The high-performance dual-sport motorcycle has become a necessity for the avid off-roader. With seasonal OHV closures and ever-increasing public land restrictions, a license plate bolted to the back of a dirt bike such as the 2020 Beta 500 RR-S allows for more access to trails in less time.
KTM and Husqvarna have dominated the high-performance dual-sport segment for the last decade. In the meantime, Beta, a niche Italian company, has steadily built a loyal and dedicated following that has been making its presence known at dual-sport events.
For 2020, Beta has completely redesigned its off-road lineup. We got our hands on the very first shipment, and our first ride impression left us pretty blown away. We have big plans for the Beta 500 RR-S, ranging from High Sierra single-track to the beaches and mountains of Baja California. After an intensive two-day foray over some of our favorite secret trails, here’s what you need to know about the all-new 2020 Beta 500 RR-S dual-sport motorcycle.
1. The Beta 500 RR-S is not adapted from a previous platform—it’s an all-new motorcycle for 2020. With a new engine, plus a completely redesigned frame and subframe with new geometry, bodywork, radiators, and exhaust system, don’t expect to be able to swap a whole lot of parts between your 2019 Beta 500 RR-S and the 2020 model.
2. The 478cc dual-cam engine delivers a power character that is nothing short of fantastic. Beta raised the clutch and moved the crankshaft rearward to centralize mass and improve handling, all while eliminating 2.2 pounds of engine weight. Combine that with a cylinder bore that is bigger than the 510cc Austrian dual-sport bikes and a much shorter stroke, and the new Beta 500 RR-S delivers a spirited free-revving engine that pulls incredibly hard yet retains a very light and flickable overall feel.
3. The new 42mm Continental EFI throttle body has dual injectors to improve power and efficiency. With double the injectors and a brand new EFI map, the fueling is spot-on from the crack off-idle through to the rev-limiter. There are no flat spots, a rarity in the world of leaned-out and choked-up dual-sport motorcycles.
4. Switchable on-the-fly power modes are easy to access and make a noticeable difference. Mounted on the center of the frame above the 2.4-gallon fuel tank, the blue and white LED indicators easily show which mode you’re in, and are clearly visible day or night. The Sun mode delivers full snap throughout the rev range, while the Cloud mode is less hurried and softens the power delivery from off-idle to about three-quarters throttle.
5. Gearbox spacing covers the gamut, without any noticeable gaps. With the included 13-tooth countershaft sprocket installed for off-road use, we were able to attack slow and technical single track and still hit 90+ mph in 6th gear on graded dirt roads. For less aggressive riding and improved fuel economy, a 14-tooth countershaft is a viable option. Save the standard 15-tooth countershaft sprocket for your supermoto conversion.
6. New radiators and an electronically controlled integrated fan keep the 2020 Beta 500 RR-S cool when the going gets tough. The water pump is redesigned for higher throughput, and the coolant is now routed through the frame. The new radiator cap is a simple screw on and off, similar to those employed on Beta’s trials bike lineup.
7. The new ZF Sachs suspension works exceptionally well, right out of the box. The fork gets a new inner cartridge, while the shock is all-new. With the sag set to 105mm, we found the optimal all-around setting after increasing fork spring preload by one full turn and reducing rebound damping by eight clicks. We didn’t have to touch the shock. This setting allowed us to charge whoop fields with confidence, yet negotiate tight and technical sections without deflection.
8. The 2020 Beta 500 RR-S handles high-speed sections with deft confidence. Previous generations of stock Beta dual-sport motorcycles had an Achilles heel. When the speeds increased and the technicality decreased, they were a bit out of their element. That is not the case with the new 500 RR-S. It is just as adept at knifing through technical sections as it is near-flat out across rocky desert terrain—very impressive.
9. Nissin brake calipers and Galfer rotors deliver ultra-powerful stopping performance, but also give steady and consistent progression. With a light, quick-handling chassis, precise braking is even more critical. The Nissin/Galfer combination makes it easy to dissect technical trails and put the contact patch of the tire exactly where you want it.
10. The KYB forks that are standard on Beta’s Race Edition lineup may be an option for the RR-S Dual-Sport lineup. Depending on available supply, this could be a complete game-changer for those folks that want to race a plated RR-S.
11. With a seat height of 37 inches, the new 500 RR-S is about half-inch taller than last year’s model. Although still an inch shorter than the Austrian competition, the added seat height is a welcome compromise. It makes tackling hard-enduro type obstacles less daunting and doesn’t feel too close to the ground for flat-out desert riding. My 5’ 9” frame liked the added height.
12. Maintenance is a breeze. Air filter access is entirely tool-free. The new high-quality Twin Air filter and spear-n-snap filter cage system virtually eliminate the chance of incorrectly seating the filter. Additionally, with separate engine and transmission oil cavities, the engine’s service interval is a full 30 hours! I couldn’t imagine going that long, but it’s a nice safety net to have.
