from the may issue
For 2003, Yamaha pulled the proverbial cork out of the dam with the new WR250F. Engine-wise the headlines bristle because of the new electric start. Handling highlights center around the new lighter chassis, refocused suspension, lightweight features that come straight from the YZ line, and all new ergos! So effectively, the thick, finicky starting older machine has been transformed into a pushbutton, maneuverable and well-sculpted four-stroke off-roader. The big question is whether the button, the ergos and handling updates gave the WR enough of an edge.
The engine remains a liquid cooled, five-valve, dual overhead cam, titanium-valved 249cc unit. The big news, of course, comes with the addition of the electric start. Both radiators have been increased in size for improved cooling and the airbox has been improved and now allows for side access (a la KTM) via Dzus fasteners. An all-new automatic decompression lever has eliminated the manual lever and a hot start system has been mounted to the left side of the handlebars.
Weight savings were high on the list of priorities this year (necessary to make up for the addition of the electric start and battery) and this started with the twin spar frame. It?s lighter, with greater rigidity. The swingarm features a new taper for less weight and greater lateral strength and the removable aluminum subframe is now constructed of square section tubing for additional weight loss. More suet has been carved at the engine guards which are now thinner-walled and of two-piece (part plastic, part aluminum ) construction. All-new, lighter-weight front and rear master cylinders and calipers, combined with 250mm floating front and 245mm rear disc, delivers improved stopping power with more progressive control and feel.
The major handling improvements come with the redesigned ergos and new suspension spec in the valving of the fork and shock. Because the new frame features a re-tooled steering crown, Yamaha fit all-new bodywork to the WR. The tank, seat and radiator shrouds are flatter, lower and dramatically thinner improving rider agility on the machine tremendously. The 46mm inverted Kayaba cartridge fork features 11.8 inches of travel with compression and rebound damping adjustability as before. Low-friction outer tubes and aluminum piston rods are used to help implement a smooth compliant fork stroke. Re-calibrated fork valving has found its way onto the Kayaba system and its goal was plusher action with improved bottoming skills. Rear suspension system retains a Kayaba damper with 12.4 inches of travel and separate adjusters for high- and low-speed compression damping. Rear shock refinements include improved action via a new linkage ratio and all-new internal damping.
In standard trim, the machine is street bike quiet and feels scooter-powered. This is due to the sound regulations that are self-policing by the manufacturers and, according to Yamaha, absolutely necessary if they want to bring the bikes to the States. We unplugged the muffler and retrofitted a Y-PAD insert, relieved the carburetor stop and re-jetted and when we hit the trail the performance of the machine greatly improved. Noise was only marginally bumped up and remained under 96 decibels.
The first thing you?ll notice is that the WR feels like it has a close-ratio transmission. First is nice and low, fifth feels nice and low. It really doesn?t make a lot of top speed, humming hard at 65 mph. And in spite of the electric start, which is button-activated and located on the right side of the bars, the WR is sleepy in the morning. Choke, gas and a long warmup time are mandatory. Like last year?s machine, the WR isn?t a stump puller down low; it likes to hum, preferring high revs to a lug it and chug method. Still, power, albeit soft down low, transmits nicely into the meat of the system, which is way up there for an off-road scoot. Like a 125 two-stroke, the WR likes to be coaxed aggressively and performs best when wicked and stroked at the higher rev points. Remember, this machine redlines at 13,500 rpm so staying in the 9-10,000 rpm feels like you?re going to melt it down. Not so.
Negotiating tricky trails requires a prevalent clutch finger mated to a generous dollop of throttle, the duo working in tandem to maintain upper mid to top power. While the transmission feels close-ratio, you?re almost always guaranteed the proper cog for the portion of trail that you?re conquering. Hills that can be attacked with proper speed and aggression are no worries. But if the dirt is thick, the run shallow and you attempt to lug it up and over, you?ll have issues. Stay in the meat of the powerband, remain aggressive and the WR rewards you. Get slack, try to ride like it?s a 400 (or even an XR250) and you?ll choke and stall. Of course the great news here is the button; just stab it and go. If the engine turns but doesn?t kick, pull in the Hot Start lever and re-stab the button. It?ll start breathing quickly.
