We're not sure if Yamaha heard footsteps from the other manufacturers or if it was just time for a change, but the 2005 crop of WRs have Yamaha at the top of the off-road market.
Yamaha must have been hearing footsteps. After all, they practically cornered the Japanese off-road bike market the past few years. Their venerable WR250F and 450F were the best Japanese off-road-specific motorcycles. KTM's EXC and MXC four-stroke lines had always provided stiff competition (albeit more expensive), but now Honda has seriously joined the fray with its CRF250X last year and the impending introduction of the CRF450X later this season. Things are really starting to get interesting in the off-road market place.
Yamaha heard Honda's footsteps loud and clear because in it made significant changes to its WR-F line-up in anticipation of running with the new competition. Yamaha recently allowed the media to check out the new WRs when they held a press introduction last week in Southern California at Hungry Valley State Vehicular Recreation Area. After breakfast and a short Power Point presentation, Yamaha pointed to a 250 and a 450 and said, "Go play." MCUSA's Kevin Duke and I wasted no time in hitting the trails for some photos, video footage, and seat time on the new WRs.
Before we hit the trail, however, Yamaha laid out the changes to the new WRs and there were plenty. The main goal of the changes for both bikes was to lower the center of gravity to improve the handling, aided by the lowering of the overall seat height which helps shorter riders. Both electric-start WRs have had their seat heights lowered 10mm via a slimmer and shorter seat, fuel tank, and radiator shroud combination and shortened shock (by 3mm). The 450 lost an additional 10mm with a slight repositioning of the head tube on the frame, resulting in a 20mm reduction in seat height.
Hungry Valley State Vehicular Recreation Area near Gorman, California, played host to the 2005 WR press introduction, offering an array of riding environments. Cam and Kevin took full advantage.
To further improve handling, the WRs got the same treatment as the YZs, the new 48mm Kayaba AOSS (Air Oil Separate System) fork that separates the air and the oil, much like Showa's Twin Chamber design. Accompanying the new fork is a shorter, more directly routed front brake hose to increase braking performance, complimented by new fork guards. Besides the slightly shorter shocks in the rear, the bikes also got redesigned swingarms that are a significant 1.1 pounds lighter than last year.
In the motor department, the 450 received changes aimed at smoothing out the power delivery in the low- to mid-rpm range. To accomplish this, a new head was designed with a slightly lower compression ratio (12.5:1 to 12.3:1), the intake ports are 9% smaller, and the carburetor and ignition settings were also tweaked to provide a smoother and broader powerband. Additionally, the 39mm Keihin FCR carburetor gets a double-lipped joint on the intake side so it is less likely to pop off, a moveable fuel line joint to accommodate aftermarket tanks better, and an additional fuel filter within. Rounding out the motor changes to the 450 is a redesigned and beefed up clutch with 12 percent stiffer springs. Consequently, a new clutch lever and perch were created to keep the lever pull nice and manageable.
The California model 450, like the one we used, now comes with newly designed air induction system, which reduces emission levels and makes the bikes green-sticker legal in California (even in 2006, when stricter emissions standards take effect). Basically, the engine breather hose is routed into the airbox and the air induction system pumps air from within the airbox over to the exhaust manifold and out the pipe. Yamaha says the lengthy homologation process has prevented California-model WR250Fs from being green-sticker eligible until the next model year, so you can still only get a red sticker for them in '05.
Yamaha redesigned the WR450Fs cylinder head for '05. The new head (right) has more squish area and a slightly lower compression ratio than the previous component (left).
The WR250Fs motor changes were, of course, aimed at getting more power out of the little screamer, especially in the midrange. Therefore, Yamaha modified the head, the combustion chamber, the piston, the intake tract shape, the ignition curve, and the carburetor settings in search of more instantaneous power. The 37mm Keihin FCR carburetor also got the double-lipped intake joint, moveable fuel line joint, and fuel filter within.
Thankfully, both bikes still have beautiful and lightweight titanium headers, but now the old steel mufflers have been replaced with aluminum canisters that are, of course, USFS approved. As in years past, the stock exhaust system meets the federal standard of 82 decibels, but now when you remove the baffle from the muffler in search of more power, the noise level only climbs to the USFS standard of 96 decibels (past models noise levels reached over 100 decibels with the baffles removed). The baffles are riveted in place and can be removed or reinstalled in a matter of minutes with a drill and a rivet gun. Unfortunately, the California models still come with the lame throttle-stops on the carburetors that were removed for our testing purposes (and anyone else who owns California-model WR).
Completing the changes to the 2005 Yamaha WRs are super-strong Renthal aluminum handlebars, new kickstands, new left-side side rear panels that now have a real grab hole for lifting convenience and increased flow to the airbox, and new lighter, more durable steel rear sprockets. New front and rear wheel collars and rear brake carriers make removal and replacement of the wheels much easier during trailside flat repairs.
The new, shorter routing of the front brake line provides a WR rider with better feel, which is useful when negotiating loose downhill sections.
And in case you've forgotten, the WRs have off-road ready odometers, large-capacity fuel tanks (2.1 gallons), wide-ratio 5-speed transmissions, 18-inch rear wheels, O-ring chains, enduro-legal lighting, and tool-free airfilter access to make them ready for the trail or desert. The only thing they are missing is handguards.
