Yamaha is taking a new approach with its 2012 WR450F. Gone is the focus on fast, open desert and casual trail riding. Its new objectives are improved performance for cross-country and tighter woods-style enduro competition. There is more emphasis on racing, and the WR450’s high-quality components prove it. This is a smart move by the Japanese company that is losing off-road ground to similar street-legal machines. The California green-sticker legal WR is still a great trail-riding machine, but it is now a much better hardcore racer, too.
The biggest changes are to the WR450’s chassis, which is essentially a YZ250F frame stuffed with the reliable five-valve 450cc Single. Other than moving some mounts and changing a few gussets, the frame is almost identical to the Lites-class MXer’s. Constructed with a combination of forged and extruded aluminum pieces, the frame has more torsional and lateral rigidity, meaning it has less side-to-side flex. In an effort to improve the bike’s center of gravity and limit the effects of rotational mass, the engine has been placed in the frame with the cylinder in a more-vertical position. An immediate benefit is that the new frame makes the bike feel smaller, allowing the rider to easily move around and also making the bike easier to handle. Other plusses include a nearly half-inch lower seat and improved ground clearance over the previous WR.
Despite the stiffer frame, the WR doesn’t deliver any extra harshness to the rider. It is more predictable when hitting bumps and it doesn’t wallow like the old WR. Part of the improvement can be found in the fitment of the high-end KYB Speed-Sensitive fork, while the latest YZ-specification shock is fitted out back. The combination does a fantastic job of getting the bike over the rough stuff, of which we got to sample plenty.
To prove its confidence in the new machine, Yamaha arranged for our press-introduction ride to include competing in the first round of the Grand National Cross Country series in River Ranch, Florida! About every type of off-road terrain was represented except for a lack of nasty rock sections, but there were enough tree roots and palm fields to make up for it. The suspension does a great job of staying on top of sand whoops and feels more like a motocrosser than an enduro. A true testament to the suspension’s quality, was that it not only handled the high-speed stuff but it also did a fantastic job of soaking up small chop and gliding over roots and stumps without deflecting or completely unsettling the bike. When pushing at race pace, there is never a feeling that you’re over-riding the bike’s capabilities, which can sometimes be the case with enduro-spec bikes compared to often-used MXers.
Despite all the changes, Yamaha wasn’t able to scrape any weight off the WR, claiming the same figure as the old model (273 pounds wet). It definitely feels lighter when riding it, however, and its ability to change direction is quite impressive and improved. The WR whipped through the twisty, tree-lined course. Less energy is now necessary to control the WR, which should be nice for lengthy off-road races. Its weight is most noticeable when getting going from a dead stop or when trying to get over a downed tree or obstacle, but cornering performance is natural feeling with no fall-in or stand-up mid-turn. Bite from the new Dunlop Geomax MX51 front tire is excellent, doing its part to aid handling, while traction from the rear was good, too.
Another major improvement is the addition of fuel injection. The system features a Keihin 42mm throttle body with a 12-hole injector. Five sensors ensure optimal fueling at any altitude in any conditions. Response was spot-on for the most part—although I did experience a few stalling issues when making photo passes—a flaw that disappeared during “normal” riding situations, as well as when racing. Electric-starting is a huge benefit, but if you want to shave roughly eight pounds off the WR, the starter and battery can be removed without affecting the electronics.
The only internal engine changes include a new low-friction coating on the cams and a beefed up connecting rod (and big-end bearing) for added durability. Otherwise, alterations were made to accommodate the fuel-injection system, including a longer header pipe with a resonator chamber. Performance is a little tame out of the box due to strict emission and noise requirements—no more grey wire to cut, but the throttle-limiter screw has to go if you plan on aggressive riding.
For those intending on racing the WR, Yamaha offers a competition kit ($544), which includes a programmable ECU (available for $99 separately), GYTR/FMF slip-on exhaust, radiator cages, Cycra handguards and taller handlebar mounts. Additionally, the GYTR Power Tuner ($279) can be purchased, which allows easy trackside mapping changes to the ECU.
In making the WR a more-focused machine, Yamaha has made the $8090 WR450F an all-around better motorcycle that will continue to suit the casual trail rider as well as the weekend racer.