First Ride – 2017 BMW G310R

In Germany, Reviews, Sport by Abhi0 Comments

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When you think of BMW Motorrad, you don’t think of 310cc engines and sub $5,000 price points. Yet the little bike you’re looking at is the German firm’s most important weapon in their quest to take over the world. By 2020, BMW wants to double their market share in America – but there’s only so many R1200GS’ that can be sold. In fact, when you look specifically at >500 cc premium bikes worldwide, BMW is the market leader in 27 countries. That doesn’t leave much room to grow, so now they’ve developed a small bike…and it’s good.

Let’s start with the basics:

What I like:
  • $4,995 (including destination and handling).
  • 71 miles per gallon.
  • Typical BMW fit and finish.
  • Well equipped.
What I don’t like:
  • BMW could have easily given us more than 34 horsepower.
  • You’ll have to wait six months to try it yourself and see if I know what I’m talking about.

The Verdict

BMW has gone small, but the impact will be big. It'll do well in the US, where the G310R is a good offering in an under-served segment that's about to get real competitive - but this bike's more important in second/third world countries where riders want to step up to something with a premium feel.

Check out the BMW G310R!

Those are my quick thoughts based on 120 miles with the G310R in Los Angeles. Read on if you’d like more details. Photography by Kevin Wing, Jon Beck, Markus Jahn, and Jörg Künstle.


Edgar Heinrich, BMW Motorrad’s Head of Design, shows us his handiwork.

What you need to know from the beginning is that this bike isn’t just for the United States. The G310R is a “world bike” for BMW, and that starts with where it’s built. The bike was designed in Munich, but production is handled in India by TVS (India’s 3rd largest manufacturer of 2 wheelers). In America, BMW wants to see this bike ridden by beginners, people getting back into riding after years away from the sport, and experienced riders that just want smaller displacement and lighter weight. They understand that not everyone needs 150 horsepower. The Germans are also looking for strong sales in markets like Brazil, India, and China where “maturing consumers” want Western-styled bikes. Look at that fancy business lingo – my MBA didn’t go to waste!

Doesn’t get much more “Western” than this.

In general, the bike will be nearly identical in different markets. Tire selection will vary between countries and the US gets a much bigger (read: uglier) brake light than the Euro bikes, but a G310R sold in the US will basically be the same as one sold in Brazil. That leads to the first problem: power is slightly down from what BMW knows they could have got out of the 313cc motor because they wanted to ensure it would run well with the varying octane ratings of fuel around the world. As a greedy American, I’m slightly bummed that the BMW engine is putting out 34 horsepower when it could have been more, especially considering the KTM Duke 390 puts out 43hp. 9 horsepower may not seem like much, but in this case the KTM has a 26% power advantage on the littlest of BMWs. Greed aside, 34 horsepower proved to be more than enough and BMW’s concession for other countries is going to be a wise business decision.

Yours truly being a good Indian, sitting up at the front of the class and getting my learn on.

Speaking of business decisions, BMW is doing a couple of things differently with the G310R. First, they’ve cut down the destination and handling price from $495 to $245. This keeps the total price under $5,000 (MSRP is $4,750, which totals to $4,995 if you’re not good at math). Second, optional extras will be handled solely by your local dealership. To keep bikes moving off the production line, BMW isn’t worrying about accessories at the time of manufacture. Instead, you tell your dealer what you want and they’ll add it for you before they give you your new bike.

Excellent question. If you’re not married to a sub $5,000 price, BMW’s willing to sell you heated grips, a lower seat, a “Comfort” seat, center stand, LED turn signals, 12 volt socket, tank bag, and two top cases. The first top case is the same 30 liter option that’s currently available on the S1000XR or the R1200RS. The other is coming soon. Called Topcase Light (or Topcase Basic, the BMW reps themselves weren’t 100% sure when I asked), it’ll be a 29 liter variant sold at a lower price point more in line with the G310R.

So, what’s it like?

For the money, this motorcycle is well spec’d. Your 50 Benjamins get you 2-channel ABS and a LCD gauge cluster (both built by Continental), stainless steel braided brake lines, a multifunction display, and a slipper clutch. Sadly, the gorgeous Pearl White metallic that you see in these photos will cost an not-yet-disclosed additional amount. There’s also Strato Blue Metallic and Cosmic Black, but I’m already bored of them.

Pictured – the best lighting for the blue and black options.

I assumed going into the day that my 6’2″ frame would be cramped on the little G, but I was pleasantly surprised by the ergonomics once I hopped on. I love the feel of naked bikes – upright posture and wide bars make it easy to toss a bike around, especially when it weighs 349 pounds wet. The front end feels light but not in a twitchy, terrifying way. It feels nimble and ready to go wherever you want to. I wasn’t as pleased with the clutch feel or the anemic exhaust note, but the latter was expected and can be easily addressed.

Cheap in price – but cheap in feel?

