Common Tread

Smoker shootout: Beta 300RR vs. Xtrainer

Oct 11, 2017

I’ve written before about needing a bike that falls somewhere between the poky, overweight, dinosaur Japanese trail bikes and the high-strung, needy Austrian enduro machines — individually and collectively. The difference in capability, to me, is quite vast. 

Something like the Beta Xtrainer, I wrote, seemed to represent a nice middle-ground option in a slice of the market that doesn’t have many players. My questions, though, were the same ones many others in the play-in-the-woods-and-maybe-race-but-not-too-seriously crowd have: How does it stack up to Beta’s 300RR? Which one am I supposed to buy? I set out to find out just that, because Beta demo days are hard to come by.

Meet your test riders

Our main test pilot on the 300RR was my buddy Andy. He’s six feet tall and tips the scales at 260. Andy occasionally races in the Vet C category. He’s fast when he needs to be, is generally a bit throttle happy, and he’s getting on in years (he's 36), so he does like to save energy and spend time in the saddle. Andy doesn’t mind being airborne, and he will gleefully scramble down any hill I’ve ever seen him encounter.

Andy
This is Andy Toback, my offroad test assistant/sherpa. Photo by Lemmy.

Lem
...and most of you know this guy. Photo by Andy Toback.

Me? I’m also six feet tall, but I am a little younger (33) and a little fatter (285). I can go 90 percent of the places Andy can go, and I can usually go there at 75 percent of his speed. Where Andy will rip over something and let the bike float on through, I will deliberately pick and place my wheels exactly where I want them to be. I’d call it trials-influenced, but the truth is that I’m just slow and prefer not to fall. Like Andy, I spend too much time in the saddle. My main ride for the day was the Xtrainer. 

We’re a little past our prime physically, but we both still can dust younger riders with some frequency, Andy a bit more often than me. Given our schedules, riding enjoyably for a long time is equally as important as showing someone what the local roost looks like, so all-out performance is not the only factor here.

Our previous machines

My previous offroad weapon was a well loved (but well raced) 2006 KTM XC-W. I realized fairly early in my off-road career that I was a bit outclassed. The bike was very tall. By the time I could get a foot into dab territory, the bike was usually so far off kilter that I was on my way to the scene of the crash. The suspension, though sprung for my weight, “talked” a lot, and generally seemed too harsh. (Blame that on me. I never revalved it.) The biggest problem was that it was too powerful for me. The power was abundant and fun, but it often came on too quickly. When I needed it, it was fun, but many times that bike sent me taking impromptu soil samples.

Andy was coming off a 2000 Yamaha YZ250, a relative rarity in the woods. (I think most find it easier to simply buy an orange bike, rather than convert a blue MX machine to work on the trail.) That bike was arrestingly violent in its power delivery, and the suspension was very, very harsh. Pretty obviously, it took a fair amount of time and money to get the bike set up for woods riding. Andy’s main complaint with that bike was the lack of torque — he was generally beating the clutch like it owed him money. I think he had some misgivings about pouring money into a bike that wasn’t cheap to acquire and that he never seemed to really get along with.

AOAA
I'll happily pay to ride legally off-road. This is a really great place, especially for those who don't have good riding near them in the Northeast. Photo by Lemmy.

Where we rode

After a very healthy breakfast, we scooted up to AOAA in the heart of Pennsylvania’s coal country. AOAA has a pretty wide variety of trails to play on. Haul roads, ATV trails, and single-track are all present. There are some climbs and descents, but nothing too crazy. Not every rider will be able to ride every trail, but moderately experienced riders on dirt bikes should be able to get through most of the western half of the park with relative ease.

Link guard
This is a slick item, though expensive. It's a replacement shock linkage with integrated link guard and boasts four-position adjustable lowering capability. Photo by Lemmy.

What we changed

I feel that with an offroad machine, it’s important to have the bike set up correctly. Andy and I both made some suspension changes. Steve Bromley of Bromley Motorcycles set up both ends of my Ollé-suspended bike; it was sprung and revalved for a rider of my girth. (Plug for them here. I am in love with the suspension on this bike.) Andy’s RR came from the factory with a more upmarket Sachs setup. His was resprung for a 225-pound rider and was revalved by RaceTech.

Silencer
Andy's silencer on the RR was a branded FMF unit. The unmarked one on the Xtrainer looks remarkably similar to some aftermarket FMF ones I've had in the past, though. Just sayin'. Photo by Lemmy.

Since we are primarily woods riders, most of the other modifications were protection-based, and probably considered prudent requirements rather than radical changes. Andy’s bike had some trick pieces like rad guards and supports installed. His bike also comes stock with a branded FMF silencer.

