Which Small Displacement Adventure Bike Is Best?
The world of small displacement motorcycles has exploded over the last few years and there are now more choices than ever before. When it comes to comparing the different bikes available in this ever-growing category it can feel like you are spoiled for choice. There are many big contenders in the small displacement market.
I am going to help by comparing two bikes in the small displacement adventure category: KTM’s 390 Adventure Vs BMW’s G 310GS. Both of these single-cylinder adventure bikes bring plenty to the table and it is easy to see why making a choice between these two would be hard. On the surface, they both look very similar but once we dig down you will see that the differences lie in the details.
What Is a Small Displacement Motorcycle?
Generally considered to be anything south of 500cc, small displacement motorcycles encompass a huge proportion of the bikes available today. Every major manufacturer offers small displacement bikes and they are generally considered to be the best starting point for someone new to motorcycling.
Small displacement bikes are typically lighter and physically smaller than their larger-engine counterparts. The physical characteristics of these bikes make them easier to maneuver and handle for newer or smaller riders.
Every major motorcycle manufacturer produces some form of small displacement bike. These bikes were originally most popular overseas in the United Kingdom and India where there are laws that restrict engine size for newer riders. They have since grown in popularity stateside for being relatively inexpensive compared to their larger counterparts and for their ease of use for newer riders.
What Is an Adventure Bike?
In addition to displacement, motorcycles are also sorted into segments. Think of these as specializations. You’ll hear the terms street bikes, naked bikes, adventure bikes, and cruisers to name a few. These terms help to define the general characteristics of the motorcycle and the type of riding you might do.
An adventure bike is a type of motorcycle that is not only adept on city streets but is also capable of tackling slightly rougher terrain. Think of a bike that can take you where the pavement ends, and beyond. These are bikes that are comfortable on gravel backroads and light-duty offroading.
Which Is Best?
Which small-displacement adventure bike is best is, in many ways, subjective. The ergonomics, handling, and styling of a bike can be up to personal taste. There is only so much you can learn from reading about them. If you’re interested in either the BMW G 310GS or the KTM 390 Adventure, or any bike for that matter, then you’re best suited to head down to your nearest dealer and take them for a test ride to find out what is best for you.
KTM 390 Adventure
The KTM 390 Adventure is a relatively new entry to KTM’s lineup. The Austrian brand first introduced the model in 2020. For the 2022 model year, it has undergone some revisions and features slightly different styling than previous years while maintaining most of its technical specifications.
The 390 Adventure is listed with a base MSRP of $6,799 plus $535 freight for a total list price of $7,334. My research shows that generally the 2022 MY is listed typically at MSRP through dealers on CycleTrader. However, it does help to shop around. My local market of Boise, ID has the bike listed at MSRP, but dealerships a few hours away in Salt Lake City, UT have them listed for $1,000 cheaper at $5,799. Still, some dealers have them listed with a markup above MSRP. Shopping around can save you big bucks.
At the time of writing, if you were in the market for a used KTM 390 Adventure you’d still end up paying close to MSRP. Most examples of used bikes found being sold by dealers are hovering around $6,000. There are many factors that contribute to this. With the model being so new there are not many on the market and with the effects of production shortages still in effect used prices are inflated.
The 2022 MY has not changed specifications much. The machine features a steel trellis frame paired with a four-stroke 373cc single-cylinder DOHC water-cooled engine. The KTM 390 Adventure is capable of making an impressive 43 hp and producing 27 lb-ft of torque. When coupled with a claimed 348lb dry weight this bike’s relatively small horsepower numbers allow it to keep up with the bigger bikes and tackle off-road terrain handily.
The engine is mated to a 6-speed sequential gearbox and slipper clutch which allows for ease of shifting. It is all controlled by KTM’s state-of-the-art engine management system which includes electronic fuel injection through a 46mm throttle body using a ride-by-wire process. This allows for the most linear power delivery possible.
The current MY is equipped with the same WP Apex suspension on the front and back as the previous years. Featuring 6.9 inches of travel on the 43mm upside-down fork matched with a WP Apex shock adjustable for preload and rebound. The triple clamp features a 26.5-degree steering head angle with adjustable handlebar height provided by mounts that can be purchased through KTM’s PowerParts catalog.
Stopping power is provided upfront by a ByBre, Brembo’s budget-minded brand, four-pot caliper paired with a single 320mm front rotor. On the back, it has a 230mm disc and a two-piston caliper. It is equipped with switchable ABS that allows the rider to turn off ABS in the rear and limit the anti-lock function on the front for more off-road control.
Styling and Ergonomics
At the heart of every bike is its styling and KTM is a manufacturer that has consistently provided eye-catching bikes with a functional design and attention to detail. The KTM 390 Adventure sports an exposed trellis frame with minimal plastic fairings. That means that any unexpected drops or brush strikes while exploring off-pavement will result in minimal damage to the appearance of the bike.
KTM has drawn from the ergonomic and aggressive look of rally bikes for their inspiration in the design of the 390 Adventure. The shape of the fuel tank is optimized for control and freedom of movement by the rider. The fuel tank is flanked on either side by minimal spoilers that protect the tank and seat. The LED-equipped headlight mask is reduced as much as possible to make for a very slim and nimble-looking motorcycle.