13. The Michelin Enduro Medium tires proved to be grippy, but wear out quickly. We rode in a variety of conditions, from tacky after some rain to bone-dry, dusty, rocky conditions. They worked well when fresh, but were toast after one day of riding. We’ll mount up a set of durable Dunlop Geomax MX33 tires with UHD tubes for the long-term test.
14. The Trail Tech Voyager GPS that comes standard is packed with functionality. Not only did we load and export our own .gpx files through an included SD card, but we also customized data fields, page layouts, and set up LED engine temp alerts to our own preferred temperature ranges. The different displays for trip odometers, engine run-time, outside temp, engine temp, rev counter, altitude, and speed, are all super handy for the avid dual sporter. It’s a really nice bonus that other dual sport motorcycles don’t have.
15. With a claimed curb weight of 258 pounds with the tank filled, the 2020 model is the lightest Beta 500 RR-S ever produced. It feels light throwing it onto the stand, and the frame and motor combination really give it a light feel while riding.
16. The stock muffler is a bit loud for a dual-sport bike. We measured it at 92 dB at 4500 rpm. It’s still well under the 96 dB necessary for competition, but it won’t be sneaking up on any wildlife.
17. With twin-fuel injectors and 1.2-quart larger tank, fuel economy and range are much improved over previous versions. We wrung it out across an aggressive array of single-track trails with a smattering of Jeep roads and backcountry asphalt thrown in. We managed 83 miles out of the stock 2.4-gallon tank before we needed to pour in our fuel bladders. A gentler application of the throttle may see this number much higher. Regardless, serious dual-sporters will be looking to the aftermarket for larger-capacity fuel tanks.
18. Foldable mirrors and grippy rear fender handles are valuable accouterments. We also liked the push-button seat removal to access the battery to jump start a buddy or access stored paperwork in a Ziploc bag. The pocket on the front of the seat is convenient for keeping fuel money, credit cards, and receipts.
19. The license plate holder works really well. It is not flimsy. The holder doesn’t get eaten up by the rear wheel on hard landings and is sturdy enough to keep your precious license plate attached. However, we did burn off the exhaust side rear turn signal in about the first 30 miles of riding. I would remove the rear turn signals, replace them with aftermarket bullet-type indicators, and save the stock ones as spares for the front. Problem solved.
20. The aesthetics of the Beta are simply stunning. Blacked out Excel Takasago rims and minimalistic bodywork make the Beta look as racy and light as it feels. It’s covered in cool stickers, that, unfortunately, don’t get along too well with our pressure washer. Sublimated graphics may be a bit much to ask, but that would really put it over the top!
21. With an MSRP of $10,899, the new 500 RR-S is $400 more than last year’s model. That is $500 more than a 2020 Honda CRF450L, and $500 less than a KTM 500 EXC-F.
22. This is arguably the best bone-stock high-performance dual-sport bike we’ve ever ridden. There, we said it. Between the super-effective power delivery and the sweet-handling chassis, the 2020 Beta 500 RR-S is an absolute weapon right off the showroom floor. We wouldn’t hesitate to race it in stock form. There is no need to mess with fueling or to remove smog or emissions equipment—just fold down the mirrors and show up to the starting the line.
23. Beta truly hit it out of the park with the all-new 500 RR-S. We are going to see a lot more of these Italian beauties on the trail and at our local dual sport events, and those riding the other brands or older Betas should get ready to pull a tear-off, as the 2020 Beta 500RR-S roosts its way past them.
Photography by Don Williams
Helmet: Shoei VFX-Evo
Goggles: Fly Racing Zone Pro
Jersey: Fly Racing Lite Hydrogen
Body armor: Alpinestars Bionic Tech Jacket
Gloves: Fly Racing Pro Lite
Pants: Fly Racing Lite
Knee braces: Alpinestars Fluid Pro
Socks: Fly Racing Knee Brace
Boots: Alpinestars Tech 10
2020 Beta 500 RR-S Specs
Type: Single-cylinder 4-stroke
Bore x stroke: 100 x 60.8mm
Compression ratio: 11.9:1
Fueling: EFI w/ Continental 42mm throttle body
Valvetrain: DOHC; 4 steel valves
Lubrication: Separate oil for engine and clutch w/ twin oil pumps
Clutch: Wet multi-disc
Final drive: D.I.D. O-ring chain
Frame: Double-cradle chromoly steel
Front suspension; travel: Fully adjustable 48mm inverted ZF Sachs fork; 11.6 inches
Rear suspension; travel: Linkage assisted fully adjustable ZF Sachs shock; 11.4 inches
Wheels: Excel Takasago
Tires: Michelin Enduro Medium
Front tire: 90/90 x 21
Rear tire: 140/80 x 18
Front brake: 260mm Galfer rotor w/ 4-piston Nissin caliper
Rear brake: 240mm Galfer rotor w/ 2-piston Nissin caliper
DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES
Wheelbase: 58.7 inches
Seat height: 37 inches
Ground clearance: 12.6 inches
Fuel tank capacity: 2.4 gallons
Curb weight: 258 pounds
2020 Beta 500 RR-S Price: $10,899 MSRP