Knobby
Trials tire? I don't think so. I was happy with the gummy enduro tire Beta fitted to the Xtrainer. Photo by Lemmy.

The RR's handguards came from Enduro Engineering, and I snooped around and found a few other nice bits: a Moose Racing rear disc guard, a skid plate and link guard of unknown origin, and a Beta fork lock block-off slug. One notable change was Andy’s rear tire. He prefers a trials tire off-road.

Guards
Beta upgrade handguards. Photo by Lemmy.

Rack
Racks are awesome. Photo by Lemmy.
The Xtrainer was sporting upgraded Beta aluminum rad guards (but no supports), as well as a Beta aluminum skid plate. (I found out later that P-tech makes an integrated skid plate and pipe guard, which is a wonderful idea.) Handguards were Cycra Probends, and the bike's suspension was protected with a Fastway link guard.

The Xtrainer also had a Beta factory rack on the back fender, allowing one to carry tools, tire repair stuff, and a spare fuel bottle.

What we found

Bikes on the truck.
Let's get these bikes off this truck and get this party started. Photo by Lemmy.
To understand the differences between the bikes, it helps to understand what each of these bikes was built for — and what Beta has in its history.

The $8,499 300RR is a woods race bike; it’s a competitor to every other 250/300 cc 2T bike you’ll find prowling the woods. The $7,299 Xtrainer is a bit of a different story. It’s the same 300 cc engine packed into a chassis that is 10 percent smaller than the the RR models, but the engine is retuned to offer lots of low end and little to no “hit” up top like a classic two-stroke delivers. Beta describes this in their brochure as “entry-level.” This means entry-level to a competition bike, not “geared to new riders.” Though the power is damped down on the Xtrainer, it’s still a 300 cc two-stroke. It will pull the front wheel up alarmingly quickly. This is a play bike that definitely has enough juice to be raced. (That said, you will be down on power compared to the true race bikes you’ll find at most enduros and hare scrambles. You should be OK in a dual-sport event.)

RR
2017 Beta 300 RR. Photo by Lemmy.

Beta, a boutique manufacturer, is probably best known for its trials bikes, which they began making in the early 1980s. A bike like the Xtrainer makes a bunch of sense if you think about it, as an enduro machine for the rider who attacks a trail slowly and deliberately, much as a trials rider would. The small stature of trials bikes makes them very nimble — a trait that some trail riders prize.

Xtrainer
2017 Beta Xtrainer. Photo by Lemmy.

I jumped onto the Xtrainer. I had some starting troubles. These bikes are carbureted two-strokers, and this was my first time getting to know them. In fairness, I have not yet learned what this bike wants at startup. They both have The Magic Button, which is nice. The 300 RR is also equipped with a kicker. The Xtrainer is not. The Xtrainer’s little battery was up to the job of starting the machine, but only barely — it seems as though the bike is jetted a bit lean.

Spoogey pipes
The Xtrainer's silencer is on the left, and the 300RR's is on the right. I'm OK with both levels of spooge here, but the 300 is probably on the outside edge of what I would be willing to live with. I suspect jetting that bike a bit leaner would go a long way to helping keep the silencer a little cleaner. Photo by Lemmy.

It should be noted that these dirt bikes are both oil-injected, rather than pre-mix. We’ll talk more about this, but this actually factors in with respect to starting. Normally, the oil ratio in a two-stroke is pre-mixed and thus fixed at, say, 50:1 or 32:1. Beta’s system is electronic, and is actuated according to a preset map in the ECU. I would not be surprised to see the system run heavy on oil at startup to prevent wear and scuffing. More oil, in terms of volume, means less fuel — the very thing you need lots of on startup as well.

I managed to get the bike up and running without jumper cables… though Andy was digging them out by the time I finally got the Xtrainer goin’. We hit the groomed haul road out to the trails, and initial impressions on the Xtrainer came rolling in from the moments the wheels began to roll.

The suspension on the Xtrainer is so, so plush. I won’t be surprised to hear many riders decry it for being too soft. I’m glad I had it sprung and valved properly; I’m certain I would simply bottom the factory setup. Larger folks considering the Xtrainer should factor this in as an essential expenditure. The bike’s ends were dribbling up and down like a basketball, but my seat glided along like Pappy’s old Buick.

Sachs suspension
Andy's RR had some valving work performed by Race Tech. Overall, the RR suspension features more adjustability and focuses on high-speed performance, so the suspension action is generally much faster. Photo by Lemmy.
I’d go so far as to say that the suspension did not give much feedback. For me, I was OK with that. It was comfy and I am generally not ripping at speeds where I want to know what every pebble is doing. It is very much in the vein of a Japanese play bike in its soft, slow response. Given its trials bloodline, a rich, slow suspension action seems just right for this bike.

