Tuesday, June 25, 2013

WR250R - First impressions

It's about time that I commented on how this new toy is working out for me now that I have about 800km of mixed riding on it. Should be more, but hey--between work and uncooperative weather over the past few months, I've barely had enough free time to figure out if the insulated liner should be in my jacket or not on any given day.

Coming off my 2000 KLR, the WR is a big change in some ways yet surprisingly not a change in others. The much lower weight is the first obvious difference. This is a bike that you can not only stand up easily if you tip it over, you can actually lift it off the ground.  In fact, getting it home from the dealer was just a matter of removing the mirrors and three of us lying it on its side in the back of our Toyota van. (In case you're wondering, I would've ridden it home but it needed some fit adjustments to make that safe.) Not only does it lose 72 lbs over the KLR (370 vs. 298 lbs), it loses them in the right place: up high.

All that weight loss leads to the second big difference: a little 250 is surprisingly good at getting you up to speed. Sure, it's not quite as fast as the KLR and the lack of low-end grunt means you need to rev higher and Texas two-step the gears to get going, but overall I don't feel that I'm really missing out on a lot of go. Not enough to justify an extra 400cc, anyway.

Third: It's surprisingly comfortable at 120 km/hr. The engine is smooth, the wind is on my chest rather than buffeting my helmet, and wind noise is somewhat reduced over the KLR. In fact, I've found the bike to be more stable when passing semis coming in the opposite lane of 2-lane highways. Maybe it's because there's so much less bike in the wind yet just enough stabilizing mass that it strikes some magic stability compromise. This was totally unexpected.

On the road it's a delightful toy to fling around corners and traffic. In my limited off-roading so far, it's proven to be remarkably capable through the ruts and puddles. Even a few laps in a sandy motocross pit was a blast. Basically, it's like my mountain bike with an engine. Such fun.

To really test the bike's capabilities, I need to upgrade the stock Deathwing tires to something more credibly dualsport-like. The D606 seems pretty popular on the rear and I'm also looking into a DOT-rated trials tire combo which will likely require a sprocket change. Reports on this strategy have been positive across a wide range of riding conditions. The bonus is that the less aggressive trials tread pattern has minimal impact on the trail without sacrificing performance. I just need to find a Canadian supplier of these tires.

Two immediate mods were the addition of a Flatland Racing skid plate and rad protector. For some reason the bike was missing the OE skid plate. No matter; it's pretty much junk anyway and doesn't protect the lower sides of the engine. Installing the Flatland was fairly straightforward once I figured out  exactly where to stick the weatherstripping between the parts that contact the frame, to reduce noise. Made a big difference. The rad guard is also highly recommended given the fragility (although not as bad as on the KLR) of the existing plastic. Both can be ordered from the helpful staff at MX1 in Vancouver. Next up will be proper bark busters.

Lack of carrying space is a minor issue, especially since the smaller tank only gives me about a 200 km range. This is still pretty impressive fuel economy out of a 7.2 L tank. One option is to go with a larger IMS tank. That's a lot of dough, so for now I've bungied a 5L fuel can on the back fender when needed. However, I recently drew up plans for a 9.5" x 13.25" aluminum rack which a local shop will water jet cut for me. It'll mount with four bolts into the subframe and be drilled to accept a RotoPax mount. Coincidentally, the RotoPax 1gal can is exactly the right size! I just have to make a few tweaks to my drawing and then I'll send the file to be cut from 6mm 6061 aluminum. Nothing fancy...once I see how it works, I'll probably tweak the design and extend it to allow for side racks bolted to the pillion foot peg mounts. Then I can mount soft bags.

So overall I'm very impressed with the WR and can't wait to try some longer rides on my upcoming vacation. If I was to ask for any improvements, it would be for a slightly larger stock tank and maybe another 100 cc of engine. Someone needs to offer a 300-400cc dualsport that can handle baggage no problem, and the WR would be the perfect platform for it.

Here's another ride review which agrees well with my experience.  

And if you're Jonesing for a real mountain adventure, check out this video of Black Bear Pass in Colorado, near where I was mountain biking with a buddy several years ago. This is epic riding country--motorized or not--and well worth a trip if you're looking for an interesting and accessible destination in North America.

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