09 May 2012 | The good folk at Australiasian Dirt Bike mag take a look at Yamaha's big boy
However much we warmed to the news of an all-new 2012 Yamaha WR450F, there was one detail that’s dampened enduro racers’ enthusiasm for the new bike: its claimed weight. At 129kg (wet) it really didn’t look good.
Top 250 and 300cc two-stroke racers are claimed to weigh in at 102kg and KTM claims 111kg for its 450 EXC, so the new Yamaha has – on paper – a real old school number there. Can we really consider it a contender when to all intents it’s looking a gastric band op away from getting anywhere near to a fighting weight?
Well, off the back of the model’s world launch in Sicily in mid-December, we can tell you to ignore that number for now. Yamaha’s hype of the YZ250F-based chassis making the big WR altogether more manageable actually isn’t hype at all – it’s a reality.
BIG ’N’ BEEFY
The new WR is still a big bike, is still a full-blooded 450 four-stroke – so for newbies and the unfit it’s still not the easiest proposition for a long day on the trails – but within its class its set to come right up the rankings. Yamaha does indeed (as history tells) have credible enduro chops; it knows the sport, and this is one very impressive machine.
Yamaha has attacked the WR rejuvenation project on three fronts. Number one, the engineers have gone right to the core of the old WR’s weakness by specifying a chassis that’s bang up to date – the new lightly-modified YZ250F frame is intended to give the WR an accuracy and a sense of agility that has been missing for years.
Number two, Yamaha allied the chassis changes with a comprehensive revision of the suspension. Kayaba suspension has been improving over the years to the point it’s probably the best-developed and best-specified product on the market. This is quality kit Yamaha has fitted, no question.
Finally, Yamaha has recognised that the old WR engine was actually pretty darn good and that most struggled to see this, given the drawbacks of the old chassis. So rather than do what we thought it might – take the reverso YZ450F and re-engineer it for enduro – it’s instead made the most of what it’s already got.
You can be cynical and see it as a cost-cutting exercise, but ultimately you’ll struggle to argue against the evidence – the WR’s 450cc donk (now fuel injected) is as handy an enduro propulsion unit as you’ll find anywhere.
Yamaha’s WR Project Leader, Masaki Kamimura, explained that the WR project’s goal was to produce the "ultimate enduro racer". Now Europeans will argue that a 450 four-stroke is fundamentally not going to be that because they ride tight forest and mountain tracks so much. However, in Australia, the terrain can be open and fast enough for the 450 to be highly effective.
Given that the Japanese R&D team has been canny enough to employ outside test riders from Australia (Geoff Ballard), America and Europe, then we can again see its claims and aspirations are more than just marketing nonsense.
Yamaha revolutionised enduro when it made the first WR250Fs and 400Fs at the turn of the millennium, and it’d made the great two-stroke ITs and WRs before then. These guys know the sport, and while the likes of Suzuki, Honda and Kawasaki make a new enduro machine once every decade, Yamaha revisits its projects, maybe not every year, but every two or three at least.
And so the new WR has been redesigned to be more powerful yet more controllable at the same time, with the flexibility to adapt to the different terrain found around the world, while offering confidence-inspiring handling. It’s also been designed – like all WRs before it – to be eminently reliable.
First impressions of the WR are dominated by size – it stands tall. It may not be wide, but it still looks a lot of bike and it’s a fair swing of your leg to get onto the saddle. It settles a bit in its suspension, but shorter riders will struggle.
Fortunately, the size does subside after a short while; you’re never in doubt that you’re on a big bike, but the manageability that Yamaha strived for is there and goes a long way to making this mount really handy.
Getting back to the weight issue, there are a few factors to be considered that are not immediately apparent. For a start that claimed weight represents the bike with mirrors, indicators – the whole homologation package. Take that off and fit the competition kit (two hours’ work, apparently) and the weight comes down to 124kg.
Bear in mind that’s weighed with a full fuel tank and you can take near enough to another 7kg out of the equation, so call that 117kg. That’s still heavier than the KTM, but it’s not so damning.
And this is borne out when you start riding the new WR – it fair skips along. Perhaps it’s a sign of just how well this bike’s performance characteristics have been blended that you struggle to pick out any one overriding aspect.
The engine is good – very good – but because it’s manageable it doesn’t slap you in the face with its brilliance. The handling is neither sharp, nor slow, it’s just right – but again that doesn’t call out for your immediate appreciation.
And that suspension – it does its job so well, with so little fuss, that yet again, you might miss its significance. Anybody who knows Yamaha will understand that this is so Yamaha.
