Beta Techno Trials Test
The water was getting deep, splashing close to the seat. The path I'd picked across the stream was looking like a mistake -- the stream bottom was covered with large round boulders, all very slippery with moss and algae.
I spied what looked like a flat area ahead and gassed the Beta Techno. Ten feet later I came to a sudden stop when I hit a submerged log that was propped up two feet above the stream bottom. Both boots filled with water as I struggled to keep the brand-new Beta from going under. I hadn't expected to have to worry about drowning bikes in Southern California!
Alan Malmquist of Observed Trials Products, a Beta dealer in the San Diego area had invited myself and test rider Kevin Flaherty to a trials event at San Gabriel Canyon ORV area in the mountains east of Los Angeles to ride the new Beta Techno. Kevin and I were checking out the terrain and the new Beta the day before the event when I did my deep water check.
Observed Trials is the somewhat arcane motorcycle sport that involves riding motorcycles over obstacles without putting your feet down. Sections are set up along a loop, at each section one or more observers watch as each rider in turn attempts the section. Sections consist of whatever the devious and perverted mind of the trials master can think of -- huge boulders, logs, deep water, tight turns, loose rocks. All obstacles must be negotiated with the rider not putting his feet down. A dab costs a point, crashing or riding outside the section markers costs five points. Low score wins. There are different lines for the various classes, so that experts can be sufficiently challenged on their difficult lines while novices get easier lines so they aren't put in (too much) danger.
Trials bikes are highly specialized. They're light (the Beta Techno weighs in at 177 pounds with fluids and no fuel) have torquey two-stroke engines and low gearing. Steering geometry is very quick and suspension travel is shorter than normal dirt bikes at six to seven inches front and rear. Seat heights are very low -- trials sections are ridden standing on the pegs for maximum control, and riders need to be able to crouch low on the bike to help it spring over obstacles. Tires are trials (block) tread but use low pressures and incredibly grippy rubber. The rear tires are radials and most riders run 3.5 to 4 psi.
The '96 Beta Techno is an evolution of the previous two years' Technos. The main visible difference is the 'right side up' Paoli forks that replace the upside-down forks used on previous Technos. Less visible are changes to the clutch to make the engagement more progressive, and a new digital ignition. Previous Technos had a reputation as an advanced-riders-only bike -- the clutch action was very quick and the motor hit hard right off the bottom. Top level riders contemplating a five-foot step with only four feet of run-up need this sort of hair-trigger response. The rest of us don't have to do these extreme obstacles, and Beta wisely re-tuned the bike for the 95% of the riders who will actually be buying it. The top riders can get a clutch slave cylinder from a '94 Techno to quicken the clutch action back to "dump 'n jump" specs.
Other than the new graphics and rear brake caliper the rest of the Techno is carried over from last year. The beautiful and strong Verlicchi aluminum beam frame doubles as the fuel tank, holding 1.1 gallons of premix. Last year some Technos came from Italy with 26mm Mikuni carbs installed instead of the usual Dell'Orto, this year all Technos will come with the Japanese mixer. The kickstarter is the same short left-side item that's been annoying Beta riders for years.
Everything on the Beta is designed to be crash-worthy -- the frame "down tubes" (really bolt-on aluminum extrusions) surround and protect the tiny radiator. The rear brake pedal is small and tucked in to the frame and has a folding tip, and the rear brake master cylinder is stuffed inside the frame. The kickstand tucks along the swing arm and protects the rear brake disc and rear axle nut from damage. Front fork sliders have plastic protectors. The sturdy skid plate protects the bottom of the bolt-on clutch cover and is mounted flush to the frame at the rear, so that riders can park the bike on it's skid plate on an obstacle and then use a little body english to slide off. At a national round this year, Beta rider and two-time national champion Geoff Aaron did exactly this when his Beta's chain derailed. He had just parked his bike's skid plate on a rock in the middle of a section, so he calmly reached back and threaded the chain back onto the sprockets while keeping his feet on the pegs and the bike balanced on the rock.
When we first rode the bike the front fork was too stiff, lending a heavy feel to the front end that inhibited hopping. We backed off the Paoli cartridge fork's preload and rebound damping and it worked well. The suspension is set up fairly soft and springy to allow riders to hop the bike easily and to let the wheels follow the ground at the low speeds used in sections. However the suspension doesn't bottom hard while at speed on the loop, even when jumping whoops in fifth gear. While no one will mistake the Techno for a motocross bike -- the suspension's just too short and the bike far too twitchy -- it handled well for a trials bike at speed on the loop.
