One of the biggest little bikes in recent memory is finally here. This is the German designed, Indian-built BMW G 310 GS.
As promised, BMW Motorrad has begun expanding its range of different models based on its new G 310 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 G 310 GS is now in production, ready to add to the 4000 examples of the G 310 R that TVS will have manufactured in India by the end of this year.
Thanks to the massive contribution to BMW profits which its R 1200 GS 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.
Photography by Daniel Kraus
“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 R 1150 GS and R 1200 GS, as well as numerous other key BMW Motorrad models.
Riding the result of his and his team’s efforts in northern Spain for two full days, covering 380 miles in going from sea level at Barcelona to more than 7500 feet 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 off-road riding on a bike that has genuine go-anywhere capability, so long as it’s got a reasonably hard surface under the Metzeler Tourance tires that come fitted as standard on the five-spoke cast-aluminum wheels.
And after riding the G 310 GS 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 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 200-mile day constantly gaining altitude, with lots of diversions off-road to explore the Catalan countryside via rugged unsurfaced cart tracks. These led me to discover beautifully un-spoiled 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.
Ride All Day
The mini GS has the same engine platform as its G 310 R sister model, with an identical level of tune. It delivers 34 bhp at 9500 rpm with a 10,500 rpm limiter, and maximum torque of 21 ft-lb at 7500 rpm, plus it has a curb weight of 373 pounds fully loaded with 2.9 gallons of gas—24 pounds 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 realize that, at 32.8 inches high its seat is 1.9 inches taller, thanks partly to the longer-travel suspension, so it’s best for a 5’10” tall rider to use the footpegs to hop aboard easily. There’s a choice of aftermarket seats to lower or lift the riding position, and the 0.5-inch lower one could make the bike more comfortable for female riders, who are a key target customer of BMW’s for this new model.
This taller stance also delivers a notably more spacious riding position, thanks also to the broader, flatter one-piece handlebar mounted on 2.3-inch risers, and the lower-mounted footpegs—which aren’t, however, low enough to become an issue in terms of ground clearance.
I predict this bike will become a favorite with couriers and anyone else who rides in cities, not just because it’s cheap to buy and economical to run—claimed fuel consumption is the same as the G 310 R at 70 mpg—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 G 310 GS 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.
This has a single gear-driven counter-balancer, 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 G 310 GS matches that, even at higher rpm. It has 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 10,000 rpm to remind you to shift up.
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 6000 rpm threshold, when engine speeds start to pick up noticeably more smartly.
Doing that entails using the gearbox quite hard, but the GS has really well chosen ratios, as well as a clean, precise shift action and a very light clutch. BMW has 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 G 310 GS 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.
Use The Momentum
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 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 tire, though the rear’s still a 17-incher with 150/70 rubber. This results in a quite long 58.2-inch wheelbase for a 313cc single—46mm longer than the G 310 R’s, in fact. This not only contributes to the sense of substance you get when looking at the G 310 GS 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.
Suspension is quite different on the GS than the G 310 R, 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 26.7° rake with 3.8 inches of trail, and offers a rangy 7.0-inch of front-wheel travel. This would be welcome for off-road use as well as in coping with rough road surfaces, coupled with the same 7.0-inch wheel travel 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.
Not so up front, though, where the longer-travel fork is woefully under-damped—it’s okay 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 soccer player 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 G 310 Rs 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 two-channel Continental ABS fitted as standard on the G 310 platform, which is switchable for off-road use.
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 to stop the little BMW from high speed, at least with just the rider aboard. Add luggage and/or a passenger and it would 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 dollars and make it adjustable.
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 89 mph, as displayed on the BMW’s digital Continental dash, with the tach 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 speed of 75 mph brought up just 7500 rpm on the digital tach running across the bottom of the dash.
The G 310 GS is a great traffic tool, thanks to the oil-bath clutch’s light lever action, whose linear take-up combines with the ideally mapped fueling 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 G 310 R, 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.
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 G 310 GS components look very BMW, with high quality alloy castings and forged triple-clamps, 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.
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 G 310 R, there’s an honest sense of manufacturing quality about the mini-GS, coupled with dynamic refinement in use—the engine is beautifully fueled, seems strong for its capacity level, and feels essentially un-burstable. 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 G 310 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 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.
Okay, so what’s next?!CN
SPECIFICATIONS: 2017 BMW G 310 GS
34 hp @ 9500 rpm (claimed)
21 lb-ft @ 7500 rpm (claimed)
Bore x stroke:
80 x 62.1mm
Tubular steel frame in grid structure w/ bolted rear
41mm conventional fork.
Single shock absorber operated by BMW Paralever
Front wheel travel:
Rear wheel travel:
Bybre 4-piston caliper, 300mm disc; ABS
Bybre single-piston caliper, 240mm disc; ABS
Steering head angle:
Weight (Curb, claimed):
Cosmic Black, Racing Red and Pearl White metallic