Yamaha last gave the WR250F a redesign in 2007 and has made minor upgrades to fine-tune the model and bold new graphics each year since. The WR450F will be introduced in 2012 as an all-new model, but the 250F remains the trusty and familiar dirt bike we’ve come to love over the years.
Unlike the Honda, which received most kudos for its handling, the Yammie impressed our testers with its dual overhead cam engine. The 250cc four-stroke has a very different character than the CRF. Most of our riders noted a significantly better low-end grunt, but the five-valve mill is a willing revver as well. The single-cylinder uses a 12.5:1 compression ratio inside of a 77mm x 53.6mm bore and stroke. Our test bike produces more power than the Honda across the board, a very important fact considering how low these bikes are on total output. Like the CRF, the WR is considerably choked up in stock trim. It is also a 50-state model and passes the strict emissions with extra engine and exhaust hardware and special overflow routing. Even still, the blue bike flexes enough torque to be very usable on the trail.
The WR’s DOHC engine offers more performance than the Honda. Multiple testers commented that they wished the WR engine would fit in the CRF’s chassis.
Redmond likes its ability to get up steep terrain with little run, and our novice considers it plenty for the type of riding he does on a regular basis. The five-speed manual transmission is a close-ratio gearbox and the final gearing is better suited for trail riding. The clutch and transmission isn’t quite as slick as the Honda’s but it’s still a Japanese 250F. Pull on the lever is ridiculously easy and moving up or down through the gearbox is precise.
Fueling from the 37mm Keihin flat-side carburetor is better than the red machine and it doesn’t experience the low-end bog as drastically. We found the Yamaha willing to plunk along or wick up the pace with a free-revving engine, despite the restrictive emission controls. The WR250F sounds and feels more bottled up than the CRF, but each of our testers felt that it still performs better. With such a relatively small piston, the electric start has no problem cranking the engine to life. Both bikes sometimes prefer to be kick started on cold mornings. An ignition button is a high-tech feature, but our testers were split on it, some feeling it’s merely an extra step required to get started. But, we agreed that the ability to use the magic button without the clutch (in neutral, obviously) is nice. The Honda requires the clutch lever to be pulled in to make use of the electric start.
In addition to making a great woods bike powerplant, the WR’s extra muscle really makes up for some of its handling woes. It can get over and around things by lifting its front end or breaking loose the rear. It pops up cut-banks, climbs hills and hops over roots. At 259 pounds, the Yamaha needs to go on a diet. It’ not only heavier than the Honda, but it’s even porkier than a KTM 350 XCF-W which we had on hand for a different project. The WR’s dual cams add some of that weight, as does the extra splash of fuel which fits in the 2.1-gallon tank. It’s not a behemoth, just a tad beefy for a 250 enduro.
“The Yamaha is definitely a little heavier, which I don’t really like,” comments our novice, “but that weight actually feels like it helps me over logs or stumps. It has a more solid feel. Somehow that gives me more confidence to try new things.”
Almost 48% of the weight bias is on the front end, which gives the Yamaha a heavier feel than the nimble Honda. It pivots around the 21-inch front wheel easier which gives it a tendency to knife into corners.
“The Yamaha’s suspension is better on bumps,” says Munroe of the plush Kayabas, “but you really have to push the front end around corners.”
Dawes also liked the KYB setup but the rest of our testers considered the Yamaha unbalanced and way too soft. The front end dives when off the throttle or braking, adding to the steering sensation. The seat is almost an inch higher at 38.6 inches compared to the Honda’s 37.7, but none of our testers noted it. We attribute this to the Yamaha’s soft Kayabas as well. Up front is a 48mm inverted fork that offers 11.8 inches of travel with rebound and compression adjustments. The rear has 12.2 inches of travel and has adjustable preload tension and valving circuits for rebound and high/low-speed compression.
Stability is definitely a known trait of the WR family. The 250F uses a 58.3-inch wheelbase and it plows along its intended line with determination. We did experience some bucking from the rear end at higher speeds as the shock got down into the stiffer part of the stroke, but the Yamaha is more planted as it tractors through rocky sections. It also has solid brakes from a dual-piston Nissin front caliper (250mm rotor) and single-piston rear (245mm rotor).
“The brakes on the WR are plenty strong for hauling you down from speed, and they don’t fade really at all on long descents,” says Dawes. “I know the front brake is strong enough to wipe you out when an Oregon sapling gets a hold of the lever.”
The Yamaha has details that add extra value to it such as oversized ProTaper aluminum handlebars, beefy footpegs, tool-less airbox entry and a one-piece plastic skidplate which wraps completely around the engine and frame rails. Also, the computer system is far superior to the Honda’s. It’s a digital unit that offers clock, trip meter and odometer in the basic mode. It also has a race mode which converts it into a timer, distance-compensating trip meter and average speed – all things that are good to know in a timekeeping enduro event.
The layout is a bit more open with the ProTaper bars and the fuel tank which doesn’t protrude as high as the CRF’s. However, comfort isn’t as high on the blue dirt bike with its stiff seat foam. The rigid platform hasn’t broken down much either as the hours rack up.
“The WR has a seat that’s nice and long, but if you sit more than you stand you will have Angry Buttcrack Syndrome after a day on the trail,” says sore-assed Dawes.
In the looks department, the WR’s blue colors are sharp and it has a more modern appeal. The headlight is shaped nicely and the triple clamps have a factory look. The heat shield on the head pipe adds clean lines and the exhaust muffler has a tapered end cap. Even Yamaha’s aluminum chassis has a unique appeal and rear brake light is wide, bright and tucked nicely under the rear fender.
With a better computer, ProTaper handlebars and clean lines, the WR250F looks much more modern than the Honda.
“The sharp lines and blue plastics look good,” says eagle-eyed Dawes. “It just looks more like a YZ-F, which is a good thing. The Honda is beginning to look dated. If I was to throw down my meager paycheck for a 250cc enduro bike I would have to go with the WR250F. I enjoy wringing it out and it makes me feel like I’m hauling the mail even though I’m probably not.”
Dawes is a big guy and admitted horsepower fiend, but he loved the surefootedness of the manageable tractability on technical rock climbs. Even though not all of our test riders are ready to trade out their current rides full time in favor of
Our less experienced riders took more of a liking to the 250F Japanese enduros, but even top pros can have a good time on these easy-to-ride dirt bikes.
the small enduros, they could all appreciate their capabilities in the right situations and couldn’t help but have fun. One thing we noticed is that all of our testing was done on a single set of tires. Front tires on both machines are poor, but the 18-inch rear treads provided great traction for months of riding, and we weren’t going easy on them. These bikes just don’t eat up tires.
Even though both brands are offering the 2012 versions, there are still leftover models to be found on dealer floors. Buying a used four-stroke can be sketchy, especially for 250cc machines. But as far as the quarter-liters go, these are two of the most dependable machines available. Not only are they bulletproof, but as play bikes they often don’t get ridden into the ground as hard as race bikes. Both brands also hold their resale value. The WR250F ($6890) and CRF250X ($7149) are lacking the technology boost of the European brands such as KTM and Husqvarna. We’d certainly like to see either of them equipped with EFI at the very least. Looking on the bright side, the MSRPs for these bikes are about as low as they get for a full-size modern four-stroke. Getting reacquainted with the Japanese enduros reminded us of how much these low-hype dirt bikes can really offer.