‘Arguably BMW’S most important bike to date’
Take a minute to think about how far BMW have come in the past decade. Known for years as purveyors of class-leading touring and adventure bikes, you’d never have predicted how the German firm would go on to crush the superbike world with its S1000RR.
Go on to tell someone that one day you’d see that famous white, black and blue badge on the tank of an A2 licence-friendly bike and they’d think you were mad. But that’s what BMW has done and here it is: the new £4290, 313cc, 34bhp G310R – and it’s arguably their most important bike to date. The German firm wants to tempt new riders into motorcycling across the globe and this is the machine they hope will draw them in.
It’s not a bad start because the G310R does everything a first big bike, or commuter should do: it’s easy to ride, practical, frugal (a claimed 85mpg) and fun, too.
The G310R isn’t about the speed, luxury and technology you’d associate with big Beemers. It’s been deliberately built down to a price to make it one of the best-value, mainstream restricted-licence machines out there – cheaper than its Japanese and European competition. It costs a mere £500 more than a Honda CBR125.
BMW have kept costs down by designing and engineering the G310R at their HQ in Munich, but building it in India, with partners TVS. The partnership began three years ago and new machines will hit dealers in the UK at the end of next month.
TVS are the third largest bike manufacturer in India and produce over three million machines a year, but the G310R isn’t a re-badged TVS. It’s uniquely BMW, built in a dedicated area of the Indian factory and armed with lots of clipboard-wielding BMW quality control staff. They’re shipped to Germany once built and distributed around the world.
There’s little to point to the fact this is a budget Beemer. The metallic white paint finish on our test bike is flawless, the plastics are nicely finished and you get some snazzy equipment for your money: a multifunction LCD dash, an S1000rr-aping front end, including non-adjustable upside-down forks, Bybre radial four-piston calipers, Michelin Pilot Street radial tyres and a reverse-cylinder engine, with the intake at the front and exhaust exiting form the rear.
BMW say they’ve spun the 34bhp, 313cc motor 180 degrees for a number of reasons. It gives air a straighter path into the cylinders and allows the motor to be mounted further forward in the chassis for more front grip. It also allows a longer swingarm for added straight-line stability and less weight transfer on and off the throttle.
Also, Euro 4 regulations require the catalytic converter to work at lower temperatures, directly after the engine has started and the motor’s shorter exhaust run helps this, too.
Powerful engines can’t get away with this back-to-front design because of the heat build-up from the exhausts, but the G310R makes modest power (it’s detuned slightly to account for lower quality fuel in developing countries), so it’s not a problem. The shock damping isn’t affected by having the exhaust run so close, either. There’s enough space and fresh air behind the engine to keep everything nice and cool.
The G310R has a low, friendly riding position and with a seat height of 758mm it’s easy for shorter riders to get their feet flat on the floor at a standstill. But the BMW still manages to have a big bike feel and spacious riding position, so if you’re coming from a bigger bike, it doesn’t feel like you’re downsizing.
The softly-padded seat is comfy for an hour or so, but it will eventually give you bum-ache. For a decent length commute it’s fine, though.
Looking down at the controls it’s clear you’re on a BMW. There’s the giveaway propeller badge on the tank and a cockpit that, dash aside, could be from an S1000R super-naked. The switchgear is similar, as are the straight bars and handlebar grips. Mirrors are small, but give a decent view of where you’ve just been.
One of the only real niggles with the controls is the clutch and brake lever especially, is a long way from the bar. It’s the same on all their models, so BMW test riders must have giant hands.
Like all the single and twin cylinder machines in the A2 class, the G310R doesn’t have the most evocative exhaust note in the world – it’s more a droning Moto3-meets-generator soundtrack. Oh, how we miss the screaming inline 400cc fours and 250cc two-strokes of the early 90s. But the new motor, complete with balance shaft, is smooth and there are no vibes coming through the rubber-topped pegs, bars and seat.
Power delivery is so smooth you forget you’re riding a single (and I stalled it once plodding around in too high a gear) and the throttle pick-up is glitch-free. At low speeds there’s a decent amount of grunt and you can easily keep up with city traffic but
‘The softly-padded seat is comfy for an hour but it will eventually give you bum-ache’
when you want to turn up the wick the motor turns from sensible commuter to sporty BMW. It’s free-revving and surprisingly urgent for its modest 34bhp. Flat out it might just crack the ton and slip the clutch like a maniac and it will do proper wheelies.
But at low speed the transmission isn’t perfect. The clutch can be grabby when you pull away and downshifts are stiff and sticky when you’re rolling to a stop. It all works better the faster you’re going, but around town and at low speed the BMW isn’t as refined as its glossier Japanese rivals.
One of the advantages of a singlecylinder design is low weight. Tipping the scales at 158.5kg ready-to-go, the G310R is light and manoeuvrable around town and on the open road.
At middling speeds, the brakes lack bite and the steering is vague, but push through this and the BMW comes alive. The Abs-assisted brakes work the harder you squeeze the lever and lazy lines turn to crisp curves when you push the front end hard into a corner.
Fit some sporty tyres and you could have some serious fun on the G310R. This is the sort of bike that will teach new riders more about the art of cornering and maintaining momentum than a powerful 600 or 1000 ever will.
The BMW’S closest rival is the £4499 KTM 390 Duke. The Austrian-made machine has another 10bhp so is undoubtedly faster, but the BMW handles just as well and the rear shock, brakes and gearbox are better. The G310R also has a calmer, more grown-up feel to it.
But it has to be said that all these affordable A2-licence machines, built in Asia, regardless of the manufacturer, have a slightly cheap feel to them and don’t really get the pulse going.
Where are the zippy engines, the fully-adjustable suspension, grippy tyres and brakes so sharp they’ll have you over the bars? Where’s the lust? But what I want would cost double the G310R, and that’s no good for anyone. Only Ducati’s Scrambler Sixty2 comes close to offering something special for restricted licence-holders, but that’s over two grand more than the BMW.
The big question is: who is going to buy the G310R? Will it be new riders who yearn for a BMW badge, commuters, or even owners of big Beemers who want something smaller and cheaper? Well, let’s hope it’s all of the above.
More than just an A2-licence bike, the G310R is a machine BMW hopes to tempt non-bikers into our fantastic two-wheeled world. And for that, it deserves to sell like hot cakes for the long-term health of motorcycling.
The G310R gets better the faster your ride it
The little Beemer is nimble and comfy for about an hour and has enough zip to keep you entertained through the twisties
The G310R looks chunky and funky and will attract lovers of the BMW brand
2 Sturdy chassis A tubular steel frame is built for rigidity, durability and to keep costs down. Shoving the motor right up the front of the bike has allowed BMW to fit a long die-cast ali swingarm for sure-footed handling. 1 Reverse cylinder BMW’S new 34bhp, 313cc, 4v single-cylinder engine is fitted backward – inlet at the front and exhaust at the back. This gives straighter, more efficient airflow into the engine which is closer to the front wheel for better weight distribution. 3 Top-notch parts An S1000rr-look-alike front end features nonadjustable upside-down forks and an Abs-equipped radialmount four-piston Bybre caliper, biting a 300mm disc. The single rear shock is non-adjustable. 4 Official extras Just like the rest of the BMW range, there’s a host of official accessories available for the G310R. They include a low seat, comfort seat, luggage, centre stand, LED indicators, a 12-volt socket and heated grips.