First Ride: 2016 Yamaha WR450F

Yamaha’s Biggest Enduro Bike Gets A Major Upgrade

2016 Yamaha WR450F
The beauty of having a bike with intakes at the top of the shrouds is that you can rail it through water crossings with much less chance of drowning out! Here, Ryan Orr gets into the throttle in a mid-ride river.Photo by Pete Peterson

The WR450F has long been a staple in Yamaha’s enduro machine lineup, but it seems that the likable thumper is always just a step or two away from a comparison win. The previous model year of the WR450F—which featured a YZ250F-inspired frame and an all-around solid engine package—was definitely a great bike, but head-to-head testing revealed that it was no match for the KTM 450 XC-F. Knowing that the WR needed some major revisions in order to be competitive, Yamaha’s engineers went back to the drawing board and cooked up a completely new WR450F that takes serious design cues from the YZ450F and YZ450FX. After riding this new off-road machine, we’d say that Yamaha made a seriously smart move in how they designed the WR.

2016 Yamaha WR450F
The WR450F is, as we had hoped, a reborn version of Yamaha's well-known off-road model. The new iteration of the bike takes some serious performance cues from the YZ450F MXer.Photo by Pete Peterson

Much like Yamaha did in 2015 with the YZ250FX/WR250F models, the new WR450F is green sticker legal (compared to the closed-course-designated YZ450FX) and adheres to a conservative approach to the CARB/EPA regulations that sees the bike shipping to dealers with a few extra components that allow it to fall well within regulation guidelines. We tested the bike with the stock ECU (which is non-adjustable and thus incompatible with the GYTR power tuner), though a Competition Kit is available for $109.99 that will render the bike “competition only.”

2016 Yamaha WR450F
Go ahead and call it a trailbike, but the WR450F did not lose that much in comparison to the more race-oriented YZ450FX. We'd take the stock WR out and race it at a National Enduro in a heartbeat.Photo by Pete Peterson

Like the FX model, the new WR comes stock with electric starting, a skid plate, an 18-inch rear wheel, and a kickstand. In front, the off-road models both have 4.5N/mm fork springs (compared to the 5.0N/mm front springs in the MX model) and all three 2016 450s share the same rear shock rate, a 56N/mm spring. Each of the three Yamaha 450s has its own valving spec. Of course, the off-road models each feature a wide ratio transmission and a different clutch with updated fiber material, a judder spring, lighter clutch springs, and a revised clutch actuator arm with a different cam on it. The WR also gets an O-ring chain, MX51 tires, a cooling fan, a taillight, a spark arrestor, an enduro computer, and a headlight.

2016 Yamaha WR450F
Perhaps one of the few downsides to this machine is that the bike feels somewhat weighty in the front, with a top-heavy feel to boot. We noticed the same thing when comparing the WR250F with the YZ250FX last year; the bikes with the headlights just seem a little bit dumpier.Photo by Pete Peterson

Yamaha’s compliant approach to emissions regulations makes the WR450F’s engine a touch softer all around than the FX. This feeling is most apparent down low, as the mid-range torque and top-end pulling power are only slightly tamed down compared to its non-identical twin. We were expecting the power gap between the two bikes to be bigger (it’s significant on the 250s), but the WR doesn’t lose all that much to its competition-oriented brother, and the enduro-style bike is actually easier to ride in dry, slippery sections where the mellower delivery helps put power to the ground with greater traction and control. The tranny layout is the same as the YZ450FX; first gear is incredibly low on the WR450F (a virtual 14-tooth difference from the MX version of the bike). This is useful for really nasty off-road sections, but we found that we spent the most time in second and third on tight trails, with gusts up to fifth when we’d hit a fire road transfer section. The clutch action on the bike is outstanding, and the transmission is buttery-smooth. One interesting note is that with the quieter exhaust (thank you, Yamaha!), the intake of the reversed engine is much more noticeable than on the F/FX models.

2016 Yamaha WR450F
Inspired by Robbie Maddison, veteran DR test rider Ryan Orr shows that the WR450F can walk on water!Photo by Pete Peterson

This smooth and torque-filled engine is complimented by what is a really great suspension setup that offers a plush, supple feel. The WR is plenty capable, and yet it doesn’t wear on your hands and feet over those long, rough trail rides. The initial part of the stroke—both front and rear—is very plush and tracks well over the smaller rocks, keeping the tires on the ground so that you’re able to steer the bike in the direction you want to go. In higher speed sections, such as fast whoops or g-outs, the suspension is very balanced and progressive; this makes for a predictable ride, and no matter how hard you hit something the bike maintains great control and is never harsh. The downside of the ultra-plush initial feel is that the front end will dive under heavy braking, and the hold-up can be a little lacking in repeated chop, which leads to a vague feeling through rough sections. Also, the lack of a strong hit of power down low causes the already-weighty bike to feel even heavier, and the nimble handling is occasionally tainted by a top-heaviness that rears its ugly head on tight, back-to-back direction changes. All together, the WR handles great on most trails, but the quicker the turns start coming, the more the plushness and weight begin to work against you.

2016 Yamaha WR450F
The cornering manners of the WR450F are outstanding; the softer-than-the-moto-version front fork allows the front of the bike to settle on corner entry, and the entire machine stays planted through mid-corner. Minus the top-heavy feeling that you get when you turn the bar too tightly, the Yamaha will remain balanced and won't fight you in most types of turns.Photo by Pete Peterson

After taking the WR450F on a handful of night rides, we’d label the headlight as better than most stock lights, and definitely good enough to get you back to the truck after dark. Unfortunately, the stock fuel tank is barely good for 60 miles of riding, although we have been testing the 3.0 gallon GYTR/IMS unit on our FX and are so far loving it. Two features that we dig enough to wish that they came stock on the FX version are the WR’s stock enduro computer—which has a host of handy standard features—and cooling fan, which works overtime in low-speed sections to ensure that the temps remain manageable. Add in the convenient kickstand and the always-capable electric start, and you begin to see that Yamaha did an outstanding job in attaching only the smartest mods to this machine without straying too far from the high-performing base model that is the 450cc MXer.

2016 Yamaha WR450F
Yamaha added a number of off-road components to this bike, and we're pumped on all of them! The enduro computer helps keep track of mileage and time; the kickstand stays out of the way until you most need it; the skid plate does a great job of gliding over mild logs and rocks. Now, where are the handguards?Photo by Pete Peterson
2016 Yamaha WR450F
We have to praise Yamaha for making such a great-looking off-road bike. The WR450F is as modern as a Japanese enduro machine can get.Photo by Pete Peterson
2016 Yamaha WR450F
The headlight has enough output to get you back to the truck after the sun goes down, and without leaving you feeling as though you should have packed a helmet light. That said, if we were to be racing this machine at night, we'd opt for a plug-and-play aftermarket unit from Baja Designs of Trail Tech.Photo by Pete Peterson
2016 Yamaha WR450F
Kudos to Yamaha for what is most definitely a quiet and responsible exhaust system. The WR450F runs well but is so quiet from the muffler, the rider will hear the intake noise more loudly than the exhaust.Photo by Pete Peterson
2016 Yamaha WR450F
The stock kickstand foot is part of the kickstand arm, so riders won't have to worry about snapping the foot off in uneven terrain (as can happen with KTM's stock kickstand).Photo by Pete Peterson
2016 Yamaha WR450F
We wish that the stock cooling fan on the WR450F also came on the YZ450FX. You'd be surprised by how much this little component works in tight terrain to keep the engine temps down.Photo by Pete Peterson