Why the Yamaha WR250R is the perfect bike for LA

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Here’s the thing about Los Angeles. Sure, you’ve got good roads in the canyons. Sure you can lane split. Sure you can haul ass on public roads while the cops wave hi. But, those aren’t what creates the city’s motorcycling Nirvana. No, what makes LA special is the access to dirt riding just minutes from the city limits. It’s the largest city in the country, but once you’re on any of the huge number of trails or in one of the designated OHV areas, it’s as if you’re a million miles from nowhere. This is why the Yamaha WR250R is the perfect motorcycle to own if you live here.

Photos: Grant Ray

It’s frugal.
At $6,490 the WR250R isn’t cheap. In fact, it’s $291 more than the Suzuki DR-Z400S. But, that DR-Z doesn’t get 71mpg. That’ll save you money day-to-day, but it helps on the trails too. You’ll see 100-120 miles out of the 1.9 gallon tank.

The WR is pricey because you get a lot for your money. Fuel injection, wavy brake discs front and rear, fully adjustable suspension, nice components everywhere you look. This is not a budget motorcycle.

It’s also a Yamaha. Which means it’s going to start on the first push of the button every single time and won’t need its engine ripped apart every 40 hours.

It’s comfortable.
We took two WR250R’s up to some trails off San Francisquito Canyon Road, about a 45 minutes on the highway from the house we’re staying at in Hollywood. Unlike larger single-cylinder engines, the WR’s doesn’t make your hands numb with vibration, even while cruising at 85mph. The skinny dirt bike seat looks uncomfortable, but it’s got just the right amount of support for hours of comfort. After a full day of riding, neither Grant nor I had any complaints.

It’s great on the road.
Yes, you did read correctly that we were cruising at 85mph. We didn’t try, but others report seeing top speeds of 90mph +. That from a little 28bhp, 18lb/ft four-stroke 250 single. It gets there quickly too. There’s not much bottom end, but it likes to rev. Max power arrives at 10,000rpm. Make sure you give it plenty of gas when you’re pulling away, just casually letting out the clutch with a pinch of throttle will stall it.

And it’s not just the engine that’s impressive. Handling is stable and even on the knobby tires the WR is capable of some surprising lean angles. The brakes are strong, the suspension is compliant and controlled, vision from the 36.6-inch seat and upright riding position is superb.

One day last week, we picked up the WRs at Yamaha’s HQ in Cypress, swung by Torrance, then took the 110 to the 101 back to Hollywood. All in horrible afternoon rush hour traffic. I couldn’t think of a better bike to split lanes on. The width, the height, the confidence it inspires make this a real traffic buster.

We didn’t test them back to back and didn’t measure top speeds independently. But to us, the WR250R feels like it has a higher top speed than the DR-Z and is certainly way more comfortable at highway speeds.

But it’s also great off-road.
Those fancy 46mm, fully adjustable KYB forks and fully adjustable (with ride height) Soqi shock deliver 10.6 inches of travel front and rear. That’s only slightly less than the dirt-only WR250F. Because it’s revy and because the clutch is so linear and predicable, the engine is exceptionally easy to use off-road. Instead of surging ahead with the faintest twist of the throttle, you instead need to work the clutch to negotiate low-speed obstacles and work the gears when things get faster.

The greatest compliment we can pay it is that the WR worked for both Grant and I. He’s an experienced dirt rider, I kind of suck. Despite our huge variance in pace, we both enjoyed riding it. He got speed and capablity, I got predictability and accessible performance. The WR boosted my confidence even while Grant was sliding past me in corners.

The Bridgestone TW301/302 tires that are so good on road (even in the pouring rain) are a little limited off compared to dedicated dirt tires, but we were able to blast down sandy fire roads, through mud and over slick, wet rocks in and around water crossings without even stopping to air them down.

It feels incredibly light.
One of the main gripes about the WR250R is that the dual sport weighs 278lbs, 44lbs more than the dirt-only WR250F. The thing is, you don’t feel it. Everything about the R feels welter weight from pushing it around, lifting it up, balancing at very low speeds or whatever. Seriously, if you didn’t know and someone told you the weight, you’d assume they were lying.

Watch this video, I didn’t realize the bike was in gear.

It looks cool.
Going back to the “this is not a budget bike” thing. It looks like the real deal because it is. The engine looks modern, the suspension is flashy, the tapered aluminum swingarm looks like it belongs on a race bike. Get it muddy and pull this up in front a bar and people will think you just rode in from Baja.

