Not many motorcycles that I can think of in India that have made an impression among motorcycling enthusiasts. Back then of course there was the RD 350 back then, which was strangely brought to India by Rajdoot and not Yamaha, the RX 100, the very first CBZ, the Karizma and a bunch of Pulsars. That list though would be incomplete without the KTM 390 Duke. While the first generation of this bike is already an icon of our times, in its second generation this motorcycle has pushed the envelope even further. To the point where it has not only won the Times Auto Awards in partnership with Fast Bikes India but also won what is considered the Oscar of the motorcycling world when it was declared the Indian Motorcycle of the Year (IMOTY) last year. And it isn’t just the critics it won over, the masses too couldn’t be happier with this bike. Masses I say because KTM has been one of the fastest growing motorcycling brands in the country since its inception more than half a decade ago, ensuring that the Austrian flag continues to flutter in the hearts and minds of the Indian enthusiast.
But now, there’s a new challenger from Germany. Three years after its debut at the EICMA 2015 in Milan, the BMW G 310 R has finally arrived in India. But if you’re going to pay that hefty Rs 2.99 lakh that BMW wants for its smallest and entry level street naked, you’ll want more than just fancy livery and the premium badge value of the blue and white propeller. So does the baby Beemer deliver? More importantly, how does the bike fare against the reigning champ of affordable street nakeds? Naturally, we took the G 310 R and put it to the test with the 390 Duke as the benchmark to beat. The result, was a complete surprise.
I have a confession to make. Given its power deficit and that ridiculous price, I didn’t expect the Beemer to do well at all. At least on paper, the BMW G 310 R didn’t seem like an impressive proposition. However, once I got up close and personal with the bike however I quickly realised that the BMW is not here to impress anyone. Rather, it’s a laid back motorcycle with clear intentions. And its intention is not to carve a space for itself in the enemy’s territory. The realisation hits the moment you lay eyes on the machine. The made-in-India G 310 R doesn’t cut an exciting form. Despite those fabulous golden USDs, it isn’t showy inspite of being well proportioned; it will appeal to a mature audience. For someone who prefers things underplayed. The only problem is the rear end styling is not very impressive and seems like a hurried job. Reminiscent of one of the least impressive derrières on any motorcycle – the Karizma ZMR.
The moment I swung a leg over the perfectly cushioned, relatively low, rider-friendly seat (785mm), I realised how well put together it is. Just hold the handlebar, shuffle through the switch gear and you know that you’ve got a quality product. The G 310 R feels solid and is in it for the long term. The cluster feels dated when compared to the 390’s TFT colour unit, but displays a plethora of information. The 11-litre fuel tank feels big, comes with nicely contoured knee recesses and offers a very comfortable riding position.
The now-familiar 313cc motor makes 33.52bhp and 28Nm. It isn’t a high strung motor like the KTM with a compression ratio of 10.6:1. Like on the RR 310, the engine needs to be revved a bit before letting the clutch slip, or else the G 310 might stall. Once on the move, everything feels controlled and sedate. Riding the G 310 R is very, very relaxing and enjoyable. The engine is extremely tractable and doesn’t require you to keep it boiling all the time. If you do, the Beemer lets you know immediately by buzzing its reluctance through pegs. The tractability however allows you to stick to higher gears and delivers power in a linear fashion, making it very easy to ride. The clutch is precise and the shifts feel positive too.
In tune with its relaxed nature, the suspension is set up so that ride quality is cushy, but it isn’t a bean bag either. There is a sophisticated, posh feel to how the suspension irons out shocks, allowing you to go over bad roads with poise. Yet, you don’t pay for this plush feel with dynamics. On the contrary, if there is one area where the BMW trumps the KTM hands down is in its handling. Shocking, isn’t it? It’s not as quick to tip in as the Katoom but thanks to its setup and a 1374mm wheelbase that is 17mm longer than the 390 Duke’s, mid-corner stability is outstanding. No doubt, it is the benchmark in its class. Not even uneven surfaces put her off and she retains her composure without ever losing the line.
The only thing that doesn’t quite compliment this fab chassis is the Michelin Pilot Sports the 17-inch wheels are shod with. They are nowhere as grippy as the KTM’s Metzelers and also show a tendency to suddenly let go when cornering hard. Grippier rubber will enhance The Thrill of Riding the G 310 R. Another area where the BMW stayed behind the KTM is in braking. The Beemer’s brakes have bite but also felt somewhat wooden, resulting in intervention from the ABS earlier than expected. Given that Jehan faced no such issues when he rode the bike at the media ride, we’ll again put this down to the fact that this could be a case of glazed discs on a new bike and that braking will improve as the bike is ridden more.