The 2022 MY has the option of two colorways. Both feature KTM’s trademark orange and are paired against matte black and gray for a stealth look or bright blue and white for a Dakar-inspired bike that stands out from the rest. The 2022 also features new cast alloy wheels. While maintaining a 19-inch front wheel and 17-inch rear wheel the previous year’s 12-spoke design has been replaced by a 10-spoke design that KTM says is stronger.
Switchable ABS is not the only high-tech function KTM has up its sleeve for the 390 Adventure. With all functions being controlled via the 5-inch TFT screen the Austrian bike features plenty of rider aids to help to ride in any condition.
These include KTM’s Offroad Mode as a possible selection for their MTC (Motorcycle Traction Control) system. This mode allows for rear-wheel slip when activated which means you can navigate those muddy puddles and sand without having to worry about the traction control system kicking in unexpectedly.
In addition to Offroad Mode, KTM’s suite of rider aids has Offroad ABS, a lean-angle sensitive traction control system, and cornering ABS. These features all help riders to maintain maximum control of the bike in a myriad of different conditions.
BMW G 310GS
The BMW G 310GS has a slightly longer pedigree than the KTM 390 Adventure having been introduced in 2017 alongside its very similar street bike sibling, the BMW G 310 R. The current MY bike has changed very little from its introduction.
The current model year on BMW's website for the 310GS is 2023. It is listed with a base MSRP of $5,695 and a $595 destination fee for a total price of $6,290. The 2023 is not available for purchase as of writing but the 2022 that is available carries a slightly higher price tag of $5,945 MSRP. None of my local dealers carry the G 310GS with the nearest available being 242 miles away. That may be something you want to keep in mind if the BMW is the bike for you. The list price for the MY 2022 from dealers averages around $6,190.
However, having several years longer of a run than the KTM there is more availability of the bike in the used market. Good condition and low-mileage examples can be found for less than $5000 on CycleTrader. If the 2023 310GS can be found at or below MSRP it beats out the KTM’s MSRP by more than $1,000. The availability in the second-hand market makes finding examples of this bike much more attainable for those with a tight budget.
The BMW G 310GS features a slightly smaller engine than the KTM. At 313cc the single-cylinder Bavarian bike is rated at 34hp and produces maximum torque of 20 lb-ft. According to BMW, the road-ready weight sits at 384 lbs. This is the weight with a full tank of gas and all the operating fluids while KTM’s claimed weight is dry so the two are very similar in weight once that is factored in.
This is one area where the KTM really beats out the BMW. Having 9 more horsepower and 7 more lb-ft of torque while having the same relative weight means the KTM is a much snappier bike than the BMW G 310GS. That numbers equate to the KTM 390 Adventure having a 26.5% advantage in horsepower and 35% more torque than the BMW.
The engine delivers power to the rear wheel through a 6-speed sequential gearbox and features a multi-disc oil-bath slipper clutch. This makes the engine on the BMW very mechanically similar to that of the KTM.
Suspension is provided in the front with a 41mm inverted fork with 7.1-inches of travel and is non-adjustable. The rear suspension is adjustable for preload and has the same 7.1 inches of travel.
Braking is provided in the front with a 300mm disc and a 4-piston ByBre caliper. In the rear, we have a 240mm disc and a single-piston caliper. Reviews of the 310GS praise its strong-feeling brakes but state that a squishy front suspension can make the front end of the bike dive.
Styling and Ergonomics
The 310GS carries the 40-year lineage of the GS line of bikes and it shows through in the styling. While still sporting an exposed steel trellis frame the BMW has more of it hidden away by fairings and covers. This lends itself to a more pointed and aerodynamic-appearing bike. With similar geometry and styling cues, the G 310GS looks like a miniaturized version of the top-spec R 1250GS which is not a bad thing.
BMW has perfected the adventure bike over their GS range and that shows through in the smallest entry in that range as well. The 310GS has a rider triangle that is designed to place the foot controls within comfortable reach whether sitting or standing while retaining a relaxed and upright rider posture.
For the 2023 MY BMW offers three color options. The default is Cosmic Black 3 which keeps the trellis frame and most of the plastics black. Two other higher spec options are available, Kalamata Dark Gold Metallic and Polar White/Racing Blue Metallic, and they bump the price up by $195 while changing the trellis frame to an eye-catching red.
The BMW G 310GS does not have as flushed out of a technology suite as the KTM 390 Adventure, but that is not to say that it does not shun the comforts of modern technology entirely. It communicates all the rider needs to know in the cockpit through a nice digital display. With an electric ride-by-wire throttle acceleration is smooth and controlled. The bike is also equipped with LED lights all around.
The bike comes with the well-regarded selectable BMW Motorrad ABS system. However, it does lack the switchable quality of KTM’s ABS solution. This means that ABS to the rear wheel cannot be turned off which would make sliding the rear wheel loose for a tight offroad turn a tall task and impedes the offroad prowess of the bike overall.