2011 Yamaha WR450F Race Test

Ken Hutchison | April 21, 2011
2011 Yamaha WR450F - Race Test - AMRA Dual Duel 2011
The 2011 Yamaha WR450F is a proven desert warrior. We are so confident in that statement that we put our stock WR through the ultimate test: Two days of full-blown desert racing during the 2011 AMRA Dual-Duel in Wickenburg, AZ.

Look close at the starting line of any enduro, hare & hound or cross country motorcycle race these days and you will see a wide variety of motorcycles. On one end of the spectrum will be the pro-class riders on their full-blown racers replete with every form of bolt on accessory, aftermarket suspension, engine work, exhaust and most likely a rider who didn’t pay for all of it. On the other end are the common folk, the family-oriented racers and their relatively stock machinery. We thought it would be fun to take a bone-stock dirt bike and race it in one of the more grueling desert races in Arizona, so we rustled up a 2011 Yamaha WR450F from our pals at Yamaha HQ in Cypress and headed east. A few hours later we arrived at Wickenburg for the second Annual Dual-Duel.

The 2011 Yamaha WR450F is the latest incarnation of the venerable enduro that arguably changed the face of off-road racing as we know it today. It features a powerful DOHC, single-cylinder 4-stroke engine that has become a favorite among off-road racers because of its durability and wide range of aftermarket performance products. We had a feeling it would be just fine in stock trim. We intended to find out just how well a motorcycle available to anyone, basically right off the showroom floor, would fare in one of the most grueling off-road racing environments known to man: The desert of central Arizona.

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We took a stock 2011 Yamaha WR450F through two days of off-road racing at the second annual Dual Duel desert race in Arizona. Watch the bike in action in our 2011 Yamaha WR450F Race Test video.

Over the period of two days our new WR was put to the test at the hands of racers on the opposite ends of the spectrum. First up, yours truly saddled-up in the 40+ Open Novice class on Saturday. I’m not a sand-bagger either damnit, but I’ve never been real fast, just consistent. And since it has been a few years since I raced anything I opted to take the easy path. If the bike survived my bumbling exploits then it would compete on the same course again on Sunday in the hands of AA Pro Class contender Michael Martin of Tucson.

The Arizona Motorcycle Racing Association (AMRA) was hosting the second annual Dual-Duel in conjunction with the Rocky Mountain Enduro Club (RMEC) from Colorado, and that made this a perfect opportunity to put the motorcycle through its paces. The course is a rugged, technical and rocky OHV riding area at mile marker four along Highway 74 just outside of Wickenburg. There are plenty of deep gravel washes, single track that winds through creek beds, rock gullies connected by rocky single track, lots of sage brush and a generous helping of my old friend the Cholla cacti.

Now, in all fairness we did add a few pieces of protection to the bike, but we took a couple off as well. First, we removed the stock exhaust baffle which uncorks the WR and the bike still passes sound tech after measuring an eco-friendly 95 decibles on the AMRA sound meter. We also removed the throttle stop in the throttle body to allow us to grab a nice big handful of Yama-power. After that we bolted on three pieces of hardware that a desert racer just shouldn’t go without: Cycra Primal Racer Packs Hand Guards and a pair of ASV levers. The hand guards are a necessity when you are banging against cactus and ASV levers add a measure of insurance against getting stuck in B.F.E. with busted levers. Every other vital piece remains just as it comes off the showroom floor: Stock Dunlop K756 (Which happens to be a popular tire for desert racers), heavy-duty OEM inner tubes, the stock gearing, stock Pro Taper bars, air filter, headlight, kick-stand, etc., etc.

Hutchy on the starting line for his first wave during the 2011 Dual-Duel. Check out his pal Doug who is about to capture footage of Kens holeshot! 2011 Yamaha WR450F - Race Test - AMRA Dual Duel 2011
Hutchy on the starting line for his first wave during the 2011 Dual-Duel. His pal Doug (far left) is about to capture footage of Ken’s holeshot on our 2011 Yamaha WR450F.

Saturday started off with a cool 43-degree morning which made for a restless night’s sleep for all the hard-core purists who camped under the stars. The AMRA was running the event using a grand-prix qualifier format that had riders starting in waves of up to five bikes spaced 30 seconds apart. Racers would complete their lap and return to the finish where their time was tabulated and scored. We would repeat the process for three laps totaling just under 50-miles. They were also dead engine starts. The WR and I grabbed the holeshot in all of our motos.