On The Trail
Before heading out to the trails, the bikes were weighed with all fluids and full tanks of gas. Surprisingly, with all the talk of lighter sprockets, swingarms, and mufflers, the WRs retained Yamaha's claimed dry weights from last year of 228 pounds for the WR250F and 244 pounds for the WR450F. The MCUSA Intercomp scales reported actual wet weights of 256 and 273 pounds, respectively. Before you groan, realize that these numbers include about 14 pounds of fuel, in addition to electric starters and batteries, kickstands, and lights that all add to the weight, but also add to the bikes' convenience and adeptness out on the trail.
Recent rain in Southern California had left Gorman with tacky soil that was moist just under the surface crust. It was almost perfect. For the rest of the day, Kevin and I thumbed the magic start buttons and blasted around the trails of Gorman swapping machines and taking advantage of good photo opportunities. The kickstands and electric starters made these photo forays nice and manageable. Turning the bikes around on the trail was quite easy with the lowered seat heights.
The 2005 WRs come with 2.1-gallon tanks, wide-ratio 5-speed trannys, 18-inch rear wheels, and aluminum construction of the sidestand, subframe and lighter new swingarm.
I must say that I was a bit worried that the 450 would feel slower due to the new green-sticker ready air induction system, but I was pleasantly surprised. The bike still pulled hard off the bottom and revved to the moon. The power is impressive, although it does lack the outright punch provided by its motocross-only brother, the fire-breathing YZ450F. But who needs that wheel-spinning response out on the trail where smooth, broad power is king. Like I started saying to myself, "If you want the response of a motocross bike out on the trail, ride one, but then be prepared to suffer with harsh and exhausting motor (and suspension) performance." Yamaha also informed us that slightly richer jetting would also help liven up the California-only 450, but we haven't tried it...yet.
The WR250F was fun and fast, as well, providing entertainment at any speed. Whether you are putting around in first or second gear, or screaming it to the rev limiter at 13,500 rpm, the 250 is ready to conquer. When you twist the throttle and start shifting, good bottom-end transitions into screaming midrange and top-end pulling power. The bike's ability to keep pulling allows the rider to shift less and just rev it more. It has a very fun and convenient powerband, although not as all-forgiving as the 450. Both transmissions shifted fine, although it was sometimes challenging to find neutral on the 250.
The motor changes to the 450 allows a rider to be more gentle with its power, ideal for technical sections or slippery uphill climbs.
As mentioned, the reduced seat heights and lowered center of gravity on the WRs enable them to handle quite well, but this may also be due in part to the burly new 48mm Kayaba AOSS fork on both motorcycles. The action was plush on small stuff and able to handle big whoops and g-outs at about any speed. The rear shocks were equally impressive. Basically, the lighter weight of the WR250 makes it slightly easier to ride in big whoops, and, conversely, the extra weight of the 450 makes it slightly more plush and comfortable over rocks and roots at slower speeds.
One of the most noticeable changes made to the bikes were the new front brake lines. Since Honda's patent ran out two years ago, Yamaha was able to more directly route, and thus shorten, the front brake hose, which dramatically improves front braking performance. This was especially evident during a photo shoot where I was coming down a fairly steep hill. A few times, Kevin wasn't quite ready for the shot as I came down the hill, and the powerful front brake on the 450 allowed me to slow drastically and give him time to reposition. The power and feel are top-shelf now.
For the last ride of the day, Kevin strapped the video camera to my helmet, and Yamaha's Mike Ulrich and I grabbed two 450s and blazed a 15-mile loop through Gorman that included deep, desert-type sand whoops, sand washes, blue-groove twisties, and tighter, rocky trails. The footage speaks for itself. The bikes tackled anything and everything thrown at them with aplomb, whether they were being lugged in tight corners or screamed through large whoops.
The perfect off-road machines? Pretty damn close. And for $5,899 and $6,599 for the 250 and 450, respectively, it's tough to ignore the high capabilities of the WRs.
At the end of the day, Kevin and I came to a conclusion: the WRs are almost perfect off-road motorcycles. Sure, we would like them to have more power and less weight, but that's a dream for electric-start motorcycles that are spark-arrested, meet the USFS 96 decibel sound limit, and come with off-road equipment like odometers and kickstands. When it all comes down to it, you can ride these bikes on the trail all day long, sitting or standing, and your rump and body are ready for more. If you tried that on your motocrosser, you'd have a sore ass and wrists to prove it. Trust me, I do it almost every weekend.
Both WRs are available now, and the prices are $5,899 for the WR250F and $6,599 for the WR450F. Those are great deals. For comparison's sake, Yamaha's MX versions of these bikes are $200 cheaper, but you would have to add $500-$1,000 in accessories to make them truly comparable and you still wouldn't have a green sticker. KTM's comparable 450 EXC RFS goes for $7,198, $599 more than the Yamaha WR450F, and the Austrian company's 250cc 4-stroke off-roader won't be here for a few more months. Honda's CRF250X and CRF450X carry more expensive retail prices of $6,199 and $6,999, respectively, and the 450 won't arrive until February.
At the beginning of the press introduction, Yamaha mentioned that it had conducted surveys of it's WR buyers and determined that they were, on the average, over 40 years old, had been riding for over 20 years, and consider themselves to be intermediate or expert riders, a very finicky group which knows exactly what they want and how to get it. These bikes should be right up their alley... er, trail.
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