Rally Raid G 310 GS adventure bike review

Nathan Millward
By Nathan Millward
NateThePostman Round the world adventurer Nathan Millward rode home to the East Midlands from Australia on a 105cc Australian postal bike (he didn’t like flying). He’s since ridden across America to Alaska, writing two brilliant books about the experience. www.nathanmillward.com

 

Building a bike that pleases everyone is never easy; it must come in at the right price and with the right specification. But even with those boxes ticked, you’re still going to leave some people disappointed.

The G 310 GS is a perfect case in point. For the most part it met its brief of offering a smaller slice of the GS brand and ethos, at a price that was affordable to more people, particularly riders in the developing markets of India, South America and South East Asia, where BMW no doubt hopes the bike will help build a solid client base for the future.

All well and good, but for those of us with more established relationships with the GS brand, we perhaps expected more from the German firm’s small capacity machine. The cast aluminium wheels were the biggest disappointment, and overall the bike – as good as it was to ride – just lacked that ruggedness that makes BMW’s adventure machines – like the F650 GS or G450X – such perfect tools for overland and dirt road travel. An official G 310 GS Adventure model could one day follow, but for now, there’s an upgrade kit from Rally Raid…

 

The plan

Rally Raid is a Northamptonshire-based engineering company, specialising in holistic solutions to stock bikes that roll off the production lines with plenty of room for improvement. The company began by developing parts for the KTM 690 Enduro, turning that into a motorcycle that could cover greater distances, in greater comfort, than was ever originally intended. Then, in 2014, came the raft of modifications to the Honda CB500X, Rally Raid owner and chief engineer John Mitchinson identifying the bare bones of that bike as being perfect for durable and reliable long-distance travel (and the size of the engine just right for most applications). You can read our review of that bike here.

From the success of the CB500X project, as well as class-leading accessories and modification for the Africa Twin, the same approach has been applied to the G 310 GS.

“In the G 310 GS we felt we had the perfect platform to create a genuinely capable and more manageable all-terrain machine,” explains Rally Raid’s John Mitchinson. “To build something that effectively bridges the gap between a lightweight enduro bike modified for road and touring use, and a physically larger and heavier multi-cylinder ‘Adventure’ motorcycle.

“Since BMW has done a lot of the work already with regards to the overall geometry and packaging of the bike – such as giving it a rugged 19-inch front wheel, we’ve concentrated more on improving what we consider were clearly cut corners in the OEM specification; such as the wheels, suspension and engine protection. We’ve effectively made it the bike it was always capable of being.”

 

 

The most notable change is the spoked rims, Rally Raid offering a choice of anodised black or gold available in tubed or tubeless fitment. Stainless steel spokes come fitted as standard, with the hubs all cut in-house from billet aluminium on a CNC lathe. The rims retain the OEM brake disc fitments, bearings, seals, ABS sensor rings and the complete cush-drive/sprocket carrier assembly, shaving 1.15kg from the front wheel, with the rear counteracting that by being 2kg heavier, mainly due to more robust construction. The argument for spoked wheels over cast is that they can endure greater impact on rough terrain withouht cracking, especially at low tyre pressures. In this instance, they also look much better.

Then come changes to the suspension, with a new rear shock developed in conjunction with Dutch suspension experts Tractive (founded when WP relocated to Austria and many of the original staff members deciding to stay to form Tractive). The rear shock, which as standard is adjustable only for preload and arguably on the soft side for anyone over 75 kilos, is now not only stiffer, but also adjustable for preload, compression and rebound damping, with an easily accessible remote hydraulic preload adjuster a £238.00 option.

 

 

Several versions of suspension are available, with the Level 1 kit retaining the bike’s 835mm seat height, while the Level 2 kit gives a lift front and rear of 25mm, elevating the seat height to 860mm and giving the benefit of greater ground clearance. The Level 2 rear shock also includes individual high and low speed compression damping adjusters, as well as a Progressive Damping System (PDS) to give the more off-road focused owners the same kind of specification you'd get on a high-quality dual-sport/dirt bike.

Both Level 1 and 2 kits can be supplied in a range of spring weights to suit individual riders and their requirements. For shorter riders, there’s also a lowering option of either 10mm or 35mm, bringing the minimum seat height down to a very manageable 800mm.

