For years I have been riding my good old Honda CRF450X and to be honest I was perfectly happy with it. It never let me down, I had it dialed in and it was really confidence inspiring. Unfortunately even the best things tend to eventually bore you. It was time for a new toy.
After tirelessly waiting for Honda to release something updated from their original 2005 design, I pulled the trigger and jumped the ship. Say hello to my new Yamaha WR450. I was really excited to ride it so I was out in the desert first thing the morning after I bought it. Very chilly morning. Even managed to snap a pic before it got dirty.
Of course it took me a while to make this decision. Orange bikes were also considered, however in the end the common sense prevailed - nothing will ever be more refined and reliable than a Japanese bike. Even though the 2016 WR450 is all new, it's based on true and tested YZ450 that's been out for a couple of years, so all little issues have been ironed out. I also considered Yamaha YZ450FX but it came red stickered - no riding all year round here in California.
I'm not going to bore you with technical details. That's what motorcycle magazines are for. Instead, I will tell you about what it feels like on the trail. It always feels strange to ride something else after you've been on the same machine for nearly 10 years. This first impression is however the most vivid and really shows how different two bikes are.
A bit about myself. Unlike most motorcycle magazine testers, I'm not a pro. Just your average weekend rider with a little bit of racing experience thrown in. I can't tell if my forks are off by 2.5 clicks and if my tires are 1lbs over inflated. I just ride the bike instead of thinking about all this technical stuff. On a scale of speed I'm either fast C rider or super slow B rider, whichever you prefer. Sounds like you?
So how does it feel? The is a direct comparison with CRF450X that I know well.
Throwing your leg over it you notice right away that it's a bit taller. The kick stand looks really nice and feels lighter. Pressing the magic button spins the starter quite a bit quicker than on a Honda and the motor comes to life.
Note: I had the bike de-restricred - shorter throttle screw was installed, exhaust plug removed and air box restrictor taken out. ECU was stock even though I got GYTR tunable unit later.
Taking it off the side stand it doesn't feel any lighter than 450X. I actually tried both bikes side by side and they feel nearly the same. But as you can imagine in 10+ years since Honda debuted their off road weapon things have changed. Thanks to mass centralization, in 2016 270lbs feels lighter than 270lbs in 2005. Of course it only becomes apparent once you take off.
The bike feels nice and narrow, and turns with ease of a true motocrosser. Going through turns I was able to be exactly where I wanted, instead of running wide like I used to. The Yamaha steers really well. It's not razor sharp at cost of high speed stability, but perfectly neutral. Want to turn with the rear? Before you know if it will spin around you in perfectly controlled manner. Want to turn in sharp depending on your front wheel traction? It will not object. Overall it feels nimble and flickable. I love the seat arrangement, I could really slide all the way forward without hitting the gas tank.
At first the bars felt a little low and too far back, but I got used to it quick. Hitting some bumps quickly revealed that this bike is much firmer than my CRF was. Not bad firm like my KTM350SX was, but not plush like a couch. I think it really shows that the bike is designed for pretty advanced riders, you can hit some big jumps and it will handle them with ease. According to every press release that I have read, WR-YZ KYB suspension is the best on the market, and I now I agree.
The biggest difference I could notice was going over fast rocky sections. The bike stays on track and doesn't deflect or tries to tuck the front. You always feel in control. I still need to set sag but being impatient I just rode it as it is. Well, I did back out 2 clicks on compression and rebound after 1 lap around the track - I was just not used to the stiffness. Time will tell if I could get away without buying steering damper, for now if feels perfectly fine.
The engine is super smooth. I was really annoyed by the sound of air rushing through the intake. It was really loud. I even tried to ride with earplugs but it felt awkward. After a while I got used to it, however it's definitely something I don't dig. I'm wondering if there is a way to muffle the airbox.
Transmission is nice and smooth. Besides overall buttery feel I can't say the gearing feels any different from 450X.
Stock exhaust note doesn't have any bark, it's super quiet and stealthy. Good for trail riding, bad for performance. I have less restrictive GYTR end tip on order. Once installed it will let it breath better and still be under 96db. I even considered FMF pipe but then it's going to be way too loud and 2lbs weight savings are not worth it IMHO.
It's not like this bike lacks power anyway, in fact it has an awesome powerband. Super flat with a lot of torque straight off the bottom. WR climbed every hill that I dared to try with authority. I think thanks to fuel injection it builds power in really linear and predictable way instead of just spinning the rear tire. The amount of traction it generated was amazing (new tires help as well, it comes stock with good but now discontinued Dunlop MX51). Clutch was among the lightest cable operated clutches I ever tried, and the feel was fantastic. Even in stock de-restricted form this bike has way more than enough power to satisfy even seasoned trail riders. If you have $$ to burn, Yamaha has cool Cosworth built head. Maybe one day I win a lottery and then....
With GYTR ECU I just installed I really expect this bike to be a tame animal. Super fast but controllable. I have yet to ride it in this configuration but simple blip of the throttle revealed improved throttle response right away. Can't wait for Sunday so I could test it out. Without any doubt it will also lead to increased fuel consumption. Which brings me to the next chapter.
One area that leaves me a bit concerned is the fuel range. For some reason Yamaha decided that 2 gallon tank is big enough. Perhaps they did it so the bike is a little bit lighter.
During my mid speed ride I did 45 miles and burned approx. 1.5 gallons of fuel. Gas light was on for last 10 miles. This means that I need bigger tank for longer and faster desert rides. Yamaha has 2.5 option, but it's not that much bigger. IMS has 3 gallon option but it's ugly as hell, with shrouds used as fuel reservoirs. IMS has another 3 gallon option for YZ450, but it will not work because WR has a battery. I need at least 3 gallons that look stock. Acerbis, are you listening? For now I will definitely need to carry some gas with me. Thank God my new Kriega pack is super comfortable even loaded.
I can also provide a little perspective on servicing this innovative machine compared to older and more traditional layout Honda uses. So far I did an oil change, air filter and valve clearance check.
When you change oil you don't have to worry about the level, you open upper check bolt and wait until oil starts coming out. This is similar to Honda transmission side, except this bike shares engine and tranny oil.
Pulling gas tank is a little more challenging that normal. Because the gas tank uses high pressure FI lines the fitting is a bit tricky to remove. You remove safety clip first, then open another clip, then press the fitting's side and it comes off. When you are done you need to disconnect the fuel pump connector and it's also not user friendly. I would hate to do this in the middle of the desert.
Checking valve clearance is a breeze. Valve cover comes out really easy (unbolt the ignition coil first to save yourself some nerves). Remove two covers on the left of the engine, align the mark on the stator and cams, check for clearance. Valve clearances were spot on the tightest range. According to happy Yamaha owners once there they hardly move.
Airbox is unbelievably easy to get to. Well, after learning the trick of pulling stock Honda airfilter everything becomes easy. You just pop the cover and the filter is smack in front of you. Even a baby can take it off.
Overall I want to say that I do not feel the Yamaha WR450 is a groundbreaking bike. It's nothing like going from 84 XR400 to CRF450X. However it's better in absolutely every category I could think off, and that is what matters. 11 years of motorcycle development is no joke. Goodbye Honda!
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