Road Test: BMW G310 GS – revolution in adventure
Story: Harry Fisher
There are important bikes and there are important bikes. In the world of adventure bikes, usually it is the biggest and best that are deemed to be the most important but recently there had been a bit of a seismic shift. Sure, the big bikes will always get the headlines, but they could be seen to be getting too big, too complicated.
To counter this, there is a new breed of adventure bike appearing; bikes which are smaller, lighter, less complicated, easier for mere mortals such as you and I to handle.
On the bike Show, we have already tried out the Honda CRF250 Rally and the Kawasaki Versys X300, first intimations that a revolution was coming. And they were a step in the right direction.
Introducing the BMW G310 GS
But here is the bike we’ve all really been waiting for; BMW’s G310 GS. Cynics will say that this is just a styling exercise on the G310R platform; that it can’t possibly have any ability off-road. Its maker seems to think the same way.
BMW is being surprisingly reluctant to call this a full adventure bike; they are touting this as an adventure bike for the urban jungle which has the ability to head off-road if you really want to. And you can understand why if you look at the market for which this bike is really intended; the Indian and Asian markets. They don’t really want ‘adventure’ bikes; they want a bike that is aspirational – and the BMW badge gives them that – and a bike that can handle the poor quality of roads in those countries.
Having said that, I completely disagree with BMW and I think that this is one of the best adventure bikes I’ve ever ridden. It’s light, easy to ride, it’s simple, it’s comfortable, it’s manoeuvrable, there’s not too much power and you always feel as if you’re in control of the bike and not the other way round.
Because, if you think about it, adventure bikes are getting too big, too heavy, too complex and, dare I say it, too powerful; 160bhp off road? Really? How many people are being put off adventure riding because of all these factors? This little jewel addresses all those issues and opens up adventure riding to a massive new audience. Nothing seems intimidating or impossible when you’re in the saddle.
It’s like the whole adventure riding scale has been turned down a few notches to allow those of us with limited skill to join in the fun. And certain factors that came in for mild criticism on the G310R, start to make a bit more sense.
The BMW G310 GS whole story
When we first rode the G310R, the roadster version of the 310, we found the brakes to be a bit lacking; not very powerful, not very sharp. BMW countered this by arguing that, in the markets the bike is aimed at, they’re not used to sophisticated disc brake set-ups, with the performance they give, so they deliberately made them not too powerful.
A happy side-effect of this is that, when you are off-road on the 310GS, the brakes are absolutely perfect; not too sharp but still with plenty of feel for braking on loose surfaces. And, if you want, the ABS can be turned off completely.
In the past, I’ve taken part in BMWs adventure weekends, always on 1200GSs and, while I’ve enjoyed the challenge of getting through the day in one piece on these massive bikes, I can’t help feeling that I would have enjoyed them even more on something like this. I wouldn’t have looked at anything the course could throw at me with a ‘will it bite?’ feeling in my bones and, if I did happen to drop the bike, I could simply pick it up and carry on without having to enlist the help of several passers-by.
I just know that some people will ask ‘where’s the traction control, pro riding modes, electronic suspension, off-road ABS, all those essential electronics?’ However, if a bike needs all the fancy electronics to keep it on the straight and narrow, then aren’t the bikes getting too big, too heavy, too powerful?
If we listen to BMW and go with their thinking that this isn’t a proper adventure bike, then it has to work well on tar. I’ve always loved adventure bikes on the black top; they frequently give me more riding pleasure than sports bikes; I enjoy the riding position and the leverage that wider bars give me, not to mention the comfort. And it is on tar that all that power can be used more effectively than off road. So how can a paltry 34bhp make me smile?
When Mat was in L.A. for the launch of the G310R, there was one point where he got to the end of a twisty mountain pass and the grin on his face was from ear to ear; despite the lack of power, the bike was so much more fun than it had any right to be. And he was right; this GS version is fantastic fun; not the quickest and it can struggle a little on long hills but there is something intoxicating about using all the available performance of a bike rather than dipping only 40 or 50 percent into it; you are wringing every last ounce of speed out of it; riding it to its limit. On a sweeping mountain pass such as the Outeniqua Pass in George, I’m not sure I would have any more fun on a bike with twice the power, let alone five or six times more.
Keep the motor singing high up the rev range, stir the gearbox and revel in the beautifully chuckable and secure handling. Even the long-travel suspension doesn’t feel wallowy or too soft. What a fantastic machine to simply get on and ride.
BMW G310 GS conclusion
You can probably tell that I am rather impressed with this G310 GS and I make no apologies about it. It really is that good.
In terms of competition, there is the Kawasaki Versys X300 and the Honda CRF250 Rally, neither of which can hold a candle to the BMW, in my opinion. But the interesting thing about the competition for the G310 GS is not what’s there at the moment but what is yet to come; how long can it be before KTM puts the 390 motor into an adventure chassis? When that happens, as surely it must, then the baby adventure bike class will really have arrived and it will revolutionise adventure riding and open it up to a whole new audience, which can only be good for everyone.
For more: www.bmw-motorrad.co.za
Gallery – click to enlarge: