BETA 450RS DUAL SPORT TEST

It’s almost impossible to talk about the Italian Beta 450RS without talking about KTM. Somewhere in an Austrian boardroom there’s a picture of us all with a giant bull’s-eye and a label: “American off-road rider, seek and acquire!” Truthfully, it’s been hard to say no. KTM has well-aimed motorcycles that target our needs perfectly, especially in the dual-sport world.
But, there is an alternative. If you don’t want to join the orange mob, there’s Beta. The 450RS is street-legal in all 50 states, and it’s powerful, lightweight and effective without modification. In truth, there’s almost nothing that it gives up to the KTM 450EXC.
REAL DUAL SPORT
A few years back we had to rewrite the definition of the dual-sport bike. We all believed the myth that it was impossible for a factory to produce a truly good dirt bike that would pass the Department of Transportation’s scrutiny for street licensing. It was a big lie, perpetuated by manufacturers who simply didn’t think it would be profitable. It was actually tiny Husqvarna that proved otherwise. Then KTM came into the picture, perfected the craft and took over. In the years that followed, if you wanted a good dirt bike with a license plate in intensely regulated states like California, you had to go KTM. At the time, Beta was considered an obscure company that was too small to be taken seriously, but now Beta’s U.S. importer is established, the dealer network is solid and the brand is recognizable. Beta is legitimate, and the 2014 450RS is for real.
The motor in the Beta is a double-overhead-cam four-valver with an old-fashioned Keihin FCR carburetor. Thankfully, a small company like Beta is held to more relaxed standards than the giants of the business, so it is easier for them to get the bike through EPA and CARB. There are only a few compromises that are almost invisible. The fuel tank is vented through a charcoal filter, the carb drain hoses are blocked, and there’s a check valve that introduces air into the exhaust tract. The blinkers, mirrors and switches are harmless. You would think that fuel injection would be the easy road to emission compliance, but it hasn’t worked out that way. The California Air Resources Board has come down hard on manufacturers who have EFI systems that can be easily altered by the end user. Carbs make both the bureaucrats and the customers happy at this point, and guess what? Carburetors work! The 39mm Keihin FCR has long since had its bugs worked out, and it eliminates the weight of the fuel pump and massive charging system. There are slight differences between the California model and the one sold in the other 49 states, but they do not affect performance.
The power gets to the ground through a six-speed transmission and 14/48 final gearing. Beta includes a 13-tooth countershaft sprocket if you don’t see much pavement on your rides. This year, Beta gave the bike an electronic fan for extended slow-speed riding. This is technology borrowed from the company’s trials bikes. The bike also got a new decompressor, a lighter swingarm, new wheels and new Sachs suspension components at both ends. Perhaps the biggest news of all is the instrumentation. The Beta comes with a Voyager GPS instead of a simple speedometer. It gives you normal trip info, plus navigation capability and even coolant temperature. At this point no other manufacturer has taken this step.

