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Small ADV Matchup: BMW G310GS vs Kawasaki Versys-X 300

Two pint-sized ADVs battle it out to see who takes top honors in the class.

Published on 05.10.2018

Dirt Test

BMW G310GS vs Kawasaki Versys-X 300 comparo

Now for what you really want to know. Starting with mellow, smooth dirt roads, both bikes were very happy to zip along at a comfortable, if not mildly aggressive pace. Again, both bike’s low weight give the rider confidence to push the pace into corners since we aren’t trying to slow down 600 pounds of raging steel. Overall, the BMW has a more predictable, planted stance where the Kawasaki’s front wheel was a little more vague when it came to rider feedback. One of our favorite traits of the GS is that, once you start to push the bike’s capabilities, it lets you know when it is going to lose traction. The BMW gets an advantage here also because of the ABS button on the handlebar. With just five seconds of holding it down, you turn off the ABS without stopping or even slowing down. The Vesys-X in this test is the ABS model and there isn’t an option to turn it off (a non-ABS model is also available at a $300 discount).

BMW G310GS vs Kawasaki Versys-X 300 comparo


BMW G310GS vs Kawasaki Versys-X 300 comparo

Getting into ruttier, bumpier, more challenging terrain, the differences in suspension become more apparent. And since the Versys-X has an exposed exhaust header that runs under the frame, we needed to install a sturdy aftermarket skidplate ($229.95 upgrade from Ricochet Off-Road) for this test. Even though the BMW has more suspension travel and more aggressive upside-down forks, the suspension damping is soft. There is no two ways about it, we easily blew through the fork and shock on our off-road testing loop, as well as the mellower trails getting there. The shock is actually softer/easier to bottom than the fork, even with the preload adjusted to give us the most ride height. On some hits where the fork would soak it up, the shock would unexpectedly blow through and bottom out.

Just the opposite was happening with the Kawasaki. When crossing a square-edged rain rut, the fork would bottom out and the shock would soak up the hit without an issue. Overall, what little travel Kawi’s fork has is damped and sprung pretty well for the not-so-aggressive off-roading the Versys was designed for. We just wish there was more of it.

Timed Off-Road Course

BMW G310GS vs Kawasaki Versys-X 300 review

Busting out the stop watch, we timed both bikes on a 2.3 mile off-road loop that includes some deep, soft sand, a steep hillclimb, some thigh-deep whoops, big rain ruts, and a few rocky sections. Originally, we expected the BMW to be faster based on its suspension travel and weight advantage but after riding both bikes on the course and without looking at the times, we felt faster on the Versys-X. After several laps on each bike and taking the fastest times, we were surprised to find there was only a 3-second difference in times with the Beemer on top. That is darn close!

Our seat-of-the-pants impression after riding them back to back was that, while the Versys had less suspension travel, it had better damping and control to the point where we actually enjoyed riding it fast and pushing to ride faster. On the BMW there is more travel, but we were clanking through to the stops constantly, making the ride feel more abusive to the bike, and rider. Another unique thing on the BMW – when getting the front wheel off the ground, the fork would clank when it topped out (front wheel fully extended) which added to the uneasy feeling of riding it fast.

BMW G310GS vs Kawasaki Versys-X 300 comparo

BMW G310GS vs Versys-X 300 Adventure Motorcycle Highway Test

Initially, we were unsure about how the parallel-twin of the Versys-X 300 would work in the dirt. Single-cylinder motors are the norm for dirt bikes and we had a good idea of how the GS would be, but the mellow bottom-end, yet high revving twin of the Versys was a question mark. Interestingly, the machines’ engines were much more evenly matched than we expected in the dirt. While there is a little more torque pumped out by the BMW, it still makes a good amount of its power higher in the rpm rather than down low.

