2019 Yamaha WR450F
The YZ Comes To WR World.
When Yamaha changed the WR450F in 2016 to the new “reversed” engine architecture, the bike took a leap away from classic Yamaha WR feeling and became so much more like the YZ450 it is modeled after. But to make the WR a WR, there are a lot of things that have to happen. Not only to make the bike perform its job but meet standards and regulations. For the 2019 version its another leap for the WR450F is based of the latest version of the YZ450F which was all-new in 2018. How did it go? Read on to find out.
Basically this is an all-new bike just like the YZ was last year. The engine loses the kickstarter and moves the electric starter to the rear of the engine. New camshafts, piston, cylinder head and clutch components are all YZ-spec. The chassis is thinner and more rigid with engine brackets the same as the YZ450FX to tune the flex for off-road. All of the suspension components stay the same but are now tuned to match the chassis. Bodywork and seat are thinned and have a more compact design in theory.
Off-road features include a 18-inch rear wheel, a kickstand, an O‐Ring Chain, an tucked up tighter aluminum side stand, new head light and led tail lights that are controlled by the ECU and do not have an “on/off” switch. There is a multi-function odometer and warning lights for low fuel and ECU faults. The ECU on the WR is locked for emissions compliance and the muffler is a very quiet, non-rebuildable chambered design. The WR comes standard with an improved plastic skid plate and a cooling fan on the radiator that kicks in automatically at about 200-degrees. The under-seat fuel tank is now larger, .56 gallon that the YZ and with a smaller fuel pump inside. The WR, like the FX has a gear box that is five wide ratio speeds and spreads the range by about 30%. It is like you have a 64-tooth sprocket on your YZ in first gear but a 45 in fifth.
The WR is in a funny place between regulations and is currently rated as a “red sticker” bike in California because it does not come with evaporative emissions parts that were going to be mandated and now are not, so this may change as the requirements become more clear for the current standards. It has to be and is sold as an EPA compliant bike with some restrictions like a throttle limiter, a locked ECU, there is a sound snorkel inside the intake tract and the muffler has some very restrictive internal parts internally. It likely makes 20 horsepower in this setting and is rideable if you want to put-put around the campsite. Since we intend to use the bike as a competition enduro race bike we removed the throttle stop, the intake snorkel and the smallest of the plugs inside the muffler to get full power and still stay way below the 96 db necessary to pass the sound test.
The first thing that any rider familiar with the WR will notice is how light the new bike feels. It likely weighs the same as the old version but it feels 10-15 pounds lighter than before. It has a more nimble feel, especially through the handlebar. It is more active and less planted to the ground but never gaining that unstable or feeling of being too loose. It responds better to rider input and we had a 2018 along on our impression to feel this. With the chassis being more rigid you’d think the bike would get more uncomfortable or transmit more to the rider, but it does not. It feels, like we noticed in the new YZ, like Yamaha has allowed the chassis to reveal how much better the suspension is. There was less vibration, less bump transmission and less sting on hard hits.
Onto the suspension and we set the ride height to 106mm, bled the air from the forks, made sure the tire pressure was under 14-psi and never touched a clicker. Didn’t feel the need. We rode the bike in a wide variety of terrain from fast Baja style roads to tight and technical mountain and desert singletrack. It handled it all and with a pretty impressive versatility. The forks and shock are a little less plush when compared to the older bike but not enough to want to soften a clicker. But the use of the stroke is very progressive and the bottoming control is way better on compression and rebound in big bumps or hard landings. It lets you feel the ground better as opposed to feel the ground more. It is really good and as to be expected from the YZ lineup.
The big question is does the WR have enough power? Well we had great traction on our ride and that is usually the killer for a quiet non-racing bike. But when we were riding in sand washes and the bike was lifting the wheel while pulling in third gear, the resounding answer is yes, the WR puts out the beans. It is a little snappy right at the first crack of throttle, a bit much for this rider then it pulls pretty smoothly and for a long time. After the initial snap there isn’t the snap a motocross 450 puts out in the first quarter-throttle but you can get the same power levels just a little farther in the RPM range. The power builds as fast as the tire will handle and with all of this there isn’t much noise coming out of the muffler.
There is a more noticeable noise coming from the front-mounted air filter and for some riders this can be an issue. We saw close to 80 MPH on some of our faster sections but did not get it out to a place to do a top speed run. We’re guessing high 90s and will get that when we have a full-time test bike. And speaking of that Yamaha GYTR will offer a competition ECU for closed course racing that should allow the use of the tuning app. (we would use to to tame the initial throttle response with less ignition advance and a little more fuel.)This will be awesome and could really unleash a lot of potential from the engine, especially if any exhaust changes are made. But as we rode the bike we were happy, impressed and for trail riding and most singletrack racing needs, the bike would get the job done.
And onto the transmission and Yamaha has had the best 5-speed going and nothing has changed. If there was ever a proper 5-speed wide ratio, the low first and tall fifth are getting the job done and there are no gaps in the spacing. There isn’t the luxury of having two speeds for every condition like some of the six-speed gearboxes now have, but we’d be hard pressed to complain about this one. Yet we’ll also love to see what Yamaha could do with an additional gear–we have to give them some ideas for future improvements.
The brakes are strong and have good feel with the front brake line looking a bit rubbery in our opinion. Shifting and clutch action was good but we did not really get in too many abusive conditions. You do notice the bike is a little lower at the seat and padding is nonexistent near the rear. The thinner look and feel at the tank will be welcomed by most riders. We got the cooling fan to come on a few times and it does its job. Air filter access is simple and brainless and seeing gas in the tank isn’t. You have to know your range and know when the light comes on. We got about 55 miles of hard riding and the light came on and went another 10 without issue.
So after a 90-mile day we can say this bike is hugely improved. In reality the things a current WR needs are same things that a YZ also needs–in effect making the bikes way more similar. Now the same chassis can be tuned with engine brackets and suspension settings. The power from a common engine tuned with an ECU and sound controlled with a good muffler. Adding just the right parts to make it enough off-road for the rider seeking that type of machine. If you are a current WR rider or have like them in the past you will love this one. On the last generation we were hard pressed to ever suggest a WR over the FX. Now the WR isn’t suffering in excess weight feel or sluggish handling. It takes a few simple tricks to get the engine opened up but that is easy. And in fact the 2019 Yamaha WR450F may be one of the best off-road 450s in first-gear terrain and that is saying a lot. Especially when it does not suffer in faster stuff one bit.
In a few weeks DBT will have a test bike for a full test and likely to try a few modifications on as well. If you have questions or specific comments, leave them in the comments section below and we’ll work through the good ones.
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