NO HINTS
There’s no way you would know the Beta 450RS is street-legal from an experience in the saddle. You might accidentally hit the horn button or see yourself in one of the mirrors, but from a pure performance point of view, the bike seems to be 100 percent dirt.  Even those mirrors fold up so they don’t get in the way.
What’s better, it’s a very good dirt bike. The powerband is outstanding. It runs smoothly off the bottom with none of that on-or-off, toggle-switch throttle response common on fuel-injected bikes. The Beta has very light engine braking that transitions to mellow acceleration with a little throttle. When you’re ready for big power, it can be summoned in a hurry or metered out evenly. The 450 is no slouch. The power output is excellent, with a happy little hit in the middle just for fun. But, it’s no 450 motocross bike. At high rpm, the Beta signs off gradually without the crazy over-rev that most MX bikes have. It still has enough power to hold its own on the track, but it won’t outpull an MXer in full moto trim with a competition muffler. The Beta comes with a reasonably quiet, Italian-made spark-arrestor/silencer that’s easy on the ears but still much louder than a Japanese dual-sport bike. If you want to order the bike with an FMF Q, you can do that through the Build Your Own Beta program. That’s legal in this case, because the original pipe has no catalyst. But, take care. That’s not always the case with other dual sports, and officials are cracking down.
To place the performance of the RS in perspective, it’s a little milder than a KTM 450EXC on top but has more snap in the middle. Compared to the dirt-only Yamaha WR450F or Honda CRF450X, the Beta has more power everywhere. Beyond the power, Beta has hit the mark perfectly with the gearbox and clutch. First of all, the hydraulic clutch has such a light pull that it’s somewhat worrisome. We haven’t experienced any problems so far, so we have to conclude that the pull is simply a result of good engineering and not springs that are too light. The six-speed gearbox is great. First gear might be slightly tall, but the gaps are perfectly spaced so that you arrive in top gear at comfortably low rpm, even at highway speed.
As for weight, the Beta is middle-of-the-road for its breed. Without fuel, but with mirrors, blinkers and all the other street accoutrements, the bike tips the beam on DB’s superscale at 263 pounds. That’s about 20 pounds heavier than an aluminum-framed Suzuki RM-Z450 motocross bike. The Beta’s frame, of course, is steel, but apparently very light steel. The company claims that the new swingarm and wheels account for a substantial weight loss. The new suspension components are also said to be very light. Even though we don’t have much experience with Sachs suspension, most of our impressions so far have been positive. The fork is set up on the soft side, which is appropriate for a dual-sport bike, and it does well in rocks. The rear suspension, on the other hand, is stiffer. It’s still not motocross-hard, but the bike isn’t perfectly balanced, and that can result in a lot of fork dive and a stinkbug feel. Despite the soft front end, the bike is very stable at speed, and its turning manners are hard to fault.
 

TRACK LOGS
The fact that Beta thought it was worthwhile to give the bike a GPS as standard equipment shows how serious this company is about the dual-sport market in the U.S. Many official dual-sport rides aren’t even marked with ribbons anymore. By supplying the Voyager, Beta is making the transition into a new age a little easier. Likewise, Beta shows some solid dirt awareness by giving the bike a side-access airbox, oversized aluminum bars and blinkers that don’t break. But, there are some odd lapses. We would rather have handguards than most of those things. The headlight is weak, and the bike doesn’t always start easily. The electric starter drains the battery quickly if there are any problems, and then you’re stuck with a draggy kickstarter that drains your personal battery.
We would also like to see a bigger fuel tank. The stocker holds 2 gallons, which is freakishly small for a bike with a license plate. Once again, you can correct all these things beforehand at Build Your Own Beta. There’s a 3.1-gallon IMS tank, a selection of handguards and even an EarthX lithium battery. The price for some of these parts is better than you can find on the open market, but not always. What’s more important is that they are available. When you deal with a non-mainstream brand like Beta, that’s rare.
With Beta, you get all the good aspects of having an offbeat bike with none of the disadvantages. Like we said up front, this is a direct competitor for the KTM EXC line. The direction you choose in the end depends strictly upon how much of a conformist you fancy yourself. But, the bottom line is that you do have a choice. o

BETTER BETA
• Street-legal in all 50 states
• Excellent dirt performance
• Six-speed gearbox provides wide range
• Smooth, powerful motor
• Plush suspension
• GPS is standard equipment

BADDER BETA
• Reluctant starter
• Weak headlight
• Some vibration on road
• No handguards
• Not cheap

BETA 450RS
Engine type      Liquid-cooled, electric-start
      four-stroke
Displacement      449cc
Bore & stroke      95.0mm x 63.4mm
Fuel delivery      39mm Keihin FCR
Fuel tank capacity      2.0 gal.
Lighting coil      Yes
Spark arrester      Yes
EPA legal      Yes
Running weight, no fuel      263 lb.
Wheelbase      58.1′
Ground clearance      12.6′
Seat height      36.6′
Tire size & type:
  Front      80/100-21 Michelin Enduro
  Rear      110/100-18 Michelin Enduro
Suspension/travel:
  Front      Sachs inverted cartridge, adj. reb,
      comp, 11.4′ (290mm)
  Rear      Sachs aluminum piggyback, adj.
      hsc, lsc, reb., 11.4′ (290mm)
Country of origin      Italy
MSRP      $9699
Importer      www.americanbeta.com

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