I suspect BMW’s biggest issue with this bike will be convincing customers that reliability and quality will not take a hit with the shift in production location. BMW made it a point to stress that the bike had been designed in Munich and that assembly is performed to German standards: “All in all, production of the new BMW G 310 R is subject to the same quality criteria that apply to production at the BMW Motorrad plant in Berlin-Spandau.” I can’t tell you anything about long term reliability but in the few hours I got to spend with the bike, the fit and finish seemed up to snuff. With the exception of the taillight assembly – more on that below – everything felt solid and put together well.

This was a great sight to wake up to.

If I get to nitpick, there were a few things that felt cheap:
1. The turn signals were not self-canceling – excusable for the price.
2. ABS cannot be turned off – sort of excusable, considering the target market.
3. The taillight assembly flops around so much it’s almost distracting when you’re behind the bike. This is admittedly silly, but it got the attention of several people to the point that we were all inspecting it together at a stop. My guess is that the weight of the bigger taillight and extra reflectors required for the US market are just a little too much for how the tail is built. Then again, if you’re riding the G310R instead of following it, you’re not going to notice.
4. Neutral was occasionally difficult to find. Hopefully, this was just because the bikes we were on hadn’t been broken in yet.
5. While I really enjoyed the LCD instrument panel, the button used to change the information shown in the multi-function display was difficult to press with gloves on. It’s oddly shaped and the tactile feedback is poor so you can’t tell if your press was registered without looking at the screen.

The display does a great job of showing lots of information yet keeping everything important easy to see quickly (except for the tach). You’ll be wound out in every gear anyway, so who cares? That button in the bottom left corner was a pain.

Do you think I’m pretty?

I think it’s a subtly handsome motorcycle, though I don’t think it looks like a BMW. The marketing copy says the design has an “unmistakeable visual kinship with athletic family members such as the S1000R.” I say that if you painted it a solid color and removed the BMW badging, I’d guess this was from Honda/Kawasaki/Suzuki/Yamaha. For better or worse, BMW’s got a pretty good stronghold on the design feature of weird asymmetrical headlights – they should have stuck with it here.

I love the little fairing.

I call this the ranch…because it’s where my 34 horses live.

If that reference means nothing to you, then you must stop reading and instead watch Conan O’Brien’s bit about his beloved Ford Taurus SHO. The joke’s at 2:45 if you don’t want to watch the whole thing. Also, Gordon McCall (the man behind the Quail Motorcycle Gathering) makes an appearance at 4:30:

Back to the BMW. The heart of the G310R is a 313cc liquid cooled single that produces 34 horsepower at 9,500 rpm (10,500 rpm redline) and 21 lb-ft of torque at 7,500 rpm. What you may not expect is that this motor utilizes a reverse cylinder layout, in that the intake is at the front and the exhaust is at the rear. This yields three advantages:
1. The engine can be tilted backwards so the entire motor can be pushed forward in the frame, helping with weight distribution.
2. The exhaust is shorter so it gets to operating temp faster and does a better job at not killing penguins with emissions.
3. The swingarm is extended so the bike feels more stable than the 54 inch wheelbase would suggest.

Notice anything odd? It’s a reverse cylinder layout! Oooooh, fancy.

Earlier I whined that BMW could have given us more power, but 34 ponies in the ranch really is good enough in this application. Nothing fun happens until about 4,500 rpm, but then the power delivery is adequate for anyone’s needs. Getting to 60 mph requires two gear shifts. We didn’t get much time on the freeway but in top gear (6th) you’ll be hovering at 65 miles per hour at about 6,500 rpm. Seeing as no one stays at the speed limit anymore, I should mention that the bike will comfortably cruise at 75-80 mph with no problem. BMW claims a top speed of 90 mph. The fastest I saw all day was 82 mph, though that might have actually been on Mulholland.

Picture: Me not going 82 miles per hour.

Before our ride started, I asked a BMW engineer what the claimed miles per gallon figure was. His first answer was liters/kilometer, and so us Imperial-thinking riders just shrugged and assumed it was a decent number. Then he clarified that it was 71 mpg – based on the noises from the peanut gallery, I was not the only person who didn’t believe that answer. Yet after 120 miles of me trying my best to abuse the throttle cable, the digital computer said I had done 65 mpg. The majority of our route was two lane windy roads (and who knows how accurate the digital computer actually is until we get to fill up the tanks and do a little math ourselves) but those are the facts I’ve got for you right now. I’m very curious to see what real world mileage results end up being.

How’s It Handle?

I’ll preface this by saying that when it comes to the G310R’s competition, I only have recent seat time with the Yamaha R3 and both of KTM’s 390 offerings. The G310R is quite similar to the 390 Duke, though I prefer the BMW’s ergonomics. As I mentioned previously, I was pleasantly surprised by my comfort level when I first hopped on the bike. I was still surprised at the end of the day because I felt pretty good, though my left quad was a little sore. I think that the seat might just be a bit too thin at the front to keep a narrow junction between seat and tank, which helps shorter riders flat foot the bike.

