Yamaha took a long, hard look at the dual-sport market before diving in and it seems like it found the right spot to take the plunge with the all-new WR250R and 250X.
The front end is keeping its act together as I enter the biggest set of whoops yet – something I hope continues. The speedo is fluttering around the 45 mph mark. Midway through the section is a sweeping turn, stay on the gas, pinch with the knees and beat that throttle like it owes me money.
And that’s only the half of it…
Asphalt streams below as I smash into the rev limiter like Ted Williams bouncing off the Green Monster. A simultaneous flick of my left-side fingers and toes bangs a gear – down. The rear end steps out just a bit, enough to bring a smile out under my tinted visor. Hard on the brakes and tip it in, pegs grind and it’s full-throttle and rev-limiter all over again.
The 2008 WR250R and WR250X aren’t anything like the existing slew of 250cc 4-stroke machines from Yamaha. The familiar WR model, the 250F enduro, has a totally different engine, chassis, suspension, computer, seat, you name it. The same goes for the YZ250F motocrosser which is even further away in the Yammie quarter-liter lineup. Since it didn’t rework its YZ-F or WR-F mills that means the Tuning Fork engineers were tasked with creating a completely new engine and chassis without the luxury of sourcing parts.
Higher-ups at the press launch kept using terms like “purpose-built,” “all-new” and “specifically designed,” which led to questions: for what, how so and for whom? The short answers are: performance-based small-bore dual-sport, the perfect set up for old dudes with limited riding and moderate incomes. But that doesn’t say much, now does it? Yamaha knows the dual-sport industry has been riding a steady and notable rise over the past decade and wanted to capitalize on that growth. The only question was what kind of bike to build in order to maximize its share of dual-sport (DS) sales?
Before turning loose the engineers and designers, Yamaha made use of its marketing department by collecting data about the current DS market and the riders participating. According to the studies, there are plenty of utilitarian machines ranging from small to large displacement, but on the high-tech/performance end of things, only larger displacement machines were available such as KTM’s EXC450/525 and then mega-spiffy and expensive adventure touring machines like BMW’s R1200GS or even G650 Xchallenge. The largest delinquency was found to be small-bore marketplace. Entry-level utilitarian DS bikes like the Honda CRF230L, Kawasaki KLX250 and Yamaha’s own XT250 are popular mounts, but their indolent demeanor doesn’t necessarily entice the old Cheshire grin. Further studies show that dual-sport riders want their bikes to have high-tech features, and so the stage was set for Yamaha to swing for the fence.
Yamaha is looking to corner the performance market share of small-bore dual-sport machines. The WR250R is the more versatile of the two newest offerings.
2008 Yamaha WR250R
Yamaha found that dual-sport riders are evenly split toward street and off-road so it built two distinct bikes. Both machines can be ridden in either environment, but of the new duo, this is obviously the bike geared at the dirty minded crowd. A set of 21/18-inch wheels with the impressive Trail Wing 301/302 combo give the 250R a legitimate purpose off-road. Even still, the little Yammie is more of a 70/30 on/off-road package. We’d accept 60/40 without a peep of argument, but to go halves on this deal is a stretch. The Bridgestones, though hardly what you would call aggressive in their knob pattern, have a lot of surface area which gripped every hard terrain we encountered. Street riding was no problem with plenty of traction and feedback, and no trouble handling even the largest pot-holes. The wheel/tire arrangement is the primary focus that really separates the R and X models. A few other changes discern the two, but for all intents and purposes that’s it.
The standout feature that establishes the WR as a performance oriented bike is the well-sorted suspension components. A 46mm inverted Kayaba fork has 10.6 inches of travel and is compression and rebound adjustable. Though smaller and lighter sprung, the KYB unit acts just like a “real” off-road fork. Bottoming resistance was terrific considering our tester’s 185-pound girth, and it stayed planted over the smaller rocks we encountered constantly on the trail. Sure, we bottomed it out, but unlike some of the other sub-400cc dualies which hit bumpers at the mere thought of rough terrain, the 250R stays up in the stroke fairly well, and there’s plenty more available to begin with.
