Entry-level motorcycles too often feel like beginner bikes. Even if they don’t have training wheels, they have the vibe of first bicycles that are quickly outgrown and forgotten.
BMW has escaped this trap with the G 310 R, which is an ideal starter bike because of its affordable $4,995 price tag, its rider-friendly low seat that makes it easier to plant both feet on the ground, and its 349-lb. curb weight. The company even trimmed its regular $495 destination fee to $245 to help keep the price within reach for buyers on a budget.
BMW tells me that the G 310 R is a favorite at Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s Basic RiderCourse. It is easy to see why, considering the bike’s combination of racy styling and ease of use.
But anyone who decides to start out on a G 310 R shouldn’t feel like it is a temporary ride, waiting to be replaced by a “real” bike once the owner gains some experience. That’s because the G 310 R provides “real” big technology like standard anti-lock brakes (ABS) and a sophisticated suspension that includes an inverted fork for the front wheel and a long-wheelbase cast aluminum swingarm for the rear.
Inverting the fork (also called “upside down” forks”) bolts the heavy forks sliders into the triple clamps that secure them to the bike’s steering head, leaving the lightweight tubes to stretch down to the axle. That leaves the lighter tubes as the unsprung mass that has to travel up and down with the road surface while the heavier part is fixed in place. This contributes to more responsive front suspension.
Meanwhile, the lengthy swingarm to the rear axle lends the bike greater stability compared to a short swingarm.
The value of anti-lock brakes should be self-evident, but to recap, the BMW’s computer prevents riders from locking a wheel under heavy braking. In a car, this produces a slide and prolongs stopping distances. On a bike, if the front wheel locks, it tends to immediately slip to one side or the other and pitch the rider to the ground.
If the rear wheel locks, the bike will start to slide sideways. Riders’ typical response to this is to release pressure to the rear brake. Doing so while the bike is not pointed in the direction of travel when the rear tire regains traction causes the bike to catapult the rider off in a spectacular and painful “high side” crash.
ABS is worth its weight in cryptocurrency because it prevents both kinds of crashes by ensuring that the wheels keep turning until the bike comes to a complete stop. It is also important because most riders, when faced with a potential crash, fail to apply the brakes hard enough. Ideally, knowing that they can’t lock the brakes will encourage more riders to brake harder so that maybe more of them will stop short of hitting the obstacle ahead.
Regardless, riding the Cosmic Black G 310 R test bike was enough fun to put such sober considerations in the background. I had the opportunity to test it alongside BMW’s sexy S 1000 R and I can confirm that the smaller bike held its own while slicing through mountain switchbacks, courtesy of its advanced suspension and light weight.
It also highlighted the G 310 R’s user-friendliness. While the S 1000 R has a very abrupt clutch friction point and brakes that grab aggressively with the slightest application of pressure (very much like Ferrari’s brakes), the G 310 R has a wide, easy-to-engage clutch friction point and brakes that grip progressively, making it very easy for even beginning riders to pull away from a stop and then arrive at the curb like pros instead of the amateurs they are.
Like most of today’s generation of starter bikes, the G 310 R has only one cylinder in its 313-cc engine, when earlier small bikes would have had smoother-running twin-cylinder engines. But the BMW’s 34-horsepower single incorporates a counterbalancer, so it revs to its surprisingly high 9,500-rpm redline with unexpected smoothness. This makes it easier to keep the engine spinning out as much power as possible while clicking through the six-speed transmission, letting the G 310 R feel adequately powerful.
The bike’s engine has an unorthodox configuration, with the cylinder tilting rearward like the back half of a Harley-Davidson V-twin. As with the Harley’s rear cylinder, that puts the BMW’s intake system in front, with the exhaust pipe trailing off the rear, which is the opposite of most single-cylinder bikes.
The rear-leaning cylinder lets the bottom of the engine and the heavy transmission shafts that live there slide forward, shifting the bike’s balance onto the front wheel for greater stability. It also clears space behind the transmission for the aforementioned long rear swingarm.
All of this speaks to the benefit of rethinking the engineering challenge from the beginning of a project and dismissing convention to deliver a superior result. The G 310 R is fun to ride for riders of all levels, not just beginners. But it treats them especially well, just as the Motorcycle Safety Foundation’s rider’s school. The BMW engineer team should be proud of their clever solutions to creating an affordable bike that is a true BMW.