Editor ‘arris dumps the Baby Bjorn, dusts off his riding gear and squeezes into the seat of a jet plane for a ride on Yamaha’s all-new WR250 R and X.
It’s been a while since I’ve attended a press launch. Actually, it’s been a while since I’ve ridden a bike. The onset of fatherhood in late August meant that I got distracted somewhat from the job of riding and then before I knew it, Montreal was under several feet of snow.
Then, just after another dumping of snow, I find myself in the hills of Southern California on the new Yamaha WR250R dualie trying desperatelynot to make an ass of myself in front of my fellow journalists – all Californians, all off-road experts, and all having ridden almost daily.
The launch earlier this week took me to the hills west of L.A. for a few hours in the dirt with the WR250R, followed by a stint on a go-kart track to sample the R’s sister, the super motarded WR250X.
But before I recall my tales of dirtery in the California hills, let’s take a quick look at what makes up the new WR250s ….
The WR250R and X use the same motor, a 249 cc single cylinder, four valve (titanium), wet sump, DOHC liquid-cooled jobbie, with a short stroke (for quick reving), and high lift cams (about another 1 mm over Yamaha’s YZ 250 dirt bike).
Fuel injection is via a 12-hole Mikuni, with Yamaha’s EXUP exhaust valving and a three way cat keeping emissions within spec. The gearbox has six speeds (one up on the YZ250), the 5th and 6th of which are both overdrive. There’s also an in-built balancer shaft to keep the vibes at bay.
The frame is probably what makes the WR stand out, combining light weight and high strength thanks to aluminum construction. There is a steel front cradle part and subframe, which are bolt-on parts so that, in the event of a crash, they can be replaced without the need to buy a whole new frame.
Other aluminum bits include the swing arm (less unsprung weight), and the triple clamps, which use reversible off-set bar clamps to give the rider 10 mm fore and aft adjustability.
A rather nice feature is 23 mm of ride height adjustment built into the rear shock, which can be used to pull in the rake or bring the seat to the perfect height. Okay, maybe not for you stunted people out there, as in standard trim, the R model is a whopping 930 mm …
Wheels are 21” front and 18” rear on the R or 17” front and rear on the X. The R comes from the factory shod with Bridgestone Trailwing tires which are a 50:50 mix for dirt and road, whereas the X uses radial Battlaxes – specially made for the WR250X with a super soft compound.
Braking is by a wave rotor up front (250 mm for the R and 298 mm one for the X) with a twin piston sliding caliper. Out back, there’s a 230 mm disc and single piston caliper for both models.
HIGH TIMES NEAR L.A.
It’s a bit cold up here. Seven thousand feet above LA … above the clouds even. Unfortunately, there’s fresh snow on the ground and so our Yamaha handlers decide to whisk us lower down the mountain in a van.
Lower is still decidedly chilly as we venture off down a wide trail into the wooded Californian mountainside. The WR’s liquid cooling exhaust ducts ensure that warm air coming out of the rad is directed either up or down to avoid baking the rider. However, right now I’d rather be baked.
I’m slowly getting back in the groove when we veer off to climb what feels like a mountain goat trail. Before I get my wares I find myself painfully traversing snow and ice patches, while all around bounce and wheelie past me with ease.
Thankfully, the WR isn’t a hard bike to get to know. It’s relatively light with a peppy motor that likes to be revved (max torque – a claimed 17.7 ft lbs – doesn’t even come in until 8,500 rpm!). I find myself slipping up and down through the super slick gearbox (clutch optional) to keep in the powerband, but I’m too used to the grunt of my KLR 650 and halfway up an icy incline I stall it.
The electric start earns its keep but there’s nothing for it but to dismount and carefully slide the bike to the edge of the trail where the dirt shows through, and then feather the clutch and push the thing to the top. Is it me or does the WR’s engine stall out a bit easily? I overhear another journalist asking the same question, but we’re both too unfamiliar with our new ride to be sure.
Yamaha claim that the WR250 is designed to have the performance of a 400 (another reason for making a 250), but there’s no replacement for cc when it comes to low down grunt. However, although I may miss the KLR’s grunt, on this trail I appreciate the WR’s light weight – realizing that the KLR wouldn’t have made it this far.
My humiliation at the hands of more talented journalists continues as we hit a series of whoops, but the WR does its best to accommodate its plump and rusty rider by not getting bent out of shape – absorbing the irregularities and mistimed whoops with ease thanks to its softly set suspension.
After a few photo shoots, we’re out of the trails and meandering down a gloriously twisty road taking us from the snow-splattered mountains into the desert bowl below. The lightness and sure footedness of the WR comes to the fore on the pavement too and I de-stress with a glorious 10 minute wiggle to the desert.
