Jerome or Bust! [Kawasaki KLX300 and KLX230 Dual-Sport Ride]

Carved into a northeast-facing mountainside above Central Arizona’s Verde Valley is something of a gem. Once billed as The Wickedest Town in the West, the boom-and-bust copper mining town of Jerome has reinvented itself as a destination for patrons of the arts. It’s also surrounded by plenty of twisting roads—dirt and paved—making it a gathering place for motorcyclists of all types.

Mining ruled Jerome from 1876 to 1953, with the town’s population fluctuating from a high of 15,000 in its heyday to a nearly deserted 50 citizens after the mines closed. The 1960s counterculture revived Jerome, which offers art-inspiring breathtaking views from virtually every building and road in the town. Along the way, Jerome earned, and eventually cultivated, a reputation for being haunted.

Kawasaki KLX300 and KLX230 Dual-Sport Ride: Jerome

My dad lives in Williams, another historic Arizona town that sits 35 miles due north of Jerome, as the crow flies. Williams is one of the few Arizona locales that has thrived after Interstate 40 bypassed Route 66, primarily because it is known as the Gateway To The Grand Canyon. Last spring, I rode from Los Angeles to the mid-century mecca on the 2021 Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Revival. This time, I brought Associate Editor Kelly Callan along for some off-pavement exploring of the area. I had been to Jerome a couple of times, but she had not. We loaded up a pair of Kawasaki dual-sport bikes—the KLX230 and KLX300—for a ride.

Due to scheduling conflicts, our ride was late, rather than early, in the fall. That meant less daylight and colder weather. We threw on some layers, filled up the bone-stock KLXes with gas—our dirt-only route was 50 miles—and set out in the morning once the thermometer hit the mid-40s.

Fourth Street takes us south from downtown Williams, just a block away from the notorious Sultana Bar. Civilization is quickly left behind as the two-lane route turns into Coconino County Road 73 (S. Perkinsville Road). We’re distracted from the briskness of the ride on the two dual-sport bikes on pavement by the beautiful Kaibab National Forest.

Kawasaki KLX300 and KLX230 Dual-Sport Ride: Primitive ROad

Perkinsville Road is a meandering well-paved two-lane road between two deep canyons. Sometimes you can see them—other times you’re enjoying the pines. It’s downhill most of the way from Williams, dropping from 6800 feet above sea level to 4600 feet when the pavement ends after a 24-mile run.

The sun was rising, and dropping in elevation meant we were getting warmer as we rode. That was good for me, as I wasn’t as smart with my glove selection as Kelly. She suffers from Reynaud’s phenomenon, so she must be careful not to let her fingers get too cold. She had a pair of Alpinestars Stella Tourer W-7 Drystar gloves with liners, and I’m running thin, perforated Alpinestars Aviator MX gloves.

We were doing about 60 mph or so. We weren’t in a hurry, and both the KLX230 and KLX300 were comfortable doing that speed on the long decline toward Verde River.

Our first taste of dirt comes at USFS FR 492, where we will start another 800-foot elevation loss. FR 492 is a very good condition dirt road. It’s not the least bit challenging on dual-sport bikes, and shouldn’t be a problem on an adventure bike.

Kawasaki KLX300 and KLX230 Dual-Sport Ride: Don Williams

The three-mile eastward run on FR 492 is uneventful, with the vegetation having transformed from pine to scrub. The views are much broader in this area, with a 360-degree panorama of mountains in the distance. We encountered the first traffic along this stretch—a local in a pickup truck giving us a friendly Monday morning wave.

Turning right/south onto FR 354, the road becomes a bit rougher in places—still no challenge for a dual-sport motorcycle, but something that might require more dirt-capable tires on an ADV mount. A bridge crossing a spectacular boulder-filled tributary of the Verde River offers an impressive view of the effects of erosion.

Just short of the ghost town of Perkinsville, which still has a few inhabited buildings, we turn off on FR 318 for a short, steep downhill ride to Primitive Camp on the Verde River. Again, though it’s not demanding of the KLX230 and KLX300, an adventure bike rider will have to pay closer attention—still completely doable, though.

Kawasaki KLX300 and KLX230 Dual-Sport Ride: Primitive Camp

Primitive Camp turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. We had seen photos from under the bridge that crosses the Verde River, with people camping and generally having fun. “Awesome place to camp, right next to the Verde River, spots fill up quick. Lots of places to off road and explore,” one of the reviews on Google Maps from last year reported. If the water level was low enough, we were thinking about skipping the scenic truss bridge and getting the KLXes a bit wet.

Unfortunately, the fun police have taken it upon themselves to block vehicular access to the river. Sure, we could have easily ridden around the barriers, but we were obedient off-roading citizens and used the bridge.

Continuing south on FR 318, it’s a 1600-foot climb over less than nine miles. It’s not a problem for the KLX300 or the KLX230 on the good condition dirt road. There were a couple of relatively steep and loose portions, though the road is wide at those spots. Again, not much of a challenge on a dual sport bike, and fine for ADV beasts with proper rubber.