The 300RR, on the other hand, has a more expensive suspension package to start with, and even though it was sprung for riders who were lighter than Andy and a lot lighter than me, it still felt stiffer and the action was noticeably faster. The bike had lots less compression and rebound damping. Our Beta rep dropped some knowledge on me: “The Xtrainer comes sprung for a 165-175-pound rider while the RR is set up for someone from 175-190 pounds.”

The RR has another inch of travel at each end to work with, so dialing in the feel on that bike should be easier. (Xtrainer is 10.6 inches front and rear. The RR moves 11.6 inches at the front, and 11.4 inches at the rear.) It’s noticeably more sophisticated, with more adjustability. (The RR rear has high- and low-speed compression settings, but the Xtrainer’s compression and rebound are linked. The front of the RR has separate compression and rebound adjustments, and compression is split into high and low speeds, both adjustable. The Xtrainer offers no compression clickers at all up front, but it does have preload adjusters, which the RR does not have.) There’s also a bit of a difference in the fork tubes: the RR’s are 5 mm larger.

Andy’s take: “The Xtrainer’s suspension is too slow for normal trail riding. The softness is great for loading and unloading the suspension when navigating over obstacles at slow speed. For a billy goat rider, traveling where there is poor trail or no trail, the Xtrainer is the better machine.”

On a personal level, I prefer slow, tight trails. Ripping along on any bike in top gear at 60 mph on a logging road isn’t really what I want to do on an off-road motorcycle; haul roads are just a way to connect one trail to the next. Similarly, I prefer not to take single-track at 30 mph. I am not racing and don’t pretend to; I just want to see how far I can take my little bike and see if I can find a quiet spot to stop and eat a granola bar.

Andy on the trail
"Uh, bud? I kind of really like both of these bikes." Photo by Lemmy.
Andy and I got the bikes into some single-track, and I was really happy with the engine and the chassis. The engine is a peach. It actually has some meaningful compression braking, which was both surprising and welcome. And… you can use it! Remember the oil injection? If the carb is closed, it’s still sucking air in, and a small amount of fuel. Premix bikes do not tolerate that situation for long due to the lack of lubricating oil. However, Beta’s oil injection means that the piston and rod bearings can still receive oil under heavy engine vacuum, even if fuel is in short supply. No more blipping, and you can now throw some compression braking behind your brakes on steep descents.

The RR, by comparison, was pretty nutty — to me. Andy was quite happy with it. I felt it was smoother in terms of delivery than a KTM 250, and it had more bottom end. (And it should — 50 2T ccs are nothing to sniff at.) Even in rain mode (both bikes have a mode switch, denoted by a sun and a rain cloud), the 300 got out of hand quickly for me. It was great fun in the open and wider trails, but in rockier hairpin trails, it was less than exemplary, given my riding style.

Fan
As a poky slow guy, I appreciated this equipment the Xtrainer offered. Photo by Lemmy.

Then engines are similar, but not the same. They’re ported differently, they wear different expansion pipes, the have slightly different carbs, and the RR sports a bit more compression ratio than the Xtrainer. Remember that trials heritage? That shows up again, too. The Xtrainer is happy to be moved around at low speed, because it has a cooling fan attached to the back of the right radiator. The RR, presumably bred to be ridden at higher speeds, does not. (But one is available through Beta as an accessory purchase.)

Andy’s take: “KTM runs a few demo days here in Pennsylvania. I was able to ride a few miles on the 2017 KTM 300 XC-W. The KTM has more power up top compared to the 300RR, but can’t compete with the low end of the Beta. Riding style should help you figure out which one is for you rather quickly. I like the Beta better, but only by a little.” And the Xtrainer? “I wish I would have taken the Xtrainer up the [very steep] Jeep hill climb, because it would have been awesome at that.”

Another little difference is the tool kit. The RR has a pretty nice one stashed behind the left side cover. The Xtrainer does not have room on board, though a kit does come with the bike. I was a little jelly of Andy’s setup. It’s pretty sweet.

Andy’s take: "I love the tool kit. That’s less weight I have to carry in my backpack." (I agree with Andy. Weight on the bike, close to center of mass, is always the best place for it.)

Andy talking
“I wish I would have taken the Xtrainer up the Jeep hill climb, because it would have been awesome at that.” Photo by Lemmy.

Andy rides a little wilder than I do; he’s very much a “grip it ‘n’ rip it” sort. He solves most of his problems with more throttle, so the Xtrainer was a bit disappointing for him. I don’t disagree totally. I would like to adjust the power valve a bit and see if I could achieve a little more pizzazz on the top end without taking away from the copious low-end power.

Andy’s take: “I think the engines feel similar on the bottom, but the RR takes off on top where the Xtrainer stays kind of flat.”

