First ride review of the BMW G 310 R

When BMW showed its G 310 R roadster at the EICMA show a little over a year ago, I wasn’t sure I’d ever see it on U.S. roads. Even less did I expect that a year later I’d be riding one through the Santa Monica Mountains to the popular motorcycle hangout, the Rock Store, or slipping through stalled lanes of traffic in Hollywood.

BMW G 310 R

I didn’t really expect to find myself riding this motorcycle in the United States, but BMW is giving U.S. riders a shot at their new world bike. The BMW G 310 R handles canyon roads just fine, though it will probably spend a lot more time in the city. Photo by Kevin Wing.

This motorcycle was built for the world, not so much for riders in North America, but with the proliferation of new, smaller models, BMW decided to bring it here, anyway. After riding the bike for a day at the official press intro, a few things were clear: Yes, the littlest BMW is capable of keeping up on U.S. freeways; no, that’s still not the primary or most important market for this bike; and finally, BMW recognizes that this motorcycle, and the models to follow in what will surely be a fuller G line, are critical to achieving the company’s goal of selling 200,000 motorcycles worldwide by 2020.

“In the beginning, the idea for the bike was to get into new markets for us, countries like Brazil, India, China,” said BMW Motorrad Head of Design Edgar Heinrich. “They are very different customers, very different markets, of course. But in developing it, we found out there is interest even in these mature markets, like Europe or like America.”

Right now, the smallest motorcycle BMW sells is 650 cc. About a million motorcycles are sold annually worldwide of that size and above. But if you drop down to 300 cc, that number doubles to two million. Considering that, it’s easy to see how the G 310 R and other G models can have a major impact on BMW by reaching growing numbers of middle class buyers in places like Brazil, India and throughout the motorcycle-friendly countries of Asia.

BMW G 310 R

The BMW models in California before going off on its world tour.

The G 310 R is not only the smallest BMW, but it’s also the only one that will not be built in Germany. To keep the price down, BMW is partnering with TVS Motor Company in India, which is part of the TVS Group that manufactures motorcycles, cars and parts in huge numbers. BMW designed and engineered the G bikes. TVS will build them on a separate, dedicated production line. This allows BMW to sell the G 310 R for less than $5,000 in the United States. It set MSRP at $4,750 and reduced the usual $495 destination and handling fee to $245 to keep it under $5k, which is $3,000 less than any other motorcycle BMW sells here.

Taking advantage of those cost savings, BMW set the MSRP at $4,750 and reduced its usual $495 destination and handling fee to $245 to keep the final price under $5,000. That makes it $3,000 less expensive than the most affordable model in its current lineup in the United States. Just as important, BMW execs told us that the next G bike coming up, the G 310 GS, would be “similarly attractively priced.” Given that the R 1200 GS is the company’s best selling model, and the G 310 GS has the looks of its big brother down pat, I would not be surprised if the smaller GS is BMW’s top-selling motorcycle in a few years.

BMW G 310 GS

While it won’t be available for sale until late 2017, BMW also showed off an example of the next entry in the new G line, the G 310 GS. The mini GS has the looks of its best selling big brother and, although it likely won’t have the serious off-road capability some U.S. and European riders would like, it probably will make a very good choice for daily riding in lots of motorcycle-friendly countries in Asia and South America.

BMW execs know there will be skepticism and resistance, just as Triumph has its own skeptics who are wary of the bikes built in Thailand, instead of England.  That’s always going to be the case for companies like BMW and Triumph that are so closely associated with their home countries. Others have said BMW should not go downmarket, but should remain an “aspirational” brand. But here’s the thing: For a resident of India who has earned his way into the middle class and has been riding a locally produced 125 cc motorcycle to work for years, a 300 cc BMW is an aspirational motorcycle. And not only is the middle class in India bigger than the entire U.S. population, but a higher percentage also rides. Add countries like China, Indonesia and others, and the opportunity is just too big to pass up.

BMW G 310 R specs

So let’s look at the motorcycle BMW has built. BMW execs used the word “premium” a lot to refer to the bike. They know it has to be affordable but can’t feel cheap. So we see a combination of upgraded components and affordable ones.

BMW G 310 R engine

The single-cylinder engine is tilted backwards and the exhaust exits the rear. Engineers wanted to move the weight as far forward as possible.

