BMW G310R Launch Test: East Meets West

Riding in Los Angeles rush hour underlined the real world rideability of this entry level product

Carving curves on the iconic Mulholland Highway and going with the flow on the Ventura Freeway demonstrated the handling and performance attributes of this Made in India motorcycle carrying the most famous badge in German motorcycling history

BMW Motorrad has pulled out the stops in getting its first true entry level model ready for its marketplace debut, working with its appointed partner TVS – who will manufacture the bike in India at its factory near Bangalore – to bring the G310R roadster from initial clean-screen concept to production in just three years. This exceptional speed of development is all the more significant given that it included sourcing local suppliers capable of producing components to BMW’s standards, as well as educating them and indeed TVS, too, in German production values.

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It’s not the first time that BMW has sub-contracted manufacture of a complete model to an outside party, with its F650 Funduro and F650ST Strada powered by an Austrian-made 652cc Rotax engine – the first BMW motorcycles with chain final drive – jointly designed by BMW in conjunction with Aprilia, who then manufactured these single-cylinder models in Italy from 1993 until 2001. Only then, when their successor the F650GS was launched, was the full build process brought back in-house to BMW’s factory in Berlin, although the engine was later assembled by Loncin in China, but still using parts manufactured by Rotax in Europe. There was also a brief period when the engines were built by Kymco in Taiwan, in each case with the finished motors shipped back to BMW in Germany, where the bikes were assembled. 

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BMW is thus accustomed to taking special care to ensure the highest build quality in offshore manufacture of even its lowest-cost product – and the new 313cc G310R is a step below its 650cc predecessors in terms of capacity, performance and especially price, retailing at less than Euro 5,000 in Europe on the road and inclusive of tax, and under $5,000 in the USA (minus tax). It’s intended that this should be a key ingredient in driving an ongoing increase in demand for BMW’s products via new platforms attracting first-time customers, who may then progress up the ownership ladder in terms of price and capacity. Designed and developed in Germany, but entirely manufactured in India by TVS, BMW’s debut model in the globally booming sub-500cc capacity segment is aimed as an entry-level bike in developed markets in Europe, Australia, Japan and the USA, and as a prestige model in developing markets such as Brazil and Southeast Asia. Curiously, though, BMW has no firm plans yet to sell it in India, where as a locally made product it would be free of the steep taxes affecting imported models there. But BMW says it won’t do so until it’s established a national motorcycle dealer network in India capable of delivering the appropriate level of after-sales support.

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First real-life test

After an advance ride on BMW’s Indian-made Futurebike with a small group of journalists last September over a 220km/140-mile route which led us south of the company’s Munich base into the foothills of the Bavarian Alps, I took up BMW’s invitation to join the global press launch held in Los Angeles last December to spend another day aboard its new entry level motorcycle. Not just because I like riding in Southern California – as I do, for this is two-wheeled paradise – but because I was interested to see how this important new world bike would behave in the riding conditions it’ll inevitably be most exposed to in the real world use the majority of its customers will put it to, which hadn’t been possible in Germany. Namely, a mix of coping with snarled-up traffic congestion on your everyday commute, surfing between street corners and staging between stoplights, interspersed with enjoying the many good rides in the mountains surrounding LA, and going with the flow in freeway travel. In SoCal style this means a constant 75mph/120kmh on the I-405 San Diego Freeway or I-5 Santa Ana Freeway anytime except during the 7-9am and 3.30-6pm rush hours, when arguably the single biggest advantage of this slim, sweet-steering single comes into play – the ability to lane-split the giant parking lot the entire LA Basin’s freeway system becomes twice each day. 

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Our 200km/125-mile test run took us through the Hollywood Hills, following the length of the Los Angeles area’s Racer Road, the famed Mulholland Highway running Westwards to the Pacific Coast with a stop for a warming coffee at the iconic Rock Store – no sign of uber-petrolhead and regular visitor Jay Leno, though – en route to a seaside lunch on the beach at Malibu, watching the wetsuit-clad winter surfers catch a wave or two beneath sunny skies. It was a slightly surreal opportunity to test the credentials in a wide variety of uses of this Made in India motorcycle carrying the most famous badge in German motorcycling history. Moreover, it included a spell of freeway travel on the Ventura Freeway aka Route 101, when the claimed peak power of 34bhp at 9500 rpm ushered up the homologated top speed of 90mph/143kmh, which showed up briefly 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. 

