BMW came out of nowhere to dominate the adventure, retro and supersport markets, and with the 313cc G310R it's hoping to do the same with its first learner-focused machine. This little beast is capable, confident, quick, and very competitively priced, given the badge on the tank.
We were off the mark when we proclaimed the G310R "The first Beemer under 500cc" upon its announcement back in 2015. In fact, there were several generations of 250cc single available as far back as the 1920s and as recently as the 1960s – as you, our reliably razor sharp readership, immediately reminded us.
Still, the G310R is certainly the first low-capacity BMW in a long, long time. It's also, adjusted for inflation, probably the cheapest way there's ever been to get yourself a set of wheels bearing that famous propeller-shaped Roundel badge.
This is an exciting bike for the German brand. It's also probably a bit terrifying, as it attaches that famous, premium badge to a machine targeted at masses far less washed than BMW is used to dealing with.
In Australia and much of the developed world, this bike will generally be a stepping stone; an affordable learner bike to welcome new or returning riders to the fold, and a chance to build new BMW customers for life. But in countries like Brazil and India, it's likely to be an aspirational do-it-all standard for long-term, everyday use.
BMW is typically used to dealing with those who've arrived, not those who are starting out. It'll be fascinating to watch the company feeling its way around these new markets.
But let's take a look at the bike itself.
Engine and Chassis
You're looking at a standard naked roadster with a 313cc single-cylinder engine. The engine is noteworthy for its rear-slanting tilt, as well as its "logical flow" layout, which puts the air intake at the front and the exhaust at the rear of the cylinder. It also runs a counterbalance shaft, which helps it to rev smoothly and without undue vibrations.
It runs fairly low 10.6:1 compression, which means it can run happily on some of the world's dodgiest fuel – although we're sure this won't stop some owners from lovingly topping it up with high-octane premium.
It makes a decent enough 34 hp (25 kW) and 28 Nm (20.6 lb-ft) of torque - and the whole bike weighs a very friendly 158.5 kg (349 lb) wet.
But it's not what I'd call a small bike. The size of it feels substantial in a way many small bikes don't. The standard seat height of 785 mm accommodates a pretty wide range of riders, but you can switch it up with optional low (775 mm) and high (815 mm) seat options from the factory. Either way, a number of journos on this launch noted that it feels more like a "grown up" bike than many learner machines.
The grown-uppedness of the bike extends to the paint jobs, particularly a very responsible-looking blue colour. The closest this bike gets to looking youthful and sporty is the BMW racing tricolour paint job. Both look terrific, the tricolour being my favourite. I spent my day, however, on a black one with awkward white accents that didn't strike me as a bike to launch a thousand Instagrams.
The suspension and brakes wear their price point on their sleeves. There's a pair of 41 mm, non-adjustable upside-down forks and a preload-adjustable rear shock, both from Kayaba. The front brake is a 4-piston caliper on a single, 300 mm disc with psychedelic lava lamp style cutouts in it. Brakes are from Bybre, a lower cost, India-based Brembo subsidiary.
It's a basic bike, but there are a few nice touches. Braided brake lines are standard, which helps with the feel and power of the brakes. The tidy LCD dash has a gear position indicator, a proper fuel gauge and a range to empty display. And this bike runs a nice two-channel ABS system from Continental. Owners can also option this thing up with a broad range of accessories, from heated grips, centerstands and power sockets to racks and top boxes.
As for the manufacturing quality, well, this was a quick launch ride and not a long-term test. But I only saw one thing that raised an eyebrow: a slightly cheap-looking paint job on the fork boots and levers, with a tiny bit of chipping on the toothy surface of the rear brake pedal. Everything else looked and felt pretty tight to me.
Quality and reliability is key for BMW on this bike. In order to get the price down as far as it has, it's building the G310R in India in a partnership with manufacturing giant TVS, a company that produces some 2.5 million bikes annually. Still, since it's sticking its neck out a bit with this machine, BMW can't afford to take chances. BMW representatives supervise a separate production line in the Chennai plant for the G310R, and the company wasn't afraid to delay this bike's launch for more than six months when it wasn't happy with the quality of certain parts. They're certain it's ready to go now.
Riding the G310R
The key design aims for this bike are for it to be forgiving, precise and confidence-inspiring. Throwing a leg over it, I get an instant feeling of familiarity and ease. Naked bikes, in my book, ask less of their riders ergonomically than just about any other category of bike, and even at my advanced size it's instantly comfy.
The motor fires up with a jaunty burst of extra fuel to get things going, then settles into a smooth, quiet idle. Then it's clutch in, click down into first, and we're off.
BMW has brought us up to Airlie Beach in North Queensland for a brief town 'n country road ride, and the G310R makes life very easy for us all the way through.
The motor shines in the low end and midrange, as you'd expect from a decent-sized single, but doesn't lose too much of its charm if you decide to thrash it up toward its 10,000 rpm redline. Acceleration is brisk and fun up until about 120 km/h (75 mph), and with my chin on the tank and my left hand slapping my rump like a jockey I was able to squeeze out a mighty 153 km/h (95 mph) top speed.
