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FIRST TEST: 2020 Beta Enduro Range | Bike Reviews | Features

We sent our man Geoff Braico to Italy for the launch of the 2020 Beta enduro range.

THIS FEATURE WAS FIRST PUBLISHED IN ADB ISSUE #481 – OCTOBER 2019 : WORDS: ADB ENDURO EDITOR GEOFF BRAICO | PHOTOS: BETA

It’s been a few years since I’ve had the chance to go to an international launch and when the opportunity came up to go to Italy for the 2020 Beta bunfight, I jumped at it. Regular readers might now be expecting a story about how I had dramas getting out of the country, like Mitcho, Grabbo or Ollo, but I’m a little more on the ball with this sort of thing.

Just for the record, I was dropped off on time at the airport by my awesome wife, lined up in the correct queues at check-in and in the departure hall and set off for Italy breathing normally and thinking about the new bikes I would be riding. Sorry, I’ll try and do better next time.

Beta has come a long way in the last few years with its enduro machines and with the help of some extremely fast factory riders in Europe. It has quickly become a powerhouse in EnduroGP, helped this year by the departure of the KTM, Husqvarna and Yamaha works teams.

Steve Holcombe has been the fastest guy in EnduroGP for a few years and it’s awesome to see him winning titles on the Beta RR300 two-stroke. It’s guys like Holcombe and Brad Freeman, who is dominating E2 on the RR250, who have given Beta the muscle to develop its MY20 bikes, which are “completely new”.

The enduro range consists of eight models, split evenly between 125, 200, 250 and 300 two-strokes and 350, 390, 430 and 480 four-strokes. Now you would think that is a hell of a lot of work for a company with only 170 employees but when I spoke to the Beta technicians about having so many bikes, they simply replied with “we want to have a bike for every rider”.

After spending a day in Pisa sightseeing and watching hundreds of people pretending to hold up the Leaning Tower, our crew of moto journos from around the world jumped on a bus and set off about an hour and half up the road into the mountains of Tuscany. The terrain is totally different to what we have at home, with lots of steep mountains and rocks and, despite recent rain, it looked quite dry.

I was told that the launch site was the same one used for last year’s event and to expect lots of rocks, which was the total opposite of the last time I rode a bike, in the desert swamps of Hattah in July. After we’d checked in, we were ushered into a big hall and greeted by three brand-spanking Betas and, from where I was standing, they looked pretty hot.

I could tell right away that everyone there from Beta was super excited about what they had in store. And why shouldn’t they be? After all, they are new from the ground up. But, I’ll start with the overall design of the bikes.

The first thing I noticed once I got up close was how sleek and aggressive the 2020 models look with their new plastics. The red and white colour scheme is pretty sharp and I think they’re the best looking Betas ever.

The seat is flatter and the tank shroud width is slimmer, even though Beta increased the fuel capacity for the four-strokes to 9.1 litres (from 8L) and 9.5 litres for the smaller smokers (8.5L).

CHASSIS

The Beta boffins told us that they had worked really hard to make it effortless to move forward on the bike. Just in case you’re wondering, the two-stroke tanks still have plenty of room to get your hand in if you need to change a sparkplug.

Beta’s also done a great job of simplifying the cockpit with a smaller, more compact speedo and the map switch in front of the tank, where there is zero risk of damaging it in a crash. They also fitted a flatter, wider, more MX-style handlebar, which I like.

It was quite amazing to see on the big screen just how much work Beta has done between the 2019 models and the 2020 range. The frame is around 500g lighter and they have redesigned the geometry and rigidity to give the rider a more agile, yet stable ride. There has been 10mm shaved off the width of the frame at the footpegs, with a longer swingarm for the four-strokes and 200T.

The subframe is now a three-piece Technopolymer (composite plastic) unit that is very strong and has all the wiring harness hooks and holes moulded into it for easy installation and reduced risk of wiring failures. The subframe also runs a redesigned airbox which, when you look real closely, you can see has a far better seal than previous models and the new air filter is quick and easy to change and, most importantly, idiot proof.