It’s accessible.
At 36.6 inches, the seat is still dirt bike high, yet it’s two inches lower than the WR250R, so you’ll be able to touch the ground as you sit on it. By twiddling the ride height adjuster and dropping the forks, you can lower that even further. New riders won’t be intimidated on the highway either. Saying it easily keeps up with traffic is an understatement. It’s faster than most traffic. This would be a great first motorcycle that’d allow you to develop your dirt skills, but it would also work for an experienced dirt rider looking for a dual sport to ride on the street too.

It’s perfect for LA.
Screw riding around cars. Screw riding around cops. Screw riding around other people. Screw getting stuck in traffic carting your dirt bike to trails in your pickup. Instead, commute on the WR250R through high speed freeways and endless traffic jams, then hit some trails after work. By the time you’re exhausted and ride back home, your car-driving colleagues will just be finishing rush hour.

Screw riding sportsbikes, dirt offers an environment pretty much free of the consequences a huge engine and slick tires bring. You’re not going to get a speeding ticket where there are no cops and you’re not going to die in a crash when you’re only going 30mph.

Screw riding the same road every weekend. Instead of competing for space on public roads with cars and squids, you can explore new trails out in the wild.

Screw riding big, heavy bikes. Nice and light is the way to go. It makes bikes easier to ride and therefore more fun. It makes picking them up after you drop them way easier, but it’s less likely you’ll drop them in the first place. It means you can go more and more difficult places.

You can screw all of that if you live in LA. Just buy a WR250R.

  • http://pinkyracer.com pinkyracer

    verrrry tempting. think they’ll give me an even trade in on my 09 R1? I do need something MUCH cooler (as in, that won’t literally cook my legs) for the summer. I was gonna get an Empulse, but since they’re not here yet…

  • http://twitter.com/hagus Luke

    What about Motard-ification? Is it a matter of having a separate set of rims with road tyres on, or is there a lot more to it than that?

    If it can double up as a twisty mountain road shredder I’m sold. I have a massive off road facility (Metcalf) near me in the Bay Area plus the Santa Cruz mountain range to play in.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      They sell a specific Motard version too. You could totally put 17s on this for weekdays.

      • http://twitter.com/hagus Luke

        WR250X. Sweet.

        On the strength of Metcalf I might opt for the R. I have been gagging for off road action since moving here, but haven’t ridden dirt in 15 years. Your review may have just cost me several thousand dollars :)

        Just look at this place. http://www.southbayriders.com/forums/showthread.php?t=10805

        • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

          That looks awesome.

          The WR250R would be a great bike to get back on dirt with. I seriously stink (just don’t have much experience) and didn’t drop the bike once, didn’t even come close.

          • http://www.davidfolch.com david folch

            that’s because you were not fast enough…

        • Philip

          I have the X along with four other bikes. I bought just as a commuter in West LA, now it’s all I want to ride! Lots of power down low, handles like a MF, pot holes and bumps don’t exist, loves the canyons, slices through traffic, and can do anything under 80 MPH. I’ll be tacking to the track next. After all the mods have been done it’s positively the best in town bike I’ve ever been on!! I think the supermoto thing will be huge once everyone gets wind of it!

      • Jason

        I have an WR250R with about 11k miles on it
        I also have a set of stock WR250X wheels and all the stuff for switching it between R and X mode. It takes about 30 minutes because the X has a different front brake caliper.

        The thing about a supermoto on tight roads is it is so light that you just lean the bike over instead of hanging off of it you quite honestly are not even trying

  • gregorbean

    Nice write-up. Makes me regret not hitting the trails more while I lived in LA and owned a DRZ. I wanna ride one of those little bastards.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/1962_cb77_restore/ Scott Pargett

    How are you suppose to fool yourself into socially competing with rockstars and celebrities on a dirt bike? Wait a second, are you saying Brad Pitt was spotted on a WR250? *checks blogs*

    Great point about the geographic wonderland that’s often overlooked.

  • http://www.advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=305107 stickfigure

    If only someone would make a modern, reliable 450 dualsport. I prefer torquey to revvy in the dirt.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      I thought I did too, but the WR’s engine works really well. You just have to learn to slip the clutch a fair bit.

    • Pete

      Didn’t Husky make a 450 dual sport a few years back? A Husaberg 450 with a street-legal kit would work. I’ll stick with my XR650… It’s big, but it pulls so damn hard.

      • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

        Ha, I was riding a Husky 450 supermoto race bike the other day. Fun, but a cop happened to notice it wasn’t even remotely road legal.

        • http://www.youtube.com/user/Adeysworld adeysworld

          LOL oops..my bad. hahahaha

      • http://pinkyracer.com pinkyracer

        I had one. Dubbed it “The Vibrating Wedgie” It was completely unbearable above 40mph. Sold it as soon as I could, which took a few years. Decided I’m just not cool enough to ride a ‘tard, and I’m ok with that.

        • Taco

          “The Vibrating Wedgie”! Oh, what I would give to witness that.