Loop 1 started out great. I held the lead for about four miles and was thinking about how great I was going to do and how impressive the story was going to be if I pulled off a win. But right about then the arm-pump kicked in. The WR clutch is a little heavy in stock trim and the ASV levers just seems to exacerbate that feel. I’m not blaming that for the arm pump though, it’s merely an observation. I have rarely experienced it but the combinations of nerves, cold temp and my lack of conditioning brought me back down to earth quick. I struggled to make my way through the rest of the eight-mile loop with any type of speed and felt completely humbled. I couldn’t hang on with my right hand, looking like a bull rider clinging to the WR over the rocky single track – every time I gave it gas my hand would slip off the throttle. Very pathetic, I know. I returned to the start/finish after 20 minutes and ended up 15 out of 24 riders in my class. Of the entire first wave there were about a dozen riders from various classes who were injured or experienced mechanical failures. There were a handful of riders taken out of Loop 1 by ambulance too, so I guess my lame result could’ve been worse.

Attrition is always a part of desert racing that’s why it’s imperative to keep your bike in working order and ride the trail – don’t over ride it. When the dust settled the WR450 looked just as good as it did when we first loaded it in the truck. I didn’t even tip over.

The next loop started 20 minutes later and the same thing happened again. Thanks to the consistent electric start of the

2011 Yamaha WR450F Race Test
Kenny boy was no match for the Yamaha WR450F. While the bike worked flawlessly, Hutch ran out of gas quicker than expected.

WR and a healthy burst of acceleration off the line, I grabbed the holeshot and put distance on the other riders in the first five miles. I felt really comfortable at that pace as the 450F pounds through the whoops and hauls serious ass on the wide-open two-track right off the start. Then we got into the washes and bam – I could barely hang on again. That was bad news because this route eventually would dump us onto single track that was like a roller coaster. I love that type of terrain and the Yamaha is perfectly suited to it as well. There were lots of climbs, which the 450 mill dispatches with ease and lots of descents which put a premium on having a good front end, plus rocks, rocks and more rocks, followed by sand washes, rocks then some fields of cacti with single track cut through them. All the while the WR held its own, no flat tires, no dinged rims and nothing major to complain about. More than a few times I felt the brush guards tag one of those bastards and I said thank you to Cycra every single time. Each lap was routed through a rocky wash at the end so it was really fun for the old, out of shape dudes who think they can just hop on a bike and then go and compete in a race after sitting behind the desk for two years eating pad thai and doughnuts every week.

As it is, the WR proved its mettle time and again. Over rough, hard-pack rocky terrain the bike remains stable and the stock suspension is better than you’d expect. The fork resists bottoming in all but the deepest G-outs and didn’t deflect dramatically on squared edged bumps. The suspension was dialed in as good as I could get it with a hour of riding the prior evening so it’s a testament to how good stock equipment is these days. Finite adjustments aren’t easy to discern but every three clicks or turns makes a noticeable change in action. I remember thinking the WR is like a Cadillac compared to the ’90s-era 2-strokes I used to race when I was a kid and it gets great fuel economy.

Off-road legend Destry Abbott shows you how to get through this section with some style at the 2011 AMRA Dual-Duel in Wickenburg  Az.Dust and rocks are a big part of the 2011 AMRA Dual-Duel in Wickenburg  Az.Hutch didnt show off much style on board the 2011 Yamaha WR450F during the Dual-Duel.2011 Yamaha WR450F Race Test
Off-road legend Destry Abbott (20) shows you how it’s done in the desert. Another dude gets a face full of roost from a faster rider.
Hutch rolls through the rough stuff before making a pass on the hill climb on the far right during the push to the finish in Loop 3.

Eventually the torture came to an end. This lap was about 16-miles and was primarily the most horrible environment imaginable. No big deal. The WR fared just as well in Round 2 as it did in Round 1. No flats, no issues, the clutch was still strong and the brakes never protested. The transmission shifts slickly with or without the clutch, too. 

