Real dirt bikes that can meet street-legal requirements are continuing to evolve, with Beta’s 500RR-S now entering the fray. KTM has owned this market; in fact, KTM has pretty much fueled the category for the last decade with machines that serious dirt pilots can ride in terrain that no plated machine of the past would dream of exploring. The Husqvarna brand is reemerging as a powerhouse via its relationship with KTM and is also a solid contender in this category, but, while the world waits for the Japanese companies to finally take a run at the market, it’s the Italian label Beta that has leapfrogged into the hard-core enduro world with its latest offering. The new Beta 500RR-S is a serious player.
THE NUTS AND BOLTS
Starting at the engine, the Beta 500RR-S is a 478cc, four-valve, dual-overhead-cam single that’s fuel-injected, fit with a six-speed gearbox, and is liquid cooled. It comes with a cooling fan and a dual-map on-the-fly selection switch that alters the power characteristics—from stock to traction mode for slick conditions. It features twin oil pumps and a separation of engine oil and clutch oil, a hydraulic clutch and electric start. There is no kick-starter backup, and while this is irksome, we can honestly say that the strength of the new battery and immediate engagement of the starter motor render the kick-starter unnecessary. If you really want one, you can purchase a kick-starter and install it with relative ease. The new clutch has a better feel, improved engagement and better stability in tough working conditions. Overall, the weight of the engine has been reduced (contributing to the almost 9-pound weight loss of the machine).
The chassis is lighter and the frame is all new, with the steering head and frontal frame work redesigned to increase flexibility where needed and increase torsional rigidity where necessary for stability and handling. The suspension is Sachs fore and aft, the front being an open-cartridge design and the rear damper running though Beta’s linkage system. At the fork, weight has been further reduced with a new fork slider. The valving at both ends is new and mated to the chassis changes and weight of the machine.
Beta fit the RR-S with a very adjustable upper triple clamp, Brembo hydraulics and Nissan brakes. Nestled behind the headlight is a Trail Tech Voyager GPS, and while we haven’t had time to learn every facet of the unit, it’ll display GPS speed, distance, compass, altitude, temperatures and maps. This is a nice feature! It’s fit with turn signals and an extended version of the rear fender that holds the license plate. Honestly, this is a little weak, and we plan to mount the plate to the smaller enduro fender extension. The RR-S is fit with handguard wings (small but better than nothing), a tidy plastic skid plate, plastic guards for the swingarm, a push-button removal system for the saddle (this is very cool) and Michelin DOT tires mounted to machined hubs and black Takasago rims.
OUT AND ABOUT
If there is one facet that flat totes a big fist, it’s the power. The Beta is strong! We ran all kinds of terrain and altitude changes, alternating with pavement to hook sections together, all with the engine performing flawlessly. The power is simply stunning. When you whack the throttle open, it leaps forward. One of our testers said that he could easily see motocrossing with this engine. It has a lot of meat and torque feeling in the powerband, but it revs quick and hard. The clutch pull is light, the engagement is nice and the shifting is super smooth. The engine always starts, but sometimes it spins slowly enough that you wonder.
On a rural pavement highway, maintaining the 55-mph speed limit is a non-issue, and even at 60mph, the engine feels completely happy and unhurried. There is plenty of acceleration on tap if you need it. Holding it at 65 or higher, the 500RR-S gets buzzy, feeling like she’s straining against the stock gearing. There is a little gap between first and second gear, but for a wide ratio you barely notice it on a machine with this much torque. It’s a balancing act. On a street-heavy ride, we wanted a little more gearing. In the dirt, we could have had it just a tiny bit lower. Beta is walking a fine line that allows the bike to do both well.
But, the machine really shines in the dirt. For a machine that is plate-legal, the power it carries is strong, usable and vital. Oddly enough, it’s not whisper-quiet like the KTM or Husky street-legal machines, but it’s also not offensive or belligerent in any way. The power is a little old world, being a bit throbby down low before it hustles into the mid-power, which is plentiful. But, the mapping on the fuel injection is tight, and there are no lean bogs or flame-outs to horrify the meek. Shifting is smooth. The clutch action is light, and the immediacy of the hit keeps the machine feeling lighter than its tonnage.
One thing that makes the machine feel a bit thick and loose is the soft suspension. It really targets cobby terrain and enjoys softening trail carnage that has most suspension sending shock waves through the rider’s hands and arms. Also, it aims at riders under the 190-pound mark, which only describes one of our testers. Bigger pilots will need stiffer springs, though we had Beta Suspension Services work on ours to get it set up for our 215-pound crowd and came away pumped. More on that later.
The Beta feels likes its goal is to soak up square edges, and it does it quite well at all speeds. Big jumps equal bottoming, and larger whoop sections are doable but won’t be enjoyed by either the horse or its rider. This machine likes singletrack and feels balanced and primed to maintain good habits in hardpack, rocky and rooty terrain.
HIGHS AND BYES
The Beta has a good kickstand. The fuel tank is tiny at 2.0 gallons. On one ride (a combo dirt and street loop), at just over 60 miles out, we had the engine starve for fuel on a hill, and we thought we might be pushing it back. We made it another mile to a station, and we still saw a tiny bit of gas in the tank. It took less than 1.9 gallons to refill the tank. We will be switching to an IMS tank, though, to be honest, we really like the thin factor, the seat junction and the lines that make it feel maneuverable.
Love the saddle and its push-button removal, but it’s too low for tall guys. Beta sells an aftermarket unit that is 10mm taller and built by Seat Concepts. Love it more.
With our combo of packed dirt, rocks and pavement, the Michelin DOT tires took a hit. They’d maybe get 500 miles until they were dumpster food.
Beta’s switchable maps worked well. Unless we found really good dirt or deep sand, we stayed in the traction (or soft) mode. It made it easier to control in nasty canyons.
Getting to the air filter is cake; keeping dirt from dropping into the air boot is not. Use care here.
MEETING ALL THE CRITERIA
Here’s the skinny: turn the key, push the button and hit the trail—not fluffy fire-road junk, but good old-fashioned singletrack. The Beta 500RR-S just might have the best powerband in the dual-sport world, and it is mated to good suspension components that target absorption, not deflection. This machine is very close to being a turnkey dirt bike that just happens to let you cruise to the market for some yogurt. It has some quirks, but there’s nothing annoying enough that we would let this bike out of our sight. o
Engine type: Single cylinder, 4-valve, liquid-cooled
Bore & stroke: 100mm x 60.8mm
Fuel delivery: 42mm electronic fuel injection
Fuel tank capacity: 2.0 gal.
Spark arrestor: Yes
EPA legal: Yes
Ground clearance: 12.6″
Seat height: 36.6″
Tire size and type:
Front 90/90×21 Michelin
Rear 110/100×18 Michelin
Front: 48 mm Sachs USD fork, adjustable compression and rebound, TFX technology/11.6″
Rear: Aluminum body Sachs shock w/ adjustable rebound and hi/low-speed compression/11.4″
Country of origin: Italy
Suggested retail price: $9999