Yamaha’s WR450F: Developed For Anzacs

5 years ago | Words: Andy Wigan | Photos: IKapture

The two guys primarily responsible for the development of Yamaha’s WR450F for the Australian and New Zealand markets are Peter Payne and Josh Coppins. Payne is YMA’s Brand Development Manager and has been involved with the WR-F’s development since the first WR400F in 1998, while Coppins is a 15-season veteran of the Motocross World Championship who now works closely with Yamaha in Japan, Australia and New Zealand in his role as both a team manager and development rider.

Three years back, we sat both of them down after the media launch for the 2016 WR450F to get an insight into how Yamaha went about converting their world-title winning motocrosser into a registrable off-road model.


What was Yamaha’s core development philosophy with this all-new WR450F?
As with the WR250F, the objective with the WR450F was to create a balanced and stable bike with supple initial feel in the suspension, a predictable front-end and manageable power. It’s aimed at the more advanced-level trailrider who, with gear, Camelbak and bumbag, is a little heavier than average. Remember, it’s always easier to de-tune a bike to suit slower and/or lighter guys than it is to up-spec it for faster riders.

The new-generation YZ450F arrived in 2010, so why take so long to release a WR450F based on it? The 2015 WR250F came just a year after the reverse-engine YZ250F was first released.
Because we already had a WR450F in the market, which saw a major update for 2012, and because Yamaha products have a certain lead-time and lifespan. Our WR250F hadn’t been significantly updated since 2007, so replacing that model was a higher priority for Yamaha. Time and resources dictate that you can’t develop all key models at the same time, and you’ve got to remember that most manufacturers shelved projects in the few years after the GFC.

Did last year’s 2015 WR250F provide a development ‘roadmap’ for this similarly YZ-F-inspired WR450F?
We’ve used a ‘common platform’ for both the 250cc and 450cc enduro bikes, and both models essentially adapt the YZ-F motocross bike for off-road terrain and riders. So the process for the 2016 450 was very much along the same lines. That said, this all-new 2016 WR450F has been in the pipeline for quite some time.

But did the 450’s testing process mirror what was done with the 250?
Yes, it was very similar. Just like the WR250F, the WR450F is built in Japan but developed and fine-tuned largely in the USA on a wide variety of off-road terrain. Josh Coppins and I teamed up with the development team from America and the Japanese engineers at a number of secret locations – some of which were at altitude, and others which were not dissimilar to the conditions we see in Australia.

Did the experience with the WR250F allow you to take any shortcuts with the WR450F?
No, there were definitely no shortcuts. The development process replicated what we did with the 250, but the 450 comes with its own distinct power delivery, engine braking, weight bias, chassis flex, etcetera. Adapting the YZ450F to enduro conditions is a process that’s specific to that model. And while there are many similarities between the 250 and 450cc WR-Fs, each comes with its own challenges when it comes to ensuring the bike works well across a wide range of off-road terrain.

Why did the 2016 WR450F incorporate the key changes that were introduced to the 2016-model MXer – such as the revised frame, different triple clamp offset, lower pegs and oversize front disc?
We felt that these changes were necessary – on both the motocross and enduro 450s – because with more power, these machines need specific design solutions to ensure they remain stable and predictable. Because the 250cc machines are so forgiving, these mods were not required for either the MX or enduro models in 2016.

Based off the European brands’ sales success with their mid-capacity models, will Yamaha consider a WR350F in the near future?
The WR400/426/450F has been a very important model, both for Yamaha and for the Australian off-road market. It may not necessarily be the engine size that people need, but it is the size that people want. Yamaha does not produce a YZ350F, which means there’s no common platform from which a 350cc enduro bike could be built. So, no, Yamaha has no such plans.

Sales for the landmark 2007-model WR450F’s jumped to more than 2000 units a year for the first time in Oz, but the overhauled 2012 model wasn’t quite as sought-after. What sales projections is YMA making for the 2016 WR450F?
We’d like to think we’ll sell well over 2000 units a year initially because it’s such a significantly different machine. If ever there was a model that WR-F owners will upgrade to, then this is it. A lot of people have been waiting for this bike.

With the Euro4 regulations coming into effect in 2017, the expectation is that we’ll see very different-looking enduro models from the European manufacturers. Does Euro4 have implications for the 2017 WR450F?
No. When Yamaha develops a model, key considerations – such as the regulatory changes you mention – are all thoroughly considered. Our 2016 machine already complies with Euro4.


How did you first get involved with Yamaha’s model development?
After winning the Australian MX Nats championship in 2012, I’d finished racing for Craig Dack’s CDR Yamaha team. At that time, Dacka had just taken over Yamaha’s official off-road team and he was doing some covert development on a hybrid YZ-F/WR-F machine. They asked me to get involved with developing that bike. The thing went well, everyone liked it, and I discovered that I enjoyed the process of developing bikes. Outside of running my Yamaha race team in NZ, the opportunities with Yamaha were fairly limited, so I put my hand up for any more of that type of development work.

The Yamaha guys from Japan, America and Australia couldn’t speak highly enough of your input into the 2015 WR250F last year. Did that encourage you to get more heavily involved?
Well, we’d started discussing the 450 pretty much straight away after the 250’s testing. I got on well with the American testing team and the Japanese engineers, so I was excited about repeating the process of adapting the YZ450F to off-road terrain. It blows me away that, after sitting down with all the various people involved – from product planning to sales people – just how much thought and forward thinking goes into not only this model, but the one that’ll come after it. With the different legal requirements and fuel in various countries, the process becomes very complex.

Was the process of adapting the MX bike for trail and enduro use more difficult with the bigger, more powerful 450 bikes?
No, because the 250 had more changes, such as its six-speed gearbox and clutch system. With the 450, the first test on the bike felt as if we were way further down the track with getting it right. From that initial test, it was like we were fine-tuning, not testing. So when I rode the pre-production bike, it was pretty much bang-on. It’s important to point out that the 2016 WR450F got all the mods to frame, triple clamp and brakes that the 2016 motocross bike got, because those mods were actually more beneficial to the enduro model.

Given the development experience with the WR250F, you’d expect the 450 to have a head-start, right?
Yeah, you’re right. The trickiest part for me was creating a clear difference between the three models; between the YZ-F, WR-F and YZ-FX. The objective is obviously not to have two of those bikes virtually the same. Because riders in the Australian market want to use the WR450F for everything from desert and enduro racing to trailriding, we needed to build more versatility into that model’s set-up – hence its softer suspension settings. As the FX model is aimed specifically at racers, it needed to have a significantly firmer ride.

Is it rewarding to play such a key role in the development of Yamaha’s flagship off-road models?
I can honestly say that if I was purchasing my own motorcycle right now – and I could only buy one bike – I’d buy the YZ450FX. I could race the FX for arenacross, motocross, enduro, cross-country or supermotard. It’s a full-blown race bike with the edges taken off so you can also trailride it. So, yes, it’s a good feeling to know that I played some part in developing the bike I’d most want to buy.

Three years on from this interview with Josh Coppins, check out the legendary Kiwi’s take on Yamaha’s overhauled 2019-model WR450F; a bike he was instrumental in developing.

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