  • seanslides

    Sounds like someones got the dualsport bug. Just wait until you get a KTM 530 on those trails. If the WR was like a speedy diet pill, the KTM is like crystal meth.

  • http://www.thisblueheaven.com Mark D

    Sounds like an awesome bike, but my stubby legs would probably make it a bear to commute in stop and go. 30″ inseams and dual sports don’t get along, in my limited experience.

    • http://www.ninja250blog.com R.Sallee

      You’d be fine, you don’t have to flat foot the bike. I have an old DR350 that’s fairly tall and I just had to get used to sliding a buttcheek off the seat and landing on one foot at stops. Ain’t no thang.

    • Taco

      I’m in the same boat as you. I’m too short. I jumped on the WR250X at the Chicago Motorcycle Show this past weekend and let’s just say I was in an awkward position with only one tippy toe on the ground. I was bummed because the 250x is in my short list of bikes to get this summer. However I heard with adjustments and a lowering link the seat height can be brought down to around 32″ but who knows if even at that height it’s going to inspire rider confidence when you get to stop lights.

  • Matthew

    This post has pushed me to ask for the HFL readers guidance. I am looking for a track bike and am currently torn between getting a sportbike (inline 4 600cc) for road courses or possibly getting a dirtbike (250 or 450?) for both Supermoto and MX tracks. I did one track day last year at Summit Point on a Street Triple and loved it, but I have no dirt riding experience. The problem is I now live in Europe and have the chance to ride at some great tracks like Sachsenring, Brno, Spa, Assen etc. if I get a sportbike. The downside is track days are pretty expensive and the tracks are 5-8 hours away (hotel stays) so I would be able to do them less often. On the other hand there are over 10 MX & Supermoto tracks within a one hour drive and they are dirt (no pun intended) cheap. What should I do? Also, how much of a PITA is it to switch between a MX and SM setup?

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      It think you just answered your own question with the, “there are over 10 MX & Supermoto tracks within a one hour drive and they are dirt (no pun intended) cheap.”

      • Matthew

        True, more riding = better, just worried I’ll regret missing the opportunity to ride on a bunch of world class circuits.

    • Pete

      I wouldn’t worry about having no dirt experience. Pick up a bike you won’t mind dumping and go out and shred. Your confidence level on dirt will rise slowly as you ride. If you’re uncomfortable with this method, take a class. I’m not sure what Europe offers but there are off-road schools all over the US that will give you a great start for the cost of a few hundred bucks and a weekend.

    • seanslides

      An SMR will be a lot of fun, but remember that you need different wheels, different brakes, and different suspension to really make it work as two bikes. For the money you’ll be saving by not riding a sport bike, why but a SMR and a motocrosser?

    • DoctorNine

      My opinion, is that experiencing wheelies, slides, lean angle and body weight transfer on a small, light dual purpose machine off road, will make you a better driver in the end, even if later you decide to concentrate on larger road going sport bikes.

    • Jason

      Dirt riding definitely makes you a better rider and while top speeds you won’t win any prizes there is no reason you cant ride a supermoto on a big boy track you will eat any bike on the corners.

      Also big plus to supermotos and dirt bikes is they are cheap to crash if you go down

  • Nick

    I have a Yamaha TW-200 that is as old as I am but I absolutely love riding it for the very same reasons (well, except for the speed bit). Comfortable all day, light weight and 75 mpg. Best of all though is the ability to wander off down a trail if you spot one. I’ll be commuting on it all summer :)

  • http://www.davidfolch.com david folch

    Thanks HFL, now Yamaha might be able to sell all the 2009 and 2010 bikes that sits at the dealers ?
    :-p

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Ha, yeah. I don’t think this thing has been pitched properly. It’s a DR-Z killer, but the 250cc capacity probably scares people off.

    • fasterfaster

      Can’t find one in the SF Bay Area, and shops were asking full retail last time I saw one.

      • http://www.davidfolch.com david folch

        Wes, it’s because biker’s mentality (ok, sorry, generalization) are into bigger = better
        when you come from mountain biking, you know lighter is better. In this case, the WR feel almost like a mountain bike with an engine if you compare it to a XR650…
        :-)

  • http://www.ninja250blog.com R.Sallee

    I’ll take the WR250X. With a bigger gas tank. Supermoto makes so much sense in the SF Bay Area.

  • fasterfaster

    Couldn’t agree more, either this or the X make the perfect city bike. Would love to see more manufacturers recognize the market for dual sports as high end machines with up-to-date frames, engines, and suspension, rather than decade-old detuned tech.

    If you generally ride solo and only take highways when you have to, NOTHING is more fun than a long-travel sub-300lbs bike, that you don’t feel bad dropping.

