Bike Test: The Yamaha WR250R

YamahaÂs New Dual Sport Brings Unexpected Surprises

May. 23, 2008 By Mark Kariya
dirtbike yamaha dualsport

While it mimics the dirt-only WR250F in appearance, the all-new WR250R is far better on the street while still being very capable in the dirt.

With the price of fuel climbing like Fourth of July fireworks, increasing numbers of people are considering motorcycles as more economical forms of transportation and not simply toys. For those who favor the off-road lifestyle, the obvious choice in two-wheeled transport is the dual-purpose motorcycle, also known as a dual-sport.

The manufacturers have anticipated this by offering more dual-sports over the past few years, though some have been slower to catch on. Until recently, Yamaha had only a couple of decades-old models, but that’s changed with the introduction of the WR250R (and its more street-biased WR250X, which we won’t examine here).yamaha dirtbike review

While it's comfortable to sit on, the WR250R encourages you to get up on the pegs and push the bike to its limits--which are surprisingly high for a Japanese dual-sport.

A casual glance suggests the new machine is a direct descendent of the off-road-only WR250F racer. Even a number of numbers in the spec sheet indicates this to be true: liquid-cooled/DOHC/electric-start four-stroke engine with the same 77.0 x 53.6mm bore and stroke, aluminum frame and swingarm, quick-access airbox, wave-style brake rotors and aluminum rims (18- and 21-inch), among other items. Plus it just looks like the F’s brother.

yamaha wr250f racer
The WR250R is much better in the dirt than previous 250cc four-stroke dual-sports, though the comparative lack of low-end means keeping the revs up for optimum performance.

But looks are deceiving.

Yamaha studied the market, asked questions and concluded that what the majority of prospective dual-sport buyers want is something that’s meant to split the difference between street and dirt riding pretty evenly, with 46 percent of actual dual-purpose riding done on the street and 54 percent on the dirt. KTM, Husqvarna, Beta and the other Euro manufacturers all offer dual-sports that skew heavily in favor of dirt use while the Japanese have traditionally built machines for the masses who might commute once or twice a week then do some casual trail riding on the weekends or even after work.

Realizing that splitting the difference demanded a different approach, Yamaha knew it couldn’t just modify a WR250F because, frankly, pure dirt bikes aren’t that well suited to long stretches of droning down the highway. They’re often uncomfortable and buzzy, and full knobby tires can be very sketchy on wet asphalt. Yet, Yamaha also knew that it had to try to stay close to the WR’s competition heritage in more than just appearance.

So, the design team came up with a list of goals, played with a few prototypes and came up with the WR250R. And what is it, exactly?

Well, it’s not a WR250F with license plate—but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Again, Yamaha’s market research showed some dissatisfaction in component quality and the desire for high-tech features. Fine. How does electronic fuel injection sound? The WR250R has it, making it the first dirt-worthy motorcycle in Yamaha’s line-up to feature it. We never had a problem getting the bike running in two days of riding at a press intro that started up in the SoCal mountains around 6000 feet (where flakes of snow were still falling) down to the high-desert floor at about 3000 feet. The 38mm downdraft Mikuni throttle body with its 12-hole injector helped meter the two gallons of premium precisely enough that we never felt a hiccup or hesitation.

dirtbike offroad

Feel like unwinding after work? Few things are better than taking the long way home, and the WR250R is an excellent way to exercise that option.

Despite the inclusion of Yamaha’s EXUP control valve in the exhaust—which works like a power valve in two-strokes to help boost torque despite being tuned for good top-end power—the general consensus was that the WR250R felt pretty soft off the bottom.

Granted, 250cc four-strokes will never be arm-yanking torque monsters, but the Yamaha’s high-tech mill felt like it had less low-end than an old XR250R. On the other hand, it runs circles around the XR on top so once you get the short-stroke motor spinning, you’ve got your reward. It’s reminiscent of a 125cc two-stroke (which 250cc four-strokes are supplanting more and more since they’re lumped into the same class at most races worldwide): If you want to hustle down the trail quickly, rev it hard. Abuse that smooth 13-plate clutch and shift often through the six available ratios (the top two of which are overdrives).

The comparatively mild low-end means that less-experienced riders won’t be intimidated when getting underway, either in the dirt or on the road. You could add another two or three teeth to the rear sprocket (stock gearing is 13/43, and a nice O-ring chain is standard) and get better low-speed response, but you’d probably forfeit some fuel economy and top speed in the process. Of course, how many people need a 250 that’ll reportedly do over 90 on flat, deserted roads? We’re guessing that even if you knocked 10 miles an hour off on top, you’d still be able to cruise comfortably at 70 and probably get 50 or so miles to the gallon.

dualsport ride

We found the WR250R to work well on the street as well. Though you wouldn't want to do an all-day freeway ride on it, the blue bomber would do well as a short-hop city bike/commuter that's also able to hit challenging trails.

Since many dual-sport riders are newbies or re-entry riders (those returning to the sport after many years away to raise a family, establish businesses, etc.) unaccustomed to the tall seat heights on contemporary off-road bikes, the WR250R has slightly shorter legs, though the components themselves are as feature-laden as the ones on race bikes. The 46mm inverted KYB cartridge fork offers both compression- and rebound-damping adjustability with 10.6 inches of travel, a bit less than the 11.8 on the WR250F.

In the rear a Soqi shock (a subsidiary of Yamaha that manufactures the shocks found on some of the high-end sport bikes like the R1) is adjustable not only for preload, compression and rebound, but it also goes one better than the shock on the 250F in that you can vary the ride height. Travel at 10.6 inches is less than on the ‘F, and those numbers result in a seat that’s 36.6 inches tall, a full two inches lower than the WR250F.

We found it easy to touch the ground at stop lights or on the trail. If you’re, say, 5-foot-4 or less, you may want to play with the ride height (and don’t forget to lower the fork legs in the aluminum triple clamps at the same time or else chassis geometry goes to pot).

Whether on or off the road, the WR250R feels relatively light, hiding its claimed 278-pound dry weight (for the California version; the 49-state model is two pounds lighter) well. (By way of comparison, the WR250F is a claimed 234 pounds.) It turned well, tracked predictably and absorbed plenty of off-road abuse, enough that it definitely set the bar higher for dual-purpose bikes from Japan. You can ride the ‘R very aggressively and not overtax the strong chassis or pleasantly and surprisingly compliant suspension.

dirtbike riding review
The dual-purpose Bridgestones work much better on firmer terrain than snow. Handguards would be our first addition to an otherwise complete bike.

The Bridgestone TW301 (21-inch front) and TW302 (18-inch) tires seemed to complement the bike perfectly, being designed for a 50/50 mix of dirt and street. For harder-packed dirt, they worked very well, hooking up nicely and letting go rather predictably. On pavement, they proved quiet and gripped in corners far better than full dirt knobs. Sand or mud—or snow—would not be in their design parameters, of course.

There’s lots more we could write about—things like the cool LCD instrument panel, adjustable handlebar clamps or the myriad features within the engine that set it apart from the rest—but we’d rather sum it up. The $5899 WR250R sets a new, higher standard for 250cc dual-sports. While it’s not as dirt-centric as the WR250F, it’s a far better bike on the street while still being a fun machine for both new and experienced riders in the dirt. It’s nimble enough for trail use while being civilized enough for more than a just few miles of pavement. It does beg the question, though: When will Yamaha introduce a WR450R?

Off-Road.com Newsletter
Join our Weekly Newsletter to get the latest off-road news, reviews, events, and alerts!