Published on January 8th, 2016 | by Guest Writer
2016 YAMAHA WR 450F – GAME ON WITH THE GODS
By Darren Kersten
Because I am a broken creature for whom dirt-riding is a thing of the past, I felt it was best to send my dear friend, Darren Kersten, along to the media launch of Yamaha’s game-changing new WR450F. Daz rides a bit of dirt and was far less likely to be choppered out on a Careflight helicopter than me, so I felt it was a good call. It was also interesting to send a non-journo to a press launch – Boris
Welcome to Stroud, population 600. A beautiful part of NSW, all rolling green hills and surrounded by some of the best riding, both on and off-road, the country has to offer. It is also the brick-throwing capital of the world, and most recently, home to the reigning Australian Off Road Series champion, member of our recently victorious ISDE team and all around Enduro God, Yamaha’s Josh Green.
The drive up the Putty Rd from Sydney felt like it had taken two minutes. I was absorbed in thoughts about what was to come and just how I’d found myself lucky enough to be attending the launch of what is easily the most eagerly anticipated dirt bike I can remember, the 2016 WR450F. It’s Yamaha’s 60th Anniversary, and the tuning forks are celebrating.
Borrie called me about the launch a few weeks prior.
“Are you sure there isn’t someone better for this?” I said to him.
“Yeah,” he replied. “But Toby Price is on his way to Argentina. Besides, you’re the only one I know who won’t die. You will love it. I have no idea who any of these blokes are, but Josh Green will be there, as well as Josh Coppins, Daniel Milner and you may have heard of Chris Hollis and AJ Roberts before.”
Had I heard of them? Had I what.
For those not familiar with the off-road scene it was like being told that Rossi, Marquez, and Lorenzo were testing the new M1 at Phillip Island and being asked if I would like to come and spend a few days testing it with them. I went to say no but as I mouthed the word it came out as ohshityes.
Yamaha had booked out the Stroud Central Hotel as the base for the launch and my accommodation. It’s a beaut country pub that serves a mean schnitzel.
I walked into the pub and figured I’d best make myself known to one of the Yamaha people so they wouldn’t call the cops thinking I was a gate-crasher. A few guys were standing in the bar having a chat so I said g’day and asked the only one wearing a Yamaha shirt if he worked for Yamaha.
He introduced himself as Josh Green and I congratulated myself on possibly the worst intro of all time. Josh laughed it off and I suggested I go outside and start again. I felt like such an idiot; and that would not be the last time over the next few days I would feel like that. Oh well. Begin as you mean to continue, they say…
After dinner we were ushered into a room for the presentation and the excitement was genuine. There was a lot of local input into the new bike and I got the feeling it’s almost like a Yamaha Australia baby.
The general vibe is that Yamaha has finally produced the WR that it and the rest of the world have been asking for.
So what do I reckon?
It looks fantastic and is available in the traditional blue as well as the exclusive to Australia and NZ old school racing-yellow colours. The Yellow looks the business for my money; it’s not overdone and I like the way the graphics flow. The black rims also look pretty trick and it seems slimmer than the older model but I could just be wider. Surprisingly it retains a mechanical clutch but it feels light, which is important when you have broken as many bones as I have.
I have to put my hand up here and admit I’m a bit of a Yamaha fanboy. I remember getting my first Yam for my 10th birthday; a beaten up YZ80B. From that day I have always had at least one in the shed. It’s an easy brand to like and it produces some kick-arse bikes for both on and off-road use. But you might not know that Yamaha Australia is a company that gives a fair bit to the sport. Besides sponsoring and running teams it is also a big supporter of the championships themselves. The Australian Off-Road Series, A4DE and the Australian Superbike Championship for example.
It has a long history of support and I know from talking to a few of the riders that it’s something they are proud to be a part of.
I am also in awe of the calibre of riders Yamaha had brought together for the launch. Former World Number Two, Josh Coppins, has had a lot of input into the new bike. Chris Hollis is there, as is Daniel Milner, Beau Ralston, Tom McCormack, Active8 Team Manager AJ Roberts, and of course our host for the launch, Josh Green. There are also mechanics, marketing gurus, and a few boffins who appear to know everything there is to know about the inner working of a dirt bike. Besides the Yamaha crew there are a dozen or so respected magazine journalists, photographers and videographers, many of whom are excellent riders… and me. It’s gonna be an amazing two days.