    • http://www.karinajean.com karinajean

      I totally second this. these smaller bikes are overlooked brilliance.

      I have a drz-400sm and I rode that cookie on a 2500 mile road trip through eleven states in eleven days, keeping up with my buddies on their bigger bikes just fine. it’s perfect for the times I commute into NYC and it keeps me agile when I’m riding around on the potential death trap of rt 17 in northern NJ to and from work. plus when you hit a nice stretch of twisties it’s a thing of beauty in a scrappy package.

  • Devin

    DRZ400 is faster top end by about 10 mph. I’ve driven my cousin’s through traffic, a little cumbersome do to its huge size. Through city traffic like LA, the bike you mention is much better suited.

  • Tommy

    I love this article. Mostly because I have said every since I moved here. LA, as a city, meh, but everything within 20 miles of the city is incredible. It’s a wonderful place to ride a motorcycle.

  • markbvt

    WR250R + 3.7 gallon Safari gas tank + Wolfman Expedition racks and saddlebags = one fun little ADV touring rig.

    Or would, if I didn’t already have an XR650L that I can’t justify replacing right now.

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Wes Siler

      Agreed. A dinky little Dakar-style fairing wouldn’t go amiss either.

      • Jason

        Or like me

        Twisted Throttle MRA Touring Screen
        “Dirt Bagz” Soft Luggage
        2 Gallon Rotopax fuel can on custom rack
        Supposedly you can take one of those wind screen wings for a last gen KLR and it works pretty good (can’t think of the brand name right now) my screen is a little big for leaving on when off roading

  • Kevin

    Unrelated: I noticed the photo of Grant on the new Honda CB1100. Any chance of a story about that bike?

    • http://hellforleathermagazine.com Grant Ray

      Sadly, no. Someone at American Honda is refusing any US press access to that bike. Sitting on it while it idles is as close as we’ll get unless we go to Japan and buy one. Go figure.

  • contender

    Thanks guys. There goes my tax refund.

  • Robert

    Great job HFL!! Beautiful photos & video Grant! Great article Wes! Glad you guys are enjoying the company, motorcycles, race tracks and landscapes in sunny California!

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/Adeysworld adeysworld

    I’m sold! Does it come in Black?!

    • Jason

      You can buy black plastics and/or I believe the X aka the Supermoto model was/is available in black

  • JonB

    I ran a Husqvarna 450 SMR in SF for years. I don’t think there is a better bike for the geography and layout of the bay area. I locked it up to light poles, wheeled through Golden Gate Park on it and generally loved everything about motorcycling and San Francisco upon that bike.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/selectro/3446782872/in/set-72157614087736588/

  • robotribe
  • ontheroad

    Dual sports and sumo’s are far and away the best thing for urban riding and all around fun. Nice to see you guys giving the little WR some well-deserved attention.

  • Jason

    I was getting down on my bike and longing for a true MX and or a sport touring bike so thanks for reminding me how lucky I am to already have this little bike in my garage.

  • Kirill

    Great review, really makes you want to go and drop the $6.5k on one.

    • Jason

      They haven’t changed much since 08 and you can find practically new ones used or leftover stock for closer to 5k

  • http://www.postpixel.com.au mugget

    Right on.

    Just yesterday I bought an XR400 motard, can’t wait to find some dirt and have some fun. But you’re right about the perception of a 250… interesting that you mention this little 250 is the DR-Z (and that makes it also an XR400) killer. And I thought a 400 was small capacity. Mind you this was used and alot cheaper.

  • runger

    I’m trying to get into motorcycling, but it’s hard to find a first bike at 6’6, 275 lbs. I love the idea of supermotos and dualsports. would the wr250r or wr250x be too small for me?

  • Von

    First of all, LA is horrible, the traffic never ends, nor the smog. I would love to buy the WR250F, but I’m only 5’6″ so I know tip toeing around town would get annoying and fatigue would set in. I choose the CRF250L. My only reservations about the CRF250L bike is that it’s heavy, under-powered and horribly suspended for aggressive off-road riding. It is amazing how despite all of this, every review I read still calls this bike things like ‘fun’, ‘great commuter’, ‘best buy’, etc. The low seat height of the CRF250L is key for me, as is the much lower price. I see that for around $1,500 I can make the CRF250L become leaner and meaner, almost on par with the WR250R and still cheaper. Race Tech can redo the suspension and Best Dual Sport Bikes has a power kit. All of this will add 6hp, lose 15 pounds and make the bike off-road worthy for someone heavier than 100 pounds or advanced in dirt riding. There’s still 2013 models around for $4200, I’d like to try to get one for $4k later this year, add the $1500 in mods and still have a bike worth only $5500 that can hang with a $6,600 WR250R and commute comfortably for me all day long.