2021 Yamaha WR250F Review: Single-Track Nirvana

I’ve been a big fan of Yamaha’s WR250F since I first rode it in 2015. The power delivery, suspension, and handling gave me the confidence to ride to more of my potential, encouraging me to tackle tougher trails. I missed riding the bike last year when Yamaha updated it. Fortunately, I have spent some quality time with the unchanged 2021 Yamaha WR250F this summer. I was not disappointed!

2021 Yamaha WR250F Review: MSRP

While I completely appreciate some of the quarter-liter trail bikes with shorter seat heights that we’ve tested—the Honda CRF250F, Kawasaki KLX230R, and Yamaha TT-R230—the overall package of the 2021 Yamaha WR250F enduro bike expands my self-expectations, and I end up riding better. While I’m not a racer, I do like technical single-track trails that challenge my skills. The WR250F allows me to tackle a wide variety of terrain with confidence as I trust the power and suspension of the bike to get me out of trouble when I get out of sorts.

I’ll mention ergonomics first, as there’s no getting around the seat height of a full-size off-road motorcycle. With a 30.5-inch inseam, I’m on my tiptoes when settled on the WR250F’s 37.6-inch-high firm, flat seat. My 115 pounds don’t cause the bike to sag much with the stock springs, so whenever I come to a stop, I have to plan which side I’m going to slide my butt off to get my boot firmly planted on the ground. I have reminded myself more than once that Alex Martin, who is an inch-and-a-half shorter than me, has no problem wrangling the even-taller YZ250F around a track. I mention this because the latest WR250F shares quite a bit of the current motocrosser’s genes, from its chassis design to its awesome suspension, though obviously with different settings.

2021 Yamaha WR250F Review: MSRP

Okay, I’m not a professional motocross rider, nor even an amateur enduro rider. So, yes, the seat height is a bit of a bummer for me. But life is full of tradeoffs. When I’m flying down the trail and blasting through the rock garden stretches, I sure do love the long-travel suspension that tall seat height reflects. Realistically, though, I’ve never come close to bottoming the suspension, so I could afford to give back an inch or two of travel in exchange for a lower seat.

The 2021 Yamaha WR250F is not too big to handle; the controls are well within comfortable reach while sitting or standing, and the slender well-balanced chassis is easy to grip with my knees. The WR250F weighs 254 pounds with its 2.15-gallon tank filled, which doesn’t sound overly heavy until I’m trying to pick it up from the side of the trail—the downhill side, after sliding out around a turn. Yeah, that’s too heavy for me on my own. Luckily, I don’t ride on my own.

2021 Yamaha WR250F Review: Specs

Accepting that the WR250F is a bit too tall and heavy for me when I come to a stop or fall, that’s not how it is when I’m riding. Let’s talk about where it really shines in my eyes—the suspension, handling, and power delivery. With the same suspension components as the YZ250F, but with valving, springing, and settings targeted for trail riding, the little WR is a joy to ride.

My first foray out on some favored 4×4 two-track and motorcycle-only single-track reminds me of how important it is to adjust the suspension. I was getting a bit bounced around when I picked up the speed, and I wasn’t feeling confident in turns despite sliding forward to get my 115 pounds on the front wheel. The WR’s suspension is fully adjustable front and rear, so before my next ride, we went to the softest compression damping at both ends, and slowed the rebound damping. The effect was immediately noticeable!

2021 Yamaha WR250F Review: Enduro motorcycle

I now felt more glued to the dirt, confident to lean into turns and click up into a higher gear on the dirt roads. With the suspension more in line with my weight, I was able to truly benefit from the speed-sensitive damping fork that is the linchpin of the WR’s suspension package. Not only could I approach slow-speed technical sections with confidence, but I was equally comfortable going at a faster clip down more open sections of the trail.

The WR’s power delivery complements the excellent suspension. While 35 horsepower is undoubtedly more than I need on the trails, the power is softer at the bottom and easy to modulate, with power hits accessible from 6000 to 8000 pm and again from 10k to 11k. Yamaha abandoned the California Green Sticker program, going with only EPA sound output and USFS spark arrester considerations. That means the motor tuning is far superior to the artificially corked-up Green Sticker editions—great if you don’t live in California.

2021 Yamaha WR250F Review: dirt bike

This forgiving engine personality is perfect in the Los Padres National Forest. Some LPNF trails could be marked Intermediate, if not for a few brief stretches that earn them a Black Diamond rating. When picking my way through messy tight pieces of trail, I have yet to stall the motor. At the same time, when I need to get on the throttle to power up a steep hill, the engine doesn’t bog—being a lightweight has its advantages.

