BMW G 310 GS (2017) Review | BikeSocial

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

 

Does size matter? Nathan Millward – who rode a 105cc bike around the world – has tested four small capacity adventure bikes to find out if these relatively budget machines, designed predominantly for the emerging markets, should be taken far more seriously by western riders.

The £5,329 Honda CRF250 Rally, £5,149 Kawasaki Versys-X 300 and £4,599 Suzuki V-Strom 250 are all light, more manageable bikes: “Don't think they lack the power to go the distance,” said Nathan. “With a change of approach and attitude, even 24bhp can conquer the world. You might have to choose fewer motorways and be a touch more modest about your daily distances, but the upshot is that there's a chance that you’ll see more and experience more, rather than blasting though places jus to get somewhere else.

“The money saved on these bikes can be spent on travelling, and with less mass to carry around, a lighter more manageable motorcycle can allow you to explore those harder to reach places without the worry of what happens if you drop it or get stuck down a tight lane. They can also be a lot more fun, especially if there's a few of you…” Here’s his take on the new BMW G 310 GS…

 

 

Given the success of the 1200 and 800 GS there was a fair bit of pressure on the all-new G310GS. Signs weren’t overly positive. The bike was to be built in India by BMW’s partner company TVS, while the R model – with which it shared much of its components and platform – received decent feedback but didn’t seem to set the western world on fire.

In pre-launch pictures the mini GS didn’t look to be up to much; the cast wheels appeared clunky and a second choice to some proper spoked items, the generic beak looked tacked on and overall it seemed to be a cheap imitation of the real thing, especially after the likes of the robust F650GS. There was then a threat that a poor quality bike could have sullied the brand as a whole. A big gamble for BMW…

For this test BMW was unable to provide a press bike, so I headed over to Rally Raid’s Northamptonshire headquarters where owner John Mitchinson had just taken delivery of a brand new G310GS in Pearl White Metallic, with plans to equip it with spoked tubeless wheels, uprated suspension and a range of bolt on accessories such as sump guard, taller screen and soft luggage racks. At the time of testing it was a stock model.

The machine uses the same liquid-cooled 313cc single cylinder engine as the 310R, producing 34hp at 9500rpm. It’s ‘reverse’ mounted, with the exhaust exiting from the rear rather than the front, which is said to enhance weight distribution and make for a short header pipe that’s integrated into the end can. It means that a simple aftermarket slip on can isn’t going to be an option – it’d need a full system.

The weight of the bike is 169.5kg, inclusive of fuel, which makes it 10kg heavier than the Honda CRF Rally but almost 20kg lighter than the Suzuki V-Strom 250 and 6kg lighter than the Kawasaki Versys-X 300. Seat height is a moderate 835mm (shorter than all but the Suzuki), though listening to feedback from potential customers, especially female riders, a few have found it a bit too tall for them, with no easy option of lowering the bike as the rear suspension doesn’t use a dog bone linkage, but is bolted directly to the swing-arm. An 820mm and 850mm seat option is available from BMW, but it's the relatively tall height of the pillion seat and grab rail that make getting on a chore for some.

 

A very pleasant surprise…

In the flesh the BMW is a real surprise. It immediately looks more substantial and imposing than it did in the pictures. It seems to dwarf the R model, and there’s more to it than the 17-inch wheel going to 19-inch on the GS, and the use of plastic panelling and cladding around the tank and beak. To compare, the R weighs over ten kilos less at 158.5kg, has a seat height of 785mm, a wheelbase 46mm shorter than the GS (thanks largely to the latter's extended swingarm) and a price tag of £4,450. Suspension travel of 180mm front and rear for the G310GS compares to the R model’s 140mm front and 131mm rear.

The detailing is surprisingly good on the G310GS; the fit and finish of the panelling seems that of a premium product, the cast aluminium triple clamp has a nice quality finish with a button-sized BMW badge on the handlebar bridge, and other things such as an ABS button built into the left switchgear, a mudguard on the rear shock, the foot pegs that have removable rubber inserts and look to be styled on those of the 1200GS (as do the wing mirrors), add to a sense of a quality product. Despite sharing a platform with the R, it’s clearly been designed from the ground up, rather than a simple modification of an existing machine.

 

 

There are a few niggles. The brake and clutch levers aren’t adjustable for span and the levers are overly long, making the fitment of hand guards more difficult. Then there’s the foot controls – rear brake and gear lever – which do have that shiny cast metal feel of a cheap bike about them, and the rear brake light switch is an old-school plunger style that’s likely to clog up in off-road environments and does hint at the compromises that have had to have been made in order to bring the bike in at budget. But they don’t compromise how the bike rides…

 

On the road

On the road the first thing to note is the riding position. It’s got a good adventure style feel, with relatively wide bars sat ahead of you. For a 5’10” rider like me it’s spacious, not too tall and doesn’t feel heavy between your legs. It just feels right. The digital instrument cluster is also clean and smart, featuring everything you’ll need, from a trip computer to average economy and gear indicator. Tank size is a slightly disappointing 11-litres; quite a bit down on the 17.3-litres of the Suzuki, but with economy figures of 80mpg it should still be good for 150 miles to a tank, which is just about sufficient for a machine of this nature.

