For 2019, the Yamaha WR450F doesn’t come road homologated out of the dealership, but it’s cheaper and is a marked improvement on last year’s model. Julian Challis finds out whether the new off-roader is a suitable Green Laner
To say that the 2019 Yamaha WR450F is a powerful motorcycle would be a woeful understatement. Press the map switch to swap from the reserved and manageable Mode 2 to the full-fat Mode 1 and the Yamaha shows just how incredibly potent the reverse cylinder motor really is.
Crack open the throttle and in an instant the world blurs either side of you as the bike launches forward like a ballistic missile, the astonishing acceleration accompanied by the rasping induction roar and the banshee howl of the exhaust behind your right leg.
If you can hang on enough to bat up through the gearbox, the big WRF will reach autobahn speeds in seconds, spitting out miles like the shower of sharp stones flung from the back wheel as it blasts its way through the landscape. It’s a hell of a bike. When the first new model WR450F was released back in 2016, it followed on from the incredibly successful launch of the new WR250F two years previously.
Equipped with an all-new chassis and reverse cylinder motor lifted straight from the incredibly successful motocross bike, the new 250 impressed everyone immediately. The bike was beautifully balanced, the motor was flawless, and the ride was magic-carpet-smooth thanks to perfectly set up suspension.
The bike saw a resurgence in Yamaha’s fortunes within world enduro, and thanks to conquering the apparently difficult mountain of EU homologation, was available as a road-legal bike straight from the dealers. Finally matching the convenience and spec of the orange competition, buyers voted with their feet to make the WR250F an instant hit for both enduro and trail.
Two years later, the WR450F followed suit and the expectations on the new bike were high. It too had the technology and design from the world of MXGP and crucially it also came ready to ride away from the showroom. Yet at the European launch, the bike fell well short of expectations.
Buoyed by their return to Dakar competition, Yamaha had set up the test bikes like they were looking to conquer the deserts of Bolivia and Peru rather than the soft trails of Spain. New hard mousses were matched to hard compound tyres and suspension, and the handling was matched with an aggressive performance map.
As a bike that was designed to appeal to a wide range of riders from leisure to competition buyers, the 2016 WR450F appeared to be an altogether less likeable machine than was hoped, and certainly not a patch on its younger sibling.
Yes, you could adjust all the parameters of the tuning if you bought the hand-held plug-in computer, and at other launches, the power of the test bikes had more wisely been backed off for a more compliant state, but the fact remained that, from the crate, the WR450F was probably far more bike than the European market really needed.
Fast forward to 2019 and a lot has changed for the WR450F. It still looks pretty similar to the previous incarnation, but in reality, this is a very different bike. Still derived from the motocross bikes and using an enduro-spec version of the same engine, the 450 now has a completely redesigned and altogether sleeker, slimmer and lighter chassis and it genuinely feels that way as soon as you ride the bikes.
The bodywork was been slimmed down too, noticeably the air scoops at the front, which had irritated previous owners, are now altogether less obtrusive and matched into the radiator cowls.
Yamaha claims that the bike now feels more like the 250, and riding back to back, we’d have to say that in reality the 450 now feels a tad smaller and more agile than the two fiddy and on an open class enduro bike, that’s a good thing, allowing greater control and performance on the tight and nadgery stuff.
The new suspension is effortless and beautifully set up, absorbing everything from big hits to stutter bumps and sharp edges without breaking sweat. The bike also gets a bigger tank too, the capacity now at 7.9 litres with the fuel load spread over the centre of the bike under the seat, behind the high mounted and easy-to-access air filter. Don’t worry about river crossings on this bike – it should manage over 3ft deep without a cough. And as for those blue wheels – jeez they look cool!
But what about the legendary power – is that still there? Well, only if you want it to be, as now Yamaha have made it optional thanks to a bar-mounted map switch. Fire up the motor on the button (there is no kicker) and the bike is automatically in Mode 2, a blue light glowing on the neat switch. In this map, the bike has a soft bottom-end to allow controlled and gentle progress without the fear of disappearing into the woodwork.
Don’t get us wrong, you can still crack on, but for the tight Welsh forest trails where we rode the bike, the map was the perfect match of power and performance. You could open up the taps for the shaly, mucky climbs, but still trickle over polished roots without spinning out – a perfect compromise for here and across the tighter trails and routes common to Europe.
But what if you ride in big landscapes? What if your trails are wide ribbons of unremitting, power-sapping sand as far as the eye can see? That’s where you hit the button for Map 1 and the hounds of Hell are let rip. If the marketing department had been allowed, the WR450F should really have been given a switch that said ‘Rest of the World’ for Map 2, and ‘Australia’ for Map 1.
The Aussies love their big Yamahas, and they’ll certainly love the 2019 bike, the combination of the razor-sharp handling and massive power ticking every single box. This is an outback weapon for sure. But for the rest of us, the power characteristics of the two pre-set maps can now be adjusted directly from a bespoke Yamaha tuning app that connects through to a Bluetooth receiver under the left number board, allowing you to instantly tweak the power characteristics out on the trails – you don’t even need a phone signal.
With the swipe of a finger, you can fine-tune your bike to the power characteristics you want for the terrain you are riding. It’s common technology now on bigger adventure bikes, but on a bike like the Yamaha, it’s arguably far more likely to be used and indeed more likely to be useful.
But for all this good news, there’s an elephant in the room with the new bike. The 2019 WR450F now comes as an off-road competition-based model, rather than a fully homologated road-ready bike. Yamaha has apparently faced problems between different territories to get their new bike to meet all the regulations, and as such, they’ve thrown in the towel yet again.
Buy a box-fresh WRF from your local dealers and although the price might have dropped, you’ll have to get it registered on a single-vehicle approval through the DVSA and then get it MOT’d to get it taxed and insured.
Yamaha may have tried to make light of this, but the lack of road registration meant there was no big European launch, and the added faff to get a number plate adds an obstacle that simply doesn’t exist if you buy a KTM, Husky, Beta or indeed Honda…
This aside, the Yamaha WR450F is a fantastically built dirt bike that will not fail to bring a smile to your face every time you ride it.
Whether you really need a 450 to trail ride in the UK is open to debate, but if you think you do, you’ll love the Yamaha.