In 2019, I was ready to part ways with my 2016 KTM 350 XC-F. I
wanted to return to the 2-stroke world, which continued to be
dominated by European manufacturers. Since I'd last owned a 2-
stroke, KTM remained the king of innovation for all types of off-road
motorcycles. Their 2-stroke engines had undergone counterbalancing,
which reduced vibration. Electric starters became more integrated with
engines, rather than the slapped-together afterthought appearances
of the late-2000s models. To reduce weight, their WP forks lost their
coil springs, in favor of air pressure. And finally, with the 2020 models,
most of the 2-stroke engines were transfer-port injected (TPI).
When I made the decision to switch back to a 2-stroke in 2020, I was
not exactly enamored with what KTM was doing. Their air forks did
receive the best reviews...for air forks. But the idea of having to check
fork air pressure every time I rode was not especially appealing. The
TPI reviews seemed to be mixed. The engines ran well, at the
expense of extra weight and loss of the snappy response that makes
these engines so fun. TPI seemed an unnecessary complication to a
Beta had been around awhile, and as with some of the niche Euro
manufacturers, started with trials bikes before entering the off-road
world. Over the years I began seeing more of them at races and dual
sport rides, but never gave them much consideration. Too quirky, too
few dealers, and limited aftermarket parts were the main drawbacks.
My feelings changed when Beta developed two lines of bikes: The
"regular" RR series, and a Race Edition line for those who wanted a
little more race in their bike. I wasn't particularly interested in the RR
series, with its oil injection and lower-end suspension. Oil injection, in
my opinion, was a convenience with the drawback of added
electronics. After my experience with a KTM 350 XC-F, with enough
wires and sensors and gadgets to make an electrical engineer
salivate, I wanted basic. So basic, in fact, that I semi-seriously
considered Yamaha's YZ250X 2-stoke cross country bike, with its
outdated chassis and <gasp!> kickstarter!
I was drawn to Beta's 300 Race Edition for a few simple reasons:
- The 300cc engine is something I'm familiar with, having owned a
pair of KTM 300s as well as a Gas Gas 300. At my age and
physical fitness, the 300 would allow me to be a bit lazier on the
bike when my energy ran out.
- Counterbalanced engines for 2020.
- Traditional coil spring forks. As good as they may be, I just didn't
want to be screwing around with KTM's air forks, searching for
that perfect PSI with an air pump. And then trying to repeat it. I
remember those days from mountain bike forks. I am bad enough
at setting up coil spring forks...let the tinkerers have their air.
- Good 'ol fashioned premix. No oil injection to worry about. No TPI
and its complexity. Just a straight-up, old school 2-stroke engine...
with a dual ignition mapping switch that I'll probably never change
from the "sunny" setting.
Beta may eventually go to TPI, but in 2020 their 300 2-strokes were
one of the few remaining engines with traditional carbs. Time was
running out, so I started looking for a 300 Race Edition.
Then this little thing called COVID-19 popped up and shut down the
world. I didn't want to buy a new bike until the old one was sold, and
it took awhile to sell the KTM. Eventually a buyer materialized and a
Beta dealer in Wisconsin sold me a new 300, sight unseen. I had
never even touched a Beta motorcycle, let alone ridden one. It was a
leap of faith.
That leap seemed a bit foolish the first time I rode the bike. I have
never experienced such a poorly jetted, brand new bike. Every twist of
throttle, when the RPMs were just above idle, produced a bog which
lasted about a full second. And the throttle stuck open after less than
5 minutes cruising in a straight line around my pasture. Had the
dealer been closer to my house, I would have driven straight back to
where I bought it and left it there.
I kept increasing the size of the pilot jet, and the bogging gradually
disappeared. But nobody...and by that I mean not a single internet
discussion forum junkie...was talking about having to re-jet from a 38
to a 48 pilot. And the air screw was only turned 3/4 out, which meant it
was borderline, and probably should have been a 50 pilot. This just
I also felt that the bike was using a lot more fuel than my past 2-
strokes. After a 1-hour test on a grass track in my pasture, I measured
fuel consumption at 1.4 gallons. All the other 2-stroke bikes I'd owned
were pretty consistently using about a gallon an hour.
