In recent years, the dual sport motorcycle market has undergone quite a change. On one end you have the race-ready street-legal dirt bikes from Beta, Husqvarna, and KTM, and at the other end you have commuter- and street-friendly bikes from Japan, such as the Yamaha XT250, that can be ridden off-road.Hanging around in-between is the 2017 Yamaha WR250R.
Despite the WR designation, the WR250R is not based on the WR250F off-road bike at all—the 2017 Yamaha WR250R has a completely different chassis and motor from the WR250F. So, starting with a nearly clean sheet, the WR250R is a purpose-built dual-sport motorcycle.As it turns out, the Yamaha WR250R is a more balanced dual-sport motorcycle than anything in its class. Not only can it be used for urban and commuting chores, it also functions quite well off-road.With an impressive fuel-injected, liquid-cooled DOHC motor, the WR250R is willing to put out decent power—around 27 horses or so at its peak. EPA restrictions choke the motor down quite a bit, so there’s probably more power in there if you’re willing to flout the law to get it.On the upside, the WR250R has much longer service intervals than a WR250F, and that’s a good thing for a bike you might be using every week on the street, as well as pounding the trails on the weekends.Given that it’s not a hard-core dirt bike, the 2017 Yamaha WR250R will certainly attract street-oriented riders. Pump the decently knobby Bridgestone Trail Wing tires up to street pressures and the WR250R is a blast to ride on the pavement.If you can handle the WR250R’s 36.6-inch seat height, you will appreciate the bird’s eye view it gives you. You can see over any car and plenty of SUVs. The tall seating makes it easier for the rider to assess any situation, as well as making you more visible to those driving four-wheeled vehicles.The seat height is only a negative at stops and slow speeds. Dirt bike riders won’t even notice, but those coming from street bikes will feel as if they need a ladder—at least initially. Still, the WR250R is shorter than the race-oriented dual sport bikes from Europe.With over 10 inches of nicely damped travel at both ends, urban irregularities such as potholes, speed bumps, and dips are seen more as opportunities than obstacles. Standing up helps, but it’s not necessary. The suspension easily handles anything thrown at it, as any street shortcomings are nothing compared to what the WR250R will see off-road.Working your way through traffic is effortless. The 2017 Yamaha WR250R is narrow and weighs under 300 pounds—light for a street bike. The tires are also narrow by street-bike standards, further enhancing its agility on pavement. Geometry numbers such as rake, trail, and wheelbase also add up to flickability on the street.You will have to rev the WR250R’s motor a bit for clean getaways from stoplights, but that’s not really an issue. The six-speed transmission shifts flawlessly, and you don’t need a rev counter to figure out when to shift. That’s a good thing, as the digital dash’s primary function is letting you keep tabs on your speed.Hop on the freeway and the 2017 Yamaha WR250R still performs. As long as the traffic is moving at legal speeds, you’ll be fine. However, as you near 80 or so, the performance flags, so staying out of the fast lane is usually a wise choice. The WR250R is great on urban freeways where the speeds are lower and agility is a huge plus. You can make great time in town, on any road you can find.A big temptation on the Yamaha WR250R is to go hooligan. You can pull wheelies, execute stoppies, and jump curbs—all at a moment’s notice. It’s fun to ride a motorcycle with long-travel in the city, as you’re constantly looking for undocumented shortcuts that will get you where you want to go as quickly as possible.That, of course, leads us into the 2017 Yamaha WR250R’s off-road performance. Expectations will vary—street riders will think it looks like a full-on dirt bike, while dirt aficionados will recognize the limitations of the dual sport form.Off-road, compared to the European dual sport motorcycles, the WR250R lacks sophisticated suspension, a potent motor, and aggressively knobby tires. Those may seem like insurmountable limitations, but the WR250R is really about riding to its strengths and around its weaknesses.Ergonomics are good—the bike is narrow, but you pay for it with a tiny two-gallon fuel tank. That limits how far you can go between fuel stops, which can be a problem in the backcountry. Aftermarket tanks that more than double the fuel capacity are available, should you need them. The seat is fine, though you may want beefier pegs for serious dirt riding.Picking smooth trails is the best way to have fun on the WR250R. The handling is quite impressive, even if the suspension can’t take everything you might throw at it. The WR250R slaloms through the woods with less effort than you’d expect on a 295-pound trail bike. The bike has a good habit of going where it’s pointed, even when the traction is less than stellar.The Bridgestone Trail Wing tires, when aired down to about 15 psi in the front and 17 psi out back, don’t do a bad job. Even in muddy conditions and other slick situations, the Bridgestones were predictable. One advantage the tires have is that the power doesn’t come on all of a sudden, so the engine helps the tires retain traction.One drawback of the 2017 Yamaha WR250R’s smooth motor is that it’s difficult to instantaneously lift the front end as needed to get over obstacles. Blips of the throttle simply do not result in an airborne front wheel. You have to pop the clutch, and be in the right gear, to lift the front end without help. Roots or rocks along the way are definitely assets to be cultivated, as they are essential for getting up on one wheel.If you see whoops, slow down. You aren’t going to be skipping them, and you’ll only want to jump one or two unless you’re an expert—and experts are likely to be on a Euro dual sport motorcycle. The bigger the bumps, the more care you must take on the Yamaha WR250R. On the smaller stuff, the suspension is more than adequate, and fully damping adjustability at each end allows a small degree of personalization.Hillclimbs are doable, as long as don’t take on something called Horsepower Hill. Technical climbs can be accomplished, as the motor and chassis are willing partners at slower speeds, keeping momentum and traction intact. Given that the WR250R is a street-legal machine with the heart of a commuter motorcycle, it’s sometimes happily surprising where it will go and how easily you get there.Black Diamond rated trails can be conquered on the 2017 Yamaha WR250R, though it may take some patience. For the most technical trails, consider going down a tooth on the countershaft sprocket, though that will compromise freeway performance.The WR250R is composed on downhills, as the brakes—front and rear—are quite predictable. You might get into the occasional trouble with the tires, so switch to Dunlop D606 or Pirelli MT 21 Rallycross rubber if you’re going to spend lots of time in the dirt.When it comes time to tie together some trails on the pavement, the stock Bridgestone Trail Wing tires do a good job, even at low pressure. If you take the time to pump them up to street spec psi, the performance is very good. The Trail Wing is a versatile tire and a good overall choice for the Yamaha WR250R.Maintenance is fairly easy on the 2017 Yamaha WR250R, though you need tools to get to the foam air filter. Oil changes are straightforward, as are adjustments to the O-ring chain.Sitting in a lonely spot between the commuter-style and race-bred 250s, the 2017 Yamaha WR250R is truly a dual-sport motorcycle with the ability to operate productively in both the paved and dirt worlds.Photography by Kelly CallanRIDING STYLE (Dirt)
This week, Senior Editor Nic de Sena rides the all new Ducati Monster. Big changes have been made by Ducati–has the company ruined the considerable heritage of the iconic Monster–or are the changes worth it? In the second part of the show, we chat with Nick Ienatsch, Founder and Head Instructor at the Yamaha Champions Riding School. He says: “We aim to change your riding life by introducing you to Champions Habits: The techniques, approaches, skills, and the mindsets of the best riders in the world. These Champions Habits are the foundation of safety and consistency to whatever speed you ride, in any venue on any bike. Street riders, this is just as much for you as track riders. The best way to make safe riders is to make good riders.“ We hope you enjoy this episode!