BMW Motorrad is chasing the younger rider.
The new G 310 R is a major departure from its current model range, almost entirely 800cc-plus. The company wants to ‘Make Life a Ride’ but its current customer, typically an older male, is either close to the summit or over the hill entirely.
It’s not a bad problem to have because they’re the ones with the most money, but it has become a problem since LAMS regulations have been in place. Anyone with a lean towards Bavaria’s finest has had to ride something else first.
Sure there was the 650 GS, which was a learner-approved adventure machine, but it wasn’t really aimed at younger riders buying their first bike, and it’s been discontinued for a while now anyway.
The problem BMW has identified is, when you’re left to buy something else, you’ll become more likely to stick with that brand – even when you get to an age when you can afford that dream BMW.
It’s one reason why the Japanese are so successful.
Another reason is Japanese bikes are built to a high standard, and they’re generally not very expensive.
BMW’s G 310 R changes all of that, it’s an affordable, learner-approved naked, complete with the sass of its S 1000 R sibling, and bundled into a package anyone can enjoy.
BMW G 310 R: Launch
BMW Motorrad Australia invited Cycle Torque to the Australian media launch of the G 310 R in tropical climate of Airlie Beach, Queensland.
Throughout the launch I got to learn a lot more about the bike, spending a morning on the road, exploring the sights of the Whitsundays, and the afternoon at a local track giving the G 310 R a thorough pasting, which resulted in plenty of thrills and (luckily) no spills…
BMW G 310 R: Development
The press component of the launch was hosted by Andreas Lundgren, BMW Motorrad Australia’s GM and Nigel Harvey, its marketing manager, where I was given an introduction to the bike and who BMW thinks will buy it.
Andreas said the G 310 R is naturally a “very important” bike for the brand, because it enters into a segment BMW hasn’t competed before.
He also admitted the G 310 R may not have the best performance in any one area alone, but the combination of its parts is what makes the bike special.
The company isn’t making very much money on the bike either, it’s competitively priced at $5,790 plus on-roads.
Nigel played a marketing video (the one featured above) which promotes a modern, youthful ideology for the brand, one the G 310 R represents.
Nigel made the comment that BMW Motorrad hasn’t spoken to this customer before, so its marketing material is different to what we’ve come to expect from the brand.
He introduced the G 310 R as an “economical entry into the BMW range.”
He also said the bike has been built for a global market, so it’s gone through an extensive testing process, making sure the one-size-fits-all approach works.
BMW Motorrad has been developing the G 310 R with the Indian-based production plant, TVS, since April 2013.
The bike was initially meant to arrive late last year, but BMW quality controllers weren’t completely satisfied, so it was pushed back six months to ensure an excellent product goes to market.
BMW G 310 R: The Bike
As we are walked-through the ins and outs of the bike, the standout feature is firstly the evocative style, but there are a few things besides that which captivate my attention.
The cylinder head is reversed, so the exhaust header comes out of the back of the engine. This means the air intake faces forward and allows easier access to the mixture.
This engine design isn’t completely about performance, it’s to promote better handling as well. The 180-degree head also allows the engine to be tilted backwards, meaning it can be placed further forward in the frame, placing more weight over the front wheel, ergo better handling.
The by-product of this engineering also meant BMW could lengthen the swingarm to create more stability too.
BMW Motorrad claims the G 310 R has the best fuel economy in the category, at 3.3L/100km.
It also claims performance figures of 34 horsepower at 9,500 and 28 Newton-metres of torque at 7,500 revs, which is respectable for a 313cc single-cylinder engine aimed at younger learners and returning riders.
Its looks are appealing partly due to its grown-up naked styling, and it looks like a bigger bike. Ample tyre sizing is a factor here, along with that longer swingarm and a sharp steering angle. It’s a teenage S 1000 R.
The running gear looks the business – 40mm gold upside down forks and a 45-degree progressively wound rear shock (preload adjustable), both by Kayaba, are impressive units upon close inspection. So is the radially-mounted four-piston front caliper, from Bybre. There’s two-channel ABS and a large, 300mm front rotor.
