2019 Yamaha WR450F: Observations
The WR450F has been a hugely successful model for Yamaha Australia over the past two decades; a flagship machine that has topped the sales charts in its class for a majority of that time in Oz. So, now that we’re on the eve of the Australian media launch for the 2019 WR450F, an all-new model that was first revealed a couple of months ago, let’s reflect on the bike’s recent predecessors to help frame the arrival of this new-gen 2019 model.
For anyone expecting a hard-nosed, race-oriented enduro weapon, the past two ‘new-generation’ versions of the WR450F – the 2012 and 2016 models – were a bit of an overweight disappointment. The 2012 WR450F – with its all-new fuel-injected engine crammed into a YZ250F’s frame – felt cobbled together; a bike that was rushed to market to, as some cynics claimed, “stem the orange tide”. And the 2016 model – based heavily on its YZ450F MX cousin – didn’t translate particularly well to racier off-road applications. Sure, like the 2012 bike, the 2016 WR450F was a dream for trailriders. It was stable, predictable, forgiving and very reliable. But for guys after a lightweight, nimble enduro machine with 100% off-road DNA, the 2016 WR450F remained a bit of a letdown.
All of which means the pressure is on Yamaha to really deliver this time around with its 2019 WR450F, especially as they’re talking a big game about this all-new beast. According to the PR, the 2019 bike gets a greater majority of the updates that were brought out on Yami’s MX models in the past year or two, along with a raft of enduro-specific mods that aim to position it closer to the hard-nosed enduro weapons coming out of Europe.
After next week’s media launch, we’ll be able to give you a better feel for whether Yamaha’s design team hit the mark with this 2019 WR450F. In the meantime, all we can do is pore over the images that Yamaha supplied of this very new-looking machine and – at least from a design and componentry point of view – make some noteworthy observations.
Here are the 10 things that stood out for us:
1. THE ERGONOMICS
Compared to its predecessor, the 2019 sure appears narrower, more compact, cutting edge, modern and race-oriented. It’s slimmer through the radiator shrouds (like the 2018 and 2019 YZ450F, the ‘air scoops’ in the shrouds are gone) and it has a lower seat height and rear fender. The seat itself is noticeably lower-profile (presumably to simultaneously accommodate the larger fuel tank and bring the seat height down) and now extends closer to the steering head to allow you to get further forward in the saddle. The separate (removable) section of the seat looks to offer better access to the tank’s filler cap, which was always awkward to undo because of the limited space. The 2019 bike also appears to have more ground clearance as well, though that could just be an optical illusion.
Sure, the 2019 bike still runs an alloy perimeter frame, but it looks way different to its predecessor when compared side by side. The engine mounts (which looked like a bit of a chunky afterthought on the 2016-18 models), have been moved to the rear of the cylinder and appear much better integrated. Also visible is a reinforced bracket that the rear brake master cylinder mounts to – assumedly for added strength and to create a flatter surface and give your ankles more purchase on the machine. The swingarm looks to have a narrower profile and tapers more as you move toward the axle. Interestingly, the sidestand pivot is now about 30mm closer to the footpeg, and the curved design of the alloy sidestand itself looks to tuck away more neatly when retracted.
3. THE ENGINE
Aside from the new blue-coloured rocker cover (and some blue-bling engine plugs) and different-looking finish on the engine cases and clutch and ignition covers, the most obviously different thing about the 2019’s engine is that it doesn’t have a kick-starter, nor the provision in the engine cases to retrofit one (in spite of the fact though Yami’s PR says that “the kick-starter is now an optional accessory part”). Yes, even the notoriously conservative YMC design team has finally found faith in its E-start system and the super-reliable new-generation Lithium Ion batteries (which we’re assuming the 2019 WR450F gets for the first time, as there are no images with the seat removed).
4. PROTECTIVE PARTS
It’s clear that the new bike’s plastic bashplate offers much better protection for radiator hoses (check out how its plastic ‘snorkel’ now extends right up to the junction with the radiator itself), water pump and oil filter cover. It also appears to sit much more snugly around the frame’s lower cradle, and in doing so should reduce the amount of mud and crap that it traps. According to all the images we’ve seen of the 2019 WR450F, it won’t come with hand guards. If so, that’s an interesting decision because WR-Fs, 250cc and 450cc alike, have pretty much always come with bashplate and hand guards as standard equipment in Oz. Maybe Yamaha Australia decided the best way to diffuse the never-ending argument about full-wrap versus MX-style guards was to leave a blank canvas up on the handlebars and let consumers fit whatever hand protection they prefer, if any.
5. THE FUEL TANK
It’s nice to see that Yamaha is at least trying to respond to consumer demands by fitting a larger-capacity fuel tank to the 2019 model (it looks like the extra capacity has been found between the subframe’s alloy tubing). That said, the new 7.9-litre unit only holds another 400ml of juice compared to its predecessor. Racers won’t have a problem with that, but more adventure-minded trailriders might. No doubt the central positioning of the fuel tank made it difficult for the designers to expand the tank’s capacity too much.
6. THE BODYWORK
The new bike’s radiator shrouds are a lot of more compact and look like they’ll promote better airflow through radiators, while the sideplate plastics appear more enclosed (especially on the LHS) around the shock reservoir, where the electrics previously looked exposed and vulnerable. The front guard has a very different-looking profile, and the fork protectors are more compact – presumably because the left one no longer has to protect that garden hose that doubled as a speedo cable on its predecessor.
7. THE HEADLIGHT
The new headlight and its plastic surround sit lower and flusher and look much better matched with the front guard. Note also that it includes a small tab to contain the front brake and digi speedo cable (previously, a clunky black bracket was used to house these cables). Unfortunately, it’s still bolted on (not rubber-mounted), which makes it more susceptible to crash damage and slower to remove if you want to get to the electrical wiring.
8. THE AIRBOX DESIGN
Compared with the previous airbox lid design (which required three Dzus fasteners to be removed, and was fiddly to line up when re-fitting), the new arrangement has just one Dzus clip and conveniently tilts back (it hinges on a couple of plastic tabs). This set-up was introduced to the 2019 YZ250F, and made air filter access easier, faster and more practical. Again, like the 2019 YZ250F, the new design uses a flatter air filter and filter cage. This reduced induction noise on the MX models, and is likely to do the same with the 2019 WR450F.
9. THE TUNABILITY
As Yamaha’s PR about the 2019 WR450F already confirmed, the bike comes with smartphone tunability for its engine mapping. But it also appears to have the bar-mounted dual-map switch (which came on the 2019 YZ250F, but not YZ450F – where that switch is used only to alter the map for race starts).
And in our view, on-the-fly map adjustability is always a valuable feature for a powerful bike that needs to perform in a wide range of terrain and conditions.
10. THE HAND GRIPS
When we tested the 2019 YZ250F recently, one of the things we quibbled about was how rock-hard its grips were. Yep, the same grips that have been used for years on most of Yami’s MX and enduro models. Sadly, the 2019 WR450F looks like it runs the same hand-obliterating black units – an issue that’s amplified on enduro models because they’re generally ridden for longer periods. A fresh set of softer, pillow-top grips might just be the first item on new owner’s shopping list.