Beta motorcycles have been called “the Ferrari of off-road bikes.” Like Ferrari supercars, Betas are made in Italy, are fast and bright red, and they win races. This small manufacturer, located near Florence, Italy, has been in business for over a century but is not well-known in the U.S. — except among the enduro and trials racing communities.
The Beta name comes from a rearrangement of the initials of the first managing directors: Enzo Bianchi and Arrigo Tosi. The company was founded in 1904, and for the first 40 years, it made hand-built bicycles. There was an overwhelming need for inexpensive, powered transport in Italy after World War II, and in response, Beta started producing motorcycles, with the initial offering being a bicycle with a small engine that moved the rear wheel by a roller pressed against it. Current CEO, Lapo Bianchi, is the great grandson of company founder Giuseppe Bianchi. In a world of conglomerates, Beta is still an independent company.
Beta started making its own engines in-house in 1948, starting small and gradually increasing cc, with a focus on two-stroke street bikes. Later, the company started specializing in off-road machines, starting with enduro and motocross bikes. For Italian motor companies, fielding a race team is almost a requirement, and Beta had success in off-road competition with Jim Pomeroy, Gilbert De Roover and Italian rider Ivano Bessone.
Starting in the early 1980s, Beta’s trials machines, ridden by legends Jordi Tarres and Dougie Lampkin, were consistent winners. Beta continues to make a full line of well-regarded trials weaponry and fields a U.S. trials team.
In 2004, Beta re-entered the enduro market, using four-stroke motors from KTM while the factory designed and tested its own motor. At the same time, Beta started exporting an increasing number of its motorcycles, commencing a U.S. presence in 2005. An enduro bike with the Beta-built motor was first sold in 2013. Shortly afterwards, Beta started manufacturing an oil-injection two-stroke. The current version of this bike comes in several engine sizes and features two choices for ignition mapping, six speeds and an easy to operate diaphragm clutch. The Beta two-stroke is the mount of choice for many racers, including the current FIM EnduroGP World Champion.
Tim Pilg is the CEO of Beta USA. A former dealer, he got interested in Betas, worked out a deal with the Italian company and has, since 2005, headed the official U.S. importer of these machines. Pilg’s immediate focus was signing up dealers, and there are now 185 dealerships with Betas on the floor. In a deal with Liqui Moly, Beta USA has factory teams and supported riders racing enduro and trials, and it is contesting several different series in each form of competition. Rodney Smith, 13-time AMA Off-Road Champion and AMA Hall of Famer, acts as brand ambassador. Given the interest of the typical Beta consumer in racing, weekend wins often translate to weekday sales.
Pilg explains that the average Beta customer is competition-minded and serious about the sport. While Beta makes a line of youth trials motorcycles, including two electric bikes, the average Beta customer is between 36 and 42 years old (94% are male) and is — or was — an experienced rider. One of the most popular Beta models is the Xtrainer, intended for people who may have raced in their youth and are now interested in returning to off-road riding. It has a lower seat height and softer power delivery.
Those who are comfortable off-road can choose between four different sizes of street-legal dual-sport bikes: the RR series of trail riding bikes, which come in several sizes in both two and four-stroke models, and the Race Edition series of competition bikes. Trials enthusiasts have their choice of 14 different models in different displacements, price points and states of tune. At this point in time, Beta does not focus on motocross but does make one two-stroke motocross machine, and an all-new 450cc motocross model will appear shortly.
Like the rest of the world, Beta spent the last two years fighting its way through the pandemic. “We were closed for a month, then ran a light staff for three months,” says Pilg. “We worked really hard to get motorcycles to our dealers, and I think we did better than our competition, due to the organization of the factory. Our dealers were able to sell everything at retail. The supply chain issues came later, but we worked through those as well. It’s a tough market.”
Pilg, with his extensive background in dealership management, knows that retail sales can be stressful and says he wears his dealer hat often. Beta helps its dealers by providing a quality product that appeals to advanced riders. “They are demanding customers — but if you take care of them, they will take care of you,” he notes. One customer pleaser that is returning after a pause is the “Build Your Own Bike” program, where a customer can order a custom-built bike from the Beta factory, choosing from a set of options. The bike is delivered to the dealer and carries the same warranty as a stock Beta.
Beta’s marketing program includes test rides; the website, which features numerous positive reviews by major magazines; and the many red bike racers who end up on podiums in many national competition venues. Beta has also joined with the American Motorcyclist Association in a National Dualsport Series that features organized rides in scenic venues. However, the most successful Beta promotion seems to be word of mouth by happy Beta owners. As a result of the marketing program, Beta is building a new facility and expanding production.
“We intend to grow the company at a reasonable pace,” says Pilg. “We are also looking to expand our U.S. dealer network. We are looking to fill holes — we do not want to put one dealer on top of another. We would like to have another 30 to 40 U.S. dealers. We prefer to have an interested dealer contact us. Among other things, we run a cash business — no flooring charges. Our focus continues to be on maintaining a quality product, service to the dealer and service to the customer.”
For more info: betausa.com