I flick the ignition on to check out the instruments and the information is well laid out: a gear position indicator and a fuel range readout are welcome inclusions.
BMW offers the G 310 R in three colour options: Strato Blue Metallic; Cosmic Black and Pearl White Metallic.
While it certainly works in the flesh, the overall build quality is good, but not at the same level as the German-built Beemers. That’s not a huge issue in my book, the price point means that would be unachievable.
My concern at this stage is whether the bike works on a larger level, like Lundgren said. Will the sharper steering geometry truly work with front end weight bias, or will the bike feel bit too twitchy for learners at low speeds?
BMW G 310 R: Cityscape
Time to ride. I throw a leg over the bike and put my hands on the ’bars. I’m surprised. Being a taller (and heavier) guy the static seating position and rear spring feels remarkably satisfying. I take a look around and it seems to fit most shapes and sizes in the mostly male convoy too. I can see plenty out of the rear-view mirrors which is another tick of approval.
As we ride out of town my initial concern with the front end is abating. It steers really well. I start to wonder how it will handle higher speeds. The track session later in the afternoon will be a good opportunity to test it out…
In slow speed riding conditions I think it may take a learner rider (with no experience) a day or two to build their confidence with the quicker steering, but that time in the saddle focussing on technique will pay off tenfold. The reward is extremely good handling and it’s noticed when you flick it from side to side, like when you go around roundabouts. However I concede it may not be to all learners’ tastes, at least initially.
Build your skills on the G 310 R and I think it has the potential to turn a learner rider into a formidable motorcyclist, passing the practical part of the P-plate test with flying colours. To me it feels like it’s been made for carving up the hustle and bustle and it wouldn’t be out of place in the twisties either.
BMW G 310 R: Open Road
Leaving Airlie Beach provides a great opportunity to test out the gearbox, as the speed limits increase, it feels okay and it will get better with a few more kilometres under its belt. I was really happy with the suspension in suburbia, and I’m still content with how it performs under more duress. The rear could do with a bit more preload to account for my weight, but the roads up here are quite good. There’s no burning desire to adjust it. The front forks are firmer than expected but they’re compliant. Only mid-corner bumps upset it slightly. I can’t see that it will trouble many learner riders.
BMW G 310 R: Engine
Being built for a world-wide market means BMW has compromised the bike’s capacity from a Western perspective. It has decided to go with a machine under 650cc in capacity to cater for the Asian, Indian, South American (and European to a lesser extent) markets, while still being relevant to Australian riders bound by LAMS regulations.
The 313cc single-cylinder engine spins up quickly and the power it produces throughout the low to mid-range was one of the bike’s strengths.
Feed it gears and the Beemer’s usable torque will continue to reward you by getting in front of traffic, where you’ll stay ‘till the highway.
A lack of outright horsepower means the bike is down on top speed, giving it a tendency to sign off early, soon after peak torque has been reached, but it’s still good to 140km/h plus – well over any learner’s speed limit.
Although it was capable, I felt a bit sadistic whipping the G 310 R into submission and vibrations through the ’bars, seat and pegs were a good indication the engine was starting to complain.
That’s not the point of it though. I watched-on in awe as a former world superbike rider fried up a few doughnuts and power-slid the bike over some of the Whitsunday’s most beautiful sand. That’s what this bike enables you to do: hang with others, get away from the norm and have lots of fun.
BMW G 310 R: Track session
Taking BMW’s newest learner bike outside of its comfort zone for the afternoon didn’t completely add up to me, but I’ll admit just how wrong I was…
Marketing material shows young people in suburbia: laughing, skating, shooting the breeze and enjoying each other’s company as its target market.
Bike journos are worlds apart from that so riding the bike to a skatepark to spend the afternoon doing kickflips, acid drops and other exercises of a long-haired yahoo would have been more suitable for marketing the bike, but it would have been a pointless (but hilarious) exercise for grown men and women.
However we all enjoy the social side of the equation the G 310 R offers, so we’ve all got plenty in common with said yahoos. It’s just that we get our kicks at the track. I think anyone can relate to that.