The upgrades to the rear shock are complemented by new internals for the front forks, now boasting a dedicated linear-wound main spring and low-profile billet aluminium adjustable preload caps. The intention of the suspension upgrades is to remedy the softly sprung non-adjustable set up of the standard items. The kit is said to be easier to fit than that on the CB500X, largely due to the main spring being in only one of the two fork legs – the right leg – with the left simply containing a smaller 'helper' spring, there to stop the fork bottoming (and topping) out. There’s also no dog-bone linkage on the rear, meaning the shock absorber bolts directly to the swingarm mounts, reducing the number of components to install. This lack of linkage would also be the reason to choose the Level 2 kit (over the Level 1 kit), as the Progressive Damping System in the rear shock mimics the characteristics of a bike running a rear linkage, something that comes into effect when riding hard off-road.

 

 

Rally Raid has also developed its own tubular engine guard, giving much greater protection to the bottom and sides of the engine than the standard plastic engine guard fitment. Two variants will be available, one for more extreme conditions, with quick release fasteners and increased protection. Custom bar risers have also been designed allowing fitment of wider Renthal Fatbars, with a new auxiliary mounting plate taking both GPS and USB/12V auxiliary sockets and mounts. Screen specialist Powerbronze has been tasked with developing a new taller screen exclusive to Rally Raid, tailored to allow enough clearance for heavy-duty Bark Buster handguards at full lock.

To give the bike more bark, British company Scorpion has also been employed to develop a high-level exhaust system – a trickier job than expected, given that the engine in the G 310 GS is reverse mounted, with the exhaust exiting from the rear of the block and the header pipe and end can manufactured as a single one-piece unit: a complete full system had to be developed. The aftermarket exhaust shaves 2.6kg off the standard item, with the weight difference between the stock bike and the Rally Raid equipped machine bring negligible once all changes have been accounted for.

The upgraded Level 1 rear shock with the standard ride height comes in at £478.00 and £238.00 for the fork kit, or £958.80 for the taller Level 2 rear shock and fork internal package. Heavy duty spoked wheels cost £990.00 for tubed, and £1258.00 for the tubeless options. The adventure engine guard retails for £238.00, the taller windshield for £109.56 and the Scorpion Serket exhaust system from £378.00. All parts are available separately, and it can all be installed – and easily removed to revert back to stock – at home, with any special tools required supplied as part of the kit. Order everything fitted to the demo bike seen here and added to the you’re looking at £2,684.36, plus the cost of tyres and Renthal bars on top of the £5,100 for the bike. For a 310cc adventure touring and trail machine that sounds a lot of money. But is it worth it?

 

 

Do the Rally Raid G310GS mods work?

Without a doubt, the kit has made a dramatic difference to the way the bike looks. To my eyes it’s now far more desirable and purposeful than the stock machine. A bike fitted with knobbly tyres always adds impact, with the test bike sporting a set of chunky Anlas Capra X 50/50 split on-road/off-road tyres. Wide, gold Renthal FatBars – sitting higher in Rally Raid’s own bar risers – fitted with chunky Barkbuster hand guards complete the look; it’s very much a shrunken, but equally aggressive, R 1200 GS.

Due to the uprated suspension, the new bike has that soft exhale as it lifts off the side stand that you get with an enduro or motocross machine, thanks to the uprated suspension that in this instance has been set up on the soft side to excel in rough terrain.
The little adventure bike doesn’t feel as heavy as its 169kg wet weight would suggest. Some people like to quote on-paper weights as though gospel, but to me it’s how a bike feels in the flesh that matters more than what it says on a spec sheet. The BMW feels light and unintimidating.

By comparison, there’s little in it compared to Honda’s 157kg CRF250 Rally, with both bikes that bit weightier than CCM’s GP450 at 126kg, although that has now been discontinued, with a long wait until the 600cc model comes about. Had KTM built the long-anticipated 390 Adventure, it would have challenged this bike nicely, but that looks increasingly unlikely – despite rampant speculation –  and once again, it would probably have been hamstrung by needing to come in at a certain price point in order to appeal to the emerging markets, giving rise to the same compromises the stock G 310 GS has to make.

Otherwise there’s little to compare the Rally Raid bike to, other than in the second-hand market, where the likes of the Suzuki DRZ400, Honda XR400 and BMW’s own G450X become a little long in the tooth and no longer an option to buy new, at least in Europe. The reality must be that while most manufacturers have focussed on providing ever larger and more powerful adventure machines, the smaller trail and travel bike market has been neglected, if not abandoned completely. That’s not to say that we can call this an out and out trail bike – the absence of a bench seat negates that – but it’s a step in the trail direction.