Loop 3 was all the same terrain but the route was over 30 miles long. This time around I got the holeshot trifecta and lasted about 10 miles before my forearms pumped up. It took a few miles of relaxing my grip for it to go away so I just rode at a fast trail pace in an effort to save the bike and finish with some semblance of respectability. There was some amazing stuff out there in the desert including a ravine that had two routes: Easy and Difficult. I chose the Nancy-boy route and it was the right choice. Riders were stacked up a half-dozen deep in the hell hole as I picked my way along the goat trail above them. Still, riders had slid off the single-track so I had to help get a few going again so I could continue my race. The WR is adept here too. Its combination of stability and accurate steering make it an excellent mount in single-track as well as wide-open washes.

2011 Yamaha WR450F Race Test
In the desert, they won’t remember your name but if you run into a cactus, you’ll remember. That’s a big Saguaro buddy!

I finished much better in this round and wrapped up my first day of racing since ’06 with a mid-pack finish in the old guy class. At least I proved that a stock WR450F could survive a desert race, but now came the big question: Could it be competitive in the hands of a fast racer?

That’s where 2010 AMRA 250 A Champion Michael Martin came into play. The Martin family is based out of Tucson and dad, Bill, along with sons Mike and Daniel are a family who rides and races together on their own dime just for fun. They’re fast, respectful and are the type of off-road riders that give us all a good name through their efforts and the way they represent the sport. We arranged for Michael to race the WR in his AA events on Sunday with a little work setting the bike up for his height (6’3” 185 lbs.) he lined up and hit the desert on a stock bike against the likes of AMA Hare & Hound champion Destry Abbott and AMRA regular Eric Bailey.

He submitted his own race report and evaluation of the WR450F so here it is in his own words:

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Climb on with AMRA AA Pro Michael Martin as he rides our 2011 WR450F through the desert during the Dual-Duel in Wickenburg Arizona in our 2011 Dual-Duel onboard WR450R Race Video.

I was asked I would be interested in racing the ’11 Yamaha WR450 for MotorcycleUSA during the second day of the Dual-Duel and, well, who wouldn’t take up that offer? After I stopped freaking out with excitement, I took the bike down some sandy, whooped-out single-track sections to see how it handled and how much suspension tuning I would need to do. Right off the bat, I knew I wouldn’t have to mess around with the suspension too much to get it dialed in. I’m about 200 pounds with all my gear and tools and I like my suspension fairly soft. This bike is so skinny and that it felt like it was on rails going into corners.

Now, desert race loops were very inconsistent with a verity of terrain including rocky, technical single-track all the way to wide-open sand whoops. Suspension is hard to get perfect on all that different terrain, so finding that compromise or a bike that is good at everything is all you can hope for.

Michael Martin poses with the 2011 Yamaha WR450F before the start of his races on Day 2 of the Dual-Duel.
Michael Martin poses with the 2011 Yamaha WR450F before the start of his races on Day 2 of the AMRA 2011 Dual-Duel.

At 9:01a.m. Sunday morning, the first row of racers took off. Six minutes later our row took off. Right when the flag dropped, the bike lit right up and I was off. I took the holeshot for th start of that loop and never looked back.

First Loop: Everything started off fairly well. I was trying to get comfortable with the handling, cornering, power, and the overall feel of the bike while maintaining my lead. The only little mishap that happened was that I came into a corner a little too hot and grabbed a little too much front brake and took a digger. So I learned how touchy the brakes were but I got the bike back underway and sped off to finish the very fast and short seven-mile test section. Most of the section consisted of 3rd gear loose shale wash with some good sized whoops. There was fast flowing single track that could be ridden in 4th gear and then there was some 5th gear pinned sweeping trails on top of a plateau over-looking the wash that leads into the pit area.

Second Loop: All I can say about the Loop 2 was that it was so awesome! I pulled the holeshot again and I took off on a mission to catch up and pass some people in the rows in front of me. About two miles into the 17-mile section I really started to loosen up on the bike and feel really confident in what it could do. There were no crashes on this loop and not even close to any bobbles. Ken gave me the opportunity to run the Go Pro helmet cam using the “chesty” mount so you can see what it was like in the video. A lot of Loop 2 was hard-packed tight corners that dumped onto fast straight sections of single track or sand wash. That is where the bike truly shines. You could just rail through the berms and just hold it wide open and just shift through the slick gearbox to get you up to speed. Another reason the WR shines in that type of trail is because it just corners so well and when on the open section it’s really fast when you hold that baby pinned.

The power delivery is perfect too. It’s so smooth and linear that you don’t need to have total death grip and hang on for dear life. That smooth power and easy cornering definitely helped me stay fresh throughout the race.

