2020 YAMAHA WR250F TESTED

THE FIRECRACKER

Yamaha has built the most advanced and race-ready 250F on the market – but is it actually fun to ride?

WORDS DAMIEN ASHENHURST / PHOTOS BARRY ASHENHURST/YAMAHA

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2020 YAMAHA WR250F

I have finally come to terms with the fact that the WR250F trailbike is but a memory of an era now passed. The bike that was once so soft that it felt like you were riding a fresh hot dog bun, is gone. Trail is uncool. Enduro is where it’s at apparently. I so want to hate on this fact and I’ve complained about it ever since the WR250F stopped being Tom Hanks and became Connor McGregor, but I can’t muster the energy to hurl abuse at the Yamaha engineers because I’ve been riding all day. I’ve been riding a bike with the manic energy of a kelpie, razor sharp steering and the most up-to-date electronics suite in the business. I’ve been having too much fun to miss the clunky old WR-F.

Whenever a Japanese manufacturer makes an enduro bike out of a motocross bike, I get a little pissed off. Are we not special enough to warrant our own motorcycle? Does our style of fun, amongst the warm embrace of the majesty of nature, bother you in a way it never used to when you sold me an IT200?

And yet, here I am on the 2020 WR250F – which is basically a YZ250F with a headlight – having a really, really good time. I had fun in the bone cracking dry conditions, and then when it rained a little I had even more fun on the moist trails and of course in the mud, to which I am inevitably drawn to. It seemed no matter where I pointed it, nor what time of day, relative humidity or state of the trails; the WR-F had something in its make-up that made it ridiculously fun.

So what is the big deal here? Can you believe it’s been 19 years since the WR250F was launched? Why is it this good now and what’s new for 2020? And why am I asking myself questions? Am I having a stroke or just too much caffeine? Let’s find some answers.

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We can’t think of another 250F enduro bike with the explosive output of the WR-F

SAME NAME – DIFFERENT BEAST

Launched in 2001, the WR250F has gone about its business kind of quietly, but to pay it due respect, it has achieved some spectacular things and blown minds under the control of riders like Geoff Ballard, Ben Grabham, AJ Roberts and Josh Green. It used to be a very basic trailbike that needed effort and time to fashion into an enduro race bike. The engine was mild to say the least but insanely reliable, while the suspension got so soft at one point that you could replace the forks with a pair of socks and not feel a difference. It was however, at all times a nice bike to ride all day on the trails, with little to no changes besides a pipe and some jetting.

Launched in 2001, the WR250F has gone about its business kind of quietly, but to pay it due respect, it has achieved some spectacular things and blown minds under the control of riders like Geoff Ballard, Ben Grabham, AJ Roberts and Josh Green. It used to be a very basic trailbike that needed effort and time to fashion into an enduro race bike. The engine was mild to say the least but insanely reliable, while the suspension got so soft at one point that you could replace the forks with a pair of socks and not feel a difference. It was however, at all times a nice bike to ride all day on the trails, with little to no changes besides a pipe and some jetting.

That’s the bike that is merely a memory now.

For 2020 the WR-F is as close as it can get to the YZ250F. It’s the same engine, frame and suspension. Each of these has slight variations to better suit trail over motocross but in some cases it’s very slight. For example the frame is the same in all regards except for two forward mounts. The ignition, cam and gear ratio are all altered to offer a better power delivery on the trails. It isn’t focussed at all times on maximum explosive output like the YZ-F is, but instead more hook-up and less outright aggression.

Along with an offroad friendly 18 inch rear wheel, the suspension settings are altered to be more bush-compliant, particularly in the early part of the stroke so as to soak up trail trash better. It also utilizes the same Yamaha Power Tuner app that the YZ does. They are very close cousins. Not the same – but damn close.

And the YZ was pretty much completely redesigned for 2019 so the 2020 WR-F is one hell of an example of an enduro bike that’s completely up-to-spec.  

The YZ is a low-mid monster of the MX2 class. It’s placed in the top two in just about every shootout for a couple of years and it’s in the hands of the fastest 250 Supercross rider on the planet right now in Dylan Ferrandis. His starts might suck but man can he move through a pack…and move people out the way politely along the way. And by polite we mean the French derivation which   translates directly to, ‘get out of my way or I will punt you into the next postcode.’

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Take the blue pill

ENTER THE MATRIX

So the bike is obviously fast as a motocross/supercross machine but that means it runs the risk of being too much of an animal on the trails, where more subtle throttle input is often required.

Yamaha has been clever in how it’s tamed some of the output, but certainly not all of it. The crankshaft balancer weight and revised ignition timing feeding in to the six speed gearbox, goes a long way in making the WR-F far less aggressive, but it doesn’t dull it completely – not even close. This can be quite a hostile bike when ridden on the Race map and there’s not much hiding the YZ heritage when you engage the blue button on the left side of the bars. It can be a handful when it takes off like a stabbed rat in skatey conditions, but it’s simply the most volatile 250F on the market when it’s unchained via the blue button. It’s like the red pill/blue pill scene in the Matrix – do you want to live in a mild reality or do you want to take a ride that will make you know you’re alive? Even the engine note with the stock pipe is nasty. The WR250F is not here to root spiders and no other 250F packs the same amount of outright hostility.

But it’s not all that easy for the average rider to ride like that all day, on all surfaces and Yamaha knows this. So returning to the blue button, we hit it again, the light goes out and the bike becomes far more reserved and easy to manage. You can feel the electronics calming the Hulk back down and a milder bike appears, making it easier to maintain traction in slippery conditions and taking some of the violence out of the initial roll-on. The switch can be used on-the-fly and we did this plenty, changing from one to the other as the tracks changed during a weird period of a little rain on ultra-dry dirt. When we had traction we ran the Race map and when we didn’t we ran the Standard map, switching back-and-forth without stopping the bike.

