On the narrow woodland trails, at second, third, occasionally fourth gear speeds, the Kayaba suspension was absolutely bang-on. Leaning towards the soft side of plush, it gave fantastic feedback and an incredibly comfortable ride, with the kind of smooth action you get from quality units. The springs match the damping and there’s no discernible ‘spike’ as it suddenly firms up. On the aforementioned, and far faster, riverside track it’d coped with everything I’d asked of it without wallowing through the flowing bends or bottoming on the numerous washouts. Only when flat-landing from a four-foot ledge, or on the final stretches of riverbed (more on which later) did I feel that it could do with stiffening up, which leads me to think that racers (from quick clubman upwards) will want to run it firmer to cope with bigger hits at faster speeds.
Technical terrain was never the WR’s strong point, and the shorter chassis does help when tackling the nadgery stuff. However, it still isn’t the bike’s forte. On flowing terrain the bike doesn’t feel particularly hefty - it’s when you get it in amongst the rocks and roots you notice that it’s carrying a few extra kilos. The spec sheet claims 129kg wet, though fortunately this is with all of the homologation kit fitted and in competition trim this should drop by a handful of kilos. Nonetheless, it still feels a little weightier than some of the 450 opposition, who sit south of 120kg fully-fuelled.
Right off idle, the power is a little on-off and requires a few hundred more revs before it smoothes out. So it demands some very precise throttle control to coax it over big rocks at walking pace or when trying to maintain traction on a slippery hill. Conditions on the launch were largely dry - only on one impromptu hillclimb through the trees was the ground particularly snotty - so it’s probably best that we reserve judgement on the bike’s wet weather performance until we can get one on UK mud. The WR-F was always far better in the dry than the wet…
Should the bike cough stall, which did occasionally happen at low revs though wasn’t a recurring issue, it wouldn’t start in gear and required knocking into neutral before it’d fire-up again. The cable-clutch, with its curiously large lever, is one-finger light though it’d be nicer, and lighter still, if it were a hydraulic unit.
A reasonably narrow cockpit (with a seat which treads a fine line between racy and slim, and trail-comfortable) helps whilst tackling the terrain and although the radshrouds seem to extend a long way forward they didn’t hinder foot-out cornering or snag on my boots.
The riding position is best described as neutral. The seat is a claimed 960mm, though it doesn’t feel quite that tall once you’re onboard, and the height of the Pro Taper bars will suit those around 5-10, 5-11 or so. At 6-1 I found them just a little too low for standing up on the trails and about the perfect height for sat down cornering through the numerous hairpins. That’s with the asymmetric mounts on their highest setting, so shorties will easily find a set-up to suit.