Beta has tried hard to make the new bikes easier for the owner to work on and the airbox is just one example of this. Another is the coolant being routed through the crankcase, which gives more efficient cooling for those billy-boiling enduro sections.

Another cool thing it has done is rationalise the bolt sizes. The bodywork fasteners now all have the same head size, which is very handy for home maintanence.

Just like last year, ZF Sachs suspension is holding up the red and white bikes and has received a host of updates, mainly to handle the changes to the chassis.

The 48mm open-chamber fork receives a new cartridge designed to give a plusher overall feel and there are beefed up settings to accommodate the new frame geometry. It still has the compression and rebound damping in separate legs and the preload adjuster on the top of the right leg, which you can adjust on the fly.

The shock got some love too, with a new top-out system which gives the rear better contact with the ground, mostly under brakes. The valving has been beefed up and there’s a new bumper to give the rider a little more cushion on the big hits.

The shock looks cool too as it’s remote reservoir is anodised red and screams bling.

TWO-STROKES

The RR125 receives the most changes of the two-strokes, with a host of engine mods to give it more muscle. It has a new cylinder, cylinder head, exhaust-port flange, power valve and expansion chamber. Beta claims that these changes give the small-bore better performance across the whole rev range and more torque, while making the bike easier to ride.

Released for MY19, the RR200 is Beta’s newest recruit and only received minor engine updates this time. It’s unclear why it was the only two-stroke to receive a longer swingarm, to make it more stable.

Big news in the motor department for the bigger two-strokes, the 250 and 300, is the addition of a counter-balancer to reduce vibration and increase the power throughout the rpm range. It was interesting to hear the Beta R&D guys say that they developed this powerplant to house a counter-balancer way back in 2013 [not as a reaction to Kato and Husky fitting them]. The RR250 also gets a new cylinder head to boost bottom-end torque.
I was really looking forward to riding these two.

FOUR-STROKES

Beta has put a huge amount of time, money and effort into redesigning the 350, 390, 430 and 480 models. Each of the engines has gone on a diet and are more than 1kg lighter. By raising the clutch and moving the crankshaft back, they’ve changed the centre of gravity and it makes the bike feel lighter on the track, especially on tip-in and under brakes, which makes them much easier to ride.

Other highlights include a new coolant pump with better flow, a new head and cylinder, a new clutch and gearbox, which Beta claims is smoother, updated EFI settings and finally, the oil circuit has been remodelled to give more flow and less heat in the more powerful engines. The technicians told me that they really are pushing to build their presence in the four-stroke market.

ON THE TRACK

First up for me was the RR125, as I wanted to ride the smallest bike first to ensure that I got a genuine feel of each of the engines. First thoughts? Damn, the track was like an ISDE Special Test and they weren’t kidding about the rocks! After copping three days of abuse from Euro Beta dealers and journos from around the world, we were left with a flogged-out, four-minute-ish loop. It had a short grasstrack which lead into a gnarly, rocky singletrack and then onto a nice bush section. It was probably the roughest launch loop I’ve ridden.

As a 125 enthusiast, I really enjoyed the Beta. It felt stronger than I thought it would and revved clean and had a really nice sound. I think it would be a great platform for a Junior coming off an 85.

Beta told me the RR200 was going to be a hell of a lot of fun and they were right. Wherever the 125 lacked that little bit of torque on the tight, technical uphills, the 200 purred up with ease. It really is a great machine for someone who wants a bike that is easy to ride and has a motor that won’t get you into trouble.

For me, the stars of the show were the RR250 and 300. The bikes no longer vibrate thanks to the counter-balancers and the motors are nice and strong. I am a big fan of the Keihen carbs, and they were jetted perfectly and sounded as crisp as you could want.

With the track shaping up the way it did, the 250 was my pick of all the bikes. It had the perfect amount of power for what I needed to do around that track. It was torquey enough to short shift if I felt lazy or to rev it out when I felt like showing off in front of the cameramen. The 300 was just as good, but it has that extra grunt and I did find myself getting a bit ahead of myself along the short straights when winding the three hunge up.

