What am I doing here, clambering awkwardly to the lofty 929mm seat height of the Yamaha WR250R's saddle, like some wheezy geriatric mountaineer attempting to conquer Everest?
AT A GLANCE
Engine: 249cc liquid-cooled dohc 4-valve wet-sump single stoked by electronic fuel injection via a 38mm throttle body; power and torque figures unavailable.
Transmission: Six-speed gearbox, chain final drive.
Frame: Alloy single-cradle frame with composite alloy rear swing arm; fully-adjustable 46mm inverted front forks with 270mm of wheel travel and fully-adjustable rear monoshock with 270mm of wheel travel.
Hot: Still the best road-legal 250cc dirtbike on the market, thanks to Yamaha's no-expense-spared approach; maintenance-friendly engine now has more mid-range grunt.
Not: High price-tag a big turn-off for Kiwi buyers; needs more fuel tank capacity than the paltry 7.6 litres offered.
I swore off dirtbikes long ago after finding myself on the wrong side of a Honda CRF250R.
It wasn't the seriousness of that crash that produced such a Paul-on-route-to-Damascus epiphany, it was the silliness. A slippery pine tree root had taken control of the Honda's front wheel in a low-speed moment, which might have been mildly hilarious had I not cracked a couple of ribs on the way down. I decided then that if I was starting to have silly little crashes, it was best to give away the dirt riding before things got really serious.
However, the opportunity to ride Yamaha's versatile WR250R model again was just too tempting.
Introduced in 2008, the WR-R was a cutting-edge dirtbike with several key differences. It was one of the few of a new breed of liquid-cooled, four-stroke dirtbike singles that was road legal straight out of the box, and its routine maintenance was as easy as any dedicated road bike's.
Where many four-cycle dirtbike engines required full top-end rebuilds after just 50 hours of use, the WR250R's could get by with just oil and filter changes every 10,000km and a valve clearance check every 40,000km. The durability and user-friendliness of the engine came packaged in a state-of-the-art dirtbike chassis, with plush long-travel suspension, race-ready brakes, quick steering and a rider interface that permitted plenty of freedom of movement. As a model capable of bridging the gap between humble trailbikes and cross-country racing machinery, the WR250R was absolutely revolutionary.
As I said in a 2008 review of the then-$11,495 Yamaha: ''Adventure riders, tiki tourers, sports-minded farmers, and commuters seeking a fuel-friendly ride to work on Mondays and a sporty dirtbike on Saturdays should form an orderly queue.''
Trouble was, few people did, well in this country at least. The WR250R has been a huge success in Australia and its country of origin - Japan, however it seems Kiwis prefer to buy more specialised machines and accept the high maintenance costs of those dirt racing bikes as the price of their extra performance. As for using said highly-strung dirt bike on the road, forget about it. Most of these folk arrive at work in the ute or van that carts their cross-country ride on the weekends.
The fortunes of the original WR250R on the New Zealand market weren't helped by the perception created by its premium pricing. That's not going to change with the 2012 model, which is now almost $900 more expensive at $12,349. Other changes include new engine management software that pumps up the mid-range performance a little, new graphics and some barely-perceptible revisions to the set up of the suspension.
Essentially, this is the same bike I sampled and loved in 2008, which means it will continue to be a bike that Kiwi bike buyers struggle to get their heads around. As far as road-legal Yamaha trailies go, both the cheapest registration-ready dirtbike on the market, the $7659 200cc XT250, and the considerably more powerful $13,279 DT660R appear to represent better value.
But take a closer look and you can see where Yamaha spent all the money on the WR250R. There is absolutely no evidence of cost-cutting to be found anywhere on this bike from stem to stern.
I find components like magnesium triple clamps that attach the beefy 46mm front forks and the rear swing arm composed of three different alloy constructions - extruded, cast, and forged - such eye candy that I have to resist the urge to lick them.
Weight is the enemy of any dirtbike and Yamaha has spent money liberally to ensure the overall mass of the electric-start WR-R is confined to 136kg with a full tank of fuel.
The 250cc engine is just as impressive. It is essentially a single cylinder hacked off from the 1000cc four that powers the R1 sportsbike. It therefore shares components like the two 30mm titanium inlet valves, EXUP power valve in the exhaust, and downdraft multi-jet fuel injection.
When the EXUP fully opens in the middle of the rev range, you're left in no doubt about the four-cylinder bad-boy sportsbike origins of this engine.
It all adds up to an easy-riding dirtbike that's capable of going virtually anywhere, even a destination such as the site of the last life-changing crash on a dirtbike several years ago. The evil pine tree root was still there, made slippery with recent rain, ready to usher the WR painfully into an adjacent gorse bush.
However, the Yamaha simply lifted the front wheel over the obstacle helped by the traction of the aftermarket road-legal knobblies fitted to the test bike. Seems the WR250R allowed me to find my dirt riding mojo again.
- © Fairfax NZ News