Two-stroke racers are becoming the bulk of the market in most countries these days, especially where riders need manageable, affordable and competitive machinery – and stuff you can work on at home. Four-strokes – especially fuel-injected four-strokes – can be problematic and costly but two-strokes abiding by the time-honoured KISS principle keep us very happy. Being such an important segment Beta arrived last year with all-new kit that’s impressed right off the start – even winning a US magazine’s Bike of the Year award.
Riding Beta’s two-stroke 250RR I’m struck by the fact it feels so sorted, already. Everything works like a long-standing well-developed model. I also note it feels lowish to the ground. It feels lower than the PDS-equipped KTM equivalent and it feels lower than the Beta four-strokes. It doesn’t feel so low it’ll be an issue with ground clearance, just low enough for easy footing through bogs or pushing on hills. Low – in a good way.
The Beta two-strokes come with dual ignition maps, but you need to buy the switch to swap between the two (as a factory accessory), so the stock map on the 250 is the power-up one. As against the soft one, which means the power comes in pretty hard and fast. Being a 250 it’s not unmanageable, but you do need to keep the location of the power band in mind. If you had one word to describe this bike: frisky.
There’s same dual map issue here, but with the 300RR Beta has chosen the soft map as the standard one. Correspondingly the 300RR was the torquey beast, albeit with some real clout later in the rev band, when you were ready to unleash it.
Noticeably both two-strokes felt better than the four-strokes on the grass test given that ridden over the trampled grass they were less inclined to fold the front on the apex of the corners (or going in, ahem). This is probably in part because there’s less engine braking loading up the front end, but also probably because you tended to ride the two-strokes differently, being less inclined to pin the front end down under braking and firing out – instead using wider lines and riding on torque in higher gears, using just a little clutch slipping here and there to liven things up if needed.
Both two-strokes felt good. Light as they should. Unfussy as they should. Doing everything effortlessly. Compared to KTMs – but without the benefit of a back-to-back test – the Betas felt that little bit less peaky and that little bit closer to the ground. You can see why the Hemingway brothers have got on so well with them in extreme enduro
A proper good full-bore E3 four-stroke, this one. Made how they should be, with fairly soft but exquisitely purposeful power. A good 500 is often easier to ride than a 450 and that feels to be the case here. You can get lazy with the gears, lazy with the power and it’ll still go anywhere anytime. For a big bore this is a ridiculously easy bike to ride and it could suit open-terrain trail riders down to the ground.
The handling was also stress-free for a big-un. With Sachs suspension you’re anticipating something of a budget ride (after all most manufacturers who spec these also spec an upgraded model with ‘better’ suspension components) but around the short five-minute course we had there wasn’t anything to bitch about. This was the same with all the bikes. Those used to bespoke specialist-fettled kit might of course find exception, but for many this stuff will feel good enough.
This feels to be a very good 450. Where KTM’s 450EXC has felt to become a little too championship-focused (does it say ‘Expert’ on your race licence?) the 450RR feels to have that little less snap, it’s more mellow, like a 500. It isn’t – jump on the 498RR to find that out – but it does deliver its power with just that little more control. That could even be down to the Beta’s fueling. KTM has gone fully FI (on four-strokes) now, but Beta are holding onto their carbs for as long as emissions regulations will allow them, and maybe this is why – a carb allows a wonderfully progressive throttle take-up. It’s a boggy kind of power, ideal for enduro. That is, given a suitably fit rider – a 450 racer it still is, so it pays to be fit and strong.
The 400RR is one cool set of wheels. A few other manufacturers (and riders, for that matter) could do with remembering just how good the ride is with this capacity. It’s a soft-450, a big-250. Where the 350cc capacity lends itself to fairly revvy power deliveries the 400 holds onto a torquey almost 450-like power. On the 400RR you could hit the throttle that little harder than you did on the 450RR without fear of explosive force, but you wouldn’t have to be so keenly in the right part of the powerband as you would on a 350RR. The way I would call it, for a long distance enduro I’d pick the 400RR every time. For a local three-hour race, the 350RR. Beta are being pretty diligent offering a 400 as well as a 350 and riding them they are definitely offering us the luxury of two very distinct choices.
I’d like to see a proper head-to-head with the 350s (KTM and Beta). Beta’s offering is very good indeed and seemed to offer a very racy middleweight package that is bang on the money. Yes you need to rev it but it would take a real lazy rider to completely miss the revvy bits. And the way the 350RR scythed through the grass test and through the woods – what you’re losing in keeping half a mind on gear selection you’re gaining in the freedom that the 350RR’s nipping handily through the corners and down the trails allows. The 350RR is a bit of work, but light work and it makes you feel alive, encourages you to be racer, to bring your A game in a cool not over-committing way. A great clubman racer.