The definition of the word “paradise” in the “Manchester Comprehensive English Dictionary,” 204th edition, sums it up perfectly: “An idyllic place or state of being where the soil is perpetually moist and cutting-edge dirt bikes ride ‘feely’ without constraint from petty authority.” Look it up. Most people believe this is unattainable, but if paradise could actually exist on earth, it would almost certainly be populated by 350cc dual-sport bikes. The Beta 350RR-S, Husqvarna FE350S and KTM 350EXC-F are heaven’s gift to dirt bike riders. They’re light, reliable, responsive and comfortable. Best of all, they are perfectly legal.
The timing was perfect for our 2023 350 dual-sport comparison. The dirt was wet here in Southern California, and we had brand-new versions of all three 350s. We rode them all stock with the exception of tires. We upgraded to Metzeler MC360 tires, which are classified as mid-hard terrain but still DOT approved and street-legal.
BETA 350RR-S FAST FACTS
The Beta 350RR-S is one of four identical-looking Beta dual-sport bikes that often leaves riders overwhelmed. There’s a story about an indecisive donkey standing between two identical piles of hay. Eventually, the donkey starves to death. That’s a distinct danger for Beta dual-sport riders. In truth, the 350, 390, 430 and 500 are all great machines with different personalities. Why doesn’t Beta thin down the herd? They say it’s like deciding between your kids. The 350 has the same chassis and most of the same motor parts as the others. It differs only in bore and stroke. The suspension is by Sachs, and the brakes are Nissin. As we mentioned earlier, we put Metzeler tires on all the bikes, but in truth, the Michelin tires that come stock on the Beta aren’t bad. We simply wore them out before replacing them.
The Beta offers traction control and two different maps on a little switch in front of the fuel tank. This is a little unusual for a dual-sport bike. EFI maps have to be government approved, so they are usually locked and tamper proof. It’s a little louder than most dual-sport bikes, too. When it comes to noise and emissions, Beta can operate much closer to the edge, whereas a big company like KTM has a lot more to lose if they get in trouble. There are still Volkswagen executives in federal prison for making Uncle Sam mad.
The 350RR-S has a bunch of nice standard features, including handguards, a radiator fan and fold-up mirrors. Best of all, it comes with a Trail Tech Voyager GPS. It still sells for less than the KTM or the Husky. The MSRP is $11,499. On our scale, it weighs 253 pounds without fuel.
At $11,499, the Beta 350RR-S is the least expensive of the group but certainly not cheap.
HUSQVARNA FE350S FAST FACTS
Husky’s dual-sport bikes seem to be on almost every off-road rider’s “gunna buy someday” list. They occupy an esteemed place in the hierarchy of U.S. dual-sport bikes. The FE350S has been unchanged since 2020. This is one of the few bikes in the Husqvarna line that didn’t get a new frame and motor makeover this year, although that might come in 2024. For now, the frame is pretty similar to the one that Husky was racing in Supercross until the season before last.
The motor is identical to the one in the KTM 350EXC-F, but the Husky’s frame, rear suspension and a number of components are different. The rear suspension uses linkage. The triple clamp is machined rather than cast, and the brakes are made by Braktec, as is the hydraulic clutch. The handlebar is ProTaper. The rims are D.I.D and the bodywork is distinctly Husqvarna. When this bike was being developed, it was clear that the engineers put serious effort into making it quiet. One of the methods they employed was the placement of a reed valve between the filter and the throttle body. Noise was also one of the main reasons for the use of Continental TKC80 tires. These are very street-oriented and make very little noise in the ride-by sound test. As a side note, earlier models had a recall of the Continental tires, but that did not affect this particular bike. As mentioned earlier, we replaced the tires with Metzeler TC360s, which were a considerable improvement in the dirt. As delivered, the Husky does not have rim locks installed, but they come with the bike in a small tool package. With real knobbies, you definitely need rim locks. It’s also a good idea to balance the tries.
There is no map switch, but the bike does come with handguards, a skid plate and a radiator fan. It’s the most expensive of the three at $12,249. The weight splits the difference between the KTM and Beta at 245 pounds without fuel.
The Husky FE350S sells for $12,249, slightly more than the KTM, which has a different mix of components.
KTM 350EXC FAST FACTS
KTM wasn’t the first company to make a serious dirt-worthy dual-sport bike, but you can give the Austrian company credit for making the concept truly legit. The KTM 350EXC-F goes back to 2012 and was most recently revamped in 2020. KTM’s off-road and dual-sport models continue to use PDS rear suspension sans linkage. This is the most significant difference between the current KTM and Husqvarna dual-sports. PDS has the advantage of being about 6 pounds lighter and providing greater ground clearance than linkage designs. Otherwise, the two Austrian dual-sport bikes are similar. They both use WP Xact forks with steel coil springs. The KTM uses a cast triple clamp to hold the fork on, and if you look closely, there are a number of other components that differ as well. The KTM has Brembo brakes and a Brembo clutch master cylinder. It also uses a Neken handlebar and Excel rims. As far as the motors go, the KTM and Husky have 6-speed gearboxes and double overhead cams with four valves and finger-follower valve trains, just like the motocross bikes. The KTM uses a reed valve in the air boot, although that boot has a different shape than the Husky’s because the PDS shock allows more space. That and a different airbox design are the only features that might account for any difference in performance between them. The KTM also comes with handguards, a skid plate and a radiator fan. The tires are Continentals, which we replaced with more aggressive Metzeler MC360s. The KTM sells for $12,149 and weighs 239 pounds without fuel.
The KTM 350EXC-F has been in the line since 2012. Today, it sells for $12,149.