Oh yeah, the bike…
The new WR450F is 6kg lighter than last year’s model and only 11kg heavier than the YZ450F motocross variant. For that you pick up an electric start, WRF bashplate, handguards, 18-inch rear rim, sidestand, rear fender, battery, starter motor, generator, meter, lights, legal muffler and radiator fan. It also has a handy low-fuel light.
After the presentation I had a chat to Active8 rider Beau Ralston about the bike. He loves the new WR and calls it a YZ with lights. It’s a comment that’s repeated often over the two days. With Ralston’s MX background I reckon he would know the difference, too. By the way, he is a really nice bloke and a pretty determined character. The story of how he got to where he is today is a good one and worth looking up. I chewed his ear for at least an hour and he didn’t appear to get sick of me at all.
I headed up to bed. It was late but couldn’t sleep and lay there staring at the ceiling for hours. I was like a kid at Christmas, but more than a little nervous at the prospect of riding among some of the talent that had been gathered downstairs. I set my alarm for 6.15am but beat it by half-an-hour.
After breakfast I loaded up and headed to Josh Green’s farm; a lovely spot right on the edge of thousands of acres of wilderness riddled with tracks and fire trails. Yamaha had set up a stack of marquees and the WR450’s were perfectly lined up like a blue and yellow cohort of dead-serious special forces soldiers. Now I was really nervous.
AJ Roberts gave us his version of “On my signal, unleash hell!” and I fired up my bike. I then hit record on the GoPro and rolled down to the start of the neat grass track that cuts around the pit area bordered by a few kays of tighter gulley country that is an optional trail loop. Just before heading off I reminded the Yamaha boys to get the cheque-book ready. I can’t take a cent less than Taddy earns either, I tell them. There’s no way I can look him in the eye at Erzberg next year knowing he earns more than me. It wouldn’t be right.
What then followed was possibly the worst display of riding ever witnessed at a Yamaha function [Oh, I don’t know about that – Boris].
Dead set I am wobbling around like it’s my first time on a bike. I reckon my wife could have come past me on a postie. I don’t know if it’s that I am nervous as hell, the fact I keep rubbernecking all the pro riders as they rip it up, or the insane death grip I have on the ’bars, but either way I am struggling. The bike is so light compared to my usual ride [a Husky 510 – Boris] and it produces amazing torque that has me lurching forward with each of my ham-fisted throttle inputs. My positioning is all wrong, I am staring at the front wheel and the new rubber Yamaha has put on for the occasion hooks up easily, which sees me lofting the front wheel and heading for the timber several times. I must have looked like the most uncoordinated teenager who ever lived, bunny-hopping down the road trying to learn a stickshift for the first time. Damn it! I bet AJ is watching this, no way was I going to get a spot on the team at this rate.
Twenty minutes in and my arms are pumped and aching and I am reduced to laughing at myself and my ineptitude. I am under no illusions about my ability or lack thereof on a motorcycle, it is what it is and while I am having a shocker, I am also having an absolute blast. The WR is just such a weapon. The fuelling is spot on and you need to be pretty clumsy to stall it. I do several times.
Later, when I asked about it, Yamaha explained it took two test sessions six months apart just to sort the low-speed fuelling and to ensure the WR could run very low revs without stalling.
The brakes are excellent and progressive. I used them heaps. Watching the pros hitting the grass track, I could see how the bike sits nicely under hard braking and the suspension does the job of getting those massive gobfulls of torque onto the ground. Seriously, the bike just takes off from anywhere and keeps going. It’s a bit scary but addictive all the same.
I took a break then headed out for a few more laps. Picking up my pace a little amongst the trees I managed to clip one and went down pretty softly. My right hand slipped off the handlebar and when I looked I could see my index finger pointed out at a weird angle.
Oh great, I thought, a busted finger. I wiggled it and started to suspect it was just dislocated. Hmmm, if I ride back and just head off to the closest hospital surely they won’t notice? I gritted my teeth and started to take my glove off and as I was doing that it popped in by itself with a sharp pain and some weird graunching noise. I was back in the game.
