Common Tread

BMW G 310 GS: Is it an adventure motorcycle?

Dec 09, 2016

For at least a few minutes, the one we can't have yet upstaged the one we were riding.

During the press ride for the new BMW G 310 R this week, we stopped for lunch at a seaside restaurant near Malibu and BMW had the R's sibling, the G 310 GS, parked in the dining area. The G 310 R is an important model for BMW worldwide, without question. But just as the R 1200 GS is the company's best selling model, I expect the G 310 GS to be the best seller in the new G line of smaller BMWs — and maybe the best selling BMW of all.

Of course everyone went over to check out the little GS. For those of us who didn't make it to the EICMA show in Italy, this was our first chance to leave greasy fingerprints on the mini-GS.

Comments were almost universally positive. While the G 310 R has a family resemblance to the S 1000 R, the G 310 GS looks even more like a scale model of the R 1200 GS.

BMW G 310 GS
BMW had a G 310 GS on display at the lunch stop of our G 310 R ride. BMW photo.

So let the debate begin

The predictable debate has already begun in the dirty, adventure-riding corners of the internet, especially since Kawasaki also announced the Versys-X 300 and Honda unveiled the CRF250L Rally. Segments of the ADV community have been clamoring for lighter adventure bikes for a long time, and now there are new choices. So the question is, which one best meets a particular rider's needs for long-haul ability and off-road capability?

The new, small Versys departed from its bigger siblings by getting spoked wheels, including a 19-inch front, allowing for a wide range of dual-sport tires. The Honda got more suspension travel over the CRF250L dual-sport it was based on. In other words, both moved toward the dirt end of the spectrum. Then came the BMW, with cast wheels. The frame, engine and many other parts are the same as on the street-going G 310 R. So is it really a lighter version of the famously capable go-anywhere R 1200 GS, or just a scale model for looks only?

After the day's ride on the G 310 R, I happened to end up on a bar stool next to BMW Motorrad North America Vice President Michael Peyton, a Harley-Davidson veteran who joined BMW this summer. Naturally, I peppered him with questions before he had to leave to catch his red-eye back to HQ in New Jersey (or at least that's what he told me — maybe he just wanted to escape a pesky motorcycle writer).

One of those questions was: Why not spoked wheels and maybe a bit more suspension travel on the G 310 GS? Why not give it a little more of the R 1200 GS's off-road capability to go with its looks?

His answer, to paraphrase, was that it doesn't really need it. Given the way the vast majority of buyers will use the G 310 GS, the cast wheels were the way to go.

I know there will be a group of adventure riders, particularly in North America, who have been wanting a lighter weight adventure option and will disagree with him. But I also know, looking at things from a broader perspective, that he's right. The G line of motorcycles is BMW's entry into huge markets in India, Brazil and Asian countries where, right now, BMW has nothing to offer the average, middle-class consumer. The G 310 GS doesn't have the wheels, fuel capacity, suspension travel and he-manliness to make it the star of the next outrageous off-road adventure video, but it might well be perfect for navigating the questionable roads of a lot of motorcycle-happy countries around the world.

Of course my answer to Mike was that yeah, maybe the bike doesn't need spoked wheels, but we motorcyclists have a long history of walking right past what we need in the showroom to get to the object of lust that we desire. I wonder if middle class consumers in those other countries will pick up our bad habits and start buying motorcycles that provide the image they're looking for, instead of the performance they need.

BMW G 310 GS
BMW unveiled the G 310 GS at the EICMA show last month. BMW photo.

The good and bad news

When the G 310 GS was announced, I saw the guessing games begin on web forums about how much it would cost. Some suggested BMW might ask $10,000. The good news is it will be around half that. BMW made sure the G 310 R came in under $5,000, and execs said the GS would be "similarly attractively priced."

The bad news is that the bikes won't be in dealers until the second half of 2017 — or maybe near the end of the year. So it may be a while before we have a final verdict on how much adventuring the G 310 GS can really handle.