Beta? What’s that?
If you haven’t heard of Beta before, you’re just like the majority of Canadian motorcyclists. But despite their lack of name recognition in this country, the Italian firm has been around almost as long as Harley-Davidson – they first started building bicycles in 1904, although they didn’t actually get around to motorcycle production until the 1940s.
They built street bikes over the years, but really made their mark off-road, especially in trials riding. They’ve got a winning track record in this category, taking European and world championships, and their trials bikes are likely their most popular machines in Canada. Cody Webb (2010 AMA Trials champ) is currently flogging a Beta very successfully in EnduroCross in the US, but even those heroics aren’t garnering many headlines.
As for the 498 RR – several of Beta’s four-stroke machines share the same basic chassis, and the 498 is the largest of those bikes. It’s a street-legal enduro, similar to models like Husqvarna’s TE lineup that ran in Canada for years, or KTM’s 350 EXC-F.
It ain’t your daddy’s dual sport, though. This is no portly XR/DR/KLR/XT. Dry weight on the 498 is a wispy 113 kg. Looking at the bike, you don’t see anything chintzy or cheap; Beta either builds high-spec components in-house, or outsources them to top-end suppliers. Items that other manufacturers cheap out on, like the skid plate or toolkit, are not only present, but are high quality.
They even include a manual that is hands down the best I’ve ever seen, with basic maintenance procedures spelled out as clearly as you’d see them in something from Haynes or Clymer. Even though it’s an expensive bike, Beta obviously wants owners to be able to take care of it themselves.
Off-road racing bikes often see plenty of minor tweaks in between major upgrades, and the Beta 498 RR is in that cycle; it’s a refinement of the 2013 model, not a drastically new machine.
The front suspension was revised; the new top cap contains the rebound components, making it easier to service the internals. The other parts of the fork internals (piston, cartridge, and even the oil) were all tweaked to improve performance in rocky conditions, and under hard impacts.
The rear shock also saw tweaks, aimed at making it easier to adjust the rebound settings. It also gets a new spring for 2014. The seat was slightly re-designed to look better and fit better on the bike, the front fender was widened to keep water from splashing onto the rider, and the brake disc gets an updated heat treatment to last longer.
Finally, Beta’s engineers also redesigned the chrome-moly frame, adding new reinforcement plates and brackets to reduce stress.
For 2015, the motor’s displacement has been reduced to 480 cc, but thanks to new camshafts and a re-designed exhaust, it makes the same absolute torque and horsepower as before. The new motor has lighter components and re-designed cases to reduce rotating mass and improve handling, and the 48 mm front fork (from Sachs) has been upgraded as well.
I have a friend who, before he emigrated from Germany, was deeply embedded in that country’s motorcycle scene. Once, when we were chatting about bikes, he got all excited and started talking about his friend’s V-Max. That bike, he told me, was a “veapon”.
That’s what the 498 RR is – a weapon.
I’ve ridden Japanese dual sport bikes for years, so I know what to expect from your average four-stroke thumper – plenty of weight, lots of low-end torque, and a very predictable (if somewhat uninspiring) powerband.
Since Beta’s engineers designed this bike for competition and off-road use, and weren’t very concerned about making it cope with street miles, they’ve put together a lightweight machine that handles both dirt and pavement, while not giving up a shred of power or fun.
Admittedly, I’ve not spent much time on bikes with this much emphasis on off-road use, and I’m certainly no dirt riding hero, but the Beta makes me feel that with some practice, I could be (ha! ha!). To me, the mark of a good off-road bike is that it handles better the faster you ride, and that’s how the Beta felt to me. Although I tended to take it easy in tight quarters, as soon as the road opened up, it was amazing to feel the machine’s poundage seemingly vanish as all that horsepower propelled its svelte chassis along.
I have a suspicion that just about anyone with a decent off-road skill set could really push the bike in the tight stuff, too. But not me – I mostly stuck to quad trails and gravel roads, and when you’re there, this bike lets you make roost just fly when you want to. The front wheel comes up at will, and the stock tires (Michelin Enduro Competitions) bite in to the dirt with the authority of a rabid pit bull, giving you the confidence to really flog this machine.
I know, that sounds like a lot of superlatives. But, this bike really is a lot of fun to ride. Anyone who thinks their KLR or even their DR650 is a great off-road bike needs to experience a machine like this to see what a well-sorted enduro is capable of.
On the street, the stock tires burn off quickly, but I had a set of 50/50 road tires fitted while I had the Beta, and took it to Cape Breton.
Getting there on the highway wasn’t much fun – even with a smaller rear sprocket fitted for the job, the engine vibrates significantly at triple-digit speeds and combined with no windscreen, you get pretty tired pretty quickly.
However, long-distance street riding is not what this Beta is built for, and the kind of people who buy these bikes realize that. It’s basically a proper enduro bike with lights and legalities added to it so you can take it on road, likely to save the need to trailer it to the trails.
Despite this, during a quick jaunt around the Cabot Trail (after off-roading all weekend), the light weight and quick steering that made the Beta so much fun off-road also proved to be a hoot on the in the twisties, as the bike would lean, lean, lean and then lean some more – as far as you wanted to push it, really.
