I was on my way to the Best in the Desert Nevada 200 Trail Ride, and was passing the time during the long lonely drive by talking to my brother on the phone. He asked what bike I would be riding there and I said the 2014 Beta 450 RR. “A what? Beta? What the hell is that, some no-name Euro bike? You couldn’t get a KTM?” replied my often-uncouth sibling. “Sounds like you are not going to have any fun. Good luck with that.”
I told him I personally requested the 450 RR for the ride, knowing that Casey Folks and Scot Harden map out some of the gnarliest trails for the ride every year. I needed a smooth operator with easy-to-manage power for technical trails. My personal experience with the 2012 model told me the Beta would be a good choice, but my brother’s skepticism had me wondering. Would the updated 2014 Beta 450 RR be as good as I remember, or was I in for a world of hurt?
The Nevada 200 is a three-day invite-only trail ride put on by Best in the Desert in the mountains and valleys outside of the old railroad and mining town of Caliente. BITD boss-man Casey Folks and AMA Hall of Famer Scot Harden started the Nevada 200 in 1984 as a way for them to meet up with other industry people for a ride in their favorite terrain. This year would be the 30th anniversary and I was excited to get an invite. Two options were offered an A or C loop for each day. The A loop would be tough, while the C was said to be “too easy” by those that had attended before. So A loop it would be for me, and a perfect test for the Beta 450 RR.
Beta has updated the 450 RR for 2014 to improve durability as well as handling. The RR’s double-cradle molybdenum steel frame has been strengthened in key areas but retains the same geometry. The suspension received the most attention from Beta’s engineers, with the 48mm Sachs TFX getting new compression and rebound pistons along with revised damping. At the back the Sacks piggyback also gets updated damping and a stiffer spring. A more rigid seat base ensures a better fit to the frame. Aesthetically, the 450 RR gets a new front fender and seat cover and the plastics are a bright red from the 2013 white colorway.
The engine remains unchanged, including the fueling via a carburetor. The transmission does get some love with a modified shift drum for smother shifts while the countershaft gets new heat-treating. The shaft bearings have been beefed-up as well.
As I adjusted the levers and bars to my liking, I admired the quality of the hardware and components of the Beta. From the levers to the cushy Domino grips to the red-trimmed digital speedo unit, everything is top-notch. The rider’s area is roomy with wide and tall bars. Right away, however, I noticed the seat was firmer than I would expect, and by the end of Day 1 it was without a doubt too firm. My tailbone disapproves.
On the trail, something seemed a little off with the handling f the 450RR. The rear-end kicked and deflected off any stone larger than a baseball and the front fork was not what you would call plush. It was very different than what I remembered of the 2012 model, of which we said was slightly too soft. This felt like they had gone too far in the other direction. For fast desert blasting it worked well, soaking up the bigger hits with much more control than before, but the ground-following Velcro feel was gone. Not a good thing. At the end of the day I was left disappointed, and let the Beta reps know.
The next morning the Beta guys let me know they backed off the compression damping on both the front and rear. They also sped the rebound by a couple of clicks on the front fork. As soon as we hit the trail, the difference was night and day; the Beta handling I raved about in the last few years was back. Yes, on big G-outs things would bottom out, but I would gladly take a few hard hits over a full day of bouncing off anything larger than a tic-tac.
With the suspension sorted, the RR turned with a lightness that makes tight trail work a joy. The wide bars give you plenty of leverage to muscle the Beta into the corner, while the frame allows for a solid feel and controllability that is one of the best ever. If you are a single-track junky you owe it to yourself to take a ride on a Beta. On the faster wide-open sections the chassis is stable and planted. The front does knife and then push in deep sand, but move back a bit further on that super-firm seat and all is good.
Power-wise the Beta has a strong and satisfying bottom to mid, but it does leave something to be desired on the top. The RR torques out of tight corners, letting you ride a gear high if you want to get lazy. Row through the well-spaced transmission and you can absolutely blast from turn to turn. The Nevada 200 took us from 3000 to 7000 feet in elevation, and even at the higher altitudes the carburation worked well. Yes, the engine response tapered off but there was no stumbling on or off the throttle.
The improved transmission shifted flawlessly day in and day out with crisp changes and a light lever. Clutch feel from the hydraulic unit was good, but not as connected as a cable-actuated unit. I’m a habitual clutch abuser, but the RR’ s set-up remained fade-free throughout the three-day ride.
Braking on the Beta is one of the best out there. The Nissin front master cylinder puts forth great power with a communicative feel. At the rear the performance is even better and allows you to modulate the pedal to settle the chassis when crawling around in the rocks without being grabby.
At the end of three days shredding the epic trails of the Nevada 200, I was left satisfied with my choice of bike. At first I struggled with the Italian beauty’s suspension, but just a few turns of a flathead screwdriver made all the difference in the world. My original assessment that the 2014 Beta 450 RR would make an excellent mount on which to tackle the rough, rocky and tight trails of Caliente proved to be true. I had a great time at the Nevada 200 and I’ll be back next year – hopefully on a Beta.