The search for the “great American trail bike” has been ongoing for years. If you want to go far, far back in time, the call has been answered for every generation. Our fathers’ fathers had their Hodakas and Trail 90s; our fathers had KDXs and XR200s. So what fills the gap left by those machines? What simple, lightweight trail bikes offer that kind of performance, ease of use and reliability?
Beta’s solution is to take a page from the past and return to the 200 two-stroke. While almost every other manufacturer is turning to either race bikes or dual-sport bikes, Beta saw the obvious need to find middle ground. The 200RR is in a class by itself. It selectively uses modern technology where it’s most needed; it has electric start, oil injection and multi-level mapping. It does not have fuel injection or new-age electronics simply because it doesn’t need all that to reach its final destination.
THE CLASS WITHOUT A CLASS
The 200cc two-stroke vanished in America for a very long time despite its one-time popularity. Why? It might have started, at least in part, due to government pressure. Back in 1990, the EPA and California Air Resources Board (CARB) started asking manufacturers to clean up their offerings in what they defined as the off-highway vehicle category. That resulted in bigger, more complicated trail bikes. Competition bikes were exempt, so two-strokes and most other off-road bikes were eventually defined as race bikes. The 200 was left behind simply because most racing organizations didn’t have a 200 class.
In 2019, the guys at Beta realized that wasn’t a very good reason not to offer a small-displacement trail bike, so the 200RR was born. The engineers started with the then-new 125RR, punched it out to 190cc and added electric start with oil injection. The result was a bike that was almost in a class of its own. We say “almost,” because Rieju also has a 200cc two-stroke. Right now, that Spanish manufacturer is just getting started—even Beta is a massive company by comparison.
The 200RR has evolved since its introduction. It still uses a ball-ramp-driven power valve, which is externally adjustable—although, the owner’s manual discourages any changes from the standard positions (one turn in). You do get to alter the power delivery through a map switch, which is located right in front of the fuel-tank filler. There’s a sunshine emoji for the aggressive map and a rain cloud for the mild setting. The 6-speed gearbox is identical to the 125’s, but with much taller final gearing. There’s no kickstarter, but there’s still a place to put one if you don’t trust the button. Beta sells a kit for that guy. The chassis is similar but not identical to the one for the 250RR and the 300RR. It’s just a little smaller in a few dimensions. The weight without fuel comes in at 223 pounds.
The fork is an open-cartridge Sachs, which is held in place by a CNC-machined triple clamp. The rear shock is also made by Sachs and has linkage connecting it to the swingarm. The brakes are Nissin and the tires are Maxxis.
WHY 200s RULE
Now we know why 200cc two-strokes were so popular back in the day. The 200RR is an outrageously good trail bike. The low-end power is bottomless; you almost can’t stall it by accident. It has considerable flywheel effect, and beyond that, the 200 produces thick, usable torque. The jetting is flawless, too. It doesn’t load up even after long periods of partial throttle. There’s no detonation, and it starts easily then warms up quickly. On the other end of the rpm range, the power output is respectable, too. After making such surprising low-end, we expected it to go flat on top. That’s not the case. The 200 revs out past 9000 rpm, just like most 250cc two-strokes. Peak power is decent, but no more than that of a good-running 125.
The only place where the 200 surrenders ground to more competition-oriented bikes is in between the two extremes. When you’re in the middle rpm range and you want to conjure a quick burst of acceleration, you expect a quick dab on the clutch to do the job. That’s not the result. The 200 more or less continues on its planned course regardless of clutch use. It gains power and rpm in a very linear fashion. That’s one reason it’s so unstoppable in difficult terrain—the 200 plods forward at its own pace, always finding traction, always making progress.
All that translates to a bike that excels on tight, technical trails for any level of rider. The reason that 125s are difficult on the trail is because they generally have a sharp, sudden hit somewhere in the powerband. That results in wheelspin and lost momentum. By the same token, some riders can grab too much throttle on a 300 and find themselves in the same kind of trouble. The 200 is immune to both situations. It holds a steady engine speed easily even when the rider is anything but steady.
The 200RR’s overall handling character is steady, too. There’s nothing nervous or twitchy happening, even when the terrain is rocky and choppy. The 200 is lighter than most offroad two-strokes by a good 10 pounds, and that goes even further towards making one of the easiest bikes to ride in difficult conditions.
It’s clear that the guys at Beta have a very specific idea of who will be riding this bike. They set up the suspension for a light rider and slow speeds. The Sachs fork and shock are very soft. There’s a limited amount of preload adjustment at the top of the right fork leg and a damping clicker on the left side. You can max them both out and still have a very soft fork. Same goes for the shock. In the past, we have found that Sachs suspension is at its best when set up on the soft side. It does very well in rocks at low speed, and that gives the bike a comfortable ride at an easy trail pace. If you get ambitious and want to stiffen it up, things don’t always work out well. Stiffer springs will only get you so far before you have to make valving changes. There are a few companies out there with extensive Sachs experience, like Race Tech and WER, but they generally report that under hard use that the components need more frequent maintenance to keep their oil clean. Beta’s Race Editions are all sold with KYB suspension, and if you have competition in mind, it’s best to look in that direction.
All that makes sense in light of the fact that the 200RR was never meant to be a racer. Still, there are some features and lack of features that aren’t especially logical. The bike is more or less sold as a stripper; it has no radiator fan and no handguards, presumably to keep the retail price down. Yet, it’s not that inexpensive, and it does have some unnecessary accessories like a horn and some instrument controls. The rain-cloud map offers no real advantage; it only takes away power in areas where the motor isn’t that strong in the first place. While we’re complaining, the kickstand is too short and the rear brake is grabby.
In truth, we feel a little guilty complaining about anything here. In certain areas, the 200RR excels like no other bike currently available, and we’re grateful that it even exists. The 200cc trail bike presents a solution to a problem that has been dogging the dirt bike world for years. The biggest mystery is why there aren’t more.