Electric blues

Electric blues

ASK ANYONE who’s ridden a ’02 model WR250F or WR426F to sum up what they thought of the bike and more often than not you’ll get the exact same answer – great bike but occasionally a bitch to start.

With the pull out the hot-start button pull clutch in find top dead centre routine a tricky one to master at the best of times, when a WR motor stalls halfway through a special test only those with a cool head and a well practised technique can coax the motor back to life. And even they get it wrong on occasions.

For everyone else panic and guess work is more often than not the order of the day, resulting in knobs and levers being pulled in any old order – usually the wrong one – while goggles steam up and tempers flare. Thankfully, help is now at hand.

The first thing we notice when throwing a leg over both the 450cc and 250cc WR machines, after checking out the welcome handlebar-mounted ‘lecky start button and ignition isolator switch, are the new for ’03 fuel tanks. Once slim, MX-like and anything but intrusive, the new-shape 10-litre tanks give both bikes a bulky ‘non-competition’ feel – something that’s even more noticeable when riding along forest roads.

The tanks make standing with your weight well forward feel more like you’re riding a horse than a dirt bike but the reason for the tanks’ increased size are apparent when we look at the bikes from the side. To reduce the risk of over-heating, there’s around a five inch gap between the back of each of the two radiators and the fuel tank. Seems the Yamaha technicians are serious about keeping both motors cool.

Although noticeable at first, as the day passes and we spend more and more time on the bikes we soon forget about their additional width and by the end of the test are completely at home with the quarter-litre thumper’s re-design. The 450, though, still feels a bit bulky – something we can’t quite understand as the two tanks are exactly the same size.

The seating position plus clutch, brake and throttle action are all impossible to fault as too are both bikes’ jetting and response to starting in gear. Even the newly-designed side-access air-box is easy to use, well sealed and pretty much hassle free. But by far the most important addition to the ’03 machines – the improvement that will guarantee mega sales and overshadows the fact that Yamaha have spent the past 12 months saving weight and improving bottom-end power on the 250 – is the electric start.

With the simple push of a button both machines fire into life almost immediately each and every time they’re asked – once we realise we need to switch on the ignition isolator button tucked neatly away behind the headlight. D’oh! Even when we stall the motors when hot in third or fourth gear they start with no complaints.

Although not really needed now that the bikes start as easily as two-strokes (both machines come fitted with a kick-start and feature built-in automatic decompressors), it’s not long before we realise just how useful ‘the button’ is on high-end competition bikes. Thankfully, kicking, swearing and test times ruined by a WR’s stubbornness to re-start should all now be a thing of the past.

For the full test check out January’s dbr – on sale December 13