Although the WR250F has a wide-ratio gearbox, there are times when I still want 1st gear to be a little taller. I usually opted for 2nd gear with some clutch action instead of keeping the revs up in 1st gear, as the power is smoother at lower rpm. Fortunately, the clutch lever pull is not excessive, so my left hand doesn’t get worn out on a technical ride. Overall, the broad powerband is excellent and makes the motorcycle easy to ride.

2021 Yamaha WR250F Review: Off-road motorcycle

It was a good break from the single-track trails to click up a few gears and let the WR sprint through sand washes. Standing on the pegs and gripping the bike with my knees, I let the bike dance under me as I maneuvered through the rocks and debris. At high speeds, the front end tends to feel a bit loose, though never unstable. Desert riders will want to invest in a steering damper.

Handling is intuitive. The WR250F’s chassis is narrow and well balanced, making it easy to change directions with a subtle weight shift. Sometimes barreling down a trail, I can get off-line. Almost always, body English helps me avoid the rock or rut looming in my path. Turning on fast dirt roads takes a bit more work, as I don’t have much weight to move up over the front wheel, and my “steering with the back end” skills need work.

The WR250F’s 21-/18-inch wheels are shod with Dunlop MX3S tires, and I was well-satisfied with the traction almost everywhere. Once I had the suspension properly adjusted for my weight, the Dunlops kept a secure grip in all conditions from rubbly trails, dirt roads, and hard-packed hill climbs. The only time I ever thought about them was at speed on dirt roads as I approached flat turns. That’s more a matter of rider technique than a rubber issue.

Allowing me to twist the throttle aggressively is the confidence delivered from an excellent front brake. There’s just the right amount of play before engagement of the pads on the 270mm disc. There’s nothing grabby about the engagement, and a reliably linear feel after that. The rear brake doesn’t get a lot of use on the trails, but I can report that it’s not too touchy, and the lever is easily accessible whether standing or sitting.

The WR250F does everything so well, it’s hard for me to find anything to pick on, but I will mention two things. While there’s nothing better than electric start on a tall dirt bike—heck, any motorcycle—and the WR did not always fire up on the first push of the button. Clicking into neutral before hitting the button made a noticeable difference, but it still wasn’t a sure thing when the motor was hot. Also, I don’t love the unsealed aluminum frame as my boots manage to polish the main spar on every ride, leaving me with messy dark smudges on my Alpinestars Tech 7 Enduro boots. If I bought the bike, I’d invest in a pair of Acerbis X-Grip frame guards.

The test unit had a pair of $190 Cycra Ultra Handguards sold by Yamaha Parts & Accessories. As we did lots of testing in wooded areas with plenty of branches intruding onto the trail, the handguards did their job. Additionally, when I did fall a few times, the guards took the beating—and survived, though looking a bit worse for wear. Still, that’s better than bending or breaking a lever. Handguards are a personal thing, so I understand why they’re not stock on the WR250F. Still, I consider them to be an essential accessory.

It’s interesting to see how much of a difference better suspension and handling can make to one’s riding skills. It might be easy to think that if one isn’t a high-performance rider, then premium suspension is a waste—not so. Better equipment enables better performance. Additionally, the WR250F’s power delivery creates a lot of trust, which encourages me to push myself, and one success leads to another. While its tall stature challenges my inseam, the 2022 Yamaha WR250F remains my favorite trail riding bike as its capabilities expand my riding world.

Photography by Don Williams

RIDING STYLE

2021 Yamaha WR250F Specs

ENGINE

  • Type: Four-stroke single
  • Displacement: 249cc
  • Bore x stroke: 77.0 x 53.6mm
  • Compression ratio: 13.8:1
  • Fuel delivery: EFI w/ 44mm Keihin throttle body
  • Valvetrain: DOHC; four titanium valves
  • Transmission: Wide-ratio 6-speed
  • Clutch: Wet multiplate
  • Final drive: O-ring chain

CHASSIS

  • Frame: Twin-spar aluminum
  • Front suspension; travel: Fully adjustable KYB Speed-Sensitive System inverted fork; 12.2 inches
  • Rear suspension; travel: Linkage-assisted fully adjustable KYB shock; 12.5 inches
  • Tires: Dunlop Geomax MX3S
  • Front tire: 80/100 x 21
  • Rear tire: 110/100 x 18
  • Front brake: 270mm disc
  • Rear brake: 245mm disc

DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES

  • Wheelbase: 58.3 inches
  • Rake: 27.2 degrees
  • Trail: 4.6 inches
  • Seat height: 37.6 inches
  • Ground clearance: 12.8 inches
  • Fuel capacity: 2.15 gallons
  • Wet weight: 255 pounds
  • Color: Team Yamaha Blue

2021 Yamaha WR250F Price: $8599 MSRP ($8789 as tested) 

2021 Yamaha WR250F Review Images