Then I decided to test the engine compression. Surely the engine
must have an air leak somewhere, causing a need for more fuel. My
compression tester, which had been used maybe twice in the past 15
years, registered 130 PSI. Not good.
I called the dealer. They agreed to look at the bike. Within a couple
days they informed me that the Beta factory had installed a European-
spec needle in the carb. Apparently in Europe, to meet emissions, the
bikes are sold with very lean carburetion. They even include throttle
stops....and a very lean needle. The dealer agreed to install the
needle that the rest of the world is supposed to get.
The dealer also told me my compression tester was incorrect. They
measured 185 PSI on both my bike and their demo 300. Time to get a
better compression tester....
Setting up the bike for me
When you're old enough to describe your riding experience in
decades, odds are you've developed a few must-haves with your
bikes. For me, my first stop is always Enduro Engineering to get some
protection. A skid plate, linkage guard, hand guards, and a rear brake
rotor guard were my first purchases. Slavens Racing was next on the
list, with a carbon fiber pipe guard, Scotts steering damper tower, and
a handlebar clamp that has a mount for my Scotts damper and also
serves as a mounting point for the hand guards.
Other necessities were Seal Savers, which almost completely
eliminate leaky fork seals. A trusty Bridgestone M59 tire went on the
front rim and a Michelin Starcross soft terrain tire was mounted to the
rear. Over the last few years, I've moved away from tubes, in favor of
Nitro Mousse foam inserts. No more flats and no more checking air
pressure each time I ride.
Left: I've been using Scotts
steering dampers for a
couple of decades. This is
my 8th bike with the Scotts,
and the mounting system
has been different on
almost every one. This time,
I used a BRP top clamp
which also serves as a
mounting point for
aluminum handguards. The
clamp-on damper tower
was the easiest to install of
any I've used. The Beta
head tube was free of any
weird welding slag and
imperfections. I simply
clamped it on. The BRP top
clamp accommodates a
couple of handlebar
Above: That throttle cable...gonna have to reroute that. I always cut
down my handlebars to 30.5 inches. That usually screws up the
handguard mounting, but this time I had no issues with the BRP
mounts. The top clamp comes with 3 mounting holes on each side.
The middle hole worked perfectly with the Enduro Engineering guards.
Right: They stuff a lot of
wires behind the headlight.
Many of these were pulled
out. The horn was mildly
entertaining, but I removed
it. No need for turn signal
wiring either, or high/low
beams, or a button which
flashes headlights so
people ahead of me will
know to let me pass. The
debatable. As of this writing
it doesn't work right, even
after the dealer installed a
new wiring harness as part
of a factory recall. I don't
really care how fast I'm
going anyway, so the whole
computer thing will
probably be removed.
Above Left: the sidestand's pad area is impressive. Its length...not as
much. The bike's lean angle is steeper than any other
sidestand-equipped bike I've owned.
Above Right: I was so happy to see these old school louvers. They
can be removed easily, to clean debris off the radiators and blow out
dirt between the fins.
Left: after decades of leaving
our shock linkage exposed to
all sorts of trail junk, a few
years ago it was decided that
we must protect it. Enduro
Engineering makes a nice
poly add-on to its skid plate.
This is supposed to not only
protect the linkage, but also
let the bike glide over logs
and rocks which might
otherwise get hung up in the
Right: Just can't get enough
protection. With the popularity
of hard enduro, the carbon
fiber guard and aluminum
skid plate almost seem
quaint, compared to the crazy
pipe/skid plate combos on the
market today. I don't see a lot
of hard enduro in my future,
so this will work just fine. The
Beta pipe sits fairly high,
which I hope means it won't
get banged up as much when
I botch a log crossing or let it
smack on top of a boulder.