Science historian James Burke’s 1985 BBC-TV documentary series, “The Day The Universe Changed”, documented key moments in the development of science and technology, and their effects on our perception of the world. Had Burke issued an episode tracking pivotal points in motorcycling in the United States, the day the Yamaha DT-1 250cc Enduro was introduced 40 years ago certainly would have qualified.
The “Dit One” expanded motorcycling’s range of possibilities, as it was the first reliable, lightweight, inexpensive and widely available motorcycle capable of everything from daily commuting to off-road racing. Single-handedly, the DT-1 ignited the off-road explosion that continues to this day, causing a sea of change that turned motorcycling from a nearly exclusively adult male obsession into a family passion.
Now, after a 20-year break, Yamaha is back in the business of selling a 250cc dual-sport motorcycle—and this time we get fraternal twins. The new dirt-oriented WR250R and supermoto WR250X will not change the universe the way the DT-1 did, but these two bikes may bring a number of those original Enduro owners back into motorcycling, as well as serve as an introductor for new and existing riders to encounter previously unexplored facets of the two-wheel gemstone.
Although Yamaha surely intended prospective purchasers to view these WRs as close cousins to its superb WR250F and WR450F pure off-road bikes, the resemblance is limited to styling and nomenclature; the main components—engine, frame, suspension and tires—are unrelated. Yamaha has purposefully designed these road-going 250s for the tasks at hand.
Prompted by ever-tightening emissions regulations, Yamaha has upped the technological ante for the class by tapping fuel injection and a catalyzed exhaust with an EXUP valve. Naturally, one expects somewhat less than thrilling performance from a 250cc four-stroke single. However, Yamaha has done its best to confound naysayers by way of four-valves (titanium intakes), high-lift double overhead cams, plus a rapid-revving short-stroke configuration with a lightweight, short-skirt forged aluminum piston in a ceramic-composite coated cylinder. Yes, we have come a long way from the DT-1’s basic piston-port two-stroke powerplant.
Fitted in both the dual-sport R and supermoto X bikes, the motor has to be tractable in the dirt, as well as able to provide the thrust required on the pavement. When fitted to the WR250R, the engine lets you pick your way across goat trails without drama, as it is fairly gentle off the bottom. This means, of course, that you will have to tap the available five-digit rpm when tackling power-demanding hillclimbs or open-terrain trails that allow for high-speed. A 6-speed transmission facilitates optimum use of the available power.
Of course, for a motor to be usable off-road, the chassis, suspension and tires must be at least equally capable. The largest surprise in the R package might just be the suspension. Japanese dual-sport bikes tend to wallow when pushed off-road, and whoops are best avoided. To be sure, this is no off-road racer, but the R will delight. Suspension travel at both ends is 10.6 inches, and the action is nicely balanced. The fully adjustable Soqi shock and damping-adjustable KYB forks resist bottoming when ridden hard, and satisfy the comfort requirements of less-aggressive riders.
The tuned rigidity of the aluminum frame and swingarm ably assists handling. As I dodged between creosote bushes at high cross-country speeds, I was able to concentrate on my ever-changing lines; the R responded as if it were connected directly to my cerebellum. Ergonomics are excellent, as the bike is helpfully narrow (though you do pay for it with a low-capacity, 2.0-gallon fuel tank). The seat is a bit wider than the race bikes, delivering a nice balance between comfort and performance. The Bridgestone tires play their part nicely. You may have apprehensive memories of the old Trail Wing tires, but this latest incarnation works remarkably well in the dirt, while offering poised cornering when riding on the pavement between trails.Speaking of tires, the new 17-inch Bridgestone Battlax supermoto tires designed for the X are staggeringly good. Just as the R’s suspension makes it an superb performer off-road, the X’s Bridgestones far exceeded my expectations on both the street and track. Whether you choose to ride the X dirt-bike style with your foot out or road-racing style with your feet on the pegs, the tires have a startlingly reliable grip.
With its dirt-bike heritage, the X stands tall, so the bike leans over quite a distance before the pegs start dragging. The Battlax tires will grip tightly enough for the rider to grind the foot pegs into oblivion, with your feet still on them! Rear wheel sliding was a bit less predictable, as the bike would sometimes shudder rather than slide on when coming down from 70+ mph into a hairpin lefthander at Grangé Motor Circuit in Apple Valley, Calif. Given that the 250’s motor cannot easily light up the rear end on exits, riding the X road-racer style can be considered a preferred, though not mandatory, choice.
On the street, the X provides controlled exhilaration. You can twist the throttle on hard without undue concern for arrest provoking encounters with law enforcement. Wheelies only appear when coaxed, and speeds stay in the double digits. Around town there is plenty of thrust available, and the X will happily dice with freeway traffic. Light-duty off-road travel is also within the X’s purview.
Both the WR250X and WR250R are superb bikes for reintroducing both lapsed and new riders to the sport. The R is an excellent way for a street rider to learn about the dirt, while the X is the crossover bike for the previously dirt-only motorcyclist. The universe may not have changed with these new WRs, but it has become quite a bit more fun!