Had it been priced more aggressively the G 310 R would have definitely sold more. But BMW Motorrad isn’t focusing on numbers. In fact, during our ride, a lot of the aam junta were more interested in getting pictures clicked with the sober BMW than the flashier KTM. Clearly the BMW badge has its draw and that’s certainly part of the reason why you’re being asked for the extra bucks.
Ready to race. Those three words flash on the KTM’s cluster every time you turn the ignition on. And trust me, that isn’t a marketing gimmick, the KTM is always willing to race, even when it is standing still! Just look at it; the gaping headlamp with the LED DRLs resemble the face of an excited teenager on the verge of puberty. Similar hormones are raging throughout the character of the 390. There is no dearth of orange and some of the body panels do resemble that of the big daddy; the 1290 Super Duke R. Just by looking at it you know, this, unlike the Beemer, is not going to be a plush ride. And once you’ve signed up for the package, you ought be on the same page to eke the maximum out of it. And hell, there’s so much fun to be had when your partner in crime is a KTM!
The 373cc motor churns out 43bhp at 9,000rpm and 37Nm at 7,000rpm. With a superbike-like compression ratio of 12.6:1, this doesn’t come as a surprise. The high-revving motor has been lauded by KTM fanboys for years, but the introduction of ride-by-wire in the 2017 variant means the throttle isn’t snatchy like it was on the first iteration. The 390 isn’t as tractable as the 310 R, no, it’ll ask you to work through the ‘box to get going. However, once you’re past 4,000rpm, she’s ready to go racing. In fact, after 6,000rpm, no other sub-400cc naked can even come close to the KTM. The way she catapults into the horizon keeps you asking for more. And once you’ve popped your virginity (read fear), there’s a lot of fun to be had. However, always keep in mind that the 390 doesn’t really care much for safety nets. She isn’t one to give you second chances. So it’s always good to push only as far as your confidence allows. She isn’t as happy catering to a relaxed audience but she will do the job, grudgingly. The KTM is a proper hooligan that only understands one language, which can be stressful at times because the 390 wants you to be focused, every single time. But if you manage to keep pace with it, you’ll have a helmet full of grins.
With an upright, canted-forward riding position and a sharp-as-a-sabre 24.5-degree rake, the 390 Duke is all about aggression. And to help you do that, KTM has given it the perfect set of suspenders. The WP forks at the front and the WP monoshock at the rear are tremendous; and are perfectly setup for corner carving. Its agility is intuitive and she’ll be halfway into the turn by the time you’ve finished thinking about it. Unfortunately, this mind numbing agility takes its toll on stability and you can clearly feel this when you ride the 390 Duke back to back with the G 310 R. Where the BMW is stable, calm and composed, the KTM comes across as twitchy and nervous. Certainly not novice friendly. This preference for agility also results in a firm ride for the suspension is set up to be firm. Combined with its nervous nature, this can cause hairy moments, as it did for us, when the surfacing around a turn is less than smooth. Besides, if you’re someone with back trouble you’re better off with something else for the 390 Duke with its ‘Ready to Race’ riding position and firm setup will just make it worse.
The other place where it feels like KTM has brought a pistol to a knife fight is in its equipment list that continues to run long after the BMW Motorrad brochure has ended. Switchable ABS at both ends including the awesome Supermoto mode, that lovely full colour TFT screen with Bluetooth connectivity, slipper clutch, sticky Metzelers, and more. Finally, there’s the price that is the bullet at the base of Motorrad’s skull. It’s more than a lakh of rupees cheaper to buy!
The 390 Duke is for those who want to ride with the throttle pinned wide open. It packs in more kit, it looks like sex on toast and whacking open the throttle is like mainlining a bottle of adrenaline. It’s brilliant for hooning around on. And to top it all, it not only has more kit (TFT screen, better tyres, slipper clutch, switchable ABS) but it is superbly priced. At Rs 2.40 lakh it is 59k cheaper than the G 310 R but when you take the on-road prices into account (including the Essentials kit that BMW Motorrad dealers will add on to your invoice whether you want it or not) the difference goes up to a whopping Rs 1.2 lakh. What competition can the G 310 R pose?
That is why we ride and don’t do spec-sheet comparisons. The pricing gives the BMW a bloody nose but doesn’t write it off because the G 310 R is a great all-round bike. It will do a comfortable daily commute, it will do your weekend knee-down rides, it will get you to the IBW without your brain fried and back in bits. And when your mates ask you what you’ve ridden to the IBW you’ll dangle your Motorrad key chain. It isn’t enough to win this test but I also have to admit there’s a lot of appeal around the G 310 R.