Right at the height of an unparalleled super bloom we got to do our 2023 500 dual-sport comparison. The Beta 500RR-S, Honda CRF450RL, Husqvarna FE501S and KTM 500EXC are the elite bikes with the most performance, the least weight and the highest prices. We rode them in stock condition with the exception of tires. All of them got Dunlop Geomax Enduro EN91 tires which are street-legal full knobbies. We will point out, though, that the Beta didn’t really need better tires–the stock Michelins were pretty good. The other three needed no tries just to be ridden off road.

Here are some numbers to digest:
On our scale, the Beta is 254 pounds without fuel. It sells for $11,799.
The CRF450RL is 277 pounds without fuel, which is considerably more than any of the others. The price, on the other hand, is considerably less, at $9999. That’s actually a price reduction compared to 2019.
The 2023 Husky FE501S is 248 pounds without fuel and it is the most expensive in this group at $12,649
The KTM 500EXC is the lightest of the group at 244 pounds without fuel. It sells for $12,549.

All three of these bikes have smooth, sweet power. They aren’t crazy fast, but they are fast enough. Unlike the 350cc versions of these bikes, which we tested in the April, 2023 issue, you don’t find yourself thinking about modification from the word go. These bikes are all easy to manage, fun to ride and definitely don’t leave you wanting.

Mark Tilley and the Beta 500RR-S.

Of the three, Beta has the most bark in the midrange and on top.That’s a natural consequence of being in a more aggressive state of tune–and having a louder exhaust Next bike to the drag-race finish would be the KTM, although it would be several bikes lengths back and only a hair in front of the other two. As far as gear ratios go, the four bikes are freakishly similar, gear for gear. They all redline at about 34 mph in first and then have similar gaps all the way to sixth. All have gearing to theoretically reach 100 mph at 9000rpm. That simply tells you that they aren’t screaming at normal highway speed.

Ray Obermeyer and the KTM 500EXC

Even though the Beta has a distinct power advantage, it’s the KTM that has the best overall character. It runs clean, never stalls and has excellent roll-on. A few years ago, we would have never believed this possible from a bike with EPA approved fuel mapping. The Beta and the Honda are more prone to stalling and have jerkier throttle response. The Honda, in particular, has an on-or-off nature down low. That makes you use the clutch a little more as a safeguard against stalling. And, if you over-use the clutch, it can fade–it’s the only bike of the four with a cable-actuated clutch.

Justin Jones on the HondaCRF450RL.

The Honda has the best suspension of the group. The Beta’s suspension is softer and can get a little loose in whoops. It’s clearly designed for lower speeds and more technical riding conditions. It does very well in rock gardens and is very level and stable despite having such soft settings. You still can’t call the Beta plush, though. It has a stiff chassis and seat, which combine to transmit an uncomfortable amount of feedback to the rider.

Pete Murray and the Husky FE501S.

Comparing the KTM and Husky boils down to that time-honored debate between linkage suspension and PDS. To repeat what we have often said, we prefer the KTM’s PDS suspension at lower speeds. We like the action and love the extra ground clearance. At higher speeds, we feel the Husky is more level and predictable. We also like the front end of the Husky better at any speed. We are still arguing over the final winner. It will be finalized by the July, 2023 print edition of Dirt Bike

See you next week!

–Ron Lawson

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