Neither bike has that instant grunt of a bigger bike to pop out of a corner or loft the front over a ledge. But with a quick flick of the clutch, it was easy to break the back end loose on the Kawasaki. Even though it feels soft in the lower RPMs, it doesn’t bog easily. Climbing the big hill in the test loop, the Versys could tackle it in second while the Beemer had to start the hill in second and click down to first about halfway through. However, one clear edge that the BMW has off-road is the more dirt-friendly ergos. Handling wise, it is also more predictable and just a little easier to maneuver than the Kawasaki.

BMW G310GS vs Kawasaki Versys-X 300 comparo

And The Winner Is…

This was a tough one. Both bikes had clear benefits and things that we liked, and both had clear downsides that we didn’t. Actually, more than few times over the last month we said that we wish we could combine the two bikes to make the perfect mini-adventure machine.

After all was said and done, we felt like the Kawasaki Versys-X 300 was a better overall machine. We came to that conclusion while building that hypothetical machine mixing the parts of each bike and realizing that we liked more of the Kawasaki’s traits than we did the BMW.

Wire-spoked wheels, more power that works both in the dirt and on the highway, longer range, better wind protection, better behaving suspension, and overall more thrilling to ride, the Versys delivers more for the same price. And even though it was a tad bit slower than the BMW in technical off-road terrain, we had a lot more fun riding the Versys at a fast pace.

That being said, we like the G310GS’s stock pegs, the overall ergos, GS styling, plush seating, lighter weight and longer suspension travel, all of which make the BMW a close second and still a great choice when it comes to the Small ADV Class. We also really appreciated the always-active ABS button on the handlebar and the overall predictability in the handling department. Plus, a quick stop at your favorite suspension shop (or a Rally Raid kit) could turn this bike into a whole different animal. Yet as things are, stocker vs. stocker, the Versys-X 300 gives us a little more of a smile under our helmets.

Specs Comparison

 Adventure Bike Models  HP  Torque
Wet Weight
Suspension Travel
Seat Height
Fuel Capacity
Price USD
 BMW G310GS 34 20.7 374 7.1/7.1 32.9 2.9 $5,695
 Kawasaki Versys-X 300 39.3 19.0 385.9 5.1/5.8 32.1 4.5 $5,699*
* Pricing for ABS model as tested. Non-ABS model is $5,399.

Author: Sean Klinger

With his sights set on doing what he loved for a living, Sean left college with a BA in Journalism and dirt bike in his truck. After five years at a dirt-only motorcycle magazine shooting, testing, writing, editing, and a little off-road racing, he has switched gears to bigger bikes and longer adventures. He’ll probably get lost a few times but he’ll always have fun doing it. Two wheels and adventure is all he needs. 

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Author: Sean Klinger

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Jim R
Jim R
May 10, 2018 6:52 pm

Great review. How about a repeat with the bikes adventurized? Dual sport tires, suspension improvements, pegs, bars… rally raid style! Most of us would do those mods, so it would be a better comparison.

Nigel Thompson
Nigel Thompson
May 12, 2018 1:05 pm

Hard to take a manufacturer seriously when they market an ‘adventure’ bike with cast wheels…..

November 14, 2019 6:51 am
Reply to  Nigel Thompson

Easy to repair tubeless tires. Imagine a flat on the Versys.

May 17, 2018 4:53 am

I would like to see a comparison of these two and the new Royal Enfield Himalayan

July 19, 2018 2:14 am
Reply to  j.moreno

Yes the Himalayan will be an interesting addition to the party

Jake Murray
Jake Murray
June 1, 2018 8:45 am

It’d be great to throw a CSC bike into the mix to see how it stacks up.

August 12, 2018 8:40 am

I’m surprised I missed this one, especially since I bought a Versys-X 300 last October. I absolutely LOVE the thing. True it’s biggest disadvantage is lack of suspension travel; if you don’t try to ride it like a dirt bike, it will do just fine. I upgraded my suspension (front and rear) with Cogent parts, and it made the good stock suspension even better, but it’s still limited by travel. I tried to follow a couple of friends on DR650s one day and couldn’t because I couldn’t hit the bumps as hard as they were. But taking my time, I went everywhere they did.


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