Tuesday, March 15, 2011

2009 Yamaha WR450F First Ride

2009 Yamaha WR450F
The Yamaha WR450F can take riders through plenty of tough terrain and successfully make it through the other side, even when it seems unlikely.
There were a few big changes for Dubyas in 2009, including George W’s last days in the White House, but we're glad Yamaha’s big-cheese off-roader, the WR450F, is back for another term. Yamaha's policy of producing rider-friendly off-road motorcycles is still popular with the voting public so engineers barely changed anything from the 2008 model. Those Bold New Graphics were enough reason for us to request a new '09 unit and enjoy the well-rounded enduro as we put it through its paces.

There should be more people riding bikes like the 2009 Yamaha WR450F. The more time we spend on production enduros like this, the more we realize that they suit a wide variety of different riders. Some market offerings are aimed at racing and others trail riding, and the Yamaha falls more towards the latter. Most people ride, not race, so that's a good thing. We've seen what can be done with the WR lineup as a race bike and the results can be impressive, but our months of testing in southern Oregon and Southern California reveal that the big WR is a machine capable of taking everyday riders almost anywhere.

We spent most of our time up north, and for the first few weeks the weather was spectacular. As the leaves changed, so did our opinion of the WR. Testing around our Medford, Oregon headquarters was a soggy, mud-slogging affair at times, and once the weather turned was when we started to really notice the Yamaha's extra weight. The bucket-style plastic engine and frame guard is one of our favorites in terms of protection, but it collects a ton of extra poundage once the mud starts packing in.

Precise handling has become one of the WR450's greatest strengths as a big-bore enduro. Even though it has considerable girth, the front-end bite is solid and it allows the Yammie to carry better speed through tight sections with greater rider confidence. Some of our friends ride only motocross bikes in the woods, and we let them turn a few miles on the Yamaha just for grins, and that's exactly what they came away with, along with a new respect for the capabilities of Yamaha's flagship off-roader.

“I can't believe how much fun the 450 is,” says trail rider Travis Taylor. “I've ridden 2-strokes for so long and always thought that they are unbeatable, but the Yamaha is just so much fun to ride. It takes a little more effort because it's heavier, but the extra traction and unshakable confidence make it all worthwhile. When it comes to everyday riding, I'd put one of these between my legs anytime.”

Our photo model and pro-level tester, Tod Sciacqua, also considers the Yamaha one of his favorites, as does ISDE silver medalist, Chilly White. “It's a lot of fun,” admits White, “but it would take quite a bit of extra effort to make that into a race bike.”

2009 Yamaha WR450F
Riding the Yamaha is fun for pilots of all skill ranges. All of our testers were mostly pleased with the 450F.
The District 37 Hare & Hound Senior Champion drew his conclusion after pounding Big Blue through countless whoops in the Jawbone Canyon OHV area. Hammering the desert terrain proves that the aluminum chassis is forgiving, stable and easily maneuvered, but the Kayaba shock tends to wallow in the deep whoops, despite a foot of travel. Nobody ever complained of shock fade, but dialing spring rates and the importance of zeroing compression and rebound damping were emphasized by multiple testers. However, there wasn't a single rider who tried to ditch the WR for another bike, which proves our ultimate discovery true. The WR450F is a blast to ride, with and without its minor flaws.

The quiet exhaust note is another benefit for weekend warriors. With land closures reigning supreme, keeping the WR within spec is a high priority. Unfortunately, Yamaha has taken it to a bit of an extreme. Choking the bike to California green-sticker levels has brought the WR to a serious disadvantage in purely stock condition. The throttle stop is a complete joke. Obviously Yamaha knows this because our test bike was delivered without the offensive, childish restriction in place. Once the throttle was allowed wide open, we found that the WR runs best through the mid-range. It has a very usable low end, a very favorable rpm range in fact, but stock gearing left us wanting more. First was very short and second through fifth was dual-sportish. It actually works pretty well because the bottom end is clean with stock jetting, but get into the mid-range and the 449cc, liquid-cooled DOHC 4-stroke engine starts coming alive. The dry-sump lubrication system circulates oil and a 39mm Keihin carburetor monitors fuel. There is a noticeable bog way down low, a feature common to many 4-strokes. However, it is outside of the normal range of use for 95% of the time. We also noticed some surging at constant throttle in the high rpm range.

2009 Yamaha WR450F
None of our riders had problems fitting inside the WR cockpit.
From the cockpit, the WR450F is plenty comfortable and pleasant to use, and the 38.6-inch seat height is tall, though standard. The seat is flat and firm enough for aggressive riding yet soft enough to qualify as an “enduro” seat. The intricate computer activation sequence still remains a partial mystery to us, but we do appreciate the standard speedometer, clock and trip meters which are simple and straightforward to use. Combine those with ProTaper handlebars, quick-access airbox, tapered wheel spacers, USFS-approved spark arrestor and extra-wide titanium footpegs and there's plenty to admire the WR450F for in stock condition. Don't forget that it has one of the best standard electric starting systems available. The catch tank for engine coolant is nice as well, especially considering how quickly the WR tends to overheat. Compared to other Japanese 450 machines as well as 250F enduros, the big Yamaha is relatively quick to spew the fluid despite large-capacity radiators. Wave-style disc rotors are as effective as they are trick, and the stock Dunlop 756 rear tire is a good all-around match for the 18-inch wheel.

Even though Yamaha hasn't introduced fuel injection or some other radical upgrade for the 2009 WR450F, it's still one of our favorite trail bikes. Considering the changing political field and silly emission restrictors for the American market, the big Dubya remains very popular, and for good reason. For our inexperienced trail rider to title-holding racer, the WR450F remains an all-around contender in the 450 enduro market.

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