The 200 class has a storied history in off-road motorcycle riding. Notched nicely between 125s and 250s, the 1972 Penton Jackpiner 175 set the benchmark, with legendary motorcycles following in the 1980s, such as the Yamaha IT200 and Kawasaki KDX200 (both of which grew from 175s).From 1997 to 2016, KTM offered a 200 EXC, but the class floundered. This year, the 2019 Beta 200 RR rekindles the 200-class fire.
1. The 2019 Beta 200 RR is based on the existing 125 RR platform. While the chassis of the Beta 200 RR is essentially the same as the 125, the motor does have a couple of significant differences. In addition to a larger bore and longer stroke to get to 190cc—both are very slightly undersquare—the Beta 200 gets electric starting (optional kickstart backup), electronic oil injection, and a lower compression ratio (13.5:1 down from 15:1).2. Power is plentiful from the power- and reed-valved two-stroke. 125s often have finicky powerbands, and 150s are typically much easier to ride due to an increase in low-end torque production. In the case of the 2019 Beta 200 RR, you have even more power everywhere, without sacrificing much of the revability and light feel of a smaller two-stroke powerplant.3. Our test bike had an FMF Turbinecore 2.1 USFS-approved spark arrester on it, as we often test on public lands. The sound from it was not excessive. As we didn’t ride it with a stock muffler, we can’t say how (or if) it changed the power. We suspect its impact was minimal.4. There are two power modes on the 2019 Beta 200 RR, and they make a difference. The two-position power mode switch shows a sun and a raining cloud. While the Sun mode is definitely for optimum conditions, the Rain mode does not require wet conditions to be usable. The power changes come through the ignition curve on the carbureted 200 RR, and are not as pronounced as they could be on an EFI engine. However, the differences are not subtle, and they are significant enough that they alter the way you use and perceive the motorcycle.5. In the Sun mode, the Beta 200 RR is a beast. The motor just flat out wants to rev. While there is plenty of power for negotiating technical sections at low rpm, the Sun mode is all about letting the little mill breathe. This is the 125-style powerband, with a screaming mid-range and howling top-end. Although you get far more top-end than a 125 has on offer, it is not an uncontrollable amount of boost. A 250 two-stroke like this would be too much on anything other than the most wide-open off-road course. However, on a 200, it is simply exhilarating.6. Drop the motor into the Rain mode and it all of a sudden gets very friendly. If you’re not racing, or looking to max out your heart rate, the Rain mode will suit you nicely. There is plenty of strength off the bottom, and it makes the Beta 200 RR a pleasure on technical trails. The increased midrange spread is impressive, though the top end hits a bit later and seems to sign-off a bit earlier. That’s fine—just short shift it and enjoy the manageable pull. The Rain mode is what most of us think of when a two-stroke off-road 200 comes to mind—more bottom-end than a 125 and less of the stamina-sapping top-end of a 250.7. Both the Sun and Rain powerbands are clutch-friendly. The clutch is light and doesn’t slip. We never felt the need to abuse it thanks to the inherent tractability of the motor. Also, at Beta USA’s behest, we ran a one-tooth smaller countershaft sprocket than stock. That certainly helps things in tight conditions.8. As much as we prefer EFI, the 36mm Keihin PWK carburetor was flawless. It handled some significant elevation and weather changes without requiring rejetting or adjusting. The motor starts quickly with the push of a button, and a pull of the choke knob when cold.9. Handling is as light and manageable as the 125. With the same chassis, and just eight more pounds than the 125, the 229-pound 2019 Beta 200 RR is a wonderfully agile handler. The geometry is just right, and the ergonomics make as easy to place yourself on the motorcycle as it is putting the bike exactly where you want. Excessive gymnastics are not needed to turn the 200 RR, though scooting up on the seat does help on fast, slippery corners. You can slide the Beta 200 RR if you like, or square-off corners when needed. The 200 is an accommodating platform.10. We were not able to get the Sachs ZF suspension to work for us. As much as we like the handling and power of the 2019 Beta 200 RR, we could not come to terms with the Sachs ZF suspension—especially the front fork. The suspension was too stiff for the weight and performance of the motorcycle. Our test riders aren’t