In case you’ve been sleeping under a rock the last few years, there is this company out of Florence, Italy making some of the nicest off-road motorcycles on the planet. Beta (the name is derived from the initials of Enzo Bianchi and Arrigo Tosi) has been making motorcycles since 1948 with production of off-road motorcycles beginning back in the 70’s. In 2004 Beta decided to seriously throw its hat into the ring of competitive off road motorcycling and enlisted the help of the KTM to handle its engine work. In 2010 Beta unleashed its own 4 stroke design motor and never looked back. As you’ve seen, we’ve recently spent a lot of time testing the new Beta 2 stroke with nothing but great things to report. To round out the Beta testing, MotoAdventure in Loveland Colorado kindly loaned us a new 2014 Beta 450 RR to run through the ringer.
The 2014 Beta 450 RR isn’t remarkably different from the past couple years, and most readers don’t know a lot about the prior models so we won’t spend a ton of time talking about the changes, rather we’ll talk about what this bike has to offer.
The Beta is a stunning bike to look at. It’s has clean lines and that unmistakable Italian flare. A quick walk around the bike shows impressive attention to detail with such things as the built in grab handles in the rear sub-frame, push button seat removal and tool-less air filter access. The Beta comes stock with lights, hand guards, a Trail Tech Computer, aluminum bash plate and a US Forest Service Approved spark arrestor muffler. This is great news to many consumers as these are usually items you have to purchase after spending a small fortune on your new bike. Personally, these are all items that I will remove for racing, but I’d rather have them and not need them. Think of what the retail add on cost of these items are and it makes the Beta’s $9199 price tag a real bargain.
Upon mounting this Italian beauty I found everything remarkably familiar in feel. Everything just feels “right”, and the only thing that is overly noticeable is how slim this bike feels. Of the 4 test pilots that rode this bike, the slimness of this bike was universally talked about and praised. Even the stock handlebars felt great. Bars are usually the second item to end up in the dumpster, behind tires. The bar angles feel very similar to the Renthal Fatty bars that came stock on Suzuki and KTM for years, which I happened to like. After breaking in the Beta we decided to scrap the stock Michelin stock tires for something that we actually like to ride. We enlisted a set of Kenda Washougal as they offer consistent grip in a variety of terrain and wear like iron.
Starting of the bike is instantaneous with the electric starter. Out of the crate the Beta was a bit hard to kick over with the kick starter, but became significantly easier after about 4 hours on the motor. The initial feel of the motor is extremely smooth. The motor has no excessive vibration and remains this way throughout the RPM range. As you begin to accelerate, the power band feels very linear with plenty of grunt off the bottom and through the mid-range. The top end however, falls a bit flat, and we are assuming that is because of the muffler is somewhat restrictive. After about ten hours of testing we installed a FMF Powercore muffler and it really opened things up. This bike went from feeling like the mellow KTM 450XC-W to something closer to a a KTM 450 XC-F. If you ride mainly tight gnarly trails the stock muffler will be great, however if you ride more open terrain or like to hit the MX track you will be craving a bit more power, and the FMF Powercore will satisfy that craving.
In stock form most of the test riders felt like the Beta’s motor and gear box felt nearly identical to the KTM 450 XC-W. This is not surprising as both have a similar 95×63.4 bore and stroke with equal gear ratios. What surprised all of the Beta test riders was the fact that the Beta is still carbureted. We tested the Beta between 2000-6500 feet of elevation and were super impressed with the stock jetting. Out of the box we set the idle, and haven’t touched anything since (we did order up a JD Jetting kit just to see what it will do).
Our test bike was from the BYOB (Build Your Own Beta) program and came with the closed chamber Marzocchi Shiver 48mm fork. The softer open chamber Sachs fork work well on the east coast, but leave a lot to be desired for the faster and whooped out terrain this bike will spend the majority of its life in. The stock suspension felt extremely firm with the stock settings and I assumed it would soften a bunch during break in, as this has proven to be the case in the past. Not so. The Marzocchi forks on the Beta are quite a bit different (and better) than the Marzocchi fork that came stock on the GasGas lineup. The Betas’ Marzocchi has red anodized stanchion tubes, DLC (diamond like coating) ultra-slick lower fork tubes, SKF low friction fork seals, .48 fork springs and competition style fork valving. With the stock settings, the bike felt nearly perfect on the moto track and at one of the sandy, whooped out test tracks we ride frequently in the winter. When we finally got the Beta in the woods, even with the clickers backed way off, the fork and shock valving were both waaaay too stiff for our 200lb AA rider. After an 85 mile enduro , a zip tie put on one of the lower fork legs showed that we had 2.5 inches of unused travel. We quickly got the suspension off and sent over to Enduro Spec for some massaging.
