Beta 400 RS | First Ride

Beta than you'd think!

By Karel Kramer, Photography by Karel Kramer

Beta is a family-owned motorcycle company based in Florence, Italy. At various times in its history the company has made streetbikes, enduros and motocrossers, but its trials machines are its shining stars. Those have earned the marque multiple U.S. and world championships.

Recently, Beta jumped into the North American dual-sport market with a street-legal off-road four-stroke dubbed the 400 RS. At first it put a KTM engine it its chassis, but then in 2010 the company introduced its own DOHC four-valve engine with a wide-ratio six-speed transmission and Keihin carburetor. The Beta engine is engineered well enough to meet U.S. emissions and sound standards, and runs fine as delivered.

The steel frame is traditional in its approach, but the Beta stands out in one area: Its seat height is quite low for a long-travel bike. Inseam-challenged riders should look here first. Fit and finish are very nice, and our bike held up to sustained off-road abuse with no failures whatsoever. Many smaller manufacturers don’t do a good job on the peripheral elements of their machines, but the Beta has an easy-access airbox and a quiet exhaust that still performs well.

Though the Beta is fully street-legal, we treated it like a dirtbike that just happened to have a license plate, which opened up vast horizons of riding opportunities. For open riding, the Beta performs like a thoroughbred with ample engine performance and chassis prowess. The 400 has the same bore as the company’s 450 but a shorter stroke, so the engine spins up quickly and revs out with little vibration. Power delivery is linear and the shorter stroke also makes for lighter handling compared to the bigger bike. Off-road the power was up to every task, but for technical terrain lower gearing would be preferable.

We did spend time on the pavement, around town in traffic, on rural highways and even on the freeway. Like most off-road-based dual-sports, on-road comfort is Spartan. There are no provisions for carrying a passenger or anything else. Acceleration is brisk for a 400cc single, and easily capable of highway speeds, but as a commuter or adventure-tourer the bike is lacking. The more adventure, the better.

Whether you’re on tarmac or terrible terrain, the Beta is nimble with accurate steering requiring little effort. At the same time, stability at speed is admirable. The Marzocchi/Sachs suspension combo is soft enough for choppy dirt roads yet doesn’t hammer you on pavement. The bike does bottom when slammed hard, but no more than expected for an off-road (meaning softer than motocross) suspension setup. Likewise, the brakes are up to street or trail use. For tight, twisty, canyons with poor pavement, all the Beta needs to be devastating is a switch to street-oriented rubber.

Beta may be a new name in the American dual-sport arena, but it is a serious player with some real advantages compared to more established brands. The 400 and its larger siblings deserve a good, hard look.

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