Best known for its trials bikes, Beta Motors has separated itself from KTM and have produced some noteworthy enduro machines, like the Beta 400 RR.
“Off the beaten path” is a mantra that plenty of us trail riders live by. It’s where you’re bound to find individuality, the promise of adventure and not to mention the best single-track in the world. In our case, and in a quite literal sense of the phrase, the “beaten path” would be the motocross track. While we may easily see beyond the berms when it comes to terrain, many of us still have tunnel vision when it comes to selecting a tool for the job. The competitive driving force of motocross has produced some excellent machines which are, in turn, great platforms for customizing into off-road bikes, but between five major manufacturers and two classes, it only gives us about 10 bikes to choose from. Well, there’s a great big world filled with all types of terrain to explore, so it naturally follows that off-road machines would cover a much wider scope – more than five manufacturers and two displacements – and produce some unique, exotic breeds. Those breeds might be off the beaten path, or off the map entirely when you ask your buddy “what’s the best bike for me?” but when seeking individuality, or the promise of adventure, you must first dare to deviate from convention.
Beta Motors is still probably best known for its championship-winning trials bikes, but that could all be changing pretty soon. Following the emancipation from its cooperation with KTM, the Italian manufacturer was faced with the challenge of making its own enduro motors, but Beta engineers saw it as an opportunity to advance, and advance they did. The 2010 model year has brought with it a significant step in the evolution of the Beta line of RR enduro machines.
The 2010 400 RR contains a Beta powerplant with even acceleration, which provides more traction than its predecessor, the 450 RR.
Our expectations were admittedly modest when we first swung a leg over the all-new 2010 Beta 450 RR – the first of the RR line to sport the Italian-made motor as opposed to running a KTM powerplant. But in its first effort, Beta knocked it out of the park, and in hindsight, we shouldn’t have been surprised since it’s not exactly their first rodeo. Like the 450, the 400 RR was quick to earn fans among our test riders. Characteristic of a Beta, it is sturdy, compact and really shines in technical terrain. And characteristic of a 400cc four-stroke enduro bike, the motor gives a steady, linear pull. It doesn’t have the snap or midrange gusto of the 450, and ridden back-to-back with a 450, the power difference is noticeable. But therein lies its greatest strength: traction!
The acceleration curve of the 400 RR may not be as exciting as its larger sibling, but the way it pours on power in a civilized manner allows it to tractor its way up or through just about anything. Add to that the stretch of power – from chugging along at bogging speed to a screaming top-end – and the motor is incredibly versatile with easy-to-use power on tap everywhere. Its hearty power doesn’t equal too much engine braking, either. The free-revving nature of the motor keeps it feeling light and maneuverable on the trail without giving a heavy front-end feel that can often accompany a torquey motor.
Add to that the compact, lightweight feel of the Beta 400 RR and you have the best of both worlds – the small, easy-to-use feel of a 250cc enduro bike with the torque of a 450. What’s not to love?
Our first encounter with the 400 RR was on a private ranch in Arroyo Grande. It was there in the hills of California’s Central Coast that we got to spend a day testing the bike’s (and our own) ability to crawl through rocky creek beds, climb single track trails, speed along ridge roads and plenty more. It doesn’t take long to pinpoint the Beta’s strong point – tight, technical terrain. And there’s no surprise in that revelation since the company’s roots are in trials. The super-tractable power syncs well with the chassis to keep the wheels gripping the ground and moving forward.
While preparing for the Glen Helen 12-hour race it was difficult to determine a comfortable front-end feel, and the bike's front fork could definitely use improvement.
The only Achilles heel we noticed initially was that the rear end was rather slippery on flat hard-pack turns and the rear wheel didn’t like to stay planted. But we noticed a positive change when we shed the 140 rear tire and put on a 110. The flatter footprint of the Dunlop 952 110/90-18 helped give better traction on flat hard-pack, though we have to give the 140 its props for things like slippery rocks and crawling through mossy creek beds. In the Southwest, however, you’re far more likely to encounter dry hard-pack than anything else, so we felt much more comfortable on the Dunlop meats.
Speaking of dry hard-pack, we decided to put the Beta through its paces in more familiar surroundings – namely the 12 Hours of Glen Helen. Traditionally run from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., the Glen Helen 12 Hour is a treacherous race run in scorching hot temperatures. This year’s race, however, was run from 5 p.m. to 5 a.m., the majority of the race taking place at night. The heat was certainly still an issue, but the night schedule made things easier, plus it gave us an excuse to outfit our Beta 400 RR with an HID headlight – courtesy of Baja Designs.
When it came to running the ridges of Glen Helen and battling the dust and punishing chop, it was difficult to come up with a comfortable setting on the Beta that satisfied the whole group. The biggest challenge was getting a comfortable front-end feel. Over square-edge bumps the Marzocchi forks deliver a hard hit to the rider especially at speed. While the bike as a whole performed very well, the fork is what everyone on the team agreed could use improvement.
True, the 400 RR is considered more of a woods bike and not a West Coast GP specialist, so to be fair it was out of its element. Still, we wanted to throw everything we could at the Beta, in the name of testing its durability and versatility. Don’t get us wrong – the 400 is no underachiever. When we call it a woods bike and say that it doesn’t have the snap of a 450, by no means do we mean that it’s slow. Just because it’s not a thoroughbred doesn’t mean it’s a pack mule.
