Throughout its 98-year history, BMW Motorrad has built its sterling reputation on premium models. From the R 1250 GS to the S 1000 RR, the House of Munich’s range has only continued to live up to that lineage of luxury. However, that focus on flagship models left BMW with a lopsided lineup. Without a budget-friendly option, the Bavarians lacked a critical entry point for aspiring Beemer buyers.
To manufacture a sub-500cc platform for a global audience, BMW partnered with India’s TVS Motor Company in 2013. The development deal almost instantly bore fruit, with the German company revealing the G 310 R concept at EICMA 2015. Featuring a liquid-cooled, 313cc single, the small-bore roadster opened new segments and markets for BMW when it hit showrooms in 2017.
More than four years later, the beginner bike is still introducing new riders and commuters to the legacy brand. While impending Euro 5 standards prompted the firm to update its tiny thumper in 2021, it also seized the opportunity to add premium parts to the penny-pinching package. A new LED headlight and indicators immediately elevate the economical naked bike while four-stage brake and clutch levers add a new level of adjustability.
Designed at BMW’s Munich headquarters, the 310 R already looks remarkably similar to its big brother, the S 1000 R hypernaked. The new components enhance that family resemblance, but the improvements go beyond a modest facelift. Along with the newly Euro 5-compliant mill, throttle-by-wire, low RPM assist, and a slipper clutch all make an appearance on the 2021 model.
Exciting as the upgrades are, the question still remains: will the extra doodads make for an even better beginner Beemer? Luckily, BMW placed a 2021 G 310 R under our supervision for a few weeks, and the changes were most evident in the revised powerplant.
A Hit Single
Despite receiving the Euro 5 treatment, the DOHC, fuel-injected thumper still touts 34 horsepower at 9,500 rpm and 21 lb-ft of torque at 7,500 rpm. Unlike countless models that struggle with bottom-end fueling or mid-range flat spots following emissions updates, the 310 R leaps off the line and evenly tugs up to its 10,500-rpm redline.
Of course, the new automatic idle speed increase ensures that new riders don’t stall in a busy intersection, but the power delivery is just as accommodating. With only 34 ponies “under the hood”, it’s hard to produce anything but a linear powerband, and the new throttle-by-wire system contributes to that velvety smooth power profile.
While many electronic throttle applications result in a snatchy on/off sensation, the technology feels well-suited to the G 310 R. In truth, that immediacy is welcome on the small-bore Beemer, as the tractable engine lacks discernible power surges found on higher capacity machines. From hard acceleration to emergency stops to swift gear shifts, the response is immediate but not abrupt; it’s rapid yet reassuring.
Paired with the throttle-by-wire system, a new slipper/assist clutch also ensures that the lightweight naked bike doesn’t put eager noobs in a bind. In addition to delivering a feather-light pull at the lever, the new clutch keeps the chassis composed under successive downshifts. Banging down the gears too rapidly will still engage the non-switchable ABS though, eliciting a chirp from the rear tire. When used responsibly, however, the new system will be an invaluable tool for developing riders.
Gallery: 2021 BMW G 310 R
Aside from the new features, the 313cc single practically remains the same—for better and for worse. The mini mill may cater to beginners with its easy-going demeanor and simple architecture, but it still sends vibrations to the rider in the higher register. Up to 7,000 rpm, the thrum is bearable, but as the needle approaches 8,000 rpm, the little hummer incessantly buzzes through the handlebars, footpegs, and fuel tank.
With peak torque petering out at 7,500 rpm, I preferred to shift up prior to that 8,000-rpm threshold. Performance junkies might scoff at leaving horsepower on the table, but the 310 R was much more enjoyable without the pounding of all 34 ponies. No, the plucky engine won’t win any top-end performance bouts, but BMW’s latest upgrades make it an even sharper unit, especially on a twisty road.
On A Dime
Weighing in at 350 pounds (wet), the baby BMW is light off the stand and on the move. Along with that svelte figure, the 310 R boasts a 54.1-inch wheelbase, 25.1-degree rake, and four inches of trail. As a result, there’s rarely a radius too sharp for the lithe roadster. From hairpins to chicanes, the Beemer effortlessly tips in, holds its line, and pulls out of the corner. The only limiting attribute to the G 301 R’s fun factor turned out to be the Michelin Pilot Street tires.