The WR has really nice trail manners. While it tips the scales (the incredibly accurate Dirt Bike unit, recently refurbished, optically calibrated and inspected by Colin Powel?s gardener) at ____, the WR doesn?t feel obnoxiously obese. It leans towards beefy, though nimble in the woods. Rocky hack trail is absorbed nicely, there?s little whinny to the front end and she prefers to track straight and true rather than side to side. Rider mobility is excellent as the bulges and thickness of last year?s machine has been replaced with a svelte, non-bulbous ride. The saddle is a little low for pilots over six feet tall, and taller riders complained about the low bars. By the way, the bars are junk and one tipover will send them into the taco mode.
Faster terrain is a little more interesting, though the WR spits out a fairly competent ride. It doesn?t like whoops; the lack of mid power and the bulk tend to let it fall into them, rather than track over the tops. For more of our medium sized testers, the suspension spring rates were good, though damping seems to target the western rider more, than the true woods fanatic. We ran the clickers in two (both front and rear compression) for our desert testing and during our Tecate outing backed them out to stock for the tighter terrain. In rocky, slimy terrain it feels damped heavily during the initial stroke, yet will bottom out back on slow speed g-loads. Adding compression to the shock helped the bottoming, but enhanced the initial harshness. Like most machines, take the time to dial it in for your terrain; the rewards will be great.
But the cornering traits of the WR are superb. This machine is a flicker and rewards you with a knife-carving front end that sticks hard and holds a line with the best of them. It takes little effort to inspire proper turning habits and we?re quite sure that the new slimmer/flatter tank and saddle combination helped this area substantially. Navigation when you can stay in the powerband, hopscotching between second and third gear, is flat wonderful. The WR gets into the mood when you can carry momentum; the bike tracks well and has superb tractability. Add rocks, slimy logs or inherent obstacles to the trail and it gets tougher, simply because retaining the meaty portion of the powerband requires greater skill and commitment and the WR lacks good bottom end power.
The WR comes equipped with Enduro-legal lighting both fore and aft. A new fuel cell totes 2.6 gallons and, as we mentioned earlier, air filter access is now from the left side of the machine, and it?s quick and easy. The re-settable tripmeter is snugged behind the front headlight cowling and Yamaha stayed with the nice adjustable clutch perch system, though it has a new stainless cable for improved action and longer life.
An aluminum sidestand is frame mounted and tucks up fairly high. Dunlop tires, 739s front and rear, are strong performers out west, pretty average for the eastern pilot where gooey trails are the norm. The header pipe has a heat shield and allows access to the oil filter, the rear muffler comes plugged up tight so that Yamaha could meet the sound regs to import the machine. We installed a Y-Pad muffler insert which improved performance substantially and kept the decibel level just under 96 dBs. There?s also a stop on the 37mm Keihin FCR flat-slide carburetor with throttle position sensor (TPS) that has to be removed in order to get full throttle pull. Again, this was necessary for Yamaha in order to import the machines as off-road legal. Check the performance sidebar for more.
IS THE BUTTON ENOUGH?
We like the WR250 a lot. And that?s in spite of a powerband that is less than woods friendly. More bottom power and she?d be tough to beat. Still, inspired handling, excellent cornering abilities and fairly broad suspension qualities make this a smiler for the woods warrior. And of course having the button helps. When you can flush your starting worries into never-never land, life on the trail becomes much more livable.
The big question is, who?s this bike designed for? It truly lacks the bottom zest to make it a good tool for newcomers to the trail world, unless you ride in an area with great traction and few no-run hills. It?s truly inspiring for the aggressive rider whose background is small bore machines; they honestly fit the WR?s personality in a snug fashion. And what?s the potential for increasing the power, as the gap between this fine handling little bike and huge powered, big feel of a WR450 is too wide? For the true woods aficionado, a big bore WR250 is more attainable than a slimmed down 450. As it is, this is a truly fine scoot for the aggressive rider who loves to scream it under the haunches of a high-strung stallion.