The 400 was much more comfortable in a woods setting where technical terrain allowed the bike to shine.
Once we had it out in the open in places like Glen Helen we discovered that the linear pull of the motor builds up to an incredible top-end with gobs of overrev. Don’t be surprised when you find yourself accelerating into a high-speed wheelie when you’re wringing it out. The sudden burst of power can be surprising!
The 400 tackled the hills, ridges, technical downhills and rough straights for hours on end, and even dove into the water without any complaints when a broken water main created an impromptu river which flooded several sections of the track. The only problem we encountered at the 12 Hour was about seven hours into the race. Around midnight the bike came into the pits with the handlebar loose. The culprits were the two bolts securing the bar mount to the triple clamp, and apparently it’s a common glitch. Fortunately the fix is simple – and the problem is completely avoidable. Simply add some Loctite and tighten the bolts. Of course, to find this out during our race wasn’t ideal, but aside from that, we didn’t have any mechanical issues with the Beta during the 12 Hours of Glen Helen.
So how did we finish? Well... no one got hurt and we’re all still speaking to each other so we’ll call it a success!
After several weeks with the Beta, mostly woods and trail riding, we still found ourselves wishing for added straight-line high-speed stability, so we opted for a Scotts Performance steering stabilizer. The addition of a steering damper proved ideal especially in fast rough conditions, and in another effort to really put the 400 to the test, we lined up for the Viewfinders M.C. 100-mile Classic Scrambles – a two-hour desert race in Ridgecrest, California. On the 11-mile course there were plenty of exceedingly rough high-speed straights along with a motocross track, a “junk yard” section, multiple mud-holes and endurocross sections and a few city streets thrown in just for fun.
The Beta 400 RR also did well in a two-hour scramble event where its compact size allowed it to master motocross sections.
The Beta performed remarkably well in the two-hour scramble. In fact, it felt like the race was built for the 400 RR. Its compact size made it ideal for the motocross section as well as the sweeping berms, one after another. It doesn’t have the tall, heavy feel of most 450 enduro bikes which makes carving through tight turns a blast (literally) on the Beta. The multitude of technical sections throughout the course remained a breeze throughout the race, which wasn’t a surprise. The steering damper made up for what the tight terrain specialist lacks in fast conditions. For added high-speed stability we could have also choppered it out a touch by dropping the fork tubes a few millimeters, but we ran it at stock height and felt it was an incredibly good combination of moto-like turning prowess and high- speed stability.
We advise not getting too carried away with the “motoey” feel of the Beta. While it may turn like a 250F, it doesn’t jump like one. Sky it out over a big double and the RR will quickly remind you that it is an off-roader – not a motocrosser. Landing might be comparable to touching down at Denver International on a windy day. Incidentally, both the fork and shock have great bottoming resistance.
The installation of the steering damper, however, was trickier than we anticipated. Useful tip: The Beta RR’s do not have castle nuts on the steering column, so when you loosen the upper triple clamp, be ready for the fork tubes to come barreling out at the speed of an Olympic bobsled. We also had to file down some frame welds on the steering head in order to get the tower ring to seat properly. But when all was said and done, it was definitely worth the added effort.
The stock 140 rear tire felt squirrely on hard-pack turns, but swapping it out with a Dunlop 110 helped the rear wheel track much better in dry conditions.
The extra support of the damper did a lot for the stability of the chassis overall. In the fast, rough conditions the shock really shined as well. Great at tackling tight conditions, we know, but high speeds and long-term abuse was a challenge for Sachs shocks we’ve tested in the past. At both the Glen Helen 12 hour and at the Classic Scrambles the 2010 Sachs shock flat out rocked. There was no unexpected kicking or rebounding and the rear never did anything unpredictable. With a short wheelbase, keeping the rear of the bike in line is super-easy on the Beta, which may also be why it’s so easy to handle. Throughout both events the performance of the shock remained consistent, and seemed to get better as it broke in. Speaking of breaking in, the seat will also become much more comfortable than it may feel at the dealership.
We can’t quite say the same about the fork, which wasn’t what we’d call bad, but just out-gunned when compared to the level of Showa, Kayaba and WP components of plenty other off-road bikes. It remained consistent and didn’t misbehave anywhere in particular, but our wrists would have appreciated a more supple initial feel, especially over chop and square-edge bumps, which are a SoCal epidemic.
We’re looking forward to even more time on the Beta 400 RR before it has to go back, but after a few months of seat time on it, we feel we’ve gotten a pretty thorough impression. It was literally fresh out the carton when we first swung a leg over it, and as it’s broken in it has only gotten better. The fit and finish have improved in the last few years, and from the plastics all the way down to the core, the solid construction instills confidence in its overall quality. The push-button seat release is a nice touch and gives simple tool-less airbox entry. The white body work keeps it looking fresh and doesn’t show wear nearly as much as darker colored plastics can.
The bottom line – there is a much wider scope of off-road bikes than you may think. Do yourself a favor and take a look beyond the conventional because the Beta 400 RR is a prime example of some incredibly great – and unfortunately underrated – machinery that is hiding on showroom floors.