Focus groups – new motorcycle models live and die by them. When Yamaha explained that the 2012 WR450F was created using the input from current WR owners, I cringed a bit. As a former employee of one of the Japanese big four, I’ve seen new models projects go off the rails when it came time to digest and unify customer data into a single focus for the next big thing. I can safely say after two days on the totally redesigned WR450F that Team Blue got it right.
After polling current owners Yamaha found out that almost half of the current WR450Fs are used in tight trails and woods. That’s three times as many desert WR riders. Additionally many of those polled race GNCCs or hare scrambles, and a majority classified themselves as intermediate or expert racers and riders. When asked what improvements they would like to see in the 2012 WR450F, lightweight handling, front suspension feel and fuel injection topped the list. With that Yamaha setout to give their loyal WR riders what they wanted – a race oriented woods weapon.
To create a lightweight feeling (note the word “feeling” as it weighs the same as the previous model) the Tuning Fork engineers began with a bilateral-beam aluminum frame sourced directly from the 2012 YZ250F. By using the small-bore MXer’s skeleton makes for a greater torsional and horizontal rigidity and more-nimble handling. Additionally the new frame increases the ground clearance by 7mm and lowers the rear of the seat and fender 11mm.
Inside that new frame, the tried and true 449cc five-valve engine from the previous model has been repositioned. To get the rotational mass of the dual overhead cams closer to the center of the chassis to increase the lightweight feel, the engine has been rotated back in the frame 5mm.
Although the WR’s mill is a carried over from the previous model, it hasn’t gone untouched. First and foremost, Keihin fuel injection has finally come to the WR line. A 42mm throttle body deliverers the fuel-air mixture charged by a 12-hole injector for more consistent performance in any weather or at any altitude. Yamaha also claims more consistent throttle response, smoother power delivery and better resistance to stalling. Directing the air to the throttle body in a reshaped intake boot attached to a quick-change airbox. The EFI system requires more wattage so the 3-phase magneto generator output has been upped to 160W from 120W by increasing the number of coils from 12 to 18. A capacitor has been integrated into the system to allow the removal of the battery in racing applications. Final details of the EFI system include a new 2-gallon tank with and integrated fuel pump and low fuel warning light.
Internal updates to the WR450F’s powerplant are few with an increased width of the big-end rod bearing and a revised heat treatment to the camshaft surface. Cooling capacity has been improved for slow technical riding by increasing the
Yamaha’s trusty 449cc 5-valve mill gets updated with a 42mm Keihin fuel injection throttle body for 2012.
water capacity by 5 percent. Finally a 15mm longer header with a resonator maintains the mid-range torque that was lost after the addition of fuel injection.
To complement the stiffer and more responsive frame the WR gets YZ spec suspension on the front and rear. Up front a KYB Speed Sensitive fork has been tuned for a linear feel to for better control in the woods and on the single track. On the rear, Yamaha chose to carry over the swingarm, however the spring rates and dampening has been fined tuned to work with the new frame.
All this is wrapped up in bodywork based on or borrowed from the YZ250F that are designed to make moving around on the bike easier. A new headlight finishes off the latest look that contains a standard 35-watt bulb. High quality feature such as Pro-Taper bars, Excel Wheels and Dunlop MX51 Geo-max tires give the user a nicely finished machine right out of the box.
The 2012 Wr450F’s chassis feels light and nimble, and the new fuel injection adds some punch in the power department.
Yamaha brought us out to the first Round of the AMA GNCC series at River Ranch, Florida to put the 2012 WR450F to the test before and during the race. The day before the flag would drop for the 2-hour morning race, we sampled the WR in stock form. That evening the hard working technicians outfitted our machines with a GYTR parts for the next day.