BMW decided to send us to a motard track in Proserpine to spend the afternoon. I questioned its choice because it leaves the the potential to put off the intended audience, who may overlook leather-clad power rangers in knee-down track images as simply more mainstream motorcycling nonsense…
However the afternoon did achieve something very valuable besides testing out the new G 310 R… Fun and camaraderie. Fun is one of those universal languages, you’re either having it or you’re not. And we were having LOTS of it, together.
The group of journalists at the launch would have conceivably ridden every motorcycle ever produced in the last 30 years. I reckon if we can all enjoy ourselves immensely at the track on a small-capacity learner bike, I’ve got no doubt anyone can, wherever it may be.
Slicing and dicing
A few things made the afternoon so enjoyable. One is that we were riding the same bike and the other is that the track was short, tight and technical.
BMW Marketing Manager Nigel Harvey set the agenda for the first session. Take it easy for a couple of laps, and keep it in third gear. When it came time to up the pace, I kept it in third gear except for the straight where I briefly changed to fourth.
The exercise really showed off the capability of the engine and handling characteristics. The speeds are comparable to public roads and the G 310 R was in its tractable 3,500-7,500 rev range. The chassis makes for agile riding as it’s being confidently leant over to places where most learners dream.
I’ve got absolutely no qualms about recommending this bike in terms of how it handles to younger learners or older returners alike. Although I still haven’t given the Bybre brakes a good squeeze, so I still need to find out how well it stops and I’ll get to that harrowingly exciting moment shortly.
As soon as I feel like I’ve got the track layout sorted, I come in for a quick breather. Nigel Harvey from BMW comes in soon after, I’d been watching him mix it up with a few others and it looked like he was having the time of his life.
Initially I found overtaking was quite difficult, but as I watched Nigel and a few other more experienced riders circulate, I noticed they kind of ‘forced’ their way through the pack.
As I was one of the less experienced track riders, my strategy was to err on the side of caution with passing opportunities and it made for an epic moment, especially with Chris Pickett, the previous editor of Cycle Torque, who was there working for another publication.
Move out of my way or lose a limb!
“You head out and I’ll follow,” Picko said. “I’ll critique you…”
“You can’t critique a speck in the distance mate, I’ll be long gone!” I quipped, knowing full well a rider of his ilk could carve me up in a matter of moments.
So I took off from pitlane like I’d been shot from a cannon. Those who are familiar with Picko will know he has a turn of phrase for just about every situation. I could only imagine what he would be thinking… Something like ‘move out of my way or lose a limb’ came to mind!
I put in four or five of my best laps without being overtaken, full of confidence, and I was beginning to arrive upon the rider in front.
The hunted became the hunter. I had to overtake them as soon as I could to ensure my survival from an afternoon of Pickett’s sledging.
My biggest fear wasn’t crashing (yet), it was not gaining some bragging status with a good friend, mentor and comrade. I’d never hear the end of it!
Knowing that I don’t have much experience with passing manoeuvres, there was also lots of trepidation: the tight circuit leaves very little opportunity to get it wrong.
As we come up to a section of track I’m most comfortable with – a fast right-hander leads into a hairpin left, followed by a short straight and a succession of medium-paced rights.
My plan was to carry as much corner speed out of the fast turn as I could, keeping it tight so my momentum would help me get the most of the outside line of the hairpin left. This would set me up me with the inside line for the series of lefts where my grand plan would eventually culminate.
Easy peasy, I thought…
All was going to schedule as I got on the gas early out of the fast right to keep as much speed as possible, then the rider in front brakes much earlier than I expect. My plans go out the window, I need a drawing board, fast!
I’m currently on the outside with no conceivable way around the corner, or the rider. Throttle pinned, I’ve got nowhere to go… My options are to possibly run off the track; or administer an exam which would make a butt doctor blush, all within the matter of a second…
I end up taking a third option, which is is to turn towards the inside and slam on the brakes to make my way around the corner. This should give the rider in front a glimpse of my front wheel, making them hold a wide line which will let me through.
