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It was at wide-open-throttle, at the top of third gear, when the bike climbed the rear sprocket and suddenly I'm staring up at a crystal blue New Hampshire sky in a full on 50 MPH power wheelie. At about that moment, I started contemplating such earthly matters like healthcare deductibles, long term disability coverage and my life insurance policy.  Riding a modern liquid cooled 450cc dirtbike provides you with many similar moments in which to consider your mortality.

The steed in question is a clean, well maintained 2003 Yamaha WR450.  You all know this story.  I wasn't really in the market for a new bike until this beauty showed up on the local "Crackslist" for a super nice price.  Before I knew it the WR was securely strapped in the trailer, my wife shooting "I-hope-you-know-what you're-doing-you're-46-years-old-with-a-wife-kids-and-a-mortgage-to-worry-about-and-what-the-hell-do-you -need-a-tenth-motorcycle-for-anyway" glances from the passenger seat of the Silverado.

Call it a vision quest.  I'm a pretty fair dirt rider but my tastes have usually gravitated to torquey and somewhat tame big bore air cooled Thumpers.  These bikes are to cycling what Mike Lowell was to baseball or Golden Labs to dog ownership;  Quiet, likable, reliable and low maintenance - but always ready to perform in the pinch.  While the relationship with these bikes was fulfilling, I always wondered what it would be like to throw a leg over an unbroken, wild Mustang and try to tame it.

To be clear, the Yamaha WR450 is not a motorcross bike - its designed for competitive enduro events, hare scrambles and the like. While it shares the same engine architecture as the track ready YZ450, the engine is cammed for more low end torque and a less explosive power hit.  At 50+ horsepower and a 242 pound dry weight it is considerably less powerful and heavier than most modern 450F models on the market today, but put this in the proper perspective.   Scaling up the WR450 to automotive terms would be the equivalent of a 500+ horsepower, 2500 pound 5.0 Mustang.  Formidable indeed.  What the raw numbers can't fully convey however is the immediacy of the WRs power delivery.  With an accelerator pump equipped Keihin FCR carb, five titanium valves and about 12:1 compression - throttle response on the WR is about as frenetic as Steve Buscemi on speed.  Roll on the throttle in any gear and you'd better clamp your knees around the tank and hold on - because "over there" will quickly become "right here"   

450cc dirtbikes have always sold better in the western US than here on the east coast - and that makes sense.  In New England there are just too fewpieces of sufficiently large, wide open real estate to fully avail of the insane power generated by these big bore machines.  All the same, it is hard to resist the sweet seductive power awaiting a twist of the grip.  

Over the cold new England winter I'll be hitting the gym in earnest to be ready for the WR450 come spring.  Something tells me I'll need stronger forearms. And maybe some more life insurance.

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