TALES FROM THE TRAIL
Up front, you have to understand that all three of these motorcycles are off-road bikes first and everything else second. If you’re looking for a commuter or a long-range, off-road adventure bike, look elsewhere. These bikes don’t have enough power for wide-open roads. They aren’t comfortable enough for days in the saddle, and there are better, cheaper bikes for that kind of stuff. They aren’t race bikes, either. These are bikes made for technical off-road rides connected by short bits of road. Are they compromised in order to be street legal? Certainly, but the compromise is only apparent when it comes to peak power. In order to pass DOT and EPA regulations, all three are very muffled and have fairly modest power output. Unlike EPA bikes in the past, however, these three are free of glitches such as coughing, popping, stalling and overheating. They all run clean and cool. Of the three, the Beta is easily the most powerful. It runs smoothly down low without any issues and quickly climbs to a respectable midrange. After that, it continues to rev where the other two taper off. On top, the Beta has a clear advantage. It’s also louder, even though we still consider it to be very quiet compared to virtually any other dirt bikes.
As you might expect, the KTM and Husky are similar in performance. The KTM has just a little more to offer in the middle and top, but both have great table manners throughout the rpm range. They run so cleanly that it’s hard to believe that they meet all the emission requirements that once seemed so formidable. That smooth, flawless engine performance allows all three bikes to excel on tight, difficult trials. When you don’t have to worry about the dreaded cough-and-die syndrome, it’s so much easier to climb rock ledges and clear logs. All three are outstanding in that regard.
On more wide-open trails and in deep sand, all three are limited, although the Husky and KTM run into their limitations much earlier than the Beta. You simply have to shift the Austrian bikes more, whereas the Beta gives you the option of staying in one gear and using its rpm advantage. None of these bikes are especially adept at wide-open desert. They just don’t have the displacement, and you get bored quickly.
Likewise, they aren’t quite right for long stints on the highway. They vibrate, and, if the wheels aren’t balanced, they bounce. The KTM and Husky are more comfortable than the Beta, which has a hard seat and a wide tank.
The Beta makes the most power of the three dual-sport bikes. It also makes the most noise—or maybe it’s more accurate to say it’s the least quiet.
SMALL AND TALL
The three bikes each have a different feel. The Beta is the most spread out and seems like a larger bike than the other two. It’s a little taller and gives you the feeling that you’re sitting on top, whereas the other two make you feel settled into a cockpit. The Beta also feels longer and a bit more stable. The suspension is soft, of course, which is appropriate for a dual-sport bike. It’s excellent in rocks and on low-speed, technical trails. When you get into deep whoops, though, it’s quickly overwhelmed and prone to quick chassis movements.
The KTM has a feel that’s typical of PDS bikes. It’s fairly level at lower speeds and might even be the best at absorbing rocks and trail junk. But, as the trail pace picks up, it develops a bit of a stink-bug attitude. The rear end unloads and the front end dives. It already has much quicker steering than the Beta, and that gets more pronounced at higher speeds.
The Husky is a little more level in most situations. It’s very soft, just like the other two, and very good in rocks. It struggles with higher speeds and bigger bumps, just like the others, but it’s the least prone to chassis movement. That’s typical of linkage suspension. Also typical of linkage suspension is a tendency to hang up on logs. The Husky’s linkage hangs down much lower than the Beta’s and is shaped in such a way that it’s more likely to stop you in your tracks.
If you’re inclined to go crazy with modifications, the Husky might have the most potential.
It’s impossible to have a discussion about dual-sport bikes without talking about modifications. That’s especially true here, because all three bikes could use a little more fire in the boiler. We simply have to stress that motor mods are ineffective without first remapping the motor. That technically makes the bike into a competition vehicle. With that out of the way, we also have to say that reflashing the stock ignition is very difficult and can go very wrong. New ECUs from Vortex and GET are available but very expensive. It’s best to talk to someone who has done it. We have had pretty good success with the guys at Slavins and
The KTM uses PDS rear suspension. That results in less weight and more ground clearance.
Here are notes from the trail:
The Beta’s brakes are powerful but grabby. The Husky’s have a good feel but aren’t as strong as the KTM’s, which are both powerful and progressive.
All the bikes can be hard to start on cold mornings. Jumper cables had to be used more than once. The Beta is the easiest to jump because the seat pops off with the push of a button. The Beta also has a provision for a kick-starter.
It’s impossible to provide a meaningful fuel range because no two rides and no two riders will experience the same results. We can only report that the three bikes made it to the end of a 60-mile trail ride—all singletrack. There was very little fuel to spare, and all three were pretty equally depleted at the end of the ride. The Beta’s fuel light came on before mile 50.
We love radiator fans. All three have them and all three need them.
The Husky and KTM have huge mirrors that always get in the way. The Beta mirrors fold up but have a plastic hinge that can break.
All three have bouncy license-plate brackets. They will eventually get sucked into the rear wheel and torn to shreds. It’s only a matter of time. There are several aftermarket alternatives for when that happens, but it’s best to address it before you lose or damage your license plate. Same goes for the blinkers.
We love the Voyager GPS on the Beta.
The 350 Dual-Sport class is small right now. No one knows why; 350 is a great size.
Even with their quirks and imperfections, the 350 dual-sport bikes are more fun than just about anything that rolls through the dirt bike shop. Which one is the most fun? In stock form, the Beta has to be considered the ultimate winner. It’s the most powerful and offers the most value. If, on the other hand, you’re one of those riders who’s compelled to spend lots of money, make lots of modifications and mold a bike into your own personal creation, then the Husky and the KTM might have more potential. Just be sure you do a good job; Beta has set the bar pretty high.
Source : DirtBikeMagazine