For example, the bike makes do with a single disc brake on each wheel but it comes with braided steel brake lines. You get anti-lock brakes standard, but no ride-by-wire throttle or traction control. The Kayaba front fork is not adjustable but it is an inverted model that outwardly looks as trick as the ones on the expensive BMW sport bikes. You get a digital dash with features such as a gear indicator and a fuel gauge, plus engine temperature, fuel mileage and fuel range displays, among others, but it’s not a fancy and costly TFT panel.

BMW G 310 R
BMW G 310 R
Engine Liquid-cooled, four-valve single
Displacement 313 cc
Bore x stroke 80 mm x 60 mm
Transmission Six-speed, chain final drive
Front/rear suspension travel 5.5 inches/5.2 inches
Front brake Single 300 mm disc, ABS
Rear brake Single 240 mm disc, ABS
Front/rear tires 110/70R17, 150/60R17
Fuel capacity 2.9 gallons
Wheelbase 54 inches
Weight, ready to ride 349 pounds
Total weight capacity 760 pounds
Standard seat height 30.9 inches
U.S. MSRP $4,750 plus $245 fee

BMW says the G 310 R weighs 349 pounds, ready to ride. It has a steel tube frame and is powered by a 313 cc fuel-injected, liquid-cooled, four-valve single that BMW says produces 34 horsepower at the crank at 9,500 rpm with peak torque of 21 foot-pounds at 7,500 rpm. BMW reversed the engine, putting the intake in front and the exhaust at the rear, and tilted the cylinder backwards a few degrees. This provided several advantages: the engine sits farther forward in the frame, allowing the engineers to combine a short, 54-inch wheelbase with a longer swingarm and an even 50-50 weight distribution front and rear. It also makes the exhaust shorter, which helps the catalytic converter heat up faster so the bike can meet emissions standards.

The six-speed transmission, chain final drive and conventional switchgear are more Japanese-like than traditional BMW, keeping the bike familiar to more riders. BMW designers said they wanted the bike to feel stable, safe and easy to ride, and since in markets like the United States it will appeal to new riders, as well as experienced ones who just want a smaller ride, that matters. The standard seat is fairly low at 30.9 inches. I have a 32-inch inseam and could easily place my feet flat on the pavement at stops, with my knees bent. This bike is definitely an option for shorter riders who are tired of wrestling with a too-tall mount.

Looks good on paper. But how would it feel in action? Would it live up to BMW’s standards? Would it carry me through Southern California traffic without making me feel like I was putting my life at risk (more than usual)? It was time to ride.

BMW G 310 R at the Rock Store.

The BMW G 310 R gets its photo op at the Rock Store.

Riding impressions of the BMW G 310 R

BMW led us on a day ride from the streets of Hollywood to the Santa Monica Mountains for a stop at the Rock Store and back into the city along the coast. We got a sample of some of the best SoCal roads, from Mulholland Drive to the dreamy Decker Canyon Road descending from the hills to the coast near Malibu. We also briefly jockeyed with freeway traffic and did some lanesplitting on our way back into the city.

The smallest BMW feels nimble and light, turning quickly into turns. That’s aided, no doubt, by the relatively narrow Michelin Pilot Street Radials (production models may come with Michelins, Pirellis or Metzelers). In keeping with the goal of being easy to ride, the clutch pull is light and the brakes provide plenty of stopping power for the size of the bike, without any grabbiness that could upset a new rider. The ABS intruded unexpectedly once when I hit some bumps and a painted line while braking for an intersection, but it handled the situation ably.

Any suspension without adjustment is by nature a compromise, but the stock setup worked well for me, at 170 pounds. Rear preload is the only adjustment available, and some of the heavier riders were increasing it at our morning stop. For me, the suspension did a good job of soaking up jolts on the city streets and only when I hit some bumps in mid-turn in the mountains did I feel like I lost communication with the front tire.

The single-cylinder engine is a short-stroke design and likes being revved. Get it above 4,000 rpm if you want to make quick progress. I found that keeping it near the torque peak, somewhere in the 6,000 to 8,000 rpm range, worked best once we got into the curvy mountain roads and I was trying to keep up with the quicker members of the motorcycle press.

BMW G 310 R dash

The digital dash includes a fuel gauge and a gear indicator.

Looking at the bar tachometer across the bottom of the dash, it would appear that redline is 10,000 rpm, but the spec sheet says 10,500. Somewhere around that latter number, a shift light blinks on and if you keep pushing, the rev limiter kicks in fairly abruptly.