2011 Yamaha WR450F - Race Test - AMRA Dual Duel 2011AMRA features some of the fastest racers in the Southwest.Hutch gets cheeky with Mike Martin beofre the start of the AA Pro races - 2011 Yamaha WR450F - Race Test - AMRA Dual Duel 2011
(Top) Mike awaits the start of his second loop. (Middle) Check out the Cholla we rode through. (Bottom) These guys are a big deal in Arizona. Just ask them!

Third Loop: The course was changed up a lot for the third loop. There were a lot of deep squared-off sand whoops. The fastest way I found to get through them and to conserve the most energy was to try and find a rhythm and just double or triple them. When you wanted to triple a set of whoops, I just had to blip the throttle and I could clear it. Sometimes, there would be a little bit of a bog when I pinned it at the bottom of the whoops so that was something I’d want to work to eliminate. For this section, it would have been nice to stiffen up the suspension to offset the high-speed abuse. The bike still took the whoops no problem, but it definitely bottomed out a few times.

Fourth Loop: By the fourth loop most of the racers who still had running bikes and people who weren’t hurt were all evenly tired. This section consisted of an 18-mile loop with more deep squared-off sand whoops and a very famous trail thrown in there for the AA and A racers called the “Shit Trail.” The particular trail is exactly what the name infers: Crappy! It’s very slow going rocky, technical single-track located on the side of a mountain. This is another place where this bike shined, though. With the low first gear and strong second gear, it pulled like a tractor up everything with ease. Another big plus was that there was no overheating. Once that hellish trail was behind me, I finally had a chance to look down at the cool digital on-board computer and saw that there were just a few miles to go so I let it all hang out there. My goal was to make smart line choices but go fast and finish strong, Steve Hatch-style. Just to see on the computer that I had a few more miles remaining was so awesome and that alone gave me back so much energy that I felt like I was still on the first loop again.

Overall, I am very impressed with the WR450F. Right now, if I had to pick only one bike to ride and race all different types of races, it would be this bike. Despite only having 15-20 minutes of seat time to get suspension dialed in before the race, I still finished in a respectable 8th place in AA. Personally, I think it was a solid finish. There are few things that it would take to make it a full on race bike. If I had the WR, I would be in no rush to get performance mods. This bike is already a powerhouse. The brakes are very touchy and for how much I use the back brake, it never seemed to get too hot or fade out. For stock suspension, it is great too. This is one of the few bikes where stock suspension feels good. The front end feels so good at race pace that I wouldn’t even worry about getting a stabilizer immediately. If you get headshake, drop the forks a little, it turns fast enough as it is.

One downfall to the WR was the very stiff clutch; I am a very clutchy rider and it just gets tiring after a while from pulling it

2011 Yamaha WR450F - Race Test - AMRA Dual Duel 2011
The WR450F is at home in the desert. If you plan to ride or race off-road the WR is a dependable and durable enduro.

in or feathering it a lot. Tips to make this bike a total racing beast would be to add all the armor, slip-on pipe (just to uncork it a little but still pass technical inspection) and a jet kit. One thing that would make this bike pretty much perfect would be fuel injection. When Yamaha puts out the WR with fuel injection, it will be on my list of bikes to own for sure. It will be hard to beat the Yamaha reliability. I give two thumbs up to Yamaha’s 2011 WR450.

Thanks and congratulations to Michael on that effort now let’s get this 2011 Yamaha WR450F Race Review wrapped up.

As you can tell the WR450F is a great trail bike in the hands of the slower crowd, but it is also a real weapon in the hands of a fast pro. The WR is one of only two Japanese enduros available these days and its combination of excellent engine and chassis make it a tough combination to beat. With competition coming from a number of European brands, the WR continues to be one of the most popular models on the starting line. For ’11 the WR is relatively unchanged but the motorcycle is tough, durable and with an MSRP of $7650 is one of the real values in today’s enduro market.

Now stay tuned as we work to improve on Yamaha’s off-road machine. We had so much fun on the WR450F that we plan on continuing the evaluation by arming the WR with some key components that should make it an even better off-road machine and race it at a few more events on the West Coast.


Ken Hutchison

Editor |Articles | The ulcers keep piling on for the warden of the MotoUSA asylum. With the inmates running rampant around the globe, Hutch has opted to get in on the madness more these days than in years past and is back in the saddle again.

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