By Tom Webb
For the last two years I’ve wanted to buy myself a dual-sport machine. Why, you ask, would an editor of a dirt bike publication who gets free bikes to test for a year want to buy something that sells for around $12,000? In my case, the answer is simple. By the time we test the machine stock, video it, and dial in the suspension, cockpit and ergonomics for my size and desires, the manufacturers want the bike back. In fact, since 2020, it has been almost impossible to get dual-sport test bikes, since the manufacturers have been selling out.
So, I was fortunate to test a 2022 Beta 500RR-S in Idaho with Beta’s Rodney Smith back in May. My immediate feedback was the machine was graced with a very smooth yet nicely potent bottom-to-mid hit with no pop and a lean condition infecting the powerband. It runs incredibly clean, makes very usable and totally dirt-worthy power, has a nice wide-ratio transmission and a soft clutch pull with excellent engagement, a radiator fan for the slow-going, and, of course, has a button start. It is superbly muscled for a street-legal machine that needs to meet EPA regs for smog and noise. In fact, it runs so well that in this “build it to fit me” project, I did not touch anything to do with the motor except for gearing.
As for the ergonomics, I was totally cramped on what felt like a low-seat/high-peg machine. The bars were low and back and felt uncomfortable. I had trouble getting out of the saddle (unless I hit a good-sized bump), and the suspension was too soft for my tonnage. That was my only peeve, and it was based solely on my size, lack of knee mobility and, of course, weight.
I bought the machine some six months after our original testing in Idaho. My first wave of mods included stretching out the bar, saddle and peg relationship (to accommodate my body’s idiosyncrasies), and getting the suspension stiffened for my bulk. Ultimately, Beta Factory Suspension services ended up re-valving my suspension after Rodney told me that Beta Factory Suspension’s Bryce Rivera was the magic man when it comes to making great things happen with the Sachs dampers. Of course, I also made a few personal changes for protection and durability.
FROM CRAMPED TO BREATHE
The first mod I made was to the saddle and footpegs. I fit on Fastway Evolution Air billet-aluminum footpegs. The large pattern provides an ample platform for your feet. The tuneability of the pegs is what stands out, as both cleat height and camber/tilt are tunable. A huge plus is that you can mount them using the bike’s standard peg height, and riders searching for more legroom can run the low and back stance, which is 5mm lower and 5mm back.
Next came the saddle. The push-button-release Beta seat is very trick, but it is incredibly thin (low) and quite short compared to other saddles. I needed to add at least 2 inches to the height, possibly more, to get my knees to bend no more than 90 degrees while seated. Beta accessories came to the rescue with an extra-tall Guts seat foam and cover. It’s a soft foam with a gripper cover, which got me close to the 2 additional inches of seat height I wanted.
I moved the handlebars up to the middle position on the triple clamp. I couldn’t go to the top (farthest away), because the bars wouldn’t clear the Voyager GPS unit. I installed Xtrig’s PHDS handlebar perches with a 5mm spacer under the unit. These actually came off my KTM, which has the identical mounting as the Beta. I like the stock bar bend and the stock grips, so I left them unchanged. Beta sells these Xtrig bar mounts, but I got mine from Slavens Racing. They’re pricey, but I get better feel with the little bit of flex that the rubber bumpers offer.
In stock trim, the Beta’s Sachs suspension does a decent job of being compliant and nice to the trail rider if he weighs 170–175 pounds. The Sachs fork has all damping adjustments (compression and rebound) and spring preload on top. The compression and spring preload are on the top right fork cap, with rebound damping on the left.
Beta Factory Suspension offers a Factory kit where each fork has been fit with both compression and rebound damping for a 50-percent increase in fine-tuning. Their compression-valve assembly replaces the stock Sachs system and improves bottoming resistance and fine-tuning adjustability. The rebound system is also replaced with a Factory Beta unit that provides a more linear damping curve and increased low-speed damping.
The Sachs ZF shock also gets new internals. A new compression-valve assembly decreases the harsh high-speed spike and improves port flow and decreases friction. A new compression-adjuster assembly increases external adjustments and fine-tuning. An oversize shock-bladder conversion kit replaces the stock reservoir floating piston, reduces friction and increases nitrogen—all for improved consistency and less overheating.
The action was dramatically improved over stock. Some of this was about getting the proper spring rates for me, but the fork proved to be incredibly plush. It sucked on trash that slow-speed trails are full of and flattened them soundly. It took big hits without bottoming and provided a cushy, full-travel appetite without cringing.
The rear end felt completely revamped. It stayed up in the stroke, danced, embraced hacky terrain, remained steadfast on high-speed impacts and took it on the chin on the big swallower with zest. How big was the improvement? Substantial is putting it mildly.
WITH THE ENGINE…
The 500 comes with an on-the-fly mapping button located just in front of the gas cap. We ran it on the Sun mode, as the power is not arm-ripping, but is smooth and strong and revs out quite nicely. In the Rain mode, it’s definitely milder and may work for some really slimy, rocky carnage.
We ran 13/48 gearing; 15/48 is stock. That’s way too tall for serious trail work, and even with the 13 countershaft, the gearbox feels properly spaced and sixth is a good transport section cog. It’ll cruise at 55–60 miles per hour quite adeptly and still works in the woods.
We left the exhaust stone stock. It’s very quiet. And while a bit more hit would be welcomed, Rodney Smith said that you get more top pull with an FMF 4.1, but the sacrifice is noise. He feels that the stock makes the best trail power (bottom to mid), and for moto or high-speed desert, a more open system makes sense.
THIS AND THAT
We fit up a TM Designs chainguide, mainly because we know it’s hugely durable, and we didn’t want any issues with rock damage. We also added a Bullet Proof Designs swingarm guard (available from Beta Accessories) that keeps the guide from breaking the swingarm tabs when kissed by something immovable.
This bike came equipped with Dunlop tires—an MX53 front and an AT81 rear. The front knob is flat stellar in intermediate and soft terrain and rates as a DB favorite. Out back, the AT 81 wears well, smiles at rocks and roots, and performs decently in the sand. Overall, it is a strong, versatile performer.
Enduro Engineering’s perch-mounted handguards are total staff favorites. They save real estate on the bars, flex nicely, have a big footprint and are durable. We also slipped on their lever guards. They mold to the levers with a heat gun and are very nice when the weather gets frosty.
Our last mod was to the rear turn signals. We left the license plate holder stock, and while it seems to hang low, we had no drama with it getting hammered by the tire. The rear turn signals get pounded on tight trails, so we swapped them out for some tidy SAR units. They’re clean, visible and pretty much out of harm’s way.
HERE’S THE SKINNY
Overall, we’re pumped with the ergonomic mods that made the 500RR-S more comfortable for a taller pilot with suspect knees. It was basically three pieces that transformed the cockpit—bar mounts, saddle and footpegs. And, we’re over the moon with the Beta Factory suspension fork and shock kits. As with all full-suspension surgery, it’s not cheap, but whoa, what a difference! It is plush, planted and has the ability to eat on speed hits, expanding the machine’s versatility. Thankfully, we like the chassis configuration, the handling, the ease of maintenance, and, of course, the very satisfying powerplant that lets the Beta search for good trail. More to come.