I headed back to the pits, taped my finger and after watching and videoing the action for a while I came across off-road legend, Chris Hollis. I remember a mate of mine called Guy asking me to say G’day to Chris if I saw him.
So I did that. Chris had no idea who Guy was and looked at me like I was trying to pick him up. I made a note to punch Guy in the face next time I saw him but I was still thankful I didn’t go with my original opening line of: “Hey Hollis! My wife reckons I have a man-crush on you!”
As the day went on I started to relax and got a bit more used to the power of the WR. My finger was killing me but it actually helped matters by not allowing me to grab the handlebars so tightly. I binned it on one corner right in front of the photographer with the flash firing away as I hit the ground.
As I lifted the thankfully light Yamaha out of the dirt I rued the coming of digital cameras. Back in the old days I could have just broken into the snapper’s car later and stolen the film. Damn it, I am going to have to pull a wicked stand-up mono tomorrow to get the contract I deserve.
All of the pros were just doing crazy stuff, hitting log jumps at speed, balance-point monos around the track and all those things Enduro Gods do when they get together.
The snappy low-down power the WR produces saw them launching out of corners hard with the front wheel hovering above the deck. It was very cool to watch and I found myself pulling up on various stages of the track to see how they did it. They were all awesome but Daniel Milner was something else and is obviously from another planet where the laws of gravity do not apply.
I put in a few decent laps but the ruts were getting bigger. There was one on a right-hander that you dead set needed a torch to see the bottom of. It was about 15cm-wide and right across the only line through the corner. Surely it was a WH&S issue? AJ Roberts is a legend of off road racing and also one of the most approachable and knowledgeable guys around, but he is not a tall man, he could’ve fallen into this thing and never been seen again. What happened if he did a knee?
As I approached the corner I could see Beau Ralston looming behind me. Distracted, I went down in the rut and he rode right over the top of me. He apologised and seemed sincere enough but I got the feeling he knew I was there to take his job. When he asked what I was there for the previous evening at the pub I probably should have been more tactful. “I am here for your spot on the race team” was always going to put him offside.
Later in the pits I asked AJ what he thought they would need to do to take the WR racing. He explained that there wasn’t a lot to do. Perhaps an exhaust off the YZ, lighter bark busters to make it easier to steer, a radiator guard and some other bit and pieces like wider footpegs. He also told me that with the WR’s new forward-facing air intake they start to get some ram-air effect at the speeds the boys race at.
I might have made a Wow! Face at that revelation.
I then reminded him that I was still unsigned for next season. I don’t think he heard me.
At the day’s end I arrived back at Stroud exhausted and fainted for a few hours. After dinner I was about to head off to bed when I was accosted by two Yamaha guys and dragged into the bar [I warned you, didn’t I? But did you listen? – Boris]. By the time I escaped it was 2.30am and I congratulated myself on another excellent preparation for the day ahead.
I woke early yet arrived late to Josh’s property after taking an hour to confirm all my body parts still moved correctly. I quickly threw on my gear on and jumped on my freshly washed and pristine WR450. Press launch magic! Borrie was right.
As we rode off into the forest I suddenly realised that in my rush I had left my camelback in the car. This proved to be a huge error on my part.
The 80 kays of riding I then did will probably go down as one of the best days I have ever had on a bike. The country was unreal with hill after hill, ruts, mud, a million creek crossings, and erosion banks for miles. It was just brilliant and the WR and I were starting to gel. Sure, if it could talk it would have said: “How the hell did I get you?” but I was just loving it. The power could get you out of trouble in a lot of places and while I was getting tired as the day wore on it was easy to manhandle the 450 around when manhandling was needed. Heading up a long rut-rich hill I heard a sweep rider coming up on my left. I moved over to let him through and missed seeing a grass-obscured wombat hole. My foot slipped off the peg and I gave the throttle a fistful as I struggled to stay on. The WR instantly took off from under me and I went down hard on top of the fallen bike.
The sweep rider pulled up and checked to see if I was OK. Contract in mind, I respond with my best “Shit yeah!” thumbs up and jumped back on with the perfect shape of a WR foot-peg now imprinted on my chest.
Later in the day I came across a steep hill with a rock-strewn and muddy surface. I parked in the creek at the bottom as there was a bit of a backlog of riders battling up the hill one at a time.