After I had finished with the two-strokes it was time for a big Italian feast. Then we had to somehow recover and get on the four-strokes. I could see in the eyes of the Beta crew that they were eager to see what we all thought of their new crown jewels. I started off on the 350.

Right away I noticed the difference in power from 2019, when it was a rev hound. It was much closer to what I wanted out of a 350. Super easy to ride and you could trailride this bike all day. Next was the 390 and, for me, it was probably the pick of the four-strokes. It had a little more poke that the 350, obviously, which meant you could come out of the corners and stay on top of the rough stuff. I reckon an aftermarket muffler would be good on the 390 as I think the stock one was holding it back a touch.

Onto the 430, and I could feel myself getting tired after the big lunch and having already ridden six bikes over countless laps of this beat-out loop. Luckily, the 430 carried my tired arse around and over the bumps with relative ease. It has a nice, smooth power and third gear was where it wanted to be.

Even with the gearing on the 430 and 480 being shorter for 2020, I found that it wasn’t so short that you had to constantly chop and change between gears, which is great when you are tired. Last but not least was the RR480 and it was just what I wanted to finish off the day. Even though my hands and arms were a bit worse for wear, I thought that the 480 was a really nice ride. Just like the 430, the 480 has a super smooth and useable motor and, with the extra grunt, I could be as lazy as I wanted.

The track was brutal, I doubt that most riders in Australia would be able to ride a track as rough as the one we were and the ZF forks were in way over their heads. Since I returned home, I have been in contact with Beta and they’ve informed me that there was an issue with the forks on the press bikes and they were not setup as they should have been by the ZF factory.

At the launch, the forks were soft and offered little bottoming resistance. But, despite the rough track and setup issues with ZF, I still tried to find a setting that worked by adjusting compression and preload. Unfortunately I just couldn’t get the front-end to hold up.

The soft forks compromised the overall balance of the bikes, which is a shame as they now have arguably the best engine and chassis in class. You could tell the shock was working overtime and yet somehow it was still getting great drive out of corners. I’ve been assured by Beta that every bike that arrives here will have the correct settings and will be much firmer, so stay tuned for a local test in Oz.

VERDICT

Regardless of the fork issues, the 2020 Betas are easily the best to date. But the better Betas have come at a price, literally, with the 480RR nearly $600 more than the 2019 model. The complete revamp of the bikes, both two-stroke and four-stroke, is a big step forward for the brand. The counter-balancers in the 250 and 300 make them stronger and more rideable and I see Beta selling plenty of them.

The new focus on the four-strokes is a great thing to see as well, and there’s talk of Holcombe switching across to the RR350 or RR390 for next year and that only means more development and better bikes. I would be more than happy to have any of these bikes in my garage and I really look forward to having another chance to throw a leg over them once they land.

The Beta boffins

STEFANO SOLDANI – EXPORT AND MARKETING MANAGER
“We are very proud to be where we are at with the 2020 bikes. The new model range is completely changed and, in particular, the four-strokes.
“That is the market where we need to improve and where we need to offer something really new. We have built a very extended range of bikes with eight models and our goal is to offer great, quality-built bikes that the customers can work on with ease. We are very excited for the 2020 range.”

STEFANO FANTIGINI – HEAD OF BETA R & D DEPARTMENT
“It’s been a big step forward for us as a company and a family this year to develop these bikes. Around 85% of parts on each of them is totally new and that’s incredible for a company as small as Beta. The last two-and-a-half years, we have been totally focused on developing the 2020 bikes and have worked very, very hard to bring the customers the best Betas possible. We believe that these new bikes are great all-round bikes, not just for the average rider but also for the racer.
“We did a lot of development of the two-strokes with Steve Holcombe and the new 250 and 300 are stronger and yet more rideable than last year, which is great for everyone. I’m particularly excited to show everyone our new four-strokes as that was our main focus for 2020. The development of the new engine has been a big project, especially since we put a lot of time into making it work in with the new frame and new geometry of the bikes. It was something that we worked on very hard as a company.”