Having ridden BMW’s new tiddler on every kind of road and examined it in detail, the easiest review would be: ‘What a brilliant little 'bike!’ Really, it’s that good. But, in the interests of giving interested parties rather more detail about the new single-cylinder offering from BMW, I feel obliged to press on.
Let’s start by dismissing all the balderdash that's been talked about it as some kind of groundbreaking original. Elsewhere, you might read that it’s BMW’s first bike below 500cc or that it’s their first single-cylinder road bike. Others hedge their bets by adding qualifications like ‘of modern times’ or ‘since the 1920s’. It’s all untrue. BMW had a very successful singe-cylinder range that started with the 247cc R39 in 1925 and lasted until the R27 in the late 1960s. Along the way, the range comprised everything from the 192cc R20 to the ‘big bore’ R35 packing 340cc.
To be fair, BMW themselves are partly to blame for this shocking lack of historical accuracy. In their press release for the G 310 R they describe it as ‘the first BMW roadster under 500 cc’ and that it enters ‘a capacity segment new to BMW Motorrad’. Which is all the proof you need that press releases are usually bunkum.
Genesis the sub-500cc class of 'bike
If the talk surrounding the new, small BMW has been over-hyped it may be because so much is at stake. The sub-500cc class has taken on huge importance in the last couple of years, with almost every major manufacturer launching an entrant or two. Or, if you’re KTM, several. BMW is not only very late to the party, its recent smaller machines like the F 650 did not exactly set the world alight.
An important driver of this sub-500cc surge has been the demographics of the developing world. A new and relatively cash-rich generation has emerged, with money to spend on motorcycles. India, China, Taiwan Thailand, Indonesia…it amounts to a vast potential market, and localised production of affordable motorcycles has sky-rocketed. With experience the 'bikes have improved, but costs in world terms remain low.
Joint ventures between the big names and manufacturers in India or Indonesia are nothing new. But what has happened is the planets coming into alignment. Production quality has risen to a point where the likes of KTM, Honda or BMW are happy to put their own badge on the tank and sell them not just to local buyers, but anywhere in the world. And that spells profit.
First impressions of the BMW G 310 R
As things turned out, the quality of some of these 'bikes has proven to be a little suspect when subjected to a harsh, northern-European winter. But first impressions of the G 310 R are immensely reassuring. The paint finish, plating, welding and general componentry not only look great at a distance: they stand up to close scrutiny. And the styling impresses, with a family resemblance to the S 1000 R super naked. Our test bike was finished in a pearl white metallic version of the distinctive BMW motorsport colours and, with its gold-anodised USD forks, it looks anything but a ‘budget’ bike.
The BMW G 310 R is full of surprises
If the fit and finish of the baby Beemer comes as a welcome surprise, so does its character. Having just tested BMW’s S 1000 XR, I was expecting the same kind of bloodless efficiency. However, this BMW—made in an Indian factory by TVS—makes you grin like a Cheshire cat. It has ‘pep’, even if 313cc and 34hp are not the sort of numbers you associate with performance.
One attractive aspect is the suspension. It’s amazingly good. Pretty soft, mind, especially with my 93 kg aboard. But it has a plushness and well-damped quality that makes riding a joy. You get good feedback about what the tyres are doing and, because they’re Michelin Pilot Streets, they are mostly doing good things. Okay, they’re made in Thailand and not quite as good as the ones made in France. But, again, it’s a sign that, even though this is the cheapest BMW you can buy, silly corners have not been cut.
With a good, spacious riding position, clear and comprehensive instrumentation, and that dinky BMW badge staring at you from the ‘bar clamp, any ride on the G 310 R is a pleasure.
BMW G 310 R tech talk
Although good tyres and suspension contribute significantly to the riding experience, the G 310 R has other aces up its sleeve. The engine might lack the go of KTM’s 390 Duke but it’s smooth for a single, perfectly fuelled and emits a satisfying Braaaap when you crack open the throttle at anything over 5,000 revs. Its reverse cylinder head configuration will be familiar to owners of recent Yamaha YZ/WR ‘F’ dirt bikes (although the design provenance goes much further back) and it has a number of advantages. The engine can be sited further forward, all to the benefit of mass centralisation, and there’s potentially a slight ‘ram air’ effect. It also allows a longer (aluminium) swing arm, adding stability to the geometry’s quick-steering agility. End result: great handling.
The single’s vibes are mostly removed by a balancer shaft, and the remainder are well isolated from the rider. Even on a longish ride, there’s no tingling in any part that touches the motorcycle, so long as you don’t grip the tank with your knees unless braking or cornering.
It stops well, too. Bybre are an Indian subsidiary of Brembo specialising in systems for smaller bikes and there’s little wrong with the 310’s set-up. Apart, that is, from the Goliath span between bar and front brake lever. There’s no adjustment, so you’re stuck with it. For anyone with hands smaller than Brodie Retallick it'll be a pig: shorty levers will be on most owners’ Christmas lists. ABS is standard, front and rear, and it’s relatively unobtrusive in operation. The brakes have good power and feel, and that grippy front Michelin means you can stop real fast.
Details, details and the BMW G 310 R
Sometimes, details let a bike down. Other times, it’s the details driving that elusive quality: joy of ownership. The baby G delivers a good degree of the latter. There’s the GS-style rear brake lever, the star-drive bolts on the aluminium frame plate, the dash that looks worthy of a bike three times the price, the sinuous front disk carrier, that classy paint finish and braided brake lines. The only let downs are the agricultural-looking gear lever and the looooong tail piece.
Our verdict on the BMW G 310 R
I happened to ride the BMW back-to-back with Triumph’s 660 Street Triple—arguably the classiest, fastest and most expensive LAMS bike available—and the differences were stark. The Triumph is not a ‘learner’s’ bike: it’s much too quick for a newbie. But the BMW is perfect for someone learning to ride a motorcycle. It has enough power to deal with the thrust of traffic but is never intimidating. It'll teach you all you need to know about riding a ‘bike while looking after you with ABS brakes, low seat height, easy handling and massive lock for around-town turns. It offers style aplenty and a classy finish, and it’s under $8K. If you're a genuine learner but want something just a bit special, the G 310 R could be right up your Strasse.
BMW G 310 R specifications
- Cost: $7,995 +ORC
- Engine: 4-stroke, liquid-cooled, four-valve single
- Capacity: 313 cc
- Fuel System: EFI
- Transmission: 6-speed, chain drive
- Seat Height: 785 mm
- Kerb weight: 158.5 kg
- Fuel capacity: 11.0 L
Sprightly charm, air of quality, affordability, plush suspension, looks, economy, ease of handling.
Brake lever span. Outgunned by 390 Duke.