[Project Bikes]

2023 BETA RR390 (PT 1): THE GOOD & NOT-SO-GOOD LIST

11 months ago | Words: Andy Wigan | Photos: Jarrad Duffy, Geoff Ballard

Collectively, the refinements made to Beta’s RR range over the past three years have evolved these machines into superb, world-class enduro weapons. So much so that, according to Aussie enduro icon, Geoff Ballard, the 2023 RR390 is one of the best-performing enduro bikes he’s ever ridden straight out of the crate.

But as anyone who’s spent their hard-earned on a motorcycle will tell you, a bike’s performance is only half the equation, maybe less. The quality of the ownership experience also has a lot to do with what the machine is like to ‘live’ with over the longer haul – everything from fastener commonality to ease of maintenance to how durable its components are (or aren’t!).

Now that we’ve racked up 20 hours’ run-time on our 2023 Beta RR390 project bike, we’ve got a pretty good handle on what it’s like to live with (and play aboard) – the standout stuff we dig, along with its idiosyncrasies. So, welcome to our two-part series of insights into the Italian brand’s biggest-selling four-stroke.

In Part 2, we’ll highlight the components that owners should keep their eye on and offer a few tips and tricks when it comes to maintaining your Beta RR. But for now, in Part 1, let’s shine a spotlight on the Beta RR390’s best personality traits and standout components, and those that could still do with a little work…

STANDOUT FEATURES…

THE POWERPLANT: The RR390’s engine is an absolute peach. It’s smooth and tractable and versatile, and has a very refined feel about it, thanks to perfectly counter-balanced internals. It’s got noticeably more torque than a 350, but with nowhere near the gyro effect of a 450, it boasts the side-to-side agility of a smaller-capacity machine. In tight terrain, its torquey and responsive power works a treat. But the thing still pulls hard at high revs when you’re holding the taps wide open on fast grasstrack.

THE CLUTCH: The Brembo hydraulic clutch (which uses a diaphragm spring) has a super-light lever pull plus excellent feel and very predictable modulation in technical terrain. It perfectly complements the bike’s power characteristics, and has proved bullet-proof after being mercilessly flogged in extreme terrain.

THE THROTTLE: With no return cable, the 390’s throttle action is very light and has a super-precise feel. Funnily enough, that actually adds to the already responsive, lively feel of the engine’s power delivery.

RADIATOR SHROUDS: The new radiator shrouds on the 2023 model are more robust than their predecessors and offer better grip for your knees. Plus, with the graphics now smaller and further forward on the shrouds, they’re much less prone to peeling (that said, it’d be even better if the graphics were inlaid).

UNCLUTTERED BARS: With the dual-map/TC switch now mounted down on the fuel tank (just behind the headstem), handlebar clutter is reduced. And that gives you more options if you like to move your clutch perch inboard on the bars.

EXTERNAL FORK PRELOAD: Having nine turns of tool-free external fork spring preload adjustment is really handy to help tune the bike to varying conditions on the run. Even three-to-four turns makes a noticeable difference. Larger, faster riders will probably add seven-to-eight turns because, while the ZF fork’s new (higher-flowing piston) creates a plusher ride over small pumps for 2023, the front-end does have a tendency to dive under hard braking or on steep downhills unless supported with that extra spring preload. Suspension settings are a work-in-progress for us, so stay tuned for our set-up tips in a follow-up article.

SMART SEAT: The tool-free seat removal (via a nifty little recessed button in the subframe) is super-handy and has proved 100% reliable. What a pain in the arse it now is to have to undo bolt(s) to remove the seat on other bike brands – all of which should adopt this gem of a feature.

AESTHETICS: With their dayglo-red plastics, high-end component spec and race-oriented/purpose-built/minimalist aesthetic, Beta’s RR models are good-looking roosters that turn heads and start conversations everywhere you take the thing.

WHAT BETA COULD DO BETTER…

THE SEAT: Ever since Beta moved to the all-new (and much lower profile) seat for its RR models in 2020, we’ve argued that it’s too hard (there’s a limit to how big a hit it can absorb before your arse feels the seat base). So, unless you run some extra bicycle-short padding for long rides, you’ll end up with calcified testicles or red-raw buttocks, or both. The problem is that there’s so little foam depth to play with, it’s difficult to do much about it (we’re open to ideas, folks!). It’ll be interesting see whether the mods Beta has made to the seat on their 2024 RR models have improved its comfort.

BRAKE ADJUSTABILITY: Nissin brakes are awesome, but when on earth are they going to add a tool-free OTF adjuster to their front brake lever so you can adjust reach and/or the take-up point without tools? Even if you’re the only person riding the bike, having the option to make this on-the-fly adjustment for different conditions is long overdue. While Nissin are at it, they could also create separate adjusters for their rear brake’s pedal position and freeplay (a la Brembo’s set-up).

THE SIDESTAND: The standard alloy sidestand is strong and tucks nicely up out of the way when retracted, and it comes with a bolt-on big-footprint base so it doesn’t easily sink into soft ground. But it’s 20-30mm too short, which means the bike sits on its ear on the slightest of slopes.

SKIDPLATE FASTENER: The fastening bolt at the front of the skidplate sits right behind the header pipe and can only be accessed by an open-ended 8mm spanner, rather than a ring-spanner or T-bar. So, after removing the skidplate for an oil change, you need to wait for the header pipe to cool down before re-fitting the skidplate (either that or undo the skidplate’s rear bolt and bend it out of the way while you do the oil change!?). This applies to all RR four-stroke models and is the annoying byproduct of the change to the shape of their header pipes for 2023.

SWINGARM SCUFFING: We dig the look of the black coating on sections of the swingarm. But if you ride a lot of rocky or extreme terrain, that black gets scuffed up pretty quickly – meaning a set of clip-on plastic swingarm protectors is money well spent.

STEERING LOCK: The steering lock range (especially on the four-stroke models) is a noticeably more restrictive than average. Yes, there are adjuster/stopper bolts on the headstock to give you more lock, but after very little adjustment, your fork legs start coming into contact with the radiators. It becomes even worse if you fit radiator guards. A small tweak to the radiator positioning (or fashioning larger indents in them) would produce a tighter turning circle – a feature that extreme enduro guys usually demand.

HAND PROTECTION: Hand guards don’t come as standard equipment on Beta’s RR models. The ones that came fitted to our project bike (a $66.95 Beta genuine accessory) are pretty flimsy brush guard-style units (though they’re designed to spin on their perches and have proved resistant to busting after several crashes).

AXLE BLOCKS: The asymmetrical rear axle adjuster blocks are practical as they let you quickly and easily alter the wheelbase or accommodate final gearing changes. But curiously, they don’t line up perfectly with the adjuster bolts’ heads.

PART 2 COMING…

Stay tuned for the Part 2 article on our Beta RR390 project bike in the coming week, where we’ll highlight the components that owners should keep their eye on and offer a few tips and tricks when it comes to maintaining your Beta RR.

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