It finally happened. A Beta two stroke made its way to the east coast. Scott at Motoconnection out of Saint Albans, Vermont is one a handful of Beta dealers in the northeast and was able to acquire one. He was then kind enough to let us spend some time with it. The Beta rarely makes a showing in the east coast, in fact, there will be more Big Foot sightings along the east coast than Beta sightings. Why is that? It isn’t that Beta is disdainful of the east coast, it’s just that they sell every unit they bring to the U.S. This is unfortunate because as you will read, this bike is tailor-made for eastern riding.
For this test we headed to northern Vermont, just a short drive from the Canadian border. While the rain poured down outside, Scott took us through some of the benefits and features of the 250 RR. The Beta comes with several nice features such as rear suspension linkage, front and rear lights, polymer skid plate, FMF plated exhaust with an FMF muffler, an extra front number plate to replace the headlight, Nissin brakes with stainless steel wave rotors, and an electric start with a backup kick starter. The Beta also comes with an external power valve adjustment, similar to the KTM’s but without additional springs. Our test bike also came with a map switch mounted to the handlebar. Finally, the bike comes wired for turn signals and brake lights.
The big changes for 2014 center around suspension refinements for the Sachs forks and shock. Last year’s suspension was perceived as too soft with a tendency to deflect over rocks and other square-edge hits. In response, the bike got fresh valving front and rear. The top fork cap has been updated to make spring changes easier. The shock received a reshaped rebound adjuster which allows for a more precise adjustment as well as a heavier 5.2 kg spring.
The fuel tank is now translucent and has been upgraded to allow 2.5 gallons of fuel. The new front fender is stronger and more rigid in design. The seat has a push-button release and has been redesigned for a better fit to the frame. It’s also quite comfortable. The quick-access air filter makes for an easy filter change.
The latest 2014 two-stroke models (unlike the first ones) come with an oil check plug in the clutch cover. Other updates include a new power valve mechanism that provides improved performance at low rpms and a smoother transition throughout the power range. There are new brake disks that have an improved heat treatment for more durability.
Upon swinging a leg over the Beta, my first impression was that it felt familiar. Unlike the GasGas or Husqvarna, which can take some getting used to, the Beta feels more like a KTM than anything else we’ve tried. You won’t confuse it for a KTM as it has its own uniqueness, but it does have a familiar feel. Because the Beta has 11 inches of travel, compared to 12 on most machines, I was expecting it to naturally sit a bit lower. That was not the case. It felt about the same size as a KTM, likely because the Beta rides higher in the stroke. The controls, bar height, foot pegs all felt about right. There were no snag points for pants or boots. I really liked the bar bend and had no desire to swap them for a pair of 996’s.
We went with the stock jetting, given the cooler temperatures and our elevation in the Green Mountains. We began the test with the power valve spring turned in slightly from full power. Given the rain and mud, this setting worked well.
The motor is snappy off the bottom with an ability to hold extremely low revs. I am still in awe of living in a world where a two-stroke has more torque than a four-stroke. Gearing is 13/52; it could easily lose a tooth off the back sprocket and still maintain its snap. Acceleration is remarkably smooth, with a mild mid-range hit before petering out around 12000 rpms. When the power spring was turned in, the bike took on a torquey four-stroke feel. With it all the way out, it felt even racier. The motor felt like a KTM XC-W’s but with a slightly more aggressive feel when the power valve all the way out.
The spread of power allows for a wide range of uses, everything from a technical enduro to a fast grand prix. Our bike had a hand-mounted ignition map switches between an aggressive or softer electrical curve. The difference wasn’t pronounced. Regardless, you can loft the front wheel via a blip of the throttle. The six speed transmission shifted smoothly and didn’t have any awkward gaps.
The cornering characteristics are sharp and will only be improved with a better front tire. Once properly balanced, the bike tracks cleanly through corners. The upright, on-the-pegs turning characteristics are equally sharp, with the bike threading the tight stuff as well as any of the other off-road two-strokes we’re familiar with.
The suspension was pretty good, particularly the forks. Both ends ride higher in the stroke and do a good job soaking up the smaller roots and rocks. The mid-stroke is a little harsh and caused some deflection when ridden at a casual pace. The deflection was a little less apparent when ridden aggressively. I ended up with the fork compression settings four clicks out from the stock settings. We ran the sag at about 107mm and six clicks from the softest setting. The shock is definitely valved stiffer than the forks.
Bottoming resistance is adequate, with the forks more prone to bottoming than the shock. I had a little difficulty getting the bike to settle over the rocks, but again, the suspension was still fresh and tires were not helping. Tires are tools and not many work well over the rocks—and the Beta comes with tires that I do not care for, at all. In fairness, the more I rode the bike, the better the suspension felt. Before we do a follow-up report, we’ll junk the stock tires and mount something more appropriate.
Handling is quick and light, similar to the KTM XC-W. The front end has a lighter feel to it, in part due to the narrow tire that is on it. Regardless, the steering felt lighter than average.
Aside from the tires, is there anything to be leery of? Well, the starter is mounted to the bottom of the motor and makes me wonder if a well-placed rock would dent a skid plate and damage the starter motor.
As a first impression, the Beta is an excellent package. It comes with excellent components and has a fit and finish that is on par with KTM’s. Some will find the suspension valving too stiff, but an aggressive rider will be more appreciative of it. The motor is excellent and can handle everything the east coast will throw at it. In terms of pure performance, there really isn’t a reason to shy away from it.
We are just getting started with the Beta as it will be the subject of two or three more follow-up stories. In fact, we are organizing a 250 off-road shootout that will hopefully pit the Beta against the KTM XC and XC-W as well as the Sherco and TM. We may even have a Husaberg there, too. GasGas and Husqvarna will not likely be in country until December and we’re not into shoot outs in the snow. Stay tuned.