As for the engine, it’s quite a sharp unit and much smoother and more refined in its delivery than the single cylinder motor of the Honda CRF250 Rally, which is down almost 10bhp on the BMW, and certainly feels that gap. As to be expected, the single in the BMW isn’t quite as smooth as the twin-cylinder units in the Suzuki and Kawasaki, but there’s a fair bit of extra low down and mid-range shove. It doesn’t have the top-end exhilaration of the Kawasaki, but for powering out of corners and zipping along at a fairly brisk A-road pace the engine in the GS is very good.

 

 

The handling is easy and the bike stable. It turns in nicely and the premium Metzeler Tourance tyres are plenty grippy enough for the road. The single disc up front is something of a disappointment, lacking bite despite the braided hoses. Maybe a set of new pads would remedy this. On the motorway the bike will cruise along at 75mph with ease – there are a few vibes starting to creep through at those speeds but the engine had only done a couple of hundred miles so it’s likely to bed in a bit more with distance. The screen is similar to the other bikes in this category, in that it’s adequate but could be improved with something taller. Crucially for a potential travel bike, the rear rack is solid and spacious, which should help compensate for the current lack of any pannier options from BMW.

The BMW doesn’t punch you in the guts with its performance or blow you away with its handling, but it does the job and floats along back roads quite nicely. The rear shock is adjustable for preload and some riders have suggested they’d jack it up a bit, but I was happy with the standard setting, giving a more cosseting ride and not in any way seeming to compromise cornering performance. So on the road it’s a good, decent performing and comfortable machine; certainly more dynamic than the Honda and the Suzuki on the Tarmac, not quite up there with the Kawasaki for dynamic thrills, though arguably more relaxed and easier to ride.

 

 

On the trails

With a nineteen inch front wheel the G310GS was always going to be a compromise (just as its bigger brother, the R 1200 GS ) – only the CRF250 Rally boasts a proper off-road friendly 21-inch front. The Suzuki has a 17-inch front and the Kawasaki the same 19-inch as the BMW. For me, the main thing that determines whether or not a dual purpose bike of this nature is any good on the dirt is its manageability. Do you feel confident? Is it easy to manoeuvre? What’s it like to stand up on?

Buzzing along some flat grassy green lanes – realistically the limit of what most people are going to do on their G310GS – the standing position is a touch hunched over for an average sized rider; easily remedied by some bar risers. The soft suspension is well damped and reacts nicely to ruts and mud-filled holes and gullies, allowing you to push on at a reasonable pace. With suspension travel front and rear of 180mm it’s never going to be an out and out trail bike (the CRF Rally has 280mm for example), but it’ll romp along alright and even the road-biased Tourance tyres give more grip than you expect. More importantly the bike feels light… as though it’s never going to get away from you. The G310GS feels more at home in the dirt than the Suzuki and Kawasaki, though naturally less suited to it than the Honda.

When you consider the origin of the GS name is Gelände/Straße, which translated literally means 'terrain/street', you can’t help but conclude that BMW certainly has built another G/S; a bike as competent in the dirt as it is on the road. Obviously some machines will be better in one of those two disciplines, and we're not at all suggesting the GS310GS is an out and out trail bike in the mould of the old X-Challenge or G450X (or even the CRF), but as a bike to span a multitude of situations and circumstances you can’t help but feel that BMW has assessed and targeted the market nicely, especially in the developing world, which really will be this bike's core market.

Of course it could be better; spoked wheels, a plusher set of foot controls and a taller screen as standard wouldn’t go amiss, though John at Rally Raid is already on with all that. And who knows, we might even see a G 310 GSA.

 

 

I came away impressed with the G310GS. Part of me didn’t want to be; I think I had something against the budget nature of it and the off-shoring of its manufacture to India. I have to eat my words, because, much like the 1200, it feels as though the designers started with a very clear idea of what they wanted to achieve, and I’d say they’ve hit the brief. Some people won’t like it, simply for the fact that it’s a BMW, or it's not aggressive enough for their flavour of adventure, but the Bavarians have set a benchmark in this category, and built a cracking bike in the process.

The only question is its durability – it’s a new bike to market so it’ll be interesting to see how owners abuse them, and how they stand up to it. The CRF250 Rally in particular has a good head start in this regard, already proven as an around-the-world bike capable of racking up 100,000 miles with little issue. When you factor in the Honda’s excellent service intervals of 8000 miles, versus 6000 for the BMW, then the G310GS is a going to have a tougher job attracting the die-hard travellers, which to be fair is a drop in the ocean compared to the brand-conscious buyers of the developing markets.

Most importantly, in these single-cylinder bikes from Honda and BMW, we’ve got some really good choice for adventure riding. Both bikes will do distance. They might even surprise you with how well they cover those distances. Proof, if needed, that there’s life in the old single cylinder yet.

 

SPECIFICATION

Engine

313cc, DOHC, liquid cooled single cylinder

Bore

80mm x 62.1mm

Power

33.5bhp @ 9500rpm

Torque

28Nm @ 7500rpm

Front suspension

41mm telescopic upsidedown

Rear suspension

Swingarm mounted single shock, adjustable preload

Front brakes

300mm single disc, four piston caliper, switchable ABS

Rear brakes

240mm single disc, single piston caliper, switchable ABS

Tyres

150/70-17 rear, 110/18-19 front.

Seat Height

835mm

Tank size

11 litres

Kerb weight

169.5kg

Price

£5,100

In a nutshell: A strong all rounder, both on and off road

To insure this bike, click here

 

Nathan talks us through the four bikes on test

Nathan Millward compares the BMW G310GS, Kawasaki Versys-X 300, Honda CRF250 Rally and the Suzuki V-Strom 250

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