On numerous occasions, the tire’s harder compound provided less than optimal grip at lean. Not once did I scrape pegs on winding canyon roads. On the other hand, the rear wheel stepped out on several instances while riding at a brisk pace. Again, BMW outfits the 310 R for beginners, and the Pilot Street tires provide sufficient grip in the dry and excellent water evacuation in the wet. If you’re prone to hustling through the twisty bits, a set of stickier rubber may be a prerequisite. However, most new riders will benefit from the Pilot Street’s all-around performance.
While the Michelin rubber lives up to the model’s price tag, the suspension exceeds it. Despite the lack of a linkage system in the rear and adjustability all around, the suspenders were surprisingly supportive. Now, I should disclose that the shock and fork are ideally sprung for my 160-pound frame, but I’ve also experienced harsher/squishier setups on more expensive bikes. With that aside, I assumed the front end would dive under the lightest braking and the rear would buck like a bronco over the slightest bumps. Boy, was I wrong.
Instead, the monoshock ate up road irregularities with aplomb. Only the deepest potholes and harshest cracks significantly ate into the 5.2 inches of travel. Up front, the 41mm front end’s top-stroke proved unexpectedly stout, however, the softer mid and bottom-stroke didn't fare as well under hard and late braking. Even with a few demerits, the suspension setup delivers performance on par with BMW’s enthusiastic engine and agile chassis, but the brakes remind us of the G 310 R’s budget status.
Featuring a ByBre braking system, the front end setup provides appropriate power for a 350-pound naked bike, but the actuation and response leave a lot to be desired. The front binder doesn’t truly engage until the brake lever is already halfway through its pull. When the four-piston caliper finally clamps on the single 300mm disc, the bite rivals that of a toothless toddler. Additionally, braking power lacks progressiveness due to vague response at the lever.
Out back, the single-piston binder and 240mm rotor help stabilize the ride at slow speeds and sheds velocity surprisingly well. Fortunately for beginners, ABS on the rear also engages when the rider gets too heavy-footed. While the G 310 R’s braking system doesn’t deliver loads of feel or bite, the ByBre calipers still bring the lightweight to a stop consistently, which may be the most important performance parameter for new riders.
Comfortable Or Cramped?
With 54.1-inch wheelbase, BMW only had so much room to craft the 310 R’s cockpit. At five feet, 10 inches, I’m at the outer limits of comfort on the tightly packed roadster. The low pegs and deep tank cutouts suited my 32-inch inseam just fine, but for anyone of a taller stature, the cockpit will quickly border on cramped. As a result of the close confines, reach to the bars is effortless.
The 30.9-inch seat height, tall handlebars, and low-mounted footpegs also produce a relaxed rider triangle with a bolt-upright posture. Flat footing the G 310 is also a breeze but the inseam-challenged/gifted can spring for a 30.3-inch/31.5-inch seat option as well. The dished seat not only lends to the sure-footed stance but also sinks the rider further into the bike. Developing riders should benefit from that “in the bike, not on the bike” riding position.
The sunk-down seating also provides a modicum of wind protection during highway blasts. As nakeds go, the G 310 R isn’t the most aerodynamic motorcycle on the market. However, at 70 mph, the single hums along at 7,000 rpm. Unless the user intends on exceeding speed limits, riders should be able to enjoy an hour’s worth of freeway before wind fatigue sets in.
The Final Word
Many associate BMW with the boxer engine, shaft drive, and robust electronic packages. The G 310 R has none of those things, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. For the targeted audience, simplicity is key. While ABS is a must, traction control and ride modes may be overkill for a 34-horsepower single. New riders should be more concerned with smooth inputs and smooth throttle application, and BMW lets them focus on the road with a pared-down dash.
No, it’s not the sharpest small-capacity naked bike in the segment. No, it doesn’t boast all the technical farkles of its pricier siblings. Some may see those spec sheet concessions as shortcomings, but it doesn’t make the lithe lightweight any less fun on the road. In the end, the G 310 R is a great user-friendly beginner bike and it's certainly worthy of the BMW badge.