Possibly the biggest difference between the two bikes is in the chassis. As I mentioned, the Xtrainer’s frame is 10 percent smaller than the full-sized RR. Stats reveal the difference: The RR is longer by two-tenths of an inch, and outweighs the Xtrainer by six pounds. None of that is earth-shattering until you get to seat height and ground clearance. The RR sits almost an inch higher (36.6 inches for the RR, 35.8 inches on the Xtrainer), yet their ground clearance (12.6 inches) is exactly the same. This is a pretty big deal!

Vista
It's fun riding around the old coal mines. Sometimes you pop out at some really beautiful spots. Photo by Lemmy.

I loved the low height of the Xtrainer. I could finally use my feet to dab. The 300RR felt wider to both of us, which was welcome on the heinie parts. Personally, I’d gladly give up seat comfort. Thirteen inches of ground clearance was just fine. I never even banged my skid plate.

Skid plate
Beta upgrade skid plate. It ended the day much muddier, but at 12.6 inches off the ground, it wasn't in use very often. Also check out the weird expansion pipe, which is part of how the Xtrainer makes its unorthodox power. Photo by Lemmy.

Reaching the ground was awesome. There were a few times I stopped somewhere without thinking about my foot placement. The low seat plus the electric start made restarting a breeze. Hell, there was even a climb I blew very close to the top. Rather than turn around, I got pigheaded and hit the starter and tractored right up to the summit.

Beta cockpit
Andy looks on smugly as I break down and demand a water break. Photo by Lemmy.

Andy’s take: “I’ve been on a dirt bike since I was a kid. I grew up not having my feet touch the ground, so it doesn’t bother me as much as it does you. I’d prefer the added suspension travel of the RR.”

Braking on both bikes is about standard; pretty middlin’. I feel like the fronts on both were way stronger than their rear counterparts, moreso on the Xtrainer. That bike has a snotload of dive due to that soft, slow suspension. Panic stops on the Xtrainer are a little hairy — perhaps another signal that these are designed to operate at lower speeds.

Conclusion

Andy and I each gravitated toward a different bike, and we were both more cemented in our assumption that we knew which bike was for which rider after spending time on the other’s machine. We also realized that tossing out some guidelines for those intending to purchase one of these bikes might help, so we think there are two aspects that deserve thought.

First, be honest about your skills and riding style. Sure, I could fib and say I was a better rider than I am. I could tell you all about how great the RR was for me. The truth is that the RR is a great bike, but I’m not rider enough to exploit its abilities, and as such, I am faster and more reliable on the Xtrainer. More importantly, I can get through technical patches that would overwhelm me if I was on the taller, more powerful bike. In that way, I am a better rider and buddy to my friends.

Andy’s pace is fast and aggressive. I’m a very serious trail hack, but fast I am not. He’s not about to change his riding style, so the small size and manageable power of the Xtrainer that I liked so much were hindrances to him in some places.

Secondly, consider your geographic area and the places you normally ride. In the Northeast, we have narrow trails. It’s not uncommon at all to have to turn your wheel just to get your handlebars through the trees. If I lived in the South, where trails tend to be flow-ier and wider, I would probably gravitate to the RR a bit more, but I’m usually on very skinny single-track with lots of switchbacks and hard turns. Similarly, if I was running in the desert, where top speed tends to be higher and overcoming sand requires big power, the RR would be a lot more appealing.

Up in northeast Pennsylvania, we also have lots of elevation changes. I was comfortable moving my body around a lot on the Xtrainer, and the grunty, can’t-stall-it-out-on-a-hill, nearly four-stroke-like nature of the X made it a natural ally for a rider of my ability.

Andy normally rides the same stuff as I do, but his propensity to open the throttle made the Xtrainer less appealing to him. The more slower and technical the terrain, the brighter the Xtrainer will shine — almost regardless of rider skill.

Andy’s take: "I think in a perfect world I would own both, the more I think about it!” (I think Andy’s nuts. In a truly perfect world, I would only need one and someone else would make my payments for me.)

All done!
I like this part of the day. This is the step right before beer and wings. Photo by Lemmy.

Both these bikes are worthy contenders, covering a pretty broad spectrum of trail riders looking for the light weight and generous power provided by a two-smoker. KTM’s XC bikes have some real competition on its hands if Beta can meet demand with the RR. Similarly, their Freeride, while similar in spirit to an Xtrainer, is not really the best weapon for the true trail junkie who wants to do an enduro or hare scramble now and again. Given the fact that so many Japanese trailies still sport carbs, and coupled with some of the four-stroke-like behavior of the Xtrainer, I would not be surprised to see these two machines convert a few four-stroke owners.