I was sweating and so thirsty I jumped off the bike and took a drink from the creek. The water looked clean and it was getting late so I figured we would be back before any gastric consequences took hold. I was really missing my camelback and dehydrated as hell. I could live with giardia.
As I was lapping water like a dog, a rider made it halfway up the hill and then came down backwards equally as fast. He crashed magnificently near the bottom but his bike keept going and took out mine and one other.
Great. Another dent. Mr Yamaha, that one was not my fault. Before I headed up for my attempt at the hill I commented to the assembly that we should be sponsored by Red Bull, because this was like something out of Erzberg.
“Nah, mate. This is nothing like Erzberg”, someone who has ridden Erzberg said behind me and I wondered again just what the hell I was doing here among these gods. Then I snicked the Yammie into gear, made the sign of the cross and gave it everything I had. I almost made it to the top and a sweep rider grabbed the front wheel and pulled me up the last few metres. He could then have charged me $1000 and I would have gladly paid it.
We rested for a bit at the next stop and one of the Yamaha people asked if I had tried the softer map. A few riders were using it and it takes the edge of the WR’s vast low-down power. You know, for mere mortals like me.
I was getting used to it so I declined because I don’t want to trouble them. We were in the middle of nowhere after all. The Yamaha guy insisted it was no trouble at all and a mechanic grabbed the dongle from his pack and before I could even get off the bike had it plugged in and the map changed. All up it took about a minute at most.
Heading down the next hill the bike was a different beast. The power was still there but it was a lot more forgiving off a closed throttle and more linear; it builds rather than launches. Think about the possibilities of such a system. Run a softer map when trail-riding or chasing the cows up from the bottom paddock, then change to race mode for the weekend’s Enduro. Or say a novice mate wants to take the bike for a ride, you can switch maps to make it less of a handful. You could tone it down a bit when you first buy it and as you get the hang of it dial up the go. Perhaps you have just had a long day and want to cruise home? All without a laptop and all quickly and easily doable by the side of a track. It really is a brilliant system and I suspect we will see much more of it in the future.
By mid-afternoon the sun had burnt off the last of the cloud cover and it was starting to get hot. We pulled up on the track at a series of rock pools with waterfalls cascading into the gorge. The blokes started jumping off the ledge in full kit and the water was beautiful. It’s a magic spot and a perfect end to the day. From there we rode back via open dirt roads and the Yamaha proved equally at home cruising at 100 as it did climbing mountains. It will pull about 180 out of the box they reckoned and I decided to take their word for it.
After lunch I said my goodbyes and took one more long, loving look at the WR450.
Would I have one? You bet. A yellow one.
Should you buy one? If you want to be on the best bike in the paddock and claim early bragging rights when the Yamaha team win everything on it next year you should.
I predict a steady stream of Euro-bike owners coming back to the fold. It’s that good.
Days have passed. I sit here with the phone beside me waiting for AJ to call and offer me a deal. I consider calling him as he has no doubt lost my number but my missus reckons I should give him time to delete some of the other 57 messages I have left him this week.
It’s taken me ages to write this. Every time I get a few lines down I find myself looking north out the window and daydreaming. Wishing I was back at Stroud, back at Josh’s place, back on the WR450F. Smashing around the mountains among the Gods of Dirt.
Many thanks to the team at Yamaha Australia for its hospitality, to Josh Green for the use of his stunning property and all the pro riders for making the event so special.
Here’s the Yamaha video.
You can see all the specs HERE.
- YZ450F-based 450cc liquid-cooled DOHC, fuel-injected 4-valve engine
- Revolutionary reverse cylinder head with front facing intake
- Engine power is fully adjustable with optional Yamaha Power Tuner
- Wide ratio 5-speed transmission with light enduro clutch
- Efficient cooling by enduro radiator with cooling fan
- Top mounted, quickly removable air filter
- YZF based aluminium bilateral-beam frame with optimised rigidity balance
- Latest KYB® air-oil separation (AOS) type front forks
- Link-type Monocross suspension
- Main switch-free electric starter
- Instrument panel featuring enduro computer, fuel warning and more
- Metzeler 6 Day Extreme tyres