WR450F LONG TERMER – TEST RIDE

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Words: Andrew Boss   Photos: Richard Seck

INTRO by Editor ‘arris

Treating the WR with the utmost respect.

It’s a bit of a departure from our usual BMW long-termer trend (although we still got the K1200GT this year), thanks to Yamaha Canada seeing the benefits of loaning us one of their new WR450s.

Finding myself in the unfortunate position of being unable to ride both bikes, we decided to pass the Yamaha into the “safe” hands of CMG’s Andrew Boss. Besides, when the plans include entering a Supermotard, Hare Scramble, and just about any other relatively dangerous event, it only seemed right to hand it over to Mr. Boss.

This is part one of a multi-part series in which Mr. Boss will fearlessly take on all ideas that we throw at him, while ensuring that no harm comes to the beast—well at least nothing that will go outside the bounds of the “crash budget.”

So, a good place to start seems to be a test of the WR, courtesy of the Boss …


TEST RIDE by Andrew Boss

Mr. Boss abuses the HORRA track, as well as their hospitality.

During CMG’s inaugural ride in ’02 for our long-term dual-purpose bike, the BMW Dakar 650, we came upon, among other things, a cattle drive. So it only made sense that the inaugural ride on our spankin’ new ’03 Yamaha WR450F long-term off-road tester be graced with lots of cows and their associated pies.

Of course, you are realizing Mr. Seck is involved somehow, right?

It was an invitation he canoodled from Lance Matthews of IWalk fame, who is also one of the characters associated with the Halton Off-Road Riders Association (HORRA). The club was prepping for their annual fundraising motocross race on a farm in Mono, Ontario, and were completing final details for the next day.

If you have ever ridden a dirt bike you know that being offered a chance to ride on a track that has just been laid out in a fresh grassy pasture, well…you just have to do it. So after we performed our community service of helping apply barrier tape (with the logo upside down), we were off to try the WR on for size.


GETTING TO KNOW YOU

An electric boot is a welcome addition to the WR450.

New for 2003, the WR450F has a multitude of changes and refinements from its predecessor, the WR426F. Virtually every dimension is different, albeit within one tenth of an inch. The displacement has been bumped up to 450cc with a 3mm increase in stroke and, hmmm…something else…oh yes I almost forgot—it has Electric Start!!!!

That last point is welcome news to anyone that has ever ridden, or tried to start a big single, particularly those with WR400s and WR426s. Even better news is that the WR450F weighs in dry at a reported 245lbs—only five pounds more then the ’02 WR426F. That’s a small price to pay in weight for this convenience. Yamaha is so confident of the lure of the magic button, they have a simulation on their web-site that allows you to thumb the starter and actually hear it!

Flying high! It looks like he almost knows what he’s doing. Almost.

Yamaha’s owner’s manual has a complex matrix of start scenarios, but we have found cold starting with full choke and no throttle to be the easiest method. Likewise, hot starts are best accomplished in the same manner but with the addition of the handy bar mounted hot start lever. If this gives you any grief, the old fashioned kick-start method is surprisingly easy and effective. Credit for that goes to an improved automatic decompression system.

Another welcome change is the exhaust note. Despite their friendlier levels of emissions, competitive four stroke singles have ratcheted up exhaust dB’s to the point of concern. The WR450’s predecessors were some of the prime offenders. Happily for ’03, the new WR idles down to the mellow tone of my beloved XL600. On the pipe it won’t alienate the neighbors either. We hope to get official dB levels in future reports but owners of older WR’s we met were impressed by the marked decrease in volume (Err, just how are we going to do that? ‘arris)

Don’t let the quieter tone fool you though—this thing rips! It has the pleasing ability to wheelie to some degree in every gear and speed combination. Realistically, while this can help you to navigate obstacles like logs or streams on the trail, I find it’s really fun to wheelie just because you can!


ON THE TRACK

Where’s the Boss?

The thrilling natural track laid out by HORRA proved to be a tougher place for me than the WR. After coming to yet another crest that was hiding a slippery, off camber corner that I completely forgot about from the previous lap, I was starting to feel mortal. That coupled with twelve minute lap times and being stuffed on the inside by a kid on a mini-bike and passed on the outside by a guy in work coveralls and, I swear, rubber boots, I had to rethink the CMG Fitness Technique. You know the one where you do jumping jacks with a smoke in your mouth and your thumb over the neck of the beer bottle to prevent spills? From this point on, light beers only.

