Thursday, March 10, 2011

2009 Beta 525 RS Motorcycle Review

2009 Beta 525 RS Bike Test
The Beta 525 RS-supermoto is a dual sport at heart with some cool options for street fiends. We liked playing in both modes.
Beta Motorcycles first came onto our radar when we briefly sampled the 2008 off-road lineup. Since then we’ve been trying to get bikes from the small Italian company so that we can get a better understanding of the company’s offerings. Our wish was granted in the form of a 2009 Beta 525 RS-supermoto. This street-legal supermoto is really a dual sport at heart with a set of 17-inch motard wheels, stubby front fender and a shortened kickstand the only differences between the standard RS and the RS-supermoto models. The bike certainly looks more exotic in motard form. Even a layman can tell that it’s a dirt bike, but the shorty front fender and street tires instantly tell observers that there’s something special about the Beta. Something as simple as swapping wheels changes the bike’s attitude fast enough to rival your girlfriend’s mood swings. Similarly, that’s a blessing and a curse.

The ability to go from dual sport to motard is great, but the bike needs further modifications to be completely effective, primarily larger brakes and revised suspension. It simply can’t be as good at one as it is the other without additional mods. However, the mere fact that it does convert so easily makes for a boatload of potential to prospective buyers. We found that the Beta is all about mindset. Once you’ve got an understanding of what it does and how it goes about it, the big 525 starts to grow on you, fast. First and foremost, this bike really is a dual sport model, and the supermoto attachments are secondary. Since it was delivered in SM trim, we’ll start there.

2009 Beta 525 RS Bike Test
For nomal use, the braking setup is fine. Be wary if you intend to make this your racer.
Some of our early testing was performed on the freshly paved local supermoto track. We brought out an experienced SM rider to give feedback and it became immediately clear that Beta’s key phrase “the play bike” fully applies in this situation. It isn’t a racer, it’s a super-fun street legal divebomber. A 255mm Braking wave rotor gives good feel up front, but only for a brief period on the track (about four laps with our expert). Even our lesser riders heated the brakes to unusable levels in short order. Fortunately, Braking is known in the supermoto world for its oversized offerings, so if you’re serious about track use then the possibilities are there. We just did it because we could, but the other 99% of pavement pounding was what we’d call normal, and for that there’s no fading issue. We only mention it because as a 50-state legal bike it does allow for a jaunt over to the local kart track to try your hand. We don’t want anyone sailing off-course at the end of the big straightaway.

Using the rear brake is what takes the most getting used to. It has a spongy feel and doesn’t really grip the 240mm rotor until deep in the pedal stroke, but the early lever movement provides some stopping power. The light squeeze was beneficial in low traction situations, especially going into paved corners too hot and trying to stay on the brakes late. The limited contact patch afforded by dual sport tires makes this even more dangerous, but once we got the hang of the floating single-piston Nissin caliper, we started enjoying its performance. It also allowed us to drag during technical off-road sections without locking up. The 525 is no featherweight, so avoiding skidding was important.

Pirelli Diablos provided much better grip on the street, though they aren’t a gummy race tire. As dirt riders we’re not accustomed to thinking about tread wear in this sense, but even with the hard track use we hardly scuffed the Diablos, so they should last a commuter for quite awhile. Once we bolted on the 21-inch front and 18-inch rear tires, we spent most of our time with the MT21 treads installed. Side-to-side transitions are much slower with the enduro wheels, but the bike feels light either way in the grand scheme. Seat height raised from 35.5 to 37 inches. Our 5’11” tester was flat on his feet at every stop sign with the smaller wheels, but was still able to touch comfortably with the taller arrangement.
2009 Beta 525 RS Bike Test
The Beta is a bike that likes to explore. The Italians do a good job of mating the KTM motor with the rest of the machine for a well-rounded package.
Added ground clearance is a benefit off the pavement and the Beta needs all it can get. Footpeg placement and soft suspension leave the pegs relatively low, though our SM tester never reported dragging them. The skidplate, which is not installed on the supermoto version, will be in high demand if you take serious trails and our feet were struck by obstacles more often than expected. We never used the skidplate because the mounting tabs were too close to the engine cases and wouldn’t allow for the provided mounting hardware. Since we weren’t doing any extreme enduros it wasn’t a major concern, but this is one of those irregular issues that can come with owning small brands. We punched a hidden rock pretty hard and fortunately it hit directly on the frame rail rather than the soft underbelly. Bending the mounting tabs cures the problem so make sure you take the time to do it.

Handling is very stable, even at high speeds and without any wind protection, the front end never shakes. Suspension is handled by a 45mm Marzocchi Shiver fork and Sachs shock. The Shiver has a harsh feel at the top of the stroke and once it gets past that it uses the rest of the travel very quickly. We noticed this sensation most when hitting large holes on gravel roads. The fork didn’t react well to these impacts, but on the trail, where speeds were lower and standing up placed emphasis on the front wheel, the Marzocchi generally operated below that harsh region. Overall it’s definitely on the soft side, and hard braking causes diving on the pavement. Considering that we commuted all week, rode the track one day and used the weekend for a multi-day dual sport adventure, the rear shock was very good. We hardly touched it and found the Sachs component enjoyable for all uses.