At 855mm the seat height on this demo bike fitted with the Level 2 suspension kit is 25mm taller than stock, but as a package the bike lacks the intimidating dimensions that you get with the R1200 GS and even the F850/800, which to be frank are still too big and ungainly when riding off the beaten track, unless you really know what you’re doing. That’s where Rally Raid sees the G 310 GS as a more useable proposition. It still has the power for the road, but the manageability also for getting off the beaten track.

 


 

The new exhaust sounds fruity at start up. It has a real rasp, the engine revving up freely, despite having just under 100 miles on the clock. The new handlebar set-up allows your shoulders to open up and prevents the slight hunch that you otherwise get on the stock model, especially when standing. The taller screen also gives the illusion a larger machine and visually balances the bike. Footpegs are currently stock items, complete with removeable rubbers, though Rally Raid will soon offer its own, larger pegs for improved off-road comfort and feel.

 

On the tarmac

On road, things feel noticeably different to the stock model; there’s more travel in the suspension, and a more wooden feeling in the tyres due to their knobbly design.

Some question whether a small capacity engine is big enough for road work, and much depends on your mindset and your route planning. Indeed, you might not want to do a big hit on the motorways down to the south of France on a 310cc, and you probably wouldn’t want to take a pillion on a run like that either. But if you were keen to explore quieter roads, with bits of motorway and trail riding thrown into the mix, then something like this is perfect. The bike will cruise at 80mph all day long, the seat is comfortable and the bike physically large enough to not feel cramped. Soft luggage frames will be available shortly to complete the travel package.

Questions of price fog your mind as you ride. Is it worth spending 50% of a bike’s value on a kit to make it better? Quality costs, is about my summation at this point. And bear in mind that a Honda CRF 250 Rally at £5400 needs money spending on it to bring it up to its true potential as well (and at 24.4bhp is ultimately down on power compared to the 34bhp BMW).

The biggest disappointment, or criticism, of the standard bike on the road was the poor screen and the under-sprung and poorly damped suspension. Both have been fixed with the Rally Raid modifications, with improved suspension making lighter work of rough A and B roads, the bike feeling more composed and less corrupted by potholes and ridges.

 

On the trails

There’d been a lot of rain on the test ride, and the Northamptonshire lanes are notoriously greasy once wet, with little traction and a lot of standing water. Like the modifications for the CB500X, many of these kits are expected to head to North America, where trails are often dry, hard packed and go on for miles. The conditions in Northamptonshire couldn’t be more different.

In comparison to the Rally Raid equipped CB500X, the G 310 GS is lighter and, as I would soon discover, much more suited to aggressive, or at least progressive, dirt road riding. I would say the Honda is more suited to longer distance trips where tarmac is more prevalent, with the larger capacity parallel-twin less dynamically engaging than the G 310 GS, but arguably better suited to those greater distances.

The standing position of the Rally Raid BMW is much improved over that of the stock bike. The repositioned bars give better balance and control, and it feels a more natural place to be standing. The pegs are nicely placed but need the rubbers removing for off-road work, the bike feeling slim between your legs. Again, the BMW doesn’t feel its weight, which is important as getting to grips with a machine in these conditions always calls for a dab and a slide that you need to catch.

That you can catch the bike before it goes down is what makes it that much more useable than say an 800 or 1200, which, in the same circumstances, would have been down on the deck, leaving you to pick up a quarter tonne machine. And once you’ve done that a few times, you’re finished.

The engine is tractable, chugging along nicely in first and second gear without clutch slip. I stalled it a few times until I adjust to the bike’s set up and riding conditions. Shorter, span adjustable levers are on their way, with John also keen to modify the foot controls to make them less exposed to damage, but that’s a development for another day.

The new Scorpion exhaust gives it a meaty bark that sounds good under load, but the suspension remains the highlight. It just copes with the roughness of off-road terrain with far greater confidence and composure than the stock set-up, the improved damping allowing the wheels to maintain constant and greater contact with the ground, absorbing the bumps rather than having to be nursed over them as you do on the stock bike.

Manufacturers seem to increasingly cut costs on suspension – probably because it seldom shows up on the spec sheet – but riding a bike with a proper high-quality set up is a reminder of just what a difference good suspension can make.

The Anlas Capra X tyres, like most 50/50 rubber would be fine in drier conditions, but the tread soon clogged with mud, so it came down to feeling the bike move around, trying to keep my head up and my input through bars and pegs light. We tackled a deep rutted section out the back of Santa Pod Raceway – slow and technical, the bike pulled through. I came away impressed.