By the way, the good Editor ‘arris is cobbling together the attractively priced instructional video as I type this. He is always looking for fresh models, FYI.

Kersplash. Taking it through the water in the Ganaraska.

After catching up on the training, we hit Ganaraska Forest on a perfect day for riding—14°C and recent rain. The variety of terrain and trail types showcased the versatility of the WR power band and the compliant chassis and suspension. While not a tractor on the bottom end, prudent use of the clutch could help keep the pace as brisk as courage would allow. It has the ability to shorten straight sections and fifth gear will provide speeds that require familiarity with the upcoming trail.

The 5-speed gearbox started off slightly notchy, but has smoothed out nicely during the break-in of the WR. Ratios are spaced logically, and from the track to the trail, stock gearing is very good. The cable operated wet clutch has performed very well with a firm pull, but light enough that no hand cramping has been encountered.

Keeping all this motor manageable is a pair of 46mm Kayaba USD forks with 11.8″ of travel up front and a Monocross rear setup featuring a Kayaba shock and 12.4″ of wheel travel. Both ends are fully adjustable for almost everything—too many things for the likes of me. At this point we are following manufacturers recommendations until we get a little more experience. The front started out a little stiff in the early stages of compression, but as with the gearbox, this too has smoothed out with use.

A redesigned twin spar frame ties the suspension together and is described by Yamaha as “having reduced weight with an increase in lateral rigidity for greater strength and razor sharp handling.” This is welcome news to the CMG staffers as our lateral rigidity is not all it used to be. Any assistance in this department is gratefully appreciated.

That being said, the overall setup does inspire confidence at speed.

Exceptional front brake helps save right hands.

So with all these glowing remarks about how it goes, it hardly sounds like we ever need to touch the brakes. Wrong! The front brake is a two-pot-caliper squeezing a 250mm disc. It has exceptional strength and made me a believer when I had to mash the lever to avoid nailing my right hand against a tree while riding in loose dirt.

We do have bash guards to be installed, but due to an unfortunate Loctite vs. mounting hardware incident in my garage, I have a glob of hard nuts (eh? ‘arris) and some extra work to do prior to installation.

The rear brake has been prone to locking though. This, and recent discussions with my wife had me starting to feel I lacked sensitivity. A conversation with another WR450F owner led me to check the rear brake pedal height. Sure enough, it was set higher then the footpeg. Lowering it should allow us to use it in a more comfortable range. We’ll let you know our results both with the pedal … and the missus.

Ergonomics are comfortable. The flat seat allows easy movement front to back. It is also surprisingly comfortable considering the trend towards more wooden type seats.

Hopefully it’ll end up in this condition when it has to go back to Yamaha.

Overall build quality is high. Stock components include Excel rims and Dunlop tires. Dzus fasteners allow tool free access to the air filter, which is held in place by a simple one-piece wire retaining clip. Complete oil changes no longer require the removal of the exhaust header for the ’03 either. That should not be understated, as we will be performing the basic maintenance ourselves, so the simpler the better.

In our short time together to date, the WR450F made me ride faster and with more control than ever before. In the hands of fast riders, heaven knows what this bike is capable of. Stay tuned for upcoming installments of CMG’s Yamaha WR450F long-term test chronicles. We will be putting the WR and ourselves through a moto gauntlet.

Now back to that CMG Fitness Technique video.


Some additional detailed shots …

Err, that’s the carb and airbox …
… and a pipe …
… and rear brake …
… oh, and the electric start button!

THANKS TO…

…the folks of the Halton Off-Road Riders Association. They are genuine characters and good guys. Their membership includes a shifty looking lad named Lawrence who claims to have completed some kind of event called ‘Paris to Dakar’.

They also organize the annual Jim Kelly Memorial ride.

 

Bike

Yamaha WR450F

MSL

$8,299.00

Displacement

449 cc

Engine type

Single cylinder dohc, liquid cooled

Carburetion

39mm Keihin FCR flat-slide w/throttle position

Final drive

Five speed, chain drive

Tires, front

80/100-21

Tires, rear

110/100-18

Brakes, front

250 mm disc with two piston calipers

Brakes, rear

245 mm disc

Seat height

998mm (39.2″)

Wheelbase

1485 mm (58.4″)

Dry weight

111 Kg (245 lbs) (claimed)

Canadian colours

Team Yamaha Blue/White

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