Throwing a leg over the WR, I was initially surprised with how stiff the rear end was. Usually when I jump on a bike to set sag the rear end drops like a ’65 Impala in a Dr. Dre video. Not this time. I was apprised of the fact the stock suspension settings are based on a 200 lb. rider weight. Just a small amount of preload had to be added to bring the sag to 95mm for my 225 pounds. After some adjustment to the bars and levers we were off to sample a 6-mile section of the racecourse that included sand whoops, nasty roots and more trees than anyone would want to ride through.
Right of the bat this new WR450F felt lighter and more responsive. Cranking down it into a corner is easy and lightning quick. Now, it feels more like a MX bike than a off-road machine. In tighter corners, I struggled with some front-end push as the fork seemed to resist settling down into the stroke. After removing two clicks of compression out of the fork and slowing the rebound down in the rear by one click, the WR handled like was on rails. It is amazing how little effort it takes to go fast in the tight wood on the blue bomber.
Suspension performance is spot-on for a GNCC ready machine. It’s stiff enough to handle the miles of sand whoops without bottoming or swapping but also tracks straight and true through the tangled mess of roots that threaten to alter
The YZ spec suspension works well on single track trails, and the YZ250F frame lets the WR rail turns.
your intended path. Once again the key word here is “easy.” It’s not often I get to hammer through tight woods and usually my tongue gets caught in the spokes in short order when faced with this type of precision riding. On the WR, however, I felt invigorated all day and never felt like the bike was beating me up.
In stock form the power output is fairly muted due to the noise and emissions requirements imposed on modern off-road bikes. You can tell there is more in there; you just have to find a way to unleash it. Bottom end power is punchy enough for technical sections and the mid-range pulls decently out of faster corners. As the revs climb the power flattens out at the top of the range, but it’s more than adequate for a stock 450 enduro. Throttle response is excellent everywhere; not once did I experience a hiccup or flameout.
For the second day of testing, we lined up for the 2-hour morning race. Overnight the WR was outfitted with parts from Yamaha’s GYTR catalog. Standard fare for GNCC racing included Cycra Handguards and Yamaha’s own radiator guards. The protection was nice, but the real excitement came from the addition of a $99 GYTR Competition Kit. The kit consists of a race-tuned, programmable ECU and a YZ-style throttle screw. To match the ECU, a GYTR by FMF Slip-on Muffler was fitted to our racing steeds.
Talk about a wake-up call! Power was increased everywhere and the throttle response was even snappier. This made carrying the front-end over the deep sand whoops easier as the WR rocketed out of the corners with authority. The engine performance now matched the excellent handling chassis. It’s a shame the WR450F can’t run like this out of the box, but take heart – all of these parts will only set you back $544. Add that to the $8090 MSRP, and the cost is still a decent chunk less than the KTM 450 XC-W.
The second day of testing was competing in the first round of the GNCC series. Although my race didn’t go as planned I had a great time racing the 2012 WR450F.
When the start official’s green flag dropped, the WR fired up quickly, and I got off to top-ten start heading into the woods. Picking off riders seemed almost too easy and when the course opened up the GYTR equipped Yamaha allowed me to pass multiple riders at a time. I fully expected fatigue to set in early as I’m way past my racing prime, but this bike is so effortless to ride that exhaustion never came. A 10-inch diameter Florida pine tree did, however, as I tried to squeeze past another racer. My left shoulder took the full force of the impact at around 30 MPH, causing my entire left arm to go numb. Unable to hold on to the left grip or even modulate the clutch, I had to concede defeat and pulled into the pits after completing just a lap and a half. Disappointing for sure, but I came away fully impressed with the WR.
Yamaha took the time to find out what its customers wanted from the new WR450F and then actually listened. The end result is a bike that checked every box that the WR crowd asked for. The 2012 Yamaha WR450F is a woods weapon that feels lighter, runs better and turns easier. And now , it’s fuel-injected and looks as sharp as its YZ-F stable mates. Stayed tuned as we pit the WR against its rivals for our 2012 Enduro Shootout in just a few weeks; it’s gonna be a barn-burner.