The bike feels stronger, more able, more crash resistant. More fun.

Also, because the base bike is a mainstream product you’ve got simple things such as a comfortable seat, manageable service intervals of 6,000 miles and a knowledge that hopefully the basic architecture of the bike – engine, chassis, electronics – have been tried and tested to mass production standards. It is just a shame BMW didn’t think to give the bike a bigger tank, as at 11litres it’s going to be running low at around 150 miles. One option for longer trips is to mount a plastic fuel cell on the rear luggage plate that Rally Raid has built for the bike, as tested in the recent APC rally across the Australian Outback that two Rally Raid prepared bikes competed in.

Tank size is another indication that BMW probably never had grand expectations for what people might get up to with this bike. They possibly thought it was only going to be used for shorter, easier urban adventures, perhaps deliberately under-developing the machine for it not to cannibalise sales of what are probably their more profitable, larger capacity motorcycles – the F850 and R 1200 GS. Equally, for selling the bike in developing markets, it’s probably more about the badge on the tank than it is the type of wheels or quality of suspension the bike comes with. Or perhaps that’s a naïve assumption on both our parts, as riders from the Philippines, India and Thailand have already expressed interest in the Rally Raid kit, so they must want more from their G 310 GSs as well.

 

 

Competing with the Rally Raid BMW G310GS

As part of the development of the kit, the guys at Rally Raid took part in a final pre-production shakedown in the Australian outback, using two of the company’s modified G 310 GSs to compete in the 3,500km APC Rally. The rally involved nine days of tough riding, much of it off-road, with riders Adam Mitchinson and Australian BMW brand ambassador Amy Harburg putting a pair of bikes through their paces, the intention being to iron out any problems while fine tuning the final product.

 “The bikes held up well,” Adam explains. “We rode a lot of long hard miles on them in some tough conditions and they didn’t miss a beat. I was impressed with the way the basic package held together. We were hitting the terrain hard and the chassis coped, and the engine proved to have the legs for the longer distances.

“Originally Amy was going to ride an R 1200 GS in the rally, but I think she’s glad she went for the G 310 GS. It’s just that much more manageable and accomplished in these kinds of conditions. A lot of the other riders were surprised at how well the bikes went.; they were all on proper dirt bikes, or big traillies such as KTM’s 990 but we kept up with them for the most part. We came away impressed with what we’d achieved and look forward to seeing more bikes out there being used as they were intended.”

 

 

Rally Raid G 310 GS adventure bike verdict

It’s hard to fault what Rally Raid has done in taking a good basic bike and fitting high spec equipment, using knowledge and expertise honed over the years, to make a machine that quite frankly BMW could never put into production given the price point and the slightly niche nature.

If BMW does go on to build its own Adventure model, it would still more than likely fall short of what Rally Raid has achieved. It wouldn’t have the same grade of suspension, it’d probably lack tubeless rim options, and basics such as the engine guard and auxiliary power plate on the top yoke wouldn’t have the focus and attention to detail – born out of hands-on research – that a small company such as Rally Raid is able to achieve. It’s a boutique bike in many ways; its value coming from the fact that it could never have been the result of mass production. The irony being that interest in the conversion kit might task them with rolling it out in greater numbers and dealing with the challenges that come with their own (relative) form of mass production.

Do you need to fit the Rally Raid kit to your G 310 GS? That depends on what you’re going to do with the bike. If you’re just doing road miles, then maybe the taller screen and uprated suspension retaining the original ride height would help it along. The wheels you could fit from an aesthetic point of view, with the beauty of what Rally Raid do being that you can pick and choose what you want from the catalogue and what you want to spend. Everything can be bolted on and off to bring it back to stock, with talk of selected BMW dealers supplying and fitting the kit to brand new bikes straight out of the showroom, which could enable buyers to roll the cost into their finance or PCP agreement. Equally, you could just buy a stock G 310 GS and enjoy it for what it is.

If you want the very best G 310 GS money can buy, and a bike that you could thrash on an off-road focussed adventure ride, then it most definitely is worth the money. The kit transforms the bike visually, mechanically and dynamically,  and looks good value next to the cost of a base-model 800cc these days, which couldn’t keep up with a Rally Raid kitted G 310 GS n rough terrain

That a family-owned British engineering firm is leading the way in performance developments for a global bike such as the G 310 GS is testament to the vision and expertise of Rally Raid. Some people will see the point of it, some people won’t. But as always, you can’t please everyone.

 

www.rally-raidproducts.co.uk

 

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