In sections, the suspension is killer. Maintain your momentum and the bike will glide over rocks. The forks are springy enough to allow a sufficiently-talented rider to hop the front end even in deep sand. Yet there's no bouncing from under-damping. The rear suspension felt slightly soft to our 190-pound Intermediate rider but was fine for the 150-pound Sportsman rider.
Easy starting is more important in a trials than in an enduro, since riders stop to examine each section before riding it. In the Techno's case, the kicker's travel is cut short when it runs into the footpeg. Worse, the internal mechanism doesn't engage for the first few inches of travel, further reducing the kicker's effectiveness. Combined with a little clutch drag from the slightly sticky clutch, the Techno was difficult to start while in gear. If it were our bike, we'd have changed the transmission oil to reduce the clutch sticking and moved the kick lever on it's shaft to increase the effective travel. Those simple changes would make the Techno much easier to start, but Beta could make it even easier by changing the kickstart lever's location or shape to get a longer travel. The rubber cover on the kick lever kept trying to fall off, another Beta tradition. The Techno's waterproofing held up to the repeated deep stream crossings. It didn't cough once even though water came up nearly to the seat. Air filter access is through the non-padded "seat" which comes off with two screws.
All in all, the '96 Techno is a winner for club riders. It's easy handling and more tractable engine and clutch make ordinary club riders feel like heros. National caliber riders might want to make a few changes, but not us. Our Intermediate tester won his class on the Beta. The Sportsman rider had his lowest loop score on the Techno. This is the first '96 model trials bike we've tested, so we can't yet say that the Beta is the best. But its competition will have to be pretty awesome to beat it!
Weight 150 pounds
Level: sportsman (5th of 6 classes)
Trials Experience: 1 year
Current bike: '92 Beta Zero
Likes: steep loose climbs, steps
Dislikes: loose rocks, sand, water, daily news
I really liked the Techno -- it feels similar to my personal Beta Zero except that it's better at everything. So I instantly felt at home on it. I especially liked the power and suspension -- I felt like all I had to do was twist the throttle and the Beta would get me over big slimy rocks deep in the stream. If California goes through with its plans to ban two strokes from off-road use in '97, the '96 models will be the last two-strokes (and therefore the last trials bikes as no one makes four-stroke trials bikes). I'll probably buy a new bike in '96 so it can be 'grandfathered' in. After this test the Beta looks like a strong contender. It's a bike that makes me feel hero even at my relatively inexperienced level yet will be able to keep up with me as far as I can go.
Weight: 190 pounds
Level: Intermediate (second of 6 classes)
Trials Experience: 5 years
Current bike: '95 Fantic 249
Likes: tight turns, loose rolling rocks
Dislikes: big drop-offs
Although I was initially disturbed by the touchy clutch, the Beta Techno quickly became very enjoyable to ride. With only a little practice the clutch could be modulated reliably. The low, extra wide footpegs inspired confidence in my balancing abilities as they provided a very stable platform. Coupled with the agile and balanced suspension, the bike was very easy to hop. Another desirable feature of the Beta is the very impressive build quality. The bike is extremely well finished. The Techno frame is a work of art to my eye, the paint work appears top notch, and the entire package seems to indicate that it was designed and assembled with great care.
The importer (Cosmopolitan Motors Inc, Hatboro, Penn.) provided the bike through
OTP Observed Trials Products
13347 Gideon Court
Lakeside, CA 92040
The bike had a custom OTP spark arrestor/muffler to meet California green-sticker rules.
Displacement - 247.5cc
Engine type - Liquid-cooled single cylinder two-stroke
Bore x stroke - 72.5 x 60mm
Compression ratio - 12:1
Carburetion - Mikuni 26mm
Ignition - Ducati adjustable electronic
Transmission speeds - 6
Starting system - Kick
Fuel capacity - 1.16 gal.
Wheelbase - 52.5 in.
Seat height - 26.5 in.
Front tire - Michelin 2.75 x 21 tube-type
Rear tire - Michelin 4.00 x 18 tubeless
Front brake - Disc
Rear brake - Disc
Final drive - Chain
Weight - 177 lbs