Out back is a SOQI shock with another 10.6 inches of travel and even more adjustability. Rebound, compression and preload are all standard in the off-road world (though not necessarily in the DS realm) but Yamaha also offers another personalizing feature. A ride height adjuster between the shock and linkage can raise or lower the machine nearly an inch. Standard settings are in the tallest placement, but simply loosening a 26mm nut and twisting the threaded adjustment knob can drop the rear end up to 0.9 inch. Considering the lofty 36.6-inch seat height, having the option to drop down to 35.7″ without affecting preload or compression is a nice feature. Yamaha expects to entice newer riders or those who have experience but have been out of the game for awhile, and tall seats with little skill isn’t a perfect match. Our bike was set up for the lowest seat height and we did not get a chance to change settings during our ride.
We wouldn’t even try to seat-bounce most small dual-sports, but the 250R instills a sense of adventure and playfulness.
Fortunately, the rest of the bike is pretty forgiving so tempting first-timers into throwing a leg over should be fairly simple. The motor doesn’t produce enough power to cause too much trouble, but it will hold its own equally while zipping around town or hitting the trail. We got ours to an indicated 95mph in full tuck, which is plenty fast for us. In fact, since we don’t care to have that much top speed, we wouldn’t mind adding some teeth to the rear sprocket to give the bike a little more low-end punch. If we had one complaint about the 250cc DOHC motor it was a lack of bottom-end power. We stalled the 4-valve mill several times during slow-speed clutching and could easily see riders with less skill having more difficulty.
The powerplant uses a pair of 30mm titanium intake valves and another set of 24.5mm exhaust flappers. Automatic decompression and an 11.8:1 compression ratio make the bike easy to start with the electric-only system. That’s right, no kickstart lever to light the 77 x 53.6mm bore/stroke motor. Standard 91 octane pump gas runs this little Betty through a steel 2-gallon fuel tank and a 38mm throttle body. The electronic fuel injection is a downdraft Mikuni system with 12-hole injector, similar to technology found on Yamaha sportbikes. The extra atomization of fuel makes for a wider spray and more efficient combustion. The opposite end has a muffler with honeycomb catalytic converter, EXUP power valve and an air injection system to help meet all the emission requirements.
Slow-speed, technical riding can be a bit troublesome with the tall gearing and mild motor. Beginners especially will probably want to change the final gearing.
Even though it shares the same bore/stroke dimensions as the YZ250F, the WR feels nothing like Yamaha’s other two-fifties. Wide open, drop the clutch and chances are you won’t loop out as long as you aren’t on pavement. The claimed dry weight of 276 pounds is plenty to rein in the mild-mannered power. However, the output is terrific for puttering through town and will surprise a rider with how quickly it can get up to speed. The six-speed transmission isn’t as slick as it could be, but with such light loads from the motor cog changes are generally trouble-free. Tapping through the tranny, a quick look at the dual-mode computer (speedo, odo, clock, A/B trip meter, FI self-diagnostics, timer, distance-compensating trip meter and average speed) reveals speeds in the 50s before you know it.
Off the highway the engine actually feels a little peppier since the rear end can loosen up and spin the piston more freely. We found ourselves winding the nuts out of it most of the time in order to keep the pace up. The reason wasn’t so much a lack of power displacement, but more of a delivery issue. Gearing is a little tall for off-road use, which will likely be one of the bigger issues for inexperienced riders. Our biggest complaints were during slow-speed situations and trying to coax the engine into pulling second gear. Spacing between the remaining cogs was still tall, but not as noticeable because we had more rolling momentum.
Whipping the 250R through the trails is an easy task. Even though it’s pretty heavy for such a small bike, the center of gravity feels low and it is certainly nimble considering all the extra street-going hardware. It isn’t mindlessly easy to ride hard off-road, however, since it takes a little planning to loft the front wheel over obstacles and it’s important to keep track of gear selection if you are trying to qualify on pole. While speeding up might take a little effort, slowing down surely doesn’t. The 250mm full floating wave-style disc up front and 230mm on back offer style to match performance. A dual-piston Nissin caliper squeezes the larger rotor and a single-piston rear unit both provide ample stopping power in all situations.
Overall the entire WR250R package works well. The suspension is stout enough to handle almost any speed the motor is capable of, and the tires, believe it or not, are great at limiting how far you can comfortably push the suspension and chassis.