2019 Beta 500 RR-S: From The Land of Da Vinci, A Motorized Work of Art

Text: Jon Beck • Photography: Jon Beck

It’s been said that the “best bike” is one that makes you want to turn the key each day. The Beta 500 RR-S definitely fits that category. A just-right exhaust note roars to life from a package that’s the stuff of off-road riders’ dreams. Given that this test bike arrived with a complete “BYOB” (Build Your Own Beta) makeover, fresh from the manufacturer, very little was left to be desired.

OPTIONS

The 2019 500 RR-S indicates Beta is a company aiming to do it right. Rather than reinventing the wheel, the Italian motorcycle brand built a solid platform and then pulled from the best of their own hard parts catalogue and the aftermarket world to offer complete builds direct from the factory. As a build-to-order machine, this 500 RR-S came with an IMS four-gallon tank, Cyclops LED headlight, Seat Concepts seat, oversize kickstand foot, Giant Loop MoJavi saddlebag (which we swapped out for the Mosko Reckless 40 bags to better accommodate a multiday tour), rear luggage rack, Cycra handguards, Fastway Adventure footpegs, Hammerhead large brake pedal tip, and a Trail Tech Voyager GPS.

Ready to roll off the showroom floor and straight into virtually any “light bike” adventure, the Beta can also transform into a race machine by simply removing luggage and mirrors. Removing the license plate/rear turn signal assembly is also recommended. The bracket is flexible enough that the plate can get sucked into the rear tire in heavy off-road conditions. Fortunately, this modification was anticipated. The entire assembly is easily removed with four bolts and quick-disconnect wiring.

SERVICE

Having just completed filming of a trans-state off-road project on a big-twin adventure bike, using the little Beta to run the same route provided a direct impression of the experiences offered by the two classes of machines over identical terrain. Once the wheels are sufficiently balanced, the 500 RR-S is completely comfortable at highway speeds. Cruising at 80 mph results in a surprisingly smooth buzz, and the Beta still retains more than ample pull to quickly and easily get up beyond 90 mph for passes. For the purposes of this test, I didn’t explore the limits of the bike’s top end. That will come once the first service is complete and I give the valves a look. Fortunately, if engine and transmission oil changes are any indication, overall service on this bike is a breeze. From the air filter down, everything is easily accessible. Even the seat has a push-button release for quick access to the battery—a fact that came in handy as the Beta was used to jump-start another bike, which had a dead battery, during the test. To that end, the battery itself on the Beta is worth mentioning. The powerful JMT lithium-ion power cell has a push-button status indicator built in. That inspires confidence, as it eliminates any doubt of where the battery might be in its lifespan. Features like this mean the available option of a manual kick-start is cool, but likely unnecessary.

EXPERIENCE

Where the terrain becomes more technical is when the Beta begins to shine even further. Just off Hwy 95 outside of Blythe, CA, is a dirt road consisting of both hardpack and sandy whoops. On a fully loaded big-twin, the pace is only as fast as your suspension will tolerate. Even while running approximately 40 pounds of gear strapped to the back, and lofting the 500 RR-S into the air dozens of times, the motorcycle did not bottom out once over this entire section, or any other part of the entire 1,300-mile trip! The linkage rear end offered flawless bottoming resistance, while maintaining a relatively plush feel throughout the initial part of the stroke. The folks at Beta must have been given my specs, as the bike came dialed for my weight plus luggage. Featuring on-the-fly adjustment—no tools required—the ZF Sachs forks can be easily tweaked mid-ride to suit individual riding tastes.

Part of what made riding more technical conditions enjoyable on the Beta is its quick-responding 478cc powerplant. While the 100mm bore is larger, the Beta’s 60.8mm stroke is shorter than a KTM 450 XC-W. North of the 500cc class, Husqvarna’s 701 features a bore only 5mm larger than the Beta, but a stroke nearly 20mm longer! The 500 RR-S revs up quick for a big thumper. Powerplant quickness and a top-end power bias comes at the price of a comparatively thirsty bike. Depending on the ignition map selected, and aggressiveness with the throttle, the 500 RR-S averaged 38-44 mpg. Steel valves in a large-bore, short-stroke powerplant bodes well for longevity.

Stock bars with an agreeable bend for my 5-foot-11-inch frame, combined with the Seat Concepts saddle, made for a good experience both on- and off-road. The steel cradle frame surrounding the engine felt immediately at home. Once up on the pegs, the molybdenum’s flex helped absorb some of terrain’s harshness—and there was plenty of that. Dramatically increased use of side-by-side four-wheelers in recent years rendered portions of the trail a washboard hell. Once up above roughly 60 mph, the washboard smoothed out, allowing the Beta’s quick throttle and upper-end torque to take over steering duties through the curves. 

Early 2019 was unusually cold and wet for Southern California. Thus, out came the soldering gun, and a couple of adapters were wired up for heated gear, as well as charging options for cameras and other equipment while on the trail. According to the Voyager’s voltage meter, the stator barely flinched even when the heated jacket was set to broil. Input voltage remained in the mid-13s virtually always, only dropping to the mid-12s when the Cyclops LED headlight was fired up. Regarding that headlight, “fired up” is the right term. That thing is bright enough to set small animals on fire if one’s not careful. Although diminutive in size, the Beta’s light appeared the brightest among the group of bikes along for the ride, including two that were equipped with aftermarket racing lights.

For anyone wanting to do adventure travel on a lighter bike, the Beta 500 RR-S is definitely worth a look. The only downside I’ve found so far is I might have to give it back (might being the operative word).Given how flawlessly this bike performed over a rather brutal first ride, I’m hugely intrigued about long-term durability. If the first 1,300 miles are any indication, this might be a heavy-hitter of the lightweight adventure travel segment.