It makes bikes that don’t so much stand out for any one key attribute, but are instead so well-rounded that the resultant bike is greater than the sum of its parts. A KTM might turn tighter, a Husaberg might hit with harder bottom-end punch, a Suzuki might rev on to a more powerful top-end, but around a complete course the Yamaha can come away with the fastest time overall.
The handling is decidedly good. It doesn’t do the ‘nip and tuck’ of a tight turn that an EXC does so well, but everywhere else it just feels so accurate. In this test we were at times running over a rock-strewn riverbed in the meat of fourth-gear, going from sand to pebbles, to hard-pack and dust, then to a stream crossing and loose sand again, and it was uncanny just how accurately it tracked through the lot.
It took nothing short of a big boulder to deflect the WR from its path. Make that your path – the WR likes to please; it goes where you ask it to go, not where it thinks you should go. Similarly, racing up a zig-zag path through a wooded hillside the WR would stick so dependably to a line it almost felt like a road racer. Yamaha said it wanted the handling to be confidence inspiring – and it got that bang on.
That handling is certainly aided by what felt like well-chosen suspension settings. Seriously fast types might want to go firmer, depending on where they ride, but the feeling of plushness from the Kayabas will make KTM’s WP team blush.
The WR’s set-up was incredibly well matched to the job, helping the Metzeler Six-Day Extreme knobbies deliver great feel over every surface. So often on this test we were able to ignore what was going on under the tyres and simply concentrate on the corner at the end of the next section.
The pet joy was simply launching the WR, in third-gear, out of all manner of corners – either sitting and letting the front wheel paw the air, or standing and letting the 120-section rear slide and spray gravel and rock all over the hillside.
The engine takes some appreciating. It won’t necessarily blow your doors off, but ride the WR for long enough and it starts making more and more sense.
The bottom-end is average, the mid-range is strong and long (but not that strong and not that long), while the top-end isn’t that special at all – although that’s a guarded comment as hauling high revs for any significant time really wasn’t going to happen at this venue. Curiously, it’s the engine’s lack of bite you’ll like the most.
In enduro it’s often the engine with the flattest power characteristics that can be exploited the best. Crack the throttle of the 450 EXC or FE 450 with anything near aggression and you’ve a fair chance of finding an imprint of the ’bar clamps in your chinguard.
They’ve got poke alright, but crack the throttle on the WR and you get a much more measured reaction. The front will come up and the back might spin, but it’s all controllable.
So instead of fighting the power, you surf on it instead, shifting your weight back for more traction or maybe leaning forward so the back spins to help finish off a turn.
We should then call out the one significant change to the engine, the fuel injection, for praise. All the testers said it was a step up on the old carb set-up (and you don’t always hear that) for offering a great deal of sensitivity; it would understand fine increments as equally as it would great handfuls.
Occasionally, if you stopped or stalled the bike it would struggle to fire up again, but we noticed that this might be something to do with the ECU. Leave your thumb on the button waiting for it to catch and it plain would not fire. But take your thumb off for a second and try again and the WR would fire up right away.
First feedback is then very positive. Ridden in Europe, this bike impressed. This is no token effort at a refresh, it’s no facelift model. This is a comprehensively re-designed and developed new bike.
KTM might hold the high ground in enduro right now, but Yamaha has flexed some serious muscle here. And while KTM might have a formidable R&D team, we must equally applaud Yamaha for taking a global approach to the WR, taking feedback from top riders on three continents. How well the bike works in Australian conditions remains to be seen. There are minor differences in spec for the WR for different markets, reflecting emission and homologation requirements from country to country, so we’ll wait to see how strangled or otherwise the WR is when it arrives in Australia… and how well the suspension adapts, too.
We’re still a fair way from shouting "Sell orange and buy blue", but all the indicators are looking positive.
Type: Liquid-cooled, DOHC, five-valve, four-stroke single-cylinder
Bore x stroke: 95.0mm x 63.4mm
Compression ratio: 12.3:1
Fuel system: EFI
Final drive: Chain
CHASSIS AND RUNNING GEAR
Frame: Aluminium bilateral beam
Front suspension: Kayaba 48mm USD fork, 300mm travel
Rear suspension: Kayaba monoshock, 305mm travel
Front brake: Single 255mm disc with twin-piston caliper
Rear brake: Single 245mm disc with single-piston caliper
DIMENSIONS AND CAPACITIES
Claimed wet weight: 129kg
Seat height: 960mm
Fuel capacity: 7.2lt
Max. power: N/A
Max. torque: N/A
Warranty: Three months, parts only
*Manufacturer’s list price excluding dealer and statutory costs
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