As the road straightens out onto the flats, it’s time to tap the WR out, and I get an indicated 135 km/h without trying to get tucked in at all (although at full tuck one journalist saw 150). Here there are some vibes present although they’re relatively unobtrusive – keeping it below 110 km/h will ensure a vibe free ride.
I’d hazard a guess that the bike would hold around 110 all day, if you could take the seat. Although Yamaha have waisted the front (to make it easier to stand), and widened the rear where the rider sits, it’s still a hard seat and it doesn’t take long before I’m standing again to get my arse back into feeling mode.
After a short blast through some desert trails we arrive at the supermotard track, grab some lunch, don the leathers and pick one of the waiting WR250Xs.
After a few warm-up laps it’s into full lean … albeit in the roadracer, not supermotard, racer style. I don’t know, I just can’t get my lanky legs out without hitting the ground and so have no choice except to opt for the conventional leaning off format.
This means an awful lot of sliding from one side to the other and back again on the serpentine-like track, which is inefficient to say the least and garners further humiliation from the other journos. But it gets the required lean angles and as I scrape a peg, the front tire judders for a moment, but the super soft compound Battleaxes keeps me upright.
The aggressive front brake is excellent at scrubbing off speed, but you need to drop it down a couple of gears before hitting a corner or you’ll be out of the power coming out. Thankfully that super slick box enables quick clutchless downshifts. There’s a bit of drive train lash when I do power on, but the chassis and suspension all keep me in line and under control.
Once I figured that I’d had enough, I left the track and as I was coming to a stop I fell off. Yes, walking pace and just I fall off. More humiliation but thankfully no damage to bike or rider, save for a rather nasty dent in my ego.
I guess that’s a good time to call it a day then.
It looks like Yamaha have hit the nail on the head with their WR250R. It’s agile, forgiving and has enough punch to do the job it needs to do. Even the 50:50 Bridgestone Trailwings seemed to work well in the dirt, which is not usually the case for tires of such compromise.
I’m not sure I’d agree with Yamaha’s statement that it has the performance of a 400, as there’s a noticeable need to keep the revs up to stay in the power and out of the stalling zone. Still, it’ll make a great around town bike and should be able to take you to the local trails on the highway to boot.
The small 7.6 litre tank will be too low for anyone who wants to take it for a more lengthy tour of the Canadian backwoods. Yamaha reckon that you should get about 170 km from a tank, which should be fine for exploring the local fire roads.
Why Yamaha should choose to add another 250 to their dual-sport line (which is as big as they come from Yamaha) is due to how they see the dual-sport market. In the U.S at least it’s a booming segment with the average rider demanding a small cc, technologically packed with a roughly 50:50 split of road and dirt capabilities machine.
And Yamaha are seemingly not the only company to notice this, with a growing array of quarter litre dual sport bikes coming onto the market in the last couple of years. The closest of which is Kawasaki’s KLX250S which got a revamp this year but it still of a slightly lower spec thanks to its steel frame.
Although pricing has still to be announced, the KLX is likely to be not much above the previous price of 6 grand – a thousand less than the WR. Then of course there’s the well-established Suzuki DRZ400S, which comes in at exactly the same price of the WR but has the extra cubes though not the same high specs.
The WR’s high spec motor, suspension and aluminum chassis make it a versatile bike and one that should be relatively friendly – if you can actually get your leg over it of course. I think it also looks pretty slick – especially the black touches of the X version.
So Yamaha, when can we expect to see a dual sport WR450R that feels like a 650?
THE SAME, BUT DIFFERENT
So what is the difference between a WR250R and WR250X? Well, it’s really all down to the suspension, brakes and wheels.
To make the X more road and track orientated the suspension has been stiffened up a tad (through valving) and then there’s the 17” wheels that will take a whole host of rubbery radials for maximum grip. The smaller 17 inchers also drop the seat height by 35 mm (to 895 mm), but that also means you lose 35 mm of ground clearance.
The front brake gets a super-sized 298 mm disc (with a larger caliper mounting plate to accommodate it) and a bigger master cylinder piston for more aggressive retardation. Overall wet weight for the X is 2 kg more than the R at 136 kg.
Other finer points include a hockey player rear sprocket with one less tooth (to compensate gearing due to the smaller rear wheel), no side engine guards and an altogether less cuddly appearance thanks to the use of anodized black forks & guards, rims and frame members.
Now what if you had an R and wanted to make your own X – one set of wheels for the city and then another for the trails kinda thing? Well, the easiest way would be to buy a set of the 17” rims, 298 mm front disc and longer caliper mount bracket.
You’d be a little down on the front brake power (different master cylinder) and the gearing would be a little lower overall, but you should still have a pretty usable machine in both worlds.