The engine sound is deep and grunty from the rider's seat, and there's certainly room for improvement with an aftermarket exhaust, but unless I was convinced there'd be significant power gains, I wouldn't bother with it.
In terms of handling, BMW has aimed to emulate the terrific road manners of the R1200GS, with a forward weight bias designed to give plenty of feel and confidence for the front tire. The slightly wacky engine configuration gives room for a relatively long swingarm in a short wheelbase, which helps it handle bumps well while still being agile and quick to turn.
I think this bike steers beautifully, with a sweet, neutral feeling that encourages you to throw it around, whether you're talking about difficult, wobbly walking-pace maneuvers, tight twisty corners or faster sweepers.
At 118 kg (260 lb), I'm way out of the weight range it's designed for, so it's a bit bouncy in a bumpy corner. Certainly no more than other bikes in the class, though, and the more human-sized riders in our group didn't seem to find any problems there. Bigger riders might think about replacing the fork oil with something a bit thicker, but even out of the box the excellent front wheel feel gave me plenty of confidence that we weren't going to get out of shape.
The brakes feel well-matched to the forgiving concept of the bike. They're not overwhelmingly powerful, but that will probably help new riders develop the confidence to use them instead of instinctively stomping the back brake instead. As a card-carrying hooligan, I might prefer a twin-disc system with more bite, but this setup gets the job done without being intimidating, with a great ABS system for last-resort backup.
We didn't get a chance to empty a tank on the road, but the G310R's fuel consumption is rated at an obscene 3.3 l/100km (71 mpg), which means the small 11-liter (2.9 US gal) tank can get you north of 300 km (186 mi) on the road. If you can get that kind of figure out of it, your fuel bill will be about half what the average large capacity bike drinks. Impressive.
The G310R on the track
After a pleasant morning on the road, BMW takes us for an extravagantly unnecessary, but much appreciated afternoon on track at the Whitsunday Moto Sport Club, a tight, 1.1-km (0.7-mi) track that's often home to supermoto and go-kart races.
It's not that BMW expects people will buy this thing as a track bike; more that the team is keen to emphasize its fun factor, give us all a chance to cut loose, and give me in particular a chance to watch ex-World Superbike rider Steve Martin carve three laps, bake a tasty banana bread and raise two healthy children in the time it takes me to get around once.
The G310R's friendly and forgiving character extends to its track capabilities. The bike feels as secure and nimble at footpeg-dragging lean angles as it does on the road. What a hoot!
The tight track also shines a light on the motor's flexible nature. I put in an afternoon's worth of laps, and for about 80 percent of them I leave the bike in third gear all the way around. There's a bit more drive available in second in the slower corners, but overall it feels happier and smoother to use the grunt of the engine in third while I concentrate on corner lines.
It's a blast. I get one small front tire slide, once, and don't find myself heading for the weeds on a single exit. Such is the forgiving steering on the G310R, and such is the slowness of my track riding. I come away feeling like I'd genuinely do this every weekend if I could, this is a terrific bike for a tight track.
The track also affords a rare legal opportunity to play funnybuggers and hoik up some dank-ass wheelies. You might not expect a 300cc learner bike to be much of a stunt bike, but BMW does – to the point where the funky flouro stunt version of the bike was actually teased before the regular G310R.
Not only that, BMW marketing manager Nigel Harvey is also delighted to point out that it's got a labyrinth-style set of baffles in both the fuel tank and the oil sump to stop fluids from sloshing around and prevent oil starvation if you're riding the thing around on the back wheel (or the front one, for that matter) all day.
We hoonish journos need very little encouragement in this area – and yes, this little Beemer turns out to be a surprisingly fun bike to clutch up and wheelie at slower speeds. Cognizant of the raging superheroes constantly storming up behind me on the track, I decide to leave the stoppies for another day.
Again, stuntability probably isn't going to be a big factor for this bike's target market, but it speaks to the bike's capacity to grow and broaden with the abilities of its rider. And it certainly helps win the heart of your average road tester, I can tell you that for sure.
This is an important and significant bike for BMW, and much is riding on its success. There's a real tightrope walk going on here as the company tries to maintain BMW's premium brand values in a bike that needs to compete – hard – on price.
Compete it does. In Australia, the G310R will retail for AU$5,790 before on-road costs. That's right in the ballpark of the Yamaha MT03 and Honda CB300F, a couple of hundred bucks cheaper than the Kawasaki Z300, and more than a grand cheaper than the KTM Duke 390. In the US, it's closer, but the G310R will retail for US$4,750.
None of those other bikes have a BMW badge on the tank, or the kind of prestige brand behind them that the G310R does. People have surely bought first motorcycles for less compelling reasons – hell, my first bike back in the murky mists of time was a Honda VT250C. I bought it because it looked like a silver Harley V-Rod, and I thought that was about the coolest bike on the planet.
So I guess we'll soon see what kind of weight the BMW badge carries in the learner market. The bike itself looks good, rides great and strikes me as a strong competitor. I suspect it will be a smash hit, and it won't be long before we see a GS version that will send a rocket up between the trembling buttocks of the emerging mini-adventure market too.
Enjoy a very quick video BMW put together for us below:
Product Page: BMW G310R
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