The burgeoning new class of small, affordable adventure bikes are massively appealing to a wide variety of riders. Bikes like the Honda CRF250L Rally and Kawasaki Versys-X 300 have opened up a whole new world of riding to newer riders or adventure riders; and now BMW has joined the fray.
When I was invited to be one of three US journalists to test BMW’s G310GS on and off road at the world launch in Spain, I was silly with excitement. But probably not for the reason you’d guess.
Sure, Spain is lovely with its sun-soaked beaches and siestas, and I was undoubtedly looking forward to feasting on paella and riding BMW’s latest release in the Pyrenees.
But here’s the real thing. I’ve been testing the full range of motorcycles professionally for 30 years, mostly the streetbikes I specialize in but also super-size adventure bikes, and many times in very challenging environs. Think muddy ruts in the Brazilian Amazon, sandy dunes in Southern Africa, and half-foot-deep snow in the Colorado Rockies. People think I’m decent at riding the full-blown ADV bikes in the dirt because I always seem to arrive back to the pavement in one piece.
The truth is—I keep the bikes vertical because I’m generally scared out of my wits and in full survival mode the entire time. Am I having fun? Not as much as I’d like. And, sure, riding the midsize range (600 to 800) off highway is less stressful, but not without its uh-oh moments.
This new crop of bikes gets rid of all that. They are all fun, no fear. Total cherry pie.
A Bike for the Masses
But it’s not only anxious ADV riders like myself who consider bikes like the G310GS manna from heaven. They’re also perfect in size and character for new riders and virtually anyone else who wants a fun, well-mannered, adventure-ready motorcycle for an affordable price: well under $6,000 in the case of the G310GS, and with ABS as standard equipment.
That BMW chose to build the bike in India is not so surprising. Manufacturing standards can be managed more easily than expense. And since these bikes are aimed pointedly at the lucrative world market, where massive populations in regions like South America and Asia are eager for affordable efficiency, end cost is key.
In Barcelona and surrounding Catalonia, the masses were way more concerned with the referendum vote than with the cool motorcycles we were traipsing around on, but many still had time for a curious double take. At first glance the new 310, with its high front fender and fly screen, distinctive midline arc, and floating rear section can easily be mistaken for its beefier brethren.
Others might mistake the little GS for the G310 Roadster, from which it was adapted. It shares the R’s frame, 310cc liquid-cooled single, and ABS-moderated single discs front and rear. The main differences being the GS’s bodywork, longer-travel suspension (180mm front and rear on the GS compared to 140mm front and 131mm rear for the R), 19-inch front wheel, and switchable ABS for those who want to ride off road sans intervention.
No Pain in Spain
Spain might just be the most perfect country in Europe, at least for riding motorcycles. Its Pyrenees mountains in the north are blanketed with a vast tangle of roads that are well paved and profoundly scenic. Compared to the neighboring Alps, the Pyrenees are deserted. Just a smattering of small hilltop villages interrupt the flow, dollops of ancient taupe and gray stone.
The G310GS, with its compact wheelbase and light weight, was perfectly suited for this area’s narrow, squiggling roads. The bike’s handling is light and obedient, offering crystal clear feedback and a high tolerance for correction, even mid-corner. Truly, you can muscle it down right at the apex or stand it up on its toes at the entry and slingshot all the way through. The bike doesn’t have the fancy traction control elements BMW is widely known for, but you won’t miss it because the GS is so light and easy to manage, even under hard braking.
The five in our group were very well matched in experience, and, because we were on equal bikes and bikes an experienced rider could engage 100 percent, it became a game of skill and shift-timing rather than a contest of cojones and engine capacity. In this way, the GS is ridiculous fun. We literally rode through thousands upon thousands of corners in the Pyrenees, all at speeds as fast as you’d want to ride any motorcycle, yet we did it without the heavy task of power management. As Edgar Heinrich, head of design at BMW Motorrad, explained when we arrived, the 310 models are about making motorcycle riding fun again.
At the heart of that fun is BMW’s high-revving 310, a modern single that purrs more than it thumps. Power delivery is smooth and consistent all the way up to a 10,500-rpm redline, with maximum power residing right around 9,500 rpm. And yeah, we’re only talking about 34 ponies, but these ponies are well jockeyed. The only place you’ll truly pine for top-end is on the highway, where the little GS begins to feel taxed over 70 mph. Vibration is minimal until you reach about 7,000 rpm, where it builds as a shiver felt through the seat and secondarily through the bar and the enduro-style pegs.
Finally, the Off-Road Section
As a closeted sissy, I was secretly very eager for the promised dirt section where I knew I’d be able to roost the little GS with reckless abandon. And sure enough as my small group followed our photographer up a rocky, double-track into the alpine I sprung up on the pegs feeling very confident about managing the bike’s light weight and mild-mannered engine.
The GS’s leggy upside-down fork and rear spring strut were doing a great job soaking up the rocks and ruts, while the bike’s light steering and compact size made short work of the countless turnarounds required for the photo passes. Dirt mounds intended for water disbursement became small launch pads, but the suspension didn’t once bottom and the Metzeler Tourance dual-sport tires were biting just as nicely at the rubble as they had on the street.
Sadly, we were ushered back on the pavement after like 20 minutes of off-road riding. “Why so little dirt?” I whined, and was told days of rain prior to our arrival had made the high-elevation dirt pass we were meant to cross a mud bog. Here I finally had a chance to feel like the hero I’m usually pretending to be and the moment was cut short.
Still, for the short amount of time I was able to ride the wee GS off road it felt eager and easy. The only immediate issue being an awkward-feeling reach to the low handlebar. All the many-sized journalists I talked with agreed that a set of risers are in order, and I would want to rotate the bar forward as well.
A good slug of twisties can brighten my worst mood, and since northern Spain doesn’t seem to allow straight roads, it wasn’t long before my disappointment was forgotten. As further distraction, we would be spending the night in Andorra, a microscopic country nestled between Spain and France in the heart of the high mountains.
Only about 40 kilometers wide, Andorra is co-ruled by France’s president and Spain’s bishop, making it the only co-principality in the world. It’s also a popular tax haven that happens to be an ideal altitude for physical training, and so home to many professional athletes including Marc Marquez, who was vigorously chided by Spanish MotoGP fans for his move there in 2014.
Truthfully, the commercial center of Andorra is a blight—a stoplight-ridden traffic river lined with duty-free shopping opportunities. Eventually, the dismal grind gave way to more mountain roads and then ski hills and hotels, into one of which we tucked ourselves for the night.
That evening there seemed to be more laughter than I remember at previous press launches. Everybody’s mood so jovial, it had to be more than the cerveza and seafood paella. No doubt the grand Pyrenees played a part, as did good company and knowing we had a full day of the same ahead. But bigger still, the high spirits seemed to have much to do with the nature of the G310GS.
These days simplicity is a rare commodity. How often do we get to jump on a streetbike and blast around without needing to constantly manage power? How many dual-sport bikes feel this light and easy to ride? The G310GS is simple. It’s not about power, it’s about play and practicality.
And keeping secrets. Because the only thing scary about the G310GS is not being able to spend enough time riding it.