Insert butt here.

I thought this bike handled very well, though the limiting factor is the Michelin Pilot Street Radial tires that the press bikes were equipped with. I would be remiss if I did not mention that BMW has not yet decided what the production tires will be – we may get the Michelins, or similar spec Metzelers or Bridgestones. Here’s hoping they go with the Metzelers (I assume they’re looking at the Sportec M3/M5) – I like them much more, despite the extra cost.

Brakes = good. Tires = meh.

I really appreciated how light the front end feels on this bike. Simply put, it makes cornering easy, especially with the bars that give you good leverage. And that’s good, because as Mr. Heinrich pointed out, “you have to earn every curve” with the G310R. You can’t make up for a bad corner just by whacking the throttle open on exit. Edgar also said something that stuck with me about the little G – he called it a “time machine”, because you “have to ride it like you did when you were 16 years old.” He’s not wrong.

Yours truly, trying to remember the Ninja 250 I had when I was 16.

Braking performance is definitely good enough, thanks to one 300mm disc with a four-piston caliper up front and a 240mm disc with two-piston caliper in the back. The brakes are made by ByBre – Brembo’s 6-year old Indian sub-brand. The suspension is what you’d expect from bikes in this price point: you’re pretty much stuck with it as is. The front forks are non-adjustable 41mm Kayaba units and they look great. For commuting duties and the occasional weekend canyon carving, they’re sufficient for my 180 pounds. The rear shock is adjustable just for preload.

So shiny. Looking good is half the battle, right?

All these components come together well, and the longer swingarm that’s made possible by the reverse cylinder head arrangement makes the bike feel stable on the highway yet still a joy to throw around corners.

Final Thoughts

It took me a few hours to get truly comfortable with the G310R before I had my epiphany with it. I used to jokingly dismiss the saying of “it’s more fun to ride a slow bike fast than to ride a fast bike slow” as something that only people with slow bikes said. But as our day came to a close, everyone was used to the bikes and there were occasional sections of curves with no traffic…and that’s when I realized my cheeks hurt because I hadn’t stopped smiling in a long time. It felt like I was with a group of friends on a racetrack because I was constantly pinning the throttle. The normal hit of adrenaline I get when accelerating hard out of a corner on my 160+ horsepower K1200R was replaced by the focus required of having to get a corner right because I couldn’t cover for poor exit speed just by twisting the throttle. I didn’t miss the outright speed because I was too busy trying to get all the performance I could out of the little BMW – and trying to keep up with Adam Waheed.

The BMW G310R doesn’t feel like it was specifically designed to be entry-level. It just feels like a decent motorcycle that happens to have a small engine. Looks like Nathan and I need to get one of these and a KTM Duke 390 together for a comparison. I suspect eventual rider preferences between the BMW and the KTM might be a bit subjective, but if you’re looking for a ~300cc bike, then the G310R deserves one of your test rides. I hope you find some twisties and that it makes you smile as much as I did.

Going Forward

If you’re interested in the G310R, I have bad news – it doesn’t come out until the summer. But it will quickly be joined by a mini-ADV sibling! Just like BMW has taken the S1000 and R9T and created families with them, the G310R will get a sister called the G310GS:

It needs spoked wheels!

Questions?

Before I hopped on the bike, I asked y’all if you had any questions you wanted me to answer. I tried to answer those questions via comments as soon as I could, but there was one that had to wait until now:

Bruce Mitchell asked me to specifically consider what this would be like for a non-entry level rider.
Hopefully what I wrote above covers this, but I just want to specifically state that while I really enjoyed this motorcycle compared to the competition, I wouldn’t spend the money required to put one in my garage. I would just end up wanting more power.

Several readers had concerns with the US motorcycle market and how small = cheap or entry level. I could see why a 300cc bike with the latest and greatest suspension and electronic packages would be interesting, but I just don’t see that bike selling in decent numbers. For now, be happy that manufacturers are taking an interest in small bikes again and offering a bit of a variety – in addition to all the street bikes, Kawasaki’s bringing out a 300cc ADV bike, BMW’s got the G310GS shown above, and it looks like KTM is going to be building a 390 Adventure – I’m officially drooling. If riders keep snapping these up, then better components will come to the “entry-level” market.

BMW reps specifically stated that they’ve designed this bike for beginners, re-entry riders, and women. They want it to bring new people into the sport of motorcycling, and I sure hope it does. More riders can only be a good thing for all of us.

My Gear:
Helmet: Scorpion EXO-R2000 Solid, Matte Black – $289.95
Communication: Sena 10C – $349
Gloves: Alpinestars GP Plus R, Black – $199.95
Jacket: Alpinestars Pikes Drystar Jacket, Black/White – $429.95
Pants: Rev’It Philly 2 LF Jeans, Dark Blue – $229
Boots: Aerostich Combat Touring Boots – $387

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