If one type of bike encapsulates the attractions of motorcycling it’s the adventure model. Rugged good looks, tall suspension, chunky dual-purpose tyres and bash plates to provide protection against the gnarly terrain that these bikes are designed to tame. Adventure bikes look like they’re ready for anything: poised to embark on an epic life-changing journey of discovery, they somewhat ostentatiously represent the sense of freedom we bikers feel when we’re on the road.
By dint of their layout they also happen to make an almost perfect all-round bike, good for long-distance road touring with excellent comfort for rider and pillion, and pretty much ideal for commuting with an upright riding position offering great visibility and effortless steering.
They would undoubtedly be even more popular than they are if they were more affordable; don’t expect much change from a cool quarter-million rand for anything with a big engine. Even dropping down to the “middleweight” category where engines tend to be in the 700cc-800cc range the costs can still be eye-watering.
That’s all changing though, with a sudden deluge of small-capacity adventure bikes hitting the market for the first time. Now it is possible to get a bike capable of adventuring you wherever your imagination might lead, and you’ll have change from R80 000.
Leading the charge is the G 310 GS, not because it was the first, but because it’s a BMW and the German manufacturer dominates this market with its bigger GS models, and because BMW just doesn’t do small bikes. Or at least it didn’t, but in a move that both caught the purists by surprise and opened up vast new markets to the brand, the single-cylinder G 310 R appeared last year.
In 2018 the same platform has been adapted to the adventure role, and an already good bike is now even better in this GS guise. For someone like me with limited off-road riding skills the big adventure bikes are too much of a handful when the going gets genuinely adventurous, so the 310 GS is the perfect partner for my next (first) epic expedition.
The Sunday Times will now be swamped with hate mail from the hardcore elements of the adventure riding community. Having the temerity to suggest something similar on The Bike Show, my colleague Harry Fisher has been in hiding ever since. Should he show his face again it will soon be marked with the knobbly tyre tracks of those proper adventure riders who know that only 100kW and 2m of suspension travel can take you on a real adventure.
In the real world where skills, dreams and adventures come in wildly varying shapes and sizes I reckon this is the missing piece of the adventure jigsaw. I’ve long wanted to ride to some of the more out-of-the-way spots in Africa, but any time I’ve tried with the existing adventure bikes I always seemed to end up, disappointingly quickly, in a hospital. This has made my adventure rides memorable for all the wrong reasons.
Bikes like the G 310 GS — and there are viable alternatives from Suzuki, Kawasaki and Honda — are less powerful (easier to control), lighter (easier to pick up) and cheaper (easier to repair) than the flagship models.
In the case of the new baby of the GS range there’s no denying that 25kW and 28Nm are limp numbers when it comes to bike engines, but I’d also argue that for most situations it’s enough. Long-distance touring at 120km/h with a bit in hand for overtaking is acceptable, and if you’re prepared to keep the engine spinning with the help of the sweet gearbox it’s more than peppy enough for some rapid commuting.
Unlike the bigger models, this GS is a solo pathway to adventure. You can live with the modest power output on your own but add a passenger and you’ll wish you’d bought a bigger bike. No worries — your better half can get his/her own bike and you’ll still be saving money.
Though certain details remind you that this bike has been built down to a budget (unadjustable levers and suspension), the 310 GS still feels like a quality product. The plastics are good, as is fit and finish and paintwork, and the overall impression is of a bigger, more expensive bike.
This may be a small adventure bike, but that doesn’t mean you’re only going to have little adventures. Quite the opposite: you will forge new paths to places those overweight behemoths can only dream of exploring. Possibly.
More probably you will be enjoying a great all-round bike that takes you to work during the week and enjoys the occasional bite-sized adventure at the weekend, and there’s nothing wrong with that. – Mat Durrans