In this country, one question just about everyone asks of a motorcycle this size is whether it can handle highway speeds. Our ride was guided and we only stayed on the freeway for a few miles, so I don’t have any way to verify BMW’s claim of a 90 mph top speed. But I did briefly see an indicated 80 mph on the dash, and the BMW wasn’t out of breath yet. The bottom line is that I would not be afraid to take this motorcycle on any highway in the United States. Would I be the fastest guy on the road? No. Would I occasionally want more passing power? Likely. But I did not feel unsafely underpowered, even in fast-moving SoCal traffic.

BMW G 310 R fuel tank

The black, rubber-like section in the middle of the tank makes a tank protector unnecessary. The plastic panels fit evenly and the paint looks good. The only shortfall is the buzz felt through the tank.

About the only glitch in the drivetrain, other than the inherent limits of 34 horsepower, is that I sometimes had a hard time finding neutral. Otherwise, the transmission action was just fine. The motorcycles only had around 300 miles on them when we started the ride, so it’s possible shift action would get better with more break-in.

The only area where I would say the G 310 R falls short of the “premium” feeling BMW was aiming for is vibration, and even that’s a mixed bag. The footpegs have rubber inserts and only transmit a little vibration from the thumper engine. Even less comes through the seat, and I noticed almost no vibration through the hand grips. But when I squeezed the slim gas tank with my knees, the buzzing was tremendous, particularly around 7,000 rpm, which is right where you want to spin the engine for maximum forward progress. If that vibration were evident elsewhere, it would ruin the “premium” feel. But since you only feel it if you’re in contact with the slim tank – and that’s something most riders will only do occasionally – I doubt it will be a deal-killer.

BMW G 310 R in the city

The BMW G 310 R will likely be used mostly for urban duty.

Final thoughts on the BMW G 310 R

BMW had a difficult challenge when designing this motorcycle. To reach the middle-class Asian or South American consumer ready to step up, it has to be affordable but it also has to live up to the BMW brand reputation. It has to exude quality.

In the United States and Europe, this bike serves a different purpose. Maybe a new rider, looking to step up from a first bike, possibly a used one, to a first new bike, and wanting something nice but not too big or powerful. Just as likely, I can see more experienced riders wanting something nimble and fun for urban use, without spending a fortune. BMW also mentioned re-entry riders.

The final challenge will be the production aspect – building a bike outside Germany. BMW execs offered extensive assurances that they have provided the information and training their Indian partners will need to meet BMW’s standards, and they also say they’ve worked with TVS enough already to know the company’s capabilities.

That last challenge remains to be conquered. But based on the fit and finish of the G 310 R I rode, and the way it performed, I have to say BMW exceeded my expectations.

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4 Responses to “First ride review of the BMW G 310 R”

  1. Sam says:

    I love my FJR for the open road but I’ve been really thinking about something light and simple just to ride to work or when I’m not going far. This looks interesting but I’m 6-2 and 225 so I am wondering if I’m going to be cramped. Guess I need to go to the dealer and sit on oen.

    • Lance Oliver Lance Oliver says:

      I can tell you that I’m 5 feet, 11 inches with a 32-inch inseam and I did not feel cramped, but then I am used to riding motorcycles that don’t have a lot of leg room and it doesn’t bother me. The riding position is very upright. I was just leaning forward a few degrees. Think of it as a similar position to your FJR1300, but just scaled way down. I think this bike would make a great complement to a comfy sport-tourer like an FJR. Definitely more fun for zipping around town. But you’ll have to try one yourself to see if you feel cramped, because that’s a subjective thing.

      The bad news is these bikes won’t be at dealers until summer, so you’ll have to wait a while. If you are cramped on the R and you like the style of the G 310 GS, that may be another option worth trying, but BMW says those won’t be in dealers until late 2017.

  2. BillyZ says:

    I don’t get it, the kids who want a city bike will buy a cheap Honda and the gusy with BMW money will buy a bigger bike. Some guy will buy one of these for his wife and that will be it.

    • Lance Oliver Lance Oliver says:

      I agree that it will have a limited audience in the United States, but this has great potential to make BMW an option for a million other riders around the world. The U.S. market is not like any other motorcycle market in the world. Not even Europe, really.