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Leaving our boutique hotel in downtown Hollywood in the middle of the morning rush hour meant slicing our way through stop-and-go traffic for the best part of an hour – a role the G310R is ideally equipped for. It’s 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 unduly. This will 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, leading to a sense if you’re still riding training wheels and unused to this that you’re not in control of what the engine is doing. 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 that excellent fuelling. There’s an extra kick of acceleration around 7,000rpm, 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. Maintaining revs between 3,000 and 7,000 rpm will let you enjoy the motor’s ample torque, accessed via the light-shifting six-speed gearbox with its crisp, precise lever throws. Although you must use the cable operated clutch for the bottom two upward shifts to do so smoothly every time, you don’t need to do so in the higher ratios, and indeed so precise and clean is the shift action that you can drop from top gear to fifth without using the clutch, as well. The BMW is also quite economical, with a claimed consumption of 3.33 lt/100km, equating to 70mpg/US, or 85mpg/UK. I saw only very slightly less than that on the on-board computer, riding hard, which isn’t bad.

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Stopping for coffee at the Rock Store where earlier that week on a previous visit I’d seen a Confederate Fighter rubbing handlebars with one of Keanu Reeves’ Arch Motorcycle hotrods, the G310R displayed a real sense of substance especially in the test bike’s white-based Motosport livery. It has a classy sense of presence that conveys a different first impression than its brasher-looking European rival that’s also made in India, the lighter, bigger-engined and thus slightly more powerful KTM 390 Duke. 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 G310R components look very BMW, with high quality alloy castings and forged tripleclamps, an LED tail light, an exceptionally lustrous 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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Those favourable first impressions also extended to hopping aboard the relatively comfortable 785mm high seat that’s very novice friendly as well as for female riders, and finding plenty of space for a 1.80m/5’10” rider, with my knees tucked in nicely to the indentations in the plastic shroud housing the 11-litre steel fuel tank beneath it. The seat still needs a little more padding just where it meets the tank to be properly comfortable in a full day’s ride, though. Thumb the starter button, and the engine catches instantly from cold on the auto-choke, then settles to a quite high 1500rpm idle – perhaps chosen to rule out any rear wheel chatter on the overrun in the absence of a slipper clutch. The large exhaust canister containing the Euro 4-compliant 3-way catalyst whispers rather than booms, though above 5,000rpm there’s a pleasant rasp from the intake which gives you the impression you’re going somewhere. As indeed you will be.

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The G310R’s tubular steel frame more than lives up to the job of harnessing this power delivery well, and the non-adjustable KYB/Kayaba suspension plays a key role in this. Its fixed settings at both ends are extremely well chosen, with much better compliance than you have any right to expect for such budget hardware. Ride quality is high especially at the rear, and damping well chosen. Compression damping on the fork could possibly be a little stiffer, because when you lean on the front brake for maximum stopping power there is some nose dive, but it’s not excessive. The single front 300mm disc and its four-piston radial caliper are just about up to the job of stopping the BMW and its solo rider hard from speed, but you must use the rear brake hard as well 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. Spend the extra $$$ and make it adjustable, chaps. It’s exactly the same brake package as on the KTM 390 Duke, where I think it works a little better. ABS is standard, and cut in quite effectively on the damp roads we found awaiting us early in the day in the Santa Monica Mountains. 

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The BMW has light, neutral steering but feels planted in a straight line – it gives no impression of being a skitzy lightweight package, even if it changes direction very easily, aided by the good leverage from the black-painted handlebar whose grips are pulled back and slightly dropped. My only criticism is the same as when I rode the bike in Germany earlier, namely that there wasn’t much feel from the front Michelin Pilot Street tyre, which gripped OK at the speeds I was prepared to trust it at leaned over in turns, but gave very little feedback, since it seemed to have an unduly stiff structure for a small, lightweight bike like this. Apparently BMW has also homologated Metzeler tyres for the G310R as well, and I’d like to try it again with these fitted – I suspect their lighter construction would deliver better road feel from the KYB front end, in turn promoting enhanced confidence and thus increased turn speed.

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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. There’s an honest sense of manufacturing quality about the G310R, 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 KTM’s 390 Duke, Kawasaki’s Z300 Ninja, Honda’s CBR300R and Yamaha’s MT-03 – oh, and not forgetting the excellent Chinese-made Benelli BN302, the sleeper of the class – have all got trouble on their hands, especially as BMW has strengthened its R&D back office via the recruitment of a pair of key KTM executives to lead the G310R development team. 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 the past two 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.

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Because this is only the beginning – Stephan Schaller promises more different models yet to come on this same 313cc platform, with the G310GS launched at the Milan Show the next one up, and due to enter production next summer. BMW is just getting started in the sub-500cc category, and just as it captured class-leading supremacy when it dived into uncharted waters and produced the S1000RR sportbike, the G310R shows every sign of comparable excellence at the other end of the price, performance an d capacity scale. It’ll be very interesting to see how things move on from here.

Photo credit: BMW Motorrad

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