BETA WAS ONCE ONLY KNOWN FOR TRIALS BIKES. In 2005, the Italian manufacturer began producing enduro models using KTM engines, replacing those with proprietary powerplants in 2010. Beta is now virtually on par with the dominant Austrian marque in terms of engineering, build quality and functionality. Beta has had difficulty maintaining top-tier racing talent to solidify its reputation in racing, but on the trails where most bikes are ridden, Beta is nipping at KTM’s heels.
LIKE KTM, BETA RECENTLY MOVED TO MARKETING ONLY THE STREET LEGAL VERSION of its electric start, fuel-injected, fourstroke trail bikes, although virtually all roadworthy hardware arrives unmounted from the factory. The former RR (off-road) and RS (dual-sport) designations were condensed into the current RR-S nomenclature, including a 350, 390, 430 and 500, offering riders fine gradations of engine character in identical chassis configurations. Our 390 RR-S (MSRP $9,799) has been hailed by many as the best all-rounder and the local dealer reported they’ve been the quickest to sell. The 390 and 500 are long-stroke versions of the 350 and 430, respectively, with a less rev-hungry, more grunt-intensive personality, in addition to the extra power generated by larger displacement. All are DOHC layouts, equipped with 6-speed transmissions and separate engine and transmission lubrication systems.
RACE EDITIONS ARE ALSO AVAILABLE, featuring upgraded suspension, assorted high-performance tweaks and bling and no street gear. The RR-S is a full-on dirt bike, outfitted with the barest minimum required for a plate, Trail Tech’s Voyager GPS dash being the only extravagance. This compact gadget shows more info than many modern street bike digital displays, along with basic GPS mapping capability that records routes and accepts routing file uploads. Premium componentry includes Nissin brakes, a Brembo hydraulic clutch and Excel Takasago wheels. Michelin’s latest Enduro VI FIM/DOT eco-friendly (short-knob) tires deliver good compliance and surprising grip at both ends, though the rear lacks the ultimate bite of bespoke off-road rubber. There’s also an AGM battery under the push-button-release, gripper-covered seat, a wrap-around skid plate, 200W stator, handlebar-mounted ignition map switch, fold-away mirrors, and a decent tool kit behind the easy-access airbox, along with a factory-installed radiator fan and grab handles built right into the rear sub-frame. If spending more time off-road, the 15-tooth countershaft sprocket can be replaced with the included 13T alternative. The BYOB (Build Your Own Beta) program allows ordering with a host of accessories already installed, including custom tailored suspension. Sachs provides the fully adjustable, open cartridge 48mm fork and remote reservoir shock, the latter of which has separate high- and low-speed compression damping and operates through a progressive linkage.
THIS SUSPENSION REALLY DISTINGUISHES BETAS, having been tuned for greater compliance than those from WP/KTM. While racers need firmer setups to handle higher speeds, average riders can ride faster and longer with plusher, well behaved suspenders. The Betas also have an inch-lower seat height than a KTM. For 2018, Beta addressed another critique by shedding nearly 9 pounds, largely a result of removing the kick starter. Also new are clutch and shifting mechanism refinements, a more rigid frame, subtle suspension updates and beefier turn signals. The 390 purred through its subdued, yet throaty exhaust. Fueling was impeccable from idle to redline, and the motor was almost stall-proof, courtesy of its torquey nature and graceful clutch actuation. Buttery smooth power was abundant everywhere and the bike revved up very quickly, while remaining perfectly tractable at low speeds.
HANDLING WAS EXTREMELY LIGHT AND NIMBLE; Beta’s expertise in trials bike design obviously contributed here. Ergonomics and control feel were excellent and handlebar mounts offer three positions. We found the suspension agreeable on- and off-road, with meaningful changes available through the clickers. Whether climbing steep, gnarly hills, negotiating jagged rock gardens, slogging through deep mud, or bombing root-infested single-track, the bike always found traction and tracked true. The primary impression was of relaxed competence; slim, lithe and athletic, ready to explode forward on demand, but without feeling high-strung. Lofting the front over fallen logs was achieved telepathically; in fact, charging over open ground often involved carrying the front wheel a few inches off the ground for a considerable stretch after each gear change. This motorcycle could convince die-hard two-stroke fanatics that four-strokes have finally erased any agility and acceleration disadvantages.
YET THE BETA ALSO LAID DOWN POWER with all the easy control expected from a motor with a valvetrain, and it revs out longer than any two-stroke could ever hope to match. It’s truly the best of both worlds. Faults are few and the RR-S is clearly not a 50/50 dual-sport. The seat is narrow and hard, even by dirt bike standards, which isn’t a problem when standing on the pegs, but will be the first aftermarket substitution for those who spend much time on pavement. While it had no trouble maintaining highway speeds, droning along the tarmac was not much fun. We also wouldn’t trust the flag-style handguards, light-duty plastic skid plate, spindly mirrors, turn signals and rear fender extension to survive any real thrashing in the wilderness. These are things experienced off-roaders immediately replace, anyway. Some may also opt to extend range by swapping out the smallish 2-gallon tank for something larger. The kickstand is preposterously pointy; the $39 wide-foot attachment should have come standard. Aftermarket support for Beta includes fewer options that can be challenging to track down. Lastly, we were disappointed to find several superficial imperfections seemingly reflective of lapses in assembly line quality control: Two peripheral bolts had been cross-threaded and two others were missing. Most concerning was a small coolant leak from the Voyager’s temp sensor, which hadn’t been tightened all the way in its fitting, by Beta or Trail Tech. Nevertheless, close examination has otherwise yielded only sighs of admiration for the beauty of its design and meticulous fit and finish, as well as the thoughtful attention paid to a multitude of practical details; it’s got both form and function covered very well, plus it’s a joy to ride.