First Ride Review
We’ve been waiting for more than a year to get our gloved hands on the 2018 BMW G 310 GS, so a little rain wasn’t going to dampen our mood. In fact, as the herd (Flock? Gaggle? Pod?) of journalists trooped out to the row of GSs, which were being toweled off in a thoughtful but futile gesture by the BMW staff, we all agreed that it seemed fitting that we’d be testing an ADV bike in less-than-ideal conditions. That is, after all, what they’re for.
We got our first in-person look at the G 310 GS at the press launch of the G 310 R way back in December 2016. The GS shares a lot of components with its roadster sibling, including its comprehensive LCD dash, tubular steel frame with bolt-on rear subframe, 313cc liquid-cooled single-cylinder engine, die-cast aluminum swingarm, brakes, seat and headlight.
Because it wears the “GS” badge, however, ADV-ability expectations run high, and so it received a number of appropriate alterations. The handlebars are wider and angled farther back, it’s fitted with a luggage rack, wind deflector, beak, larger front fender, narrower and taller front wheel (2.5-inch x 19-inch vs. 3.0 x 17 on the R), spiked footpegs with removable rubber inserts, extended suspension travel (7.1 inches front and rear vs. 5.5 front and 5.2 rear on the R), two-channel ABS that can be switched off for off-road use, and Metzeler Tourance dual-sport tires, plus its exhaust was redesigned with a new heat shield and more upswept silencer.
Thanks to the longer-travel suspension, its rider is perched on a fairly lofty (for a small bike) 32.9-inch seat, although its soft dual-sport suspension sags considerably once aboard and EIC Tuttle, who has a 29-inch inseam, was able to get the balls of both feet solidly on terra firma. In fact, the “Lil’” GS doesn’t feel so little—apart from its feathery 377-pound curb weight—from behind the handlebar. Sitting next to its R 1200 GS big brother it’s clearly smaller, but not 75-percent smaller. More than one person has asked me if it’s a 700 or 800. Lil GS has a big personality.
At its heart is a somewhat radical engine, its single cylinder tilted backwards and rotated 180 degrees, so that the intake is at the front and the exhaust at the rear. Seems logical enough, right? Besides creating a bit more power, having the intake at the front also allowed BMW to use a shorter fuel tank, reducing weight shifts from back-and-forth fuel sloshing.
While rotating the cylinder isn’t as unusual as it seems (the technique has been used on motorcycles and even a helicopter since the 1920s), tilting it rearward was something the engineers at Yamaha came up with when they were designing the 2010 YZF450F dirt bike. They found that by doing so, they could shift weight toward the front wheel and centralize mass, creating a quicker-steering machine.
BMW is the first to make use of the design on a street bike and it promises similar benefits, plus it allows a short wheelbase/long swingarm combo—which translates into quickness and stability. The 4-valve, DOHC cylinder head design is based on the S 1000 RR, including finger follower-type rocker arms with a super hard DLC (Diamond Like Carbon) coating that minimizes friction and a low-friction Nikasil coating on the cylinder sleeve. Nice touches for such an inexpensive bike.
It looks the business as an ADV bike, but the G 310 GS turned out to be a surprisingly capable street master—as long as there aren’t a lot of high-speed freeways involved. It likes to be revved, with a 10,500-rpm redline, and you’ll find yourself working through the 6-speed gearbox on a spirited ride. Keep the tach at 6,000 or above and twist away.
Power output is modest as expected for a 313cc single—on the Jett Tuning rear-wheel dyno it managed 30 peak horsepower at 9,600 rpm and almost 19 lb-ft of torque at 7,600. A rotating counterbalancer shaft tames the vibes; I did a 3-hour freeway stint riding home after the launch and while my wrist was sore from holding the throttle open for so long, my hands, butt and feet never went numb.
With long-travel suspension, the Lil GS eats potholes, frost heaves, bumpy patchwork and any other manner of pavement realities for lunch. For those more interested in being king of the urban jungle than king of the mountain, the 310 GS would make an excellent choice. It sips fuel, even when ridden aggressively; it’s averaging 64 mpg so far. All that combined with a tall seat, wide handlebar and commanding upright riding position—plus the fact that what you’re commanding weighs a scant 377 pounds—make the GS a fantastic city bike.
That’s not to say it doesn’t shine off-road as well. The China-built Kayaba suspension works quite well, soaking up bumps without being overly soft or pogo stick-like from a lack of rebound damping. There are no adjustments apart from rear preload, but even larger testers didn’t complain; a more thorough report will have to wait until we’ve had a chance to attack more than our test ride’s graded dirt road, but it’s worth noting that BMW took care to point out that it’s intended for “light” off-road use, a clear sign of which is the 19-inch front wheel vs. a more dirt-worthy 21.
The ABS-equipped brakes work well and provide decent feedback, but there is quite a bit of travel in the rear lever before it bites. With a powerful radially mounted 4-piston ByBre (Brembo’s Indian subsidiary) caliper and big 300mm disc, I found the front brake is strong enough to be used alone for most casual riding. The ABS can be disabled on the fly, and be aware that when it’s off, it’s off. There is no “off-road” mode where only the rear wheel is disabled.
BMW already has a handful of accessories available, including a 32.3-inch low seat and a 33.4-inch comfort seat, tank bag, top case and power sockets, with more expected in the future—“necessities” like heated grips and engine protection bars. It’s also planning a new Essentials riding apparel line that will be priced to appeal to 310 GS buyers.
The 2018 G 310 GS is in dealers now, and comes in three colors, Cosmic Black, Racing Red and Pearl White Metallic with Motorsport colors (carries a $100 upcharge). It’s priced at $5,695, which means that after the $245 destination & handling fee it still comes in under $6k, at $5,940. That’s a lot of bike for not a lot of dollars, and we’re betting dealers will have a hard time keeping them in stock. BMW is smart, capitalizing on its popular GS line to create an affordable entry into its brand, where it surely plans on keeping buyers hooked for life.