Apparently, there are supermoto rims available for this bike, which I’d love to try someday.
But even on a high-dollar bike like this, there are some niggles. My biggest peeve was the gearbox. While it felt you could lightly sneak between cogs, like you can on a Japanese machine, in reality the tranny would often hit a false neutral if you weren’t firm enough. It wasn’t terribly easy to find neutral, either, which made it a bit of a hassle to move the machine around with the engine off.
I was happy to see the machine came with a kickstarter, but didn’t find it easy to use. I’m sure with practice I’d get the procedure down, but the lever would catch on the right footpeg when I tried, leaving a mark on the kickstarter, so I didn’t bother trying to figure out the secret. Thankfully, the electric start worked well whenever needed.
For the most part, though, the Beta is very easy to live with, and capable of taking some pretty rough treatment if necessary. Basic trailside maintenance is fairly easy with the included toolkit, when necessary.
I didn’t bother messing with the front suspension settings, but tweaked the rear rebound to my satisfaction with the handy remote knob. Remote preload adjustment would have been nice, as I didn’t have the proper tool to mess with the locking rings on the shock, but it got the job done and I never had any issue with the stock settings.
While the bike is carbureted (Beta just announced EFI for their 350 RR in 2015, their first), it takes no time at all to warm up, and on the trails the carbs don’t leave you wishing for fuel injection. Throttle response is instantaneous, so much so that an unwise aggressive twist could leave you on the seat of your pants in the dirt.
Although I’m six feet tall, I have short legs, and I find most dual sport bikes require a bit of a stretch, but not so with the Beta. And since the bike is such a tidy, compact package, when you ride in tight stuff you don’t have to worry as much about keeping yourself tucked in to avoid catching a boot on a tree trunk or rock, as the pegs already have a woods bike stance – very close to the frame.
The stock seat feels as hard as a 2×4 when you first mount it, but the Beta rep told me most riders are happy with it. I nodded and smiled, not completely believing him, but after a few hours, I didn’t have any preference between it and the optional comfort seat that was also supplied with it.
The Beta 498 RR is a fine machine for the discerning off-road rider, somebody who needs mo’ powah, and knows how to handle it. But even though it’s a bike that can satisfy an experienced rider, it’s not too much for a schmuck like me, who’s used to a more sedate pace in the bush.
I’m not the target market, though, and I doubt they’ll sell many bikes to guys like me (especially with the wages that Yorkshireman ‘Arris is paying). There are plenty of skilled guys with money out there, though (as KTM sales prove), so it’s not as if they’re trying to forge into an undeveloped market.
Visibility, more than anything, will be the 498’s deciding factor. Beta doesn’t have a huge dealer network, and they aren’t well-represented at most off-road races. If race fans see their bikes winning events, they’ll likely get on board. If not, well, it’ll be a tougher sell.
But for me, if someone asked if I wanted one, the answer would be a positive yes, along with everyone else who rode it while it was in CMG hands. The bike put a smile on my face, left me with plenty of confidence while riding off road, and always left me wanting more at the end of the day. That’s the best reason to buy any motorcycle.
Second view – Editor ‘Arris
I’ve ridden bikes similar to the Beta in the shape of KTMs that are essentially full-on enduro machines with lights and a plate mount on the rear to make it legal. To call them dual-sports is a bit of a stretch, as they’re right at the dirt end of that spectrum, but the Beta did something for me that the equivalent KTMs have not – it gave me a magical moment. And on asphalt to boot.
It happened while riding home after a long day in dusty hot trails scouting for the Fundy Adventure Rally – crouched over the bars, throttle near full with the Beta’s 500cc single galloping away sublimely beneath me. It reminded me of something that I had suspected I had lost – motorcycles are fun! Something that all new riders experience – the overwhelming sense of absolute joy and wonderment as you are carried along a country road, enveloped in the warmth of a summer’s evening, just you and this magical machine.
Well, until night fell and you discover that that legal-reasons only front light only shows you that the front fender is still there but nothing (and I mean, nothing) of what the open road is doing ahead of you. All the while, sliding from one arse cheek to the next to try and find some relief from a day on a seat designed more for the rider standing than actually sitting.
Okay, so it’s not the world’s most comfortable bike, nor is it the world’s most sophisticated (the number plate was actually ripped off under full suspension compression), but there’s something pure about it that gave me a slap around the chops and reminded me to enjoy the moment.
Beta have done a great job with the 498 RR and if they can give the Canadian importer the support he needs then I see future with less orange and more red in the trails … and the road.
Check out all the pics that go with this story! Click on the main sized pic to transition to the next or just press play to show in a slideshow.
|Bike||2014 Beta 498RR|
|Engine type||Liquid-cooled single-cylinder four-stroke, DOHC, titanium valves|
|Tank Capacity||8 litres|
|Brakes, front||Single 260 mm disc, floating two-piston caliper|
|Brakes, rear||Single 240 mm disc, floating single-piston caliper|
|Seat height||940 mm|