Leon Oosterhof, product manager off-road, Yamaha Europe
RUST: The WR250F must be a super-important model for Yamaha in the off-road sector?
LO: Yes, although to be fair the markets in Europe are all very different, we do have some that are into the 450s, the way the Americans and Australians are, and some like the UK that are into the smaller capacity, but yes this is a very important model for Yamaha.
RUST: You’ve taken your time bringing it to market…
LO: It’s been a wait, for sure, but for Yamaha in the off-road the focus has been on the development of the YZ motocross bikes first, so we’re glad to have this for 2015.
RUST: Would it be fair to say you’re lucky to get it here at all? Yamaha was hit by crippling losses a few years back, we could have lost you altogether!
LO: That was not just Yamaha, the whole motorcycle industry was clearly in recession. So Yamaha opted for a strategy of delaying some projects, we put ourselves on the handbrake for a while. But since 2013 we have been accelerating.
RUST: So you’re back, but the WR250F is now far from conventional, it must have been a gamble?
LO: Yamaha conceded we needed to fight our way back into the off-road sector, first with motocross then enduro. And it’s very clear that if you come up with the same technology it will not be so convincing. So the goal was definitely to come up with something extraordinary, not just to be different, not that as a goal, but something that is working more efficiently.
RUST: You first came out with the reversed-engine layout in 2010 with the YZ450. At first there was praise but then it was thought flawed. Have you got it sorted now.
LO: Yes, it’s a little bit like wine, the product itself has evolved, matured. Maybe because of the wait we’ve bought out an even better product than it could have been if we’d brought it out even a year ago. Since Yamaha brought in the first 450 with this concept we’ve really believed in it, from a performance and riding characteristics point of view we’ve really thought this is correct for both motocross and enduro use. We will definitely be consistent with this.
RUST: But that first YZ450F was a real wild child. Did you get it wrong at the beginning?
LO: We believe from the first generation that the mass centralisation concept was correctly done. But our objective with the first model was to make a bike with class-leading power - really powerful - and then when it came out it was clear it was maybe a bit too much of a handful, we needed to tone it down. It was the very powerful engine that had a big effect on the characteristic of the ride; we believe it was because of that, not the mass centralisation itself, that the bike was criticised.
RUST: So we now have the new WR250F - but it’s only one bike. Can you really conquer enduro with just the one model?
LO: Where KTM has many different versions of their EXCs we chose a different route - of having a 250F with a big versatility. It is one machine but we believe with the tunable ECU it brings several characters, from the very friendly easy-to-ride one to a very powerful aggressive one. And we notice already that opinions are very broad, there are some guys who say with the standard exhaust and tune it is perfectly fine for 80% of customers but also some guys who say the one with the Akrapovic and a little tune-up is perfect. And there’s more potential in it, you can get more out of this engine without any issue.
RUST: The bike delivers. So what are your plans for it?
LO: We anticipate we can be very ambitious with this bike. Hence we are stepping back into the EWC with an official team. Our objective is to get back into enduro with a serious position and product-wise we feel confident. From a price point of view we feel very confident with an aggressive price (£7249 in 2015) to match KTM for sure. We realise our position has weakened with the years so we definitely want to fight our way back.