On the forks, Warren Healy (Owner and head suspension masseuse) decided to install the famous Huck Valve which is a speed sensitive bottoming system and used a slightly lighter shim stack. The .48 fork springs were kept. In the back Warren said the shim stack on this particular shock was quite a bit different than other Sachs shocks he’s seen on the Betas. This particular shock basically had a full moto shim stack. We think maybe this was changed out for something more aggressive in the BYOB program. None the less, Warren altered the shim stack, installed low friction seals and upped the 5.4 spring to a 5.7. The suspension changes really allowed the bike to ride and track the way it was designed to. Here’s what Warren at Enduro Spec had to say:
“We worked closely with MX-Tech last year on the 48mm Marzocchi forks on the Gas Gas to develop settings. We took what we learned last year and applied it to the Beta platform. Out of the box the forks are very harsh throughout the stroke. We tuned all the circuits to eliminate the harshness without making them too soft for faster riders. We dropped the oil volume a bit, installed InnTeck Bushings and SKF Low Friction Seals. For the shock we had similar goals, eliminate the harshness and lower the friction coefficient. Less friction = less heat which translates to less shock fade and thermal expansion. We used a MX-Tech Low Friction Piston Ring on the Sachs piston and revalved it to match the forks.”
With the new plush, yet firm suspension that never violently bottoms, I could now really get tuned into how this bike really handles and turns. The Beta 450 RR is extremely stable at speed, yet is about the most neutral turning bike I’ve ridden. It is probably closest in handling and turning to the new Honda CR-F. The Beta doesn’t have that intense desire to turn like a GasGas or Suzuki, yet it doesn’t understeer like a Kawi. It’s kinda right in the middle which I think is a great thing. Overall handling is light and maneuverable due to its thin design. The Beta certainly isn’t on the same diet as the new Sherco 300i, but it’s claimed dry weight of 236lbs is less than that of the KTM 450 XC-F’s claimed dry weight of 241. When you lift the Beta, it feels heavier that 236lbs, but when you ride it feels much less. Whether you like to sit or stand, cornering and transitions are very easy and require minimal input from the rider. A slight shift of body weight will do the majority of the work for you. The Beta’s molybdenum steel/double cradle frame is semi- perimeter type frame which allows some of the fuel to sit within the frame to keep that fuel weight centered and low.
Despite our best efforts of flogging the Beta in some very tight terrain and straining it in the deep sand, we couldn’t get it to boil over. The lack of boil over is helped out with the stock 1.8 radiator cap, and what appears to be Engine Ice as the stock coolant. The Brembo hydraulic clutch worked perfectly and never faded. On the braking side, the Beta comes with my favorite combo of Nissin Brakes with Galfer Rotors. Yeah, yeah, I know, nothing stops like Brembos, and I won’t disagree. The Nissin brakes do have less stopping power; however they don’t suffer from brake fade like the Brembos are infamous for. I can drag my lazy foot on the rear brake pedal all day and never lose my brakes. In this case I’ll take consistency over pure performance any day. The other nice thing about the Nissin brakes is that the brakes pads are literally available everywhere. Just off the top of my head I know that current model GasGas, Suzuki, Kawasaki, and Yamaha all use the same brake pads.
The stock 13/48 gearing on the Beta was adequate for general riding but I always found myself always trying to find the “right” gear. First gear was a bit low, and second a bit tall. We remedied this by going to a 50 tooth on the rear. This tightened up the ratio a bit and allowed us to get into second a bit sooner and really spend the majority of the time riding 2nd and 3rd gear. The Beta’s 450 long stroke motor just has so much grunt that it will really compensate if you’re not in the right gear all the time. With separate gear and engine oil compartments, fluid changes are less frequent, and in the long run a bit cheaper to maintain. We’ve done 3 fluid changes thus far and haven’t noticed any excessive metal or debris in the two different filters.
All in all the Beta is a well thought out machine that should prove quite capable for most people in any situation. And remember, the minor changes we made can be remedied with the Build Your Own Beta program, which apparently most people take advantage of. We’ll be keeping notes and will do a long haul follow up later in the year, so stay tuned.
We’d like to give a huge thanks to our supporters. Without these guys this article wouldn’t have happened!
American Beta www.americanbeta.com
Enduro Spec Suspension www.endurospec.com
Fly Racing www.flyracing.com
Dennis Lane Photography www.dennislanecom
Kenda Tires www.kendatire.com