lightweights, sitting in the 175-pound range sans gear. Travel is a bit short at about 11.5 inches at both ends—it keeps the seat height at a friendly 36.6 inches. However, the slightly short travel doesn’t feel like the problem.11. At anything other than race-pace in rocky terrain, the 200 RR deflects badly. When you wick the speed up, the suspension works better, though it never feels great. The action is harsh and beats you up—our trail riders and racers agreed—but the chassis gets more stable and predictable as it’s not knocked off line as frequently.12. Rock-free trails work better, as the suspension is more bump-friendly. The 200 RR’s suspension never gets near plush, though it handles rollers on rough trails reasonably well. Square-edge bumps are hit-and-miss, with the ZF fork reacting better some times than others. The shock does much better, but it never fully isolates you from the hits. Jumping the motorcycle is fine, though we didn’t take it out on a motocross track.13. Our reaction to the 200 RR’s suspension action was a surprise, as we liked the same suspension components on last year’s 125 RR. Something went wrong with the settings, and the units will need a trip to a suspension shop with Sachs ZF experience.14. Beta offers optional Öhlins upgrades. We haven’t tested the 2019 Beta 200 RR with either the $1200 Öhlins TTX22 cartridge kit for the ZF fork, or the Öhlins RXF fork for $2900, but we’d like to. You can also upgrade the shock to an Öhlins TTX46 for $1100. If spending $4000 to improve the suspension on an $8399 makes sense to you, and it might, these options come straight from Beta. If that’s not in the budget, Stillwell Performance will set up your ZF suspension for a much more wallet-friendly $450.15. Although we haven’t been fans of the Euro Michelins in the past, the Michelin Enduro Mediums acquitted themselves well. We rode in a variety of conditions, from tacky after some rain to bone-dry, dusty, rocky conditions. They’re not bad, but we’d still throw on a pair of Dunlop Geomax MX52s immediately and save the stock Michelins for resale time—nothing like fresh tires to help move a used motorcycle. Of course, your tire preference will vary with where you ride.16. The Nissin calipers and pedal discs have a great feel. They work great at low and high speeds in an entirely intuitive way. If you get a little too hard on the brake pedal, the e-start is there to get things going again without missing more than a beat or two.17. The electronic oil injection on the 2019 Beta 200 RR is a great convenience. If you’re riding with your four-stroke mounted buddies, it’s great to be able to share gas cans. The oil tank holds quite a bit of oil, and there’s a warning light to come on when it gets low. Don’t worry if you’re out on a ride and the light comes on—there’s still enough oil in the tank to run through a full tank of gasoline at race-pace.18. Easy access to the air filter and oil injection tank is a plus. No tools are needed to pop off the left side panel to swap out a dirty air filter. With push-button seat removal, oil injector tank fill-ups are quick and easy. When it comes time to do some maintenance, the molded-in rear fender handles make it easier to get the Beta 200 RR on the stand. Of course, they’re also very convenient out on the trail when the motorcycle needs repositioning.19. As with any off-road two-stroke, the expansion chamber is bulbous and vulnerable to rocks. If you look closely at one of our left-side action photos, you’ll see a huge dent in the pipe—that happened within minutes of first riding the 200. A pipe guard will likely be a good idea (P3 makes a nice composite carbon guard), as will hand guards and a more robust skidplate.20. Beta is a boutique Italian brand, and it also attempts to compete on price. As a result, while the fit and finish are nice, not every part is of premium quality. For example, generic switchgear that includes a non-functioning turn-signal switch does not enhance the perceived value of the motorcycle. It’s a tricky balance, and Beta walks that tightrope between price and quality fairly well.21. The 2019 Beta 200 RR is a serious racing motorcycle. The power and handling are ready to reward a skilled rider, and will help cover errors by the less-capable. The only thing holding the Beta 200 RR back from being a great motorcycle, for racing and trail riding—is the setup of the suspension. Fortunately, that’s a solvable problem for less than $500 and some time. Otherwise, the parts are there for lots of fantastic fun in the forest.Photography by Don WilliamsRiding Style
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