With the new 2019 Honda CRF450L rewriting the rules for what it means to have a civilized true dual-sport motorcycle, the Europeans continue to fight it out in the trenches with their “race bikes with lights” approach.Thanks to high-performance capabilities, Beta has already attracted a cult following for dual-sport riders and off-road racers. We tested the 2019 Beta 350 RR-S as both a dual-sport bike and a race-style motorcycle to find out just where it fits in.
1. We didn’t test the 2019 Beta 350 RR-S in stock condition. This is not a motorcycle for those who want to follow all the rules strictly. Our test bike had lower dirt-ready gearing, a stubby license plate holder of unknown legal status, and it seemed to be missing some of the government-celebrated external parts that we don’t need or care about. With that in mind, we shredded with abandon.2. The short-stroke motor has linear power from idle on up. With its history in the observed trials world, it is no shock that the 2019 Beta 350 RR-S has a broad powerband without flat spots. It is impossible to fall off the cam, and the DOHC powerplant with titanium valves has plenty of revability. This means less shifting and more go.3. The lack of hit means that the 350 RR-S is less fatiguing to ride. While a hard-charging power delivery can be advantageous when racing, it is rarely needed for dual sport riding—even at high speeds. This is a feature of the 349cc displacement, and Beta takes full advantage of it. It means more time in the saddle is possible, with fewer rest stops.4. There are two power modes to suit a wider variety of Beta 350 RR-S riders. Sporting pictograms rather than names, we call them Rain and Shine modes. The Rain mode doesn’t have traction control as part of the system. Primarily, it slows down the throttle response. Fast riders will stick with Shine and never feel the need to access the Rain mode. However, less aggressive riders did like the enhanced controllability of what is already a sweet motor.5. Just as the motor is rider-friendly, so is the chassis geometry. Beta hits the mark between stability and agility perfectly. Riding the 2019 Beta 350 RR-S is fully intuitive. You let this motorcycle know where you want to go, and it takes you there transparently. Even with the marginal eco-friendly Michelin Enduro FIM-legal tires, the Beta is willing to turn accurately. At the other end of the spectrum, tearing down the road in 6th gear (geared down, remember) isn’t nerve-wracking.6. A bonus of the chromoly frame is that it has nice flex. In addition to not beating you up, it also enhances traction.7. The 2019 Beta 350 RR-S’s ZF Sachs suspension setup is dual-sport soft rather than race-hard. We are perfectly fine with that. We spend lots of time on rocky single-track, and the Beta flies through without deflection. Action is nicely balanced, and in harmony with the motor and frame—the entire claimed 254-pound package (two-gallon tank filled) is about providing feedback when necessary, while insulating you from the nasty hits. If you’re big on jumps and whoops, go with the optional Öhlins suspension units (an $1845 upgrade). Otherwise, the ZF Sachs units work well, even if custom revalving options are limited.8. The six-speed gearbox has a dual-sport friendly spread. We didn’t test it with stock gears, and that would make the lower gear ratios too tall for single-track riding. However, going down two teeth on the countershaft sprocket resulted in a demon on single-track in the three lowest gears, yet the 350 RR-S retained a still-respectable top speed on pavement.9. The Brembo hydraulics provide an excellent feel for the 350 RR-S’s clutch. We are sold on hydraulic clutches off-road. All dirt bikes should have them.10. Despite not quite being a race bike, Associate Editor Jess McKinley knocked out race-quality times on it. Jess times all his riding and testing, so he has a vast performance database on a wide variety of trails in varying condition. In the dry summer conditions, aboard the 2019 Beta 350 RR-S, he put his fastest times ever on Los Padres National Forest’s epic Whatta Trail. Even he was surprised, especially with the less-than-ideal Michelin Enduro rubber.11. Be prepared for higher maintenance and less durability on the Beta 350 RR-S than you would on a Japanese dual-sport bike. The Trail Tech GPS is cool, but we couldn’t get it to work fully. We’ve heard complaints from owners about that. We were troubled by oil seeping from gasketed areas on the motor. The quality of the plastic isn’t the best, and there are gaps where there shouldn’t be gaps, and the aesthetically pleasing stickers look beat quickly. Also, even with the abbreviated rear license plate holder, we lost both turn signals. It wasn’t from crashes–they just fell off. We didn’t mind, as we would replace them with slimmer LEDs.12. A wrap-around plastic skidplate is standard, as are handguards. Japanese dual sport bikes don’t always offer these essential features—they should.13. Routine maintenance is straightforward. There are separate oil chambers for the engine and clutch, but that’s not a big deal. The air filter is easily accessible, so that encourages cleaning. Anyone can adjust the chain.14. The Beta 350 RR-S is a high-performance motorcycle with the compromises that come with that. Yes, it’s nominally a dual-sport motorcycle, but it is really about off-road prowess. It’s light, handles great, has quality suspension, and a fantastic motor. However, you need to set the bike up to your liking, and keep tools and replacement parts handy. If uncompromised performance is what you are looking for in a dual sport bike, the 2019 Beta 350 RR-S delivers that experience.Photography by Kelly CallanRiding Style
Hello everyone and welcome once again to Ultimate Motorcycling’s weekly Podcast—Motos and Friends.
My name is Arthur Coldwells.
This week’s Podcast is brought to you by Yamaha motorcycles. Discover how the YZF-R7 provides the perfect balance of rider comfort and true supersport performance by checking it out at YamahaMotorsports.com, or see it for yourself at your local dealer.
This week’s episode features Senior Editor Nic de Sena’s impressions of the beautiful new Harley-Davidson Low Rider ST that is loosely based around the original FXRT Sport Glide from the 1980s. Hailing from The Golden State, these cult-status performance machines became known as West Coast style, with sportier suspension, increased horsepower, and niceties including creature comforts such as a tidy fairing and sporty luggage.
In past episodes you might have heard us mention my best friend, Daniel Schoenewald, and in the second segment I chat with him about some of the really special machines in his 170 or so—and growing—motorcycle collection. He’s always said to me that he doesn’t consider himself the owner, merely the curator of the motorcycles for the next generation.
Yet Daniel is not just a collector, but I can attest a really skilled rider. His bikes are not trailer queens, they’re ridden, and they’re ridden pretty hard. Actually, we have had many, many memorable rides on pretty much all of the machines in the collection at one time or another.
From all of us here at Ultimate Motorcycling, we hope you enjoy this episode!