The Italian invasion of Beta Motorcycles

A two-day demo ride at Carl Kuster Mountain Park shed some light on the red bikes that are gaining popularity across Canada

by Monte Smith |

Reagan Sieg tackles the Carl Kuster Mountain Park endurocross track on a red Beta bike.

Reagan Sieg puts Beta to the test on the new endurocross track at Carl Kuster Mountain Park. — Monte Smith photo

Beta Motorcycles are not new to Canada, but recently they have been gaining popularity—and for a couple of good reasons. First, Beta Canada. Since taking over the importation and distribution of these Italian motorcycles, Beta Canada has built a network of over 30 dealerships from coast to coast. Off-road riders are starting to take notice of these different red bikes that are appearing, and that is because of another more fundamental reason.

Beta Motorcycles are the real deal

“Our biggest challenge is that people don’t think we are serious, that our bikes aren’t ‘real’ enduro bikes, that they are made in China or are out of a bubble gum machine,” said Beta Canada president Stephen Howland while on a promotional tour across Canada.

In September 2016, I had the opportunity to ride at least half of the dozen bikes that Howland brought on tour in the rugged mountains near Sicamous, B.C., and as an avid off-road rider, I was thoroughly impressed.

My first impression? Smooth. Beta did a great job of building a bike with manners. The bikes were on their best behaviour, even though we (with the exception of rear brake lever “Nazi” Reagan Sieg) took no time for bike setup, since we’d be trading rides frequently throughout the day. It was as if Beta had a pre-ride pep talk with them, saying, “No kicking, bucking or fussing. Don’t spin or skid unless you are asked to. Make your rider feel comfortable and confident.”

It’s about options

I started Day 1 on the 2017 RR350, and as we followed our guide Jason Ribi through some fresh-cut single-track at Carl Kuster Mountain Park (CKMP), I realized for myself that Beta is not just trying to carve out a share of the market. These bikes are built to compete with the best in the off-road racing and enduro world. 

Stephen Howland, Carl Kuster and Steve Foord riding Beta bikes in the backcountry of B.C.

Beta Canada president Stephen Howland followed by Carl Kuster and Steve Foord. — Monte Smith photo

Without getting into the technical data, Beta Motorcycles do not leave room for want when compared to other off-road bikes. Beta builds its engines at its own factory in Italy where it has extensive testing facilities.

If you like the torquey four-stroke, there are four displacements to choose from: 350 cc, 390 cc, 430cc and 480 cc. You can have any of these engines in either an enduro—which, by the way, is fully street legal—or a race-ready model. All come fuel injected with Sachs front and rear suspension; a handlebar mounted map switch; Excel rims; a quick release front axle; hydraulic clutch and brake levers; and six-speed transmissions. The enduro models also come with a speedometer module that has many cool features.

If you prefer a lighter two-stroke, Beta offers a 250 and a 300, both of which are available as an enduro or race model. The two-strokes are not fuel injected, but the enduros come with oil injection, thus eliminating the need to pre-mix fuel. 

Race model two-strokes do not come with the oil injection because of the extra weight, but it is easily installed if desired. If you are a rider whose main interest is to have fun (whose isn’t?), then the 300 X Trainer will have much attraction. The suspension is a little more forgiving and it has a flatter power curve, along with a lower seat height—which spells more fun in technical terrain for all but the most aggressive of riders.

Built to do battle on the terra firma

Are you worried about the overall quality of Beta bikes? The “fit and finish” type stuff? There is no need. The bikes we tested were a fleet of demos that Howland brought all the way from Halifax to B.C. with many stops along the way—not brand new by any stretch. Our group put eight-plus hours on the hour meters, and not gentle ones either. 

With Carl Kuster and Jason Ribi from CKMP in the lead, followed by riders such as Reagan Sieg, Cody Borchers, Sam King and Steve Foord, the Betas were put to the full test in rugged, mountain terrain, as well as on the new rocks and logs course at CKMP.

Carl Kuster at his endurocross track.

Carl Kuster tackling obstacles on his endurocross track. — Ryen Dunford Photography

Granted, any bike can be smashed if one tries hard enough, but the Beta fleet returned to base under its own steam. The crash of the weekend went to “Captain Beta Canada” Steve Howland himself as he launched the 480RR over the edge of a loose, rocky forestry road (I guess his bike skipped the pre-ride pep talk that morning). It seemed to be no worse for wear, however, and we carried on. 

In short, our crew battle tested the Betas, with excellent results. The damage was limited to one front wheel spoke, and one radiator hose.

With the Orange bikes having dominating the off-road market in North America for years, it is refreshing to see competitive bikes coming to Canada from other manufacturers. Don’t get me wrong, Orange bikes are awesome and there’s good reason for their success. But to have options? Not just converted motocross bikes, but real choices, bikes that are engineered and built to tackle the terra that we love to ride. That is a beautiful thing. 

Related Articles

A blue Zero SR/S motorcycle.
Motorcycle Zone Is an electric motorcycle the bike of the year?

Zero Motorcycles’ electric Zero SR/S is a legitimate contender for Motorcycle of the Year for 2020

A woman and her three girls wearing motocross gear.
Motorcycle Zone, British Columbia Rad Rider Jennifer Boulet: Outgoing mom, active advocate and dirt bike enthusiast

Jennifer Boulet, rad rider in Chilliwack, B.C., has immersed herself in motorsports and encourages other female riders to join in

A motorcycle parked by an inukshuk.
Motorcycle Zone Six great motorcycle roads in Canada

Alberta motorcyclist Wayne Hamm shares six of the most memorable motorcycle routes from when he travelled across Canada in June 2014.

View all Motorcycle Zone articles