We used the Standard map a fair bit and perhaps more than we expected, because the WR-F can actually be a bit of a handful and keeping the back-end in check can be a battle when the tracks are dry. The bike is so aggressive in the lower gears that it’s easy to spin-up and loose traction, which can be total balls on a 250F if you’re on a hill and needing to just lug-it up. The immediate throttle response leaves little margin for error when traction is at a premium and in this respect it’s a bit like riding a good 125 two-stroke, albeit with more torque to work with should you miscalculate.    

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Pruning low foliage has never been easier

AIM AND FIRE

Being a new bike and as is certainly customary to this particular frame, it felt stiff. This feeling does ease as the bike ages and more flex creeps-in over time. And given I am built as my mates say, like a big unit; or as people that aren’t my mates say, a fat turd, it’s not unfair to suggest that my pie-eating puts me low on the list of potential 250F riders. However, if we can leave the fat shaming aside and let me love myself for what’s inside (more pies), I’ll address perhaps the single best feature of this bike.

The handling package of the WR-F is influenced in the main by three things; the chassis, suspension and the ergonomics. The chassis’ feel is stiff, the KYB suspension is outstanding and the ergos are highlighted by an incredibly thin feel and ease of movement. This, in a very basic leap of logic, then produces an incredibly precise steering bike that goes where you point it with amazing feel from the front-end at all times. Fast corrections at speed don’t upset the bike and neither to solid hits; it just keeps tracking wherever it is you’ve pointed the bars, be it on a fast rutted section or a bermed corner, which by the way is one of life’s great joys on this bike. There’s no point having a monster engine if the bike steers like a river boat and in fact it’s generally better to have great handling than massive horsepower figure. But the WR250F has both and it’s hard to imagine another 250F being able to keep up.

But here comes the caveat – do you need to ride this fast all the time? Do you trailride with outright pace in mind? Because it’s not the most comfortable bike to simply trailride. Its aggression and stiffness particularly from the KYB SSS fork lend it to constant feedback from the trails – it doesn’t float over things at a mild pace, and there are easier engines for those who have little regard for how fast you blast out of a corner. When the first iteration of the new generation appeared I was amazed by the bike but I wished for something more trail and less race. But now I’ve come to terms with the WR250F’s path, I’m more than happy with the bike Yamaha has produced; nay I’m stunned at its capabilities, but need you to know this is an enduro bike, not a traditional trailbike. You can trailride it of course, but like you can drive a Lancer Evo MR on the street, you know the race heritage is always there and wanting to bust-out on a track day.

But if you’re a racer – Jesus, why wouldn’t you own the WR? It’s a bee’s dick away from being a race bike in stock trim. There’s not a lot to consider on this point.

ON THE PACE  

If you’re one of those anti-250F types, now is the time to reassess your thinking. It’s not going to beat a 450F but it may give a 350 a run in certain areas and we can’t think of another 250F that can match it for sheer pace and sharpness. That’s doesn’t mean it’s the right bike for everyone, but what bike is?

What it means is if you’re looking for a light, reliable, agile and race-bred 250F with all the current tech and design on show, then the Yamaha is for you. It’s near infinitely tuneable via the Yamaha Power Tuner smart phone app, which means you can dial in custom settings, share them with mates if you have any, and save them for use when you return to those trails or that track. Correct jetting used to be so important to get the most from the WR250F; now you dial all your settings-in on the same device you order a pizza and play Candy Crush.

Ride-away pricing on the WR250F is $13,999 (ride-away is registered and ready to roll), and we reckon you should go bang on your dealers window till he lets you try one.           

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Damo swipes right on a new ignition map – does not get lucky

2020 WR250F FEATURES

  • New YZ250F-based high-performance enduro-spec engine
  • Revised exhaust cam timing and reshaped exhaust ports
  • New Denso 12-hole fuel injector/new 44mm Mikuni throttle body
  • New multi-angle intake port valve seats
  • Higher compression lightweight piston
  • New crankshaft balancer weight
  • New heavy-duty heat-resistant clutch
  • New lightweight and compact electric starter motor
  • New high-output ACM
  • Six-speed wide-ratio transmission with revised shift cam
  • Enduro-specific fuel injection and ignition timing mapping
  • Handlebar mounted two-mode mapping switch
  • Newly-developed bilateral beam frame with enduro-specific engine mounts
  • New YZ250F-type AOS front forks with larger 25mm inner cylinders
  • New lightweight rear shock
  • Larger capacity 7.9 litre fuel tank
  • New resin engine guard
  • New YZ250F-type front axle brackets
  • New flatter and lower YZ250F-type seat
  • Tough new wear-resistant in-mould graphics
  • New forged aluminium sidestand
  • Lightweight speed sensor
  • Price $13,999 Ride Away

Off road competition kit – for the AUS market the new WR250F is supplied fully ADR compliant with a free competition kit for closed course use. The kit includes:

  • CCU for smartphone tuning capability
  • Lightweight LED tail light/ and licence plate holder
  • Competition larger diameter exhaust muffler outlet
  • Full power / full travel throttle stopper screw kit
  • YZ airfilter holder guide
  • Wiring connector for headlight
  • Brake snake kit
  • Wiring connector for rear brake light
  • WRF Barkbuster handguard set
Damien Ashenhurst
About Damien Ashenhurst 1701 Articles
Managing Editor of DIRT ACTION magazine. Damo doesn't like cheese or ISIS. Can often be found riding in mud because it's closest to the natural environment of a squid.