The double-cradle chassis is made of molybdenum steel and the subframe gets a new black powdercoating for 2009. The improved looks and durability are nice, but it caused us a bit of trouble early in the form of an inconsistent battery ground. Once that was tracked down, the big KTM lump was much easier to get along with. We had a lot of comments about the Beta in general; riders wondering what it was and how it performs. Interestingly, once they found that it has a KTM engine, every rider perked up and seemed to warm to the idea of possibly owning one for themselves. It’s something we can understand, because frankly, we love that motor. The 510cc powerplant uses 11:1 compression inside the four-valve, single overhead cam RFS engine.

“The engine is very easy to ride,” summed tester, Randy Pekarek. “It is very smooth and predictable.”

2009 Beta 525 RS Bike Test
Emission controls are a necessary
Viewed from the left side, it’s obvious that there is some extra hardware to meet emission standards. The majority of our testing was done with this equipment in place. In performance terms, the stock setup runs lean. You’ll be able to hear the backfire on the 2009 Beta 525 RS Video. Other than that and a rare hiccup from the Keihin FCR 39 carburetor, the real issue with the emission hardware was that it caused vapor lock in the fuel tank, starving the carb and leaving us with the sensation that the 2.24-gallon fuel tank was running dry. Some trial and error finally clued us into what was happening and as a temporary fix we just left the vent hose disconnected from the gas cap until we could get back home and into the shop. We found that the bike tops out around 80 miles on a tank once the 0.26-gallon reserve dried up.

Once we had more than trail tools at our disposal (even though Beta provides an awesome kit), we simply removed the charcoal canister, check valve and vacuum hose. The bike instantly ran better, though it felt like it revved out sooner. Beta realizes that most owners will likely be interested in this option and provides a service bulletin which explains how and offers additional jetting options. Gearing on the street is fine at 15/45, but it’s too tall for consistent off-road work. We’d bump to at least a 48-tooth rear or drop one tooth on the countershaft sprocket to begin with so that second gear is more usable. Single track required too much use of first gear; even though the motor has plenty of grunt to lug around we got tired of abusing the hydraulic clutch. It hauls the mail though for brief freeway stints.

“The gearing on the track is a little too tall,” confirmed our supermoto tester, Pekarek. “I would add two teeth to the rear sprocket for track riding. For around town I wouldn’t touch it.”

2009 Beta 525 RS-supermoto (RS)
2009 Beta 525 RS Bike Test
MSRP: $9399 ($8999)
Color: White
Engine: 4-stroke, four-valve, single overhead camshaft
Displacement: 510cc
Bore x Stroke: 95 x 72mm
Compression Ratio: 11:1
Carburetion: Keihin FCR 39
Transmission: 6-speed
Front Suspension: 45mm Marzocchi Shiver fork, compression and rebound adjustable
Rear Suspension: Sachs shock, rebound
Front Brake: 255mm Braking wave rotor, floating dual-piston Nissin caliper
Rear Brake: 240mm Braking wave rotor, floating single-piston Nissin caliper
Front Tire: Pirelli Diablo 120/70-17 (Pirelli MT21 )
Rear Tire: Pirelli Diablo 150/60-17 (Pirelli MT21 )
Ground Clearance: 12.6 in.
Fuel Capacity: 2.24 gal.
Seat Height: 37 in.
The bike is muffled nicely and is equipped with a spark arrestor. Hard use started to blow packing out during the track test so keep an eye on that. Otherwise we enjoyed going anywhere we pleased without the fear of being questioned.

The O-ring chain didn’t stretch, the battery never died and nothing fell off. We melted the right rear blinker with the exhaust during our supermoto session, but the replacement was easy and never suffered the same fate during regular street riding or dual sport action. The dual-compound, half-waffle Domino grips are short but comfortable while oversized aluminum bars and steel-braided brake lines give the controls a high-end feel. The only thing we didn’t like was the computer. It was a little confusing to get sorted out, but at least the display is large enough to read while at speed. There’s no keyed ignition, but there is a steering lock for security. The 525 also boasts billet hubs.

Fabrizio Dini scored 10th overall this year in the highly competitive World Enduro Championships E2 division on the Beta, and Rudy Cotton nailed down eighth in the E3 class. However, the RS model is certainly more suited for enjoyment riding and the 525 could easily be called playful. At 272 pounds in supermoto trim, the Italian isn’t getting any heavier as it makes the switch to an off-road setup.

Beta still prides itself on being the little guy. Regardless of market conditions, the Italian firm only imports a limited number of bikes each year for the American segment. Marketing Manager, Tim Pilg, assures us that the dealer network is still growing, and though bike numbers are small, the Beta presence in the US is continually expanding. The 2009 model year saw minor refinements and the 525 RS proved that it’s open-minded and versatile enough to give riders that step away from the Big Five something worth playing with.

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