2008 Yamaha WR450F
The Yamaha is a great motorcycle once the restrictors come off. Hiding behind the emission controls is a great bike for riders who get their kicks tackling more technical terrain.
How can a bike be tested using only half throttle? It can't, which is why our Yamaha was slightly modified from stock to eliminate the throttle restriction which, according to Yamaha, doesn't affect its green-sticker legal status. The fact that the WR received these minor mods is important to note simply because they are mandatory for any person who purchases the Yammie off-roader. It's like putting oil in the motor - it simply must be done in order to ride the machine - otherwise you would just buy a TT-R.
Once the WR is allowed to compete on a level playing field - compete is exactly what it does. All of our testers appreciated how quickly the five-valve 449cc motor spins up. On the dyno, the Yamaha actually bests the other machines in peak output. Though topping the CRF by less than half a horsepower, and the same in torque, the Honda still has an advantage in the real world. In terms of sheer acceleration, the red machine will pull away from the blue bomber, but much of that is a result of the gearing rather than power delivery.
"Yamaha's WR450 has the best overall power characteristics," offers Chilly, "being nearly as fast as the 450X and almost as friendly as the KLX. It's quick revving and super responsive, and if the revs fall, a quick stab at the clutch brings the bike right into the motor's sweet spot. Overall, the power output is both fun and rewarding."
It's most rewarding when used in the proper environment. The Yamaha features a very short first gear. So short, in fact, that we only rarely used it, even in the tighter single-track. Yamaha mentioned back when the 2007 model was released that the designers were aiming at a better woods racing platform, and that line of thinking still exists. Tight, technical riding is where the WR450F really shines. Not only does the 5-speed tranny reflect that, but a light-steering, planted front end leads the bike right where a rider intends.
"The best description for the Yamaha is "precise," and that is why it is the best choice for a woods rider," Chilly notes. "Feeling more like a 250F than an open-class bike, the WR does exactly
as it's told, letting the rider choose a narrow line without worrying about drifting off the trail into the rough stuff. It does require some focus to ride a bike like this, get lazy and it can start wandering around."
All of our riders thought the front end was very responsive, but Chamberlain and White disagreed on which machine was the quickest turning. Chilly prefers the handling of the Yamaha while BC claims the Honda is slightly quicker and easier to maneuver. Once the points were tallied, the WR enjoys a one-point advantage in the chassis and handling category thanks to Hilde's tie-breaking vote.
Another area where the big Dubya shines is in the suspension department. All three of our testers ranked the Yamaha's 48mm Kayaba sticks first with the amount of plushness being the highlight. Unlike the Kawasaki, which is plush but bottoms hard, the Yamaha is soft enough for the small stuff, but doesn't get bent out of shape when it does reach its limits. That progressive feel, especially at the very end of the stroke is what sold our testers.
"This bike is super plush with great overall dampening characteristics," sums the 200-pound White. "The Yamaha keeps its composure as the speeds increase, and while heavier riders are going to be looking for stiffer springs, overall it is a nicely balanced package."
The WR450F is definitely at home in the woods. It took a little getting used to in the faster sections, but it's completely capable of doing well there also.
We also appreciated how Yamaha put the finishing touches on its machine. The black engine covers are nice even though they get ugly after only a few rides, but other little things like a fully encompassing skidplate, tooless entry airbox, wave-rotors, multi-function computer, most-usable headlight and snazzy LED taillight are all bonus features that really add up.
"The Yamahas trick little digital computer gives it an edge in the componentry department, as do the oversized footpegs," notes Chamberlain. "Starting the big WR was a breeze with the greatest amount of cranking power at the magic button. With all the weight of electric start, bringing the motor to life easily every time is a big deal, and that little stuff really gets appreciated when you spend a lot of time on the bike."
When it's all said and done the Yamaha WR450F is still one of the best options available for anyone who is looking to hook up with a big-bore enduro. There's plenty to like about the Blue beast from its clean aesthetics, aluminum frame and the attention to detail, not to mention it's got the muscle to back up those good looks. Both Chilly and JC were fairly smitten with the WR, but overall the test riders were looking for something a bit more visceral and that's where the Honda comes into play.