Quickshifter, traction control, wheelie control, riding modes… once a necessity reserved for the ludicrous big-bore bikes, have now become a bragging point for machines that are mere mules for your grocery sprints. But the KTM 390 Adventure X and the BMW G 310 GS beg to differ. They don’t spoil you with electronic assists, but urge you to focus on honing your skills when venturing beyond the beaten path. I have done my fair share of offroading, and even for those who haven’t, the Adventure X and the GS shouldn’t feel intimidating to look at. And these bikes have been around for quite some time, and we’ve seen them in the city, or the highway to be familiar with them. But there is no denying that these are two tall motorcycles, right?
Despite my 5’11 frame, I can’t have both my feet flat on the ground on the standard 390 Adventure. However, with the X, it’s not the case despite the same seat height. That’s because this variant uses a softer suspension tune which made the bike squat more after I saddled up. With the G 310 GS too, I could plant my feet firmly on the ground thanks to the 835 mm seat height. Now, it was time for some dirty dancing.
Now, with a 19/17-inch alloy wheel setup and dual purpose tyres, these don’t seem like hardcore off-roading machines. However, in spirit, both of them are. Just like the two-stroke smokers that rule the dirt, these do not not distract with fancy consoles, a dozen buttons on the switch cube and of course, sophisticated electronics. So, all I had to do was ride, use my skills and keep my ego in check to keep the bikes’ right-side-up all the time. And I succeeded too. But it wasn’t just me, and also how the bikes behaved in the dirt.
In the case of the GS, the 313cc mill always felt well-behaved. The way it put down its performance meant I was always in control. Plus, with a decent amount of torque available at the lower end of the rev range, I could get the GS through any tricky situation. But despite that, the rear tyre was always disciplined, unless I wanted it to misbehave. And misbehave it did, but never to the extent that could have landed me in serious trouble. That is something that the KTM excelled at. That manic 373.2cc powerhouse is the perfect testament to the ‘When in doubt, throttle it out’ philosophy. Well, that’s also because this engine lacks the low-down punch expected from an ADV, but beyond 5000 rpm, it punches hard. To the extent that the tyres can’t match the performance. And no traction control, remember?
Because I didn’t, and it wasn’t long before I was going sideways even when I didn’t intend to. As I adapted to this no-nonsense bike, I realised that the electronics were never the problem, the MRF MoGrip Meteor tyres were. The central part of the rear tyre doesn’t have any tread which makes sliding too easy. And this was after dropping the pressure for the slushy terrain. The Metzeler Tourance tyres would have been good.
Because not just the other variants of the 390 Adventure, but also the G 310 GS have the same tyre, and they do their job pretty well. Of course, with less performance to deal with on the BMW, the Metzelers seem a good fit. The other thing working in the GS’ favour was the ergonomics. Yes, the aftermarket handlebar was making a difference, but more importantly, it was how I could grip the tank with my legs and make it do my bidding. With the KTM that wasn’t the case because of my height, which meant I constantly had to be on the ‘attack’ posture, even when my intentions were not to. And one of the reasons was the Adventure’s 200 mm ground clearance and the suspension travel. It has a softer suspension tune and decent travel, which meant that the ground clearance was not enough for attacking bad roads. Believe me, I have tried and ended with a big hole in the bash plate. With the G 310 GS, that’s not the case. Not only does it have more suspension travel than the KTM, but also 20 mm more ground clearance. Thanks to a slightly stiffer suspension tune, the GS wouldn’t scrape its belly despite my best attempts.
All through this ride, I just had to put the 390 Adventure-X in its off-road ABS mode, and forget about it. Everytime the terrain changed, I didn’t have to bother with the quickshifter, riding modes. On the GS, well, I couldn’t disengage the ABS at the rear, although I wish I could, especially since this ADV had switchable ABS before its BS6 transition. But to sum it up, with both the bikes, I was just engrossed in riding till my body gave up… because of course, the bikes wouldn’t.
Although the experience with both motorcycles was great, never did I miss the electronic assists. But after riding the 390 Adventure X, I was reminded ‘with great power comes great responsibility’. Because the X is always in the ‘fun’ mood, until it is not. It can scare with all that raw, untethered performance. On the other hand, the GS felt safe and friendly, sometimes too much for its own good. The performance deficit is amplified especially after riding the KTM. And despite that, BMW Motorrad is demanding Rs 45,000 for the GS over the 390 Adventure X. Let’s not forget the high ownership cost of the German brand too, especially if the intention is to venture into the unknown. Yes, with bikes like these, the learning curve might seem steep, especially if you are starting out, but as long as common sense prevails, you should be fine with either of these.