Beta Motorcycles of Italy is best known for its big two-stroke and four-stroke enduro motorcycles, high-performance dual sport models, and trials bikes.This year, Beta enters the small displacement enduro market with the 2018 Beta 125 RR two-stroke.
While it is designed for competition, the 125 class languishes in our area, so we slipped on an FMF TurbineCore 2 USFS-approved spark arrester and tested the 2018 Beta 125 RR as a high-end single-track trail bike.1. The 2018 Beta 125 RR’s slightly undersquare 125cc motor is definitely tuned for mid-range and high rpm performance. There are three distinctive powerbands on the 125 RR—a soft bottom end, a meaty midrange, and a screaming top end. It is easy to ride the little Beta fast, as there is a long stretch from the midrange to the highest rpm. Yep, it’s a race bike.2. You have to be aggressive with the throttle and clutch to keep the motor on the pipe. That means shifting the six-speed transmission much more frequently than you do on a 250cc four-stroke enduro motorcycle. You can’t just twist the throttle wide open at low-rpm—the motor will bog rather than respond.3. There are two power modes—Sun and Rain—and they are definitely different. For trail riding, the Rain mode is the way to go. There is noticeably better low-rpm power and throttle response. However, the fastest guys—including Associate Editor Jess McKinley—preferred the high-rpm friendly Sun mode, as they stick with the midrange and top-end, rather than short-shifting and going with the low-rpm and midrange.4. The six-speed transmission has perfectly spaced ratios, and shifts smoothly. We never missed a shift, and the clutch never faded. We gave the clutch plenty of chances to fail us, as we slipped it as needed when riding fast, as well as when picking our way through highly technical rocky terrain. Not only did the clutch not fail, but the motor also didn’t overheat in this year’s baking Southern California summer.5. Although we don’t consider Sachs suspension to be a favored off-road suspension brand, it acquits itself nicely on the 2018 Beta 125 RR. Although Sachs suspension can feel overwhelmed on the larger Betas, the shock and fork felt right at home on the 221-pound (full tank, claimed) 125 RR. With so much less mass and power to deal with, the suspension is plush yet controlled, and not prone to bottoming. We weren’t doing big jumps, and whoops were minimal, of course—this was a trail test. Regardless, the suspension works better on the 125 RR than it does on any other Beta enduro motorcycle we have tested to date.6. As you would expect on a racing motorcycle, the suspension is fully adjustable. You can dial it in to taste, though we were generally happy with the standard setting from Beta. On the downside, custom revalving options for Sachs are limited compared to Showa, KYB, or Öhlins units. If you don’t mind dropping off four grand at your Beta dealer, you can get an Öhlins RXF 48 fork and TTX 46 shock as factory accessories for your Beta 125 RR. Unless you’re a professional racer or just have to have gold suspension units, we don’t think that is necessary.7. Handling on the Beta 125 RR is nimble and intuitive. No doubt about it, light weight works wonders, as does a smaller engine. There are so few forces working on the Beta to make it misbehave, that it rarely makes a misstep. Our only complaint is that it is susceptible to deflection on trail obstacles. Happily, it doesn’t take much muscle to put things right.8. Any sort of body movement is amplified on the Beta 125 RR. The rider truly does control destiny on this motorcycle, and the ergonomics make it easy to move around on the 125 RR. The power and weight will not overwhelm you, so what you do has a direct input on the behavior of the motorcycle. While this responsiveness might seem like a problem for less skilled riders, mistakes are easily and quickly reversed. This is a fun motorcycle to ride at any pace.9. Working the 2018 Beta 125 RR through technical terrain is easier than you would expect. While there isn’t a lot of power down low, and the motor will protest aggressive throttle action when near idle, the power that is there is smooth. Rock gardens are remarkably easy, and rolling on the throttle works perfectly well. If you are down that low in the rpm range in first gear (or any gear) and you need to loft the front end, it will require the clutch and revs. On the upside, the power is so controllable, that you can get aggressive with the throttle and clutch without fear.10. Braking with the Nissin calipers is effective and predictable. If you’re used to a big bore four-stroke, be prepared to rethink your braking points. You can dive much deeper into corners on the Beta 125 RR, and the front brake will scrub off enough speed quickly to allow you to tap into the motorcycle’s nimble nature and make the turn. The rear brake has good feel, and it needs it. It doesn’t take much to lock up the rear wheel of a buzzy 125cc two-stroke and kill the motor, yet I rarely did so.11. No one was happy with the FIM-mandated eco-friendly Michelin Enduro Competition MS tires. While they certainly satisfy some office-bound bureaucrat somewhere, and they may work on European grass tracks, they didn’t work for us on the hard and sandy terrain we rode on. In fact, Michelin says the MS is discontinued. If I were buying the Beta 125 RR, I’d take the tires off before even riding the bike and mount a pair of Dunlop AT81s. When it came time to sell the bike, I’d put on the still-new Michelins to enhance the Craigslist appeal of the bike.12. Be sure to keep an eye on the Keihin carburetor’s jetting and setting. The 36mm Keihin semi-flat slide PWK carburetor is a great unit. However, it’s still a carb on a small-bore two-stroke. It is relatively susceptible to weather and, especially, altitude. We went from below 5000 feet above sea level to 8000 feet on some of our trail rides, and the carb did get rich at the tops of the mountains—especially in the top end. Trailside jetting wasn’t in the cards, though we were able to manage the air/fuel mix well enough with the airscrew and idle adjustment. Yes, I want Beta to outfit its two-strokes with EFI, ASAP!13. The 2018 Beta 125 RR does have a stone age side—kickstarting and premix. Along with still being fueled by a carburetor, the 125 RR requires premix (no oil injection) and a kick to start. While it seems whiny to complain about kicking over such a small engine, it is still more convenient to hit a button, especially when you stall it in an awkward position. At 5’ 6”, that happens a bit more frequently for me. I can’t tell you how many times our test riders hit the right handlebar’s kill button expecting the bike to start. Go ahead and say it—we’re spoiled. However, as Beta will remind you, e-start is an option.14. Maintenance is easy—it’s a two stroke! The primary jobs of cleaning the air filter (no tools required) and adjusting the chain are simple. You do have to pull the plastic skidplate to drain the transmission oil, however. The choke, air screw, and idle screw are easily accessible, as are suspension damping adjustments. I don’t have to tell you how much easier it is to rebuild a two-stroke top end than a thumper!15. There are plenty of details we like on the 2018 Beta 125 RR, and a few things missing. All the hand controls are top-notch, and we are big fans of hydraulic clutches. The Moto Tassinari VForce4 reed valve is a nice touch, as is the use of magnesium for the clutch and ignition covers. The plastic skidplate got the job done for us, as did the nice footpegs. We missed having handguards and a front disc guard, though.16. Although it works as a trail bike and is plenty of fun, the 2018 Beta 125 RR truly is a racer at heart. If we were going off-road racing in the 125 class, the RR would be right at the top of our list. As a trail bike, it suffers in comparison to the Husqvarna TE 150. For $300 more, the TE 150 has superior bottom end power due to its increased displacement, not to mention electric starting. However, there will be a 2019 Beta 200 RR, and we can’t wait to ride it!RIDING STYLE
This week we ride two genre-departing motorcycles from the established American manufacturers. Jess McKinley gives us his thoughts on the all new Harley-Davidson Pan America Special, and Ron Lieback gives his on Indian’s latest version of the FTR 1200 S.