretty good, especially by the standards of its capacity class. Unlike on the R-bike, the front rim is a 19-incher carrying a 110/80 tyre, though the rear’s still a 17-incher with 150/70 rubber. This results in a quite long 1420mm wheelbase for a 313cc single – 46mm longer than the G310R’s, in fact. This not only contributes to the sense of substance you definitely get when looking at the G310GS in the metal – this is not a toy bike like many others with comparably small engines, especially those made in China – but also helps it live up to those GS family genes in making it seem stable and planted on the highway, more than you expect a 313cc bike to be.

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Suspension is quite different on the GS than the G310R, while still sourced from KYB/Kayaba’s factory in China, and the steering geometry is rangier, too, presumably in BMW’s search for greater stability. Well, they found it: the GS was super-stable round tight sweepers descending from Andorra into France – or faster ones climbing through the rolling Catalan hills. The non-adjustable 41mm upside down fork is set at a 26.7º rake (25.1º on the R) with 98mm of trail (102.3mm), and also offers a rangy 180mm of front wheel travel (40mm more than the R). This would be welcome for offroad use as well as in coping with rough road surfaces, coupled with the same 180mm wheel travel (up from 131mm) from the direct-action KYB cantilever rear monoshock, also non-adjustable. However, the chosen suspension settings front and rear are quite mismatched. The rear end is beautifully set up, with a good sense of control – you can feel the shock doing its job beneath you, and it’s especially well damped in ironing out the rough road surfaces you get in the mountains, after a winter freeze corrupts the smoothness of the road. 

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Not so up front, though, where the longer-travel fork is woefully under-damped – it’s OK on smooth surfaces, but show it a dip in the road, or worst of all squeeze hard on the front brake lever to get it to stop, and it dives like a footballer looking for a penalty. If you then run across some road rash with the fork compressed that makes it worse, because you’ve used up all your damping. It’ll make the GS feel skittish, and leave the otherwise excellent front Metzeler – which warms up quicker and has better feedback than the Michelins fitted to both G310Rs I’ve ridden – scrabbling for grip over bumps. That happens in any hard-braking scenario, but doing so coming down into France on the cold side of the mountains where roads were still slippery after overnight chill, revealed the efficacy of the 2-channel Continental ABS fitted as standard on the G310 platform, which is switchable for offroad use. 

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It did its job when I all but locked the front wheel a couple of times, which on a dry surface shouldn’t ever happen – the single 300mm front disc is just about sufficient brake to stop the little BMW from high speed, at least with just the rider aboard. Add luggage and/or a passenger and it would definitely be marginal, so you’d need to make good use of the 240mm rear disc with a floating twin-piston caliper. That single front disc is gripped by a four piston ByBre (Brembo’s Indian subsidiary) radial caliper via steel hoses, and the combo is just about up to the job of stopping the BMW and its solo rider at speed. But you must also use the rear brake hard for panic stops, and you don’t get the feeling there’s much in reserve, plus the non-adjustable lever is positioned rather far away from the grip, so people with smaller hands, especially women, may find this off-putting. BMW needs to spend the extra $$$ and make it adjustable.

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The BMW has light, neutral steering but feels planted in a straight line – it gives no impression of being a nervous,  lightweight package, even if it changes direction very easily, aided by the good leverage from the wide handlebar. Our return ride from Andorra included a brief spell of freeway travel which briefly ushered up the homologated top speed of 89mph/143kmh, as displayed on the BMW’s digital Continental dash, with the tacho reading just nudging the five-digit segment as the small shifter light started flashing. Yet at that engine speed and all others the 313cc single motor felt completely unstressed and, more to the point, vibration-free – the single counterbalancer does its job to perfection. Cruising at a real world speed of 120kmh/75mph brought up just 7,500 rpm on the digital tacho running across the bottom of the dash. 

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The G310GS is a great traffic tool, thanks to the oil-bath clutch’s light lever action, whose linear take-up combines with the ideally mapped fuelling to consistently supply smooth departures from stop signs or traffic lights without risk of stalling. Working the clutch is light and untiring, making riding the BMW in city streets a genuine pleasure – your hand won’t cramp up doing so, although bottom gear is very low, and obviously chosen for when a passenger is carried. You soon find it’s better to start from a stop on level ground in second gear if you’re on your own, with no need to slip the clutch much. Like the G310R, this’ll be a great bike for novices or comeback riders, simply because it’s so very easy to ride, with none of the jerky, harsh pickup from a closed throttle of at least one major competitor. That sense of control comes in spite of the G310R’s throttle being a conventional cable-operated system, not a digital ride-by-wire one.

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A further aide to the new smallest BMW’s traffic manners is the wide spread of torque peaking at 7,500 revs, just three-quarters of the way to the 10,500 rpm revlimiter. The twincam four-valve 313cc single pulls wide open in top gear from as low as 3,200rpm without any hesitation or transmission snatch, thanks to the excellent fuelling. There’s an extra kick of acceleration around 6,000rpm, and another one at nine grand, so it pays to rev it out – but that’s not to say that the power delivery is layered, just that it becomes more urgent the harder you rev the motor, which is pretty nice. 

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The BMW exudes a visual level of quality that’s frankly unexpected in such a low cost product manufactured offshore. Only the plastic switchgear looks cut-price – the rest of the G310GS components look very BMW, with high quality alloy castings and forged tripleclamps, an LED tail light, and a good paint job, and on this early production model at least, build quality looks good. This marriage of Eastern manufacture with Western design and build values is an inexpensive, affordable BMW, not a cheap one.

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.No doubt about it: BMW and TVS have joined forces to produce a motorcycle that’s self-evidently a BMW, but made in India largely to the standards of its Berlin factory. Just as with the G310R, there’s an honest sense of manufacturing quality about the mini-GS, coupled with dynamic refinement in use – the engine is beautifully fuelled, seems strong for its capacity level, and feels essentially unburstable. While keenly priced, it totally conforms to BMW’s brand identity in terms of performance, manufacturing quality, and styling. Its rivals such as Honda’s CRF250 Rally, the Suzuki V-Strom 250, the new Royal Enfield Himalayan 400, and especially the Kawasaki Versys X-300, have all got trouble on their hands, especially as BMW has strengthened its R&D back office in the past 18 months via the recruitment of a pair of key former KTM executives to lead the G310 development team.

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Andreas Wimmer was KTM’s project leader for all street singles, from the 125 Duke up to and including the 690 model range, and was responsible for working with Bajaj on the startup of KTM production in India. He’s been at BMW for almost three years, and has now been joined there by his former boss at KTM, Jӧrg Schüller, the Austrian firm’s former Product Manager. These guys are heavy hitters in product development, and the acquired knowledge they bring to the party of working with an Indian partner will be invaluable in developing the BMW-TVS partnership still further.

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