Of all the models in the still-young 2017 model year, the 2017 Beta 125 RR-S may be one of the most unexpected, along with being quite intriguing. Sub-200cc dual sport bikes have disappeared from the American motorcycle showroom, but Beta has brought back the tiddler dual-sport.The only other time I tested a 125cc dual sport bike was the Suzuki DR125S back in the 1990s. It was overweight, underpowered, and badly suspended, so the less said about the bike, the better. On the flipside, I quite enjoy the 125cc trail bikes such as the Suzuki DR-Z125L, Yamaha TT-R125LE, and Honda CRF125F Big Wheel. Those little 125cc trail bikes may not be fast, but they are capable off-road performers.
The 2017 Beta 125 RR-S ends up having little in common with the Japanese 125cc trail bikes. Instead of an air-cooled two-valve motor, it has a liquid-cooled, four-valve powerplant. The Beta 125 RR-S’ chassis is much larger—it features full 18- and 21-inch wheels—and it is just a bit smaller than Beta’s own 350cc and up RR-S dual sport bikes.The 125’s seat height is almost two inches lower than the 350 RR-S, and the suspension has about an inch less travel. Also, the 125 is 25 pounds lighter, with a claimed dry weight of just 219 pounds, along with having a two-inch shorter wheelbase. Another big difference is the price, as the 350 RR-S runs $9690 and the 125 RR-S is just $4999.For that lower price, a number of corners are cut. You don’t get Sachs suspension, or any sort of damping adjustability. The 350 RR-S has a kickstarter backup to the electric starter, while the 125 RR-S is e-start only.Disappointingly, the 125 has a 26mm Mikuni rather than EFI. Lastly, the trick dashboard on the big-bore Beta RR-S bikes is replaced by a basic unit on the 125—that’s to be expected. Also, the finish isn’t nearly as nice on the 125—look at the exhaust header guard, for example—even though the engine is Italian-built.Starting the 2017 Beta 125 RR-S just takes a stab at the button, plus, depending on the weather, pulling in the choke lever that is conveniently mounted on the clutch perch. Give the little thumper a bit of time to warm up, and it carburets cleanly for the rest of the day.Although the Beta 125 RR-S has an undersquare motor from a company with an observed trials pedigree, it is not an ultra-low rpm torquer. Somewhat soft off idle, though not boggy at all, the motor comes into its own at the lower end of the midrange and delivers a nicely manageable spread of power, especially considering it’s a 125cc four-stroke.There is a lot of room for over-rev on top, but unless you’re on an open highway or truly racing, there isn’t really any reason to tap into it. Work that fat midrange and the 125 RR-S is fun, easy, and productive to ride.As I weight 115 pounds before suiting up for riding, the 125 RR-S is capable of doing quite a bit off road. Highly challenging Black Diamond trails, such as Arrastra in the Los Padres National Forest, are not just doable on the Beta 125—they’re fun.Technical obstacles such as rocks and roots don’t require the massive clutch slipping or banzai attack of a 125 two-stroke. There’s enough flexibility and pull in the midrange of the 125 thumperette that I can pick my way through tough terrain without excessive effort.The 125 RR-S powerplant even has enough power for sand washes, which figured to be a weak point. Instead, it is a good performer in the sand, as long as you keep in the midrange or top end.You can tell Beta has a trials heritage, as the nimble 125 RR-S works so well in harder terrain. Although the relatively tall seat height (compared to a 125 trail bike) does make things precarious for my 5’ 6” frame now and then—I’m not flatfooted on pavement with my Alpinestars Stella Tech 3 boots—the sweet motor and compact chassis help make up for it. Speaking of my size 42 boots, the pegs are a bit on the small size—budget for an upgrade.The Michelin Enduro Competition tires are also impressive; for a bike at this price point, tires would have been an easy place to save money. Fortunately, Beta resisted that temptation, and a big part of the trail worthiness is its high quality DOT- and FIM-approved knobbies. The 120mm width in the rear caught my eye, but the 125 RR-S is capable of pulling it.There is a decent amount of engine compression braking, plus the tire grip is high and the bike weight low, so downhills are manageable. Still, earlier front brake engagement that ramps up a bit sooner is something on my wish list. The rear brake has good feel, and is especially helpful on technical trails.In the slowest, hardest terrain, I did manage to get the Beta 125 RR-S to give me an overheating warning, even though it has a fan. Also, a tipover flooded the carb and made the bike difficult to e-start—not a problem for EFI bikes.There is no kick backup, and I wasn’t eager to find out how long the battery would last, so I bumpstarted the motor on a downhill. At least the option of a backup kickstarter