I brake. As hard as I can. The ABS unit momentarily engages, I can feel the brake pads tickling the rotor to prevent the front wheel from completely locking up.
I’m not out of the woods yet. I still need to slow the bike down, and in this instance I need to change to second gear to provide some engine braking and tip the bike on its side as quickly as possible. I can’t turn too early, nor can I turn too late. Doing this, and only this, is the only way to avoid catastrophe.
I do as such and the move sticks! I can almost not believe it, I haven’t run the corner wide or lost any momentum. Phew.
Proof in the pudding
That hair-raising experience is great data for a learner rider. The exact situation I was in is very similar to ones that happen to riders every day on the road. These moments are enough to make your blood curdle – a car running a red light and/or when a car pulls out from an intersection without right of way. Even worse, when wildlife decides to play chicken. On the road there are a few defensive techniques which can help you avoid these situations from ever happening, but they’re not much help once you’re actually in those situations.
Braking to the point ABS kicks in, not because you’re testing the integrity of the unit, you’re relying on it to pull you up, filled me with absolute faith that it will do its best to save you on the road.
Tipping the bike onto its side as quickly as possible and holding its line also let me know that the G 310 R’s front end is much more sure-footed than I gave it credit for. It will provide you with the best chance of navigating your way around harm.
The other factor which comes into play is the rider – the fact I was thinking about what I was going to do three corners instead of what was before my eyes thoroughly emulates what can happen on the road, like when you’re on the way home from work and you’re thinking about what’s for dinner…
Eat my dust!
With a streak of daylight ahead of me I manage to put in another four or five solid laps, then I start making few small mistakes which leads to one much larger in magnitude.
As a ‘responsible’ bike tester, I’m trying to ride the wheels off this bike, I’m successfully failing and now I’m starting to feel the fatigue from the sheer ecstasy I felt earlier.
I ride past the BMW videographer in a right-hander which gets deceptively tighter, all but fully leaned over, I take my left hand off the bar and start waving to the camera to express the immense joy I’m feeling.
The combination of looking at the camera (instead of looking where I’m going), putting my hand back on the bar whilst getting back on the throttle has put me off line and right in the way of a questionable patch of surface. As I accelerate, I have one of the biggest rear end slides I’ve ever experienced and feel like I’m about to crash. Again!
Due to a lack of panic, some technique and that longer, stable swingarm, I receive plenty of feedback from the bike and manage to keep it shiny side up, but its a timely reminder to keep it (not to mention the integrity of my skeletal system) in check, and take it easier. By the end of the lap Picko has caught me, inch by inch, and we come into pit lane together, laughing like a pair of kids after a game of catch me if you can.
“It’s not my first rodeo!” chuckles Picko.
I tell him the only reason he got past is because I let him!
We agree to disagree, but the banter and merciless haranguing continues on and off, all the way to Newcastle airport.
“Let’s get the trackbike fixed up over the next month and do some trackdays together,” he said as we’re waiting for our luggage.
For me, this story illustrates what the G 310 R is about, the bike has forged some special memories, and it will create new ones too.
Make Ride a Lifetime?
My experience riding BMW’s G 310 R has been pretty impressive. On the spec sheet it isn’t the best bike in any one area. In typical BMW fashion it is not until you look at the sum of its parts before it all adds up.
In saying that, I don’t think you can easily jump from this bike straight to an S 1000 R and get the most out of it by the time you turn 21 with the amount of training your state government requires you to be a fully-licensed motorcyclist… If you found yourself exploring the full potential of the G 310 R or planned to do some track-based training with your new S thou, well that’s a different story. I reckon a more suitable option from the BMW stable would currently be something like its R nineT.
Both of those bikes command relatively premium prices compared to the mighty three-10, and it’s something BMW might need to figure out in the not too distant future to keep their new customers buying bikes from Bavaria.
For BMW’s first genuine learner machine under 650cc, all of the important things are there. The bike is a solid contender in the 3-400cc category. It offers a starting point into BMW ownership which used to start around 30 to 40 and brings it down to 17.
Who likes the sound of being a ‘BMW owner’? I certainly do.