would be a good thing for those of us who venture deep into the wild.In addition to a kickstarter, another critical part missing from the bike is a skid plate. The engine cases are protected by two molybdenum frame tubes, and nothing else. Thirteen inches of ground clearance certainly makes things better, but I don’t want to see what would happen if the bottom end took a direct hit from a pointed rock at any sort of speed.As speeds increase, things predictably get tougher for the 125 RR-S. As long as you’re not chasing fast guys on 250s or better, it’s a fun trail ride. Again, go with the meat of the midrange and manipulate the slick-shifting six-speed transmission as needed. Also, you’ll want to plan lines carefully, as blipping the throttle to loft the front end over obstacles is not an option.The 41mm inverted fork is fully non-adjustable, though you can work the spring preload on the linkage-assisted shock. For my weight, the Beta’s suspension was on the firm side, especially up front. Neither end is harsh, even on rugged, rocky trails. Still, I’m not getting the 10+ inches of travel that is available.With the power the 125 puts out, I don’t anticipate coming anywhere near bottoming it out—the power isn’t there to skip whoops or hit big jumps. At the same time, heavier riders are likely to shy away from the 125 RR-S, and understandably so. Given the performance of the motor and the likely riders, plusher suspension would be a welcome option.The firm suspension does give the Beta 125 RR-S good cornering manners, as it doesn’t dive or misbehave. Wherever I pointed the 125’s front wheel, it went there without complaint.Out on faster trails and dirt roads, the front brake’s shortcomings become more pronounced. In addition to having a long sweep before the 260mm rotor starts to be engaged by the Beta-branded caliper, it’s also a soft initial engagement. It takes a willingness to pull hard to get something substantial out of the front brake, even at lower speeds. When going quickly, you will need to get hard on the front binder should you want to decelerate effectively.The clutch gets a good workout, though not as much as you might expect. I used it as needed, and it never faded or chattered—it’s up to the job.Street capability isn’t what the 2017 Beta 125 RR-S is about, yet that doesn’t stop it from working pretty well. It does its main job of tying together disjointed trails quite well. The bike handles twisty roads decently, even with the Michelin Enduro Comp tires aired down to 14 psi for off-roading, and the top speed of the 125 is over 70 mph. Still, you’ll want to avoid roads with speed limits over 55 mph, as you’re a sitting duck at higher speeds.We haven’t had a chance to check the range of the tiny 1.6-gallon tank, but half-day excursions in challenging terrain, as well as on open highways, haven’t even come close to emptying the narrow plastic jug. 125cc four-strokes are famously frugal with fuel.When the Beta 125 RR-S showed up, I wasn’t sure what level of performance to expect, and I knew I had nothing to compare it directly to that wasn’t at least 20 years old.For the same $4999 price, you can buy a Honda CRF250L—a bike I like quite a bit. The CRF250L is comfortable enough to be a commuter, as well as far faster due to double the displacement and EFI. However, the CRF250L cannot touch the Beta when off-roading turns to single-track due to the Honda’s heft (about 85 additional pounds), shorter suspension, and inferior tires for off-road travel.What I’ve discovered is that the Beta 125 RR-S is an amazingly capable off-road bike that will take on the toughest Black Diamond trails with an abundance of competence. As long as long loose hillclimbs and freeways aren’t on the menu, it will go anywhere the larger RR-S models will go, though much less quickly.Sure, there are compromises that came with the $4999 price that I wish weren’t there (suspension, brakes, and carb, most prominently), but that doesn’t stop the 2017 Beta 125 RR-S from being one seriously impressive dual sport bike for shorter, less experienced riders, or someone on a strict budget who only wants to buy new.RIDING STYLE
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This week, Senior Editor Nic de Sena gives us his impression of the outrageously cool-looking new Indian Scout Rogue. The Rogue features a larger front wheel among several other changes, and the bobbed-looks and excellent 100 horsepower motor make the Scout Rogue an interesting—and very real—competitor to the offerings from Milwaukee.
In the second segment Neale Bayly brings us the third and final segment from Brian Slark—the man who helped bring Norton motorcycles to America. Having spent 27 years and counting at the Barber Museum in Birmingham Alabama, Brian talks us through the final part of his career, that of course includes how the museum got started and where it’s going.
From all of us here at Ultimate Motorcycling, we hope you enjoy this episode!