Kawasaki KLX300 and KLX230 Dual-Sport Ride: Verde River

We got to a T on the side of a mountain. I had expected some informational signs along the way. However, there are none. I was going on memory, so I stuck with FR 318 to the left rather than the FR 318A spur. Although FR 318A looked enticingly rocky, time was getting away from us due to photo stops, so we wanted to get to Jerome for lunch without unnecessary side trips.

As it worked out, FR 318 was the proper choice. It’s a fun mountainside road, with lots of rocks littering the dirt. The stock tires on both bikes got a bit more of a workout, as this is a twisting dirt road. The IRCs on the KLX230 and Dunlops on the KLX300 are fine in a straight line and on gently bending dirt roads. However, direction changes on the hardpack with a loose top layer are not the forte of either tire. You don’t want to overcook a corner because it’s a long way down in a few spots.

Entering Jerome from the north, you’re first greeted with a bird’s eye view of Gold King Mine & Ghost Town. Yes, it’s a tourist attraction rather than an operating mine, but it’s still worth visiting. Rather than a slick museum, it has plenty of vintage items in various states of disrepair. It’s ten bucks to get in, so you’re not out much if you are dissatisfied. Don’t show up on Tuesday expecting to get in, though—it will be closed.

Kawasaki KLX300 and KLX230 Dual-Sport Ride: Don Williams in Jerome

Dropping into Jerome the back way is quite different from getting there via State Route 89A. The town feels even more authentic riding in on a dirt road, rather than a nicely paved state highway. Still, 89A from the southwest is a twisty treat on any motorcycle, while the approach from the east gives you a fantastic view of Jerome as you approach.

After a spin through town, we had to take care of business—get gas for the Kawasakis. A weak point on modern dual sport motorcycles is range. Both bikes have two-gallon fuel tanks, which would not get us to Jerome and back from Williams on dirt, or pavement.

There are no gas stations in Jerome—it’s impossible to think of a tanker navigating the twisting road into town from either direction on Route 89A. That means a 4.5-mile downhill ride with a 1475-foot elevation drop to Number 1 Food Store, which also happens to sell gasoline.

Kawasaki KLX300 and KLX230 Dual-Sport Ride: Kelly Callan in Jerome

Fueled up at prices much more friendly than in California, I hopped on the KLX230, and Kelly grabbed the KLX300. What goes down must come up, and I faced a 1475-foot climb over those same 4.5 miles. That highlighted a weakness of the KLX230 when a 170-pound rider is in the seat. Jerome sits nearly one mile above sea level. Between the thin air and the steep climb, the SOHC air-cooled, two-valve 233cc motor struggled on the way up the hill. Yes, it made it, but I was pinned the whole time. Kelly, who weighs in at 115 pounds dutifully waiting up for me despite the ability of the KLX300 to rocket her up the hill without protest.

Our plan was to have lunch at the popular Haunted Hamburger, which features skeletons climbing its sign. We slipped the two KLXes into a parking lot across the street from the restaurant, walking distance from the Jerome Grand Hotel. A former hospital, the Jerome Grand Hotel is reputed to be haunted by those who didn’t make it out alive. If that doesn’t bother you, it’s generally considered the most excellent place to stay in town.

Walking into the Haunted Hamburger, we quickly figured out that we wouldn’t be eating there and enjoying its spectacular view of Verde Valley. The lobby was packed, even on a Monday in the late fall.

We hopped back onto the Kawasakis and started looking around town for an alternative for lunch. There’s not much territory to cover. There’s one main street through town, and that’s about it. The tight confines of Jerome are perfectly suited to dual-sport bikes. We zipped around town more easily than you would on anything other than a small scooter.

Kawasaki KLX300 and KLX230 Dual-Sport Ride: The Flatiron, Jerome

After a couple of laps, we settled on The Flatiron. It’s at the point of a narrow triangle formed by Main and Hull Streets in the Arts District. We parked next to a rough-and-ready custom Harley-Davidson in front of Passion Cellars, which offers wine tasting from Salvatore Vineyards in Willcox. Across the street is the historic House of Joy Art Gallery—you can guess what it used to be.

Kawasaki KLX300 and KLX230 Dual-Sport Ride: Passion Cellars

The Flatiron is a breakfast and lunch spot, so the menu is limited, with espresso being a big part of its appeal—locals continually darted in and out for a fix, with us being the only diners. Fortunately, the food on the menu is enticing. I settled on Mr. Egg Sandwich (which they graciously made for me even after the stated serving window), and Kelly went for the Grilled Cheese Sandwich.

Kawasaki KLX300 and KLX230 Dual-Sport Ride: Breakfast SandwichMr. Egg Sandwich was enormous, featuring three eggs and two cheeses—cheddar and Muenster. I opted for a bagel, which made it impossibly thick. Still, after no breakfast and an all-morning dirt ride, it hit the spot, even if I couldn’t quite finish all the bread.

The Grilled Cheese Sandwich also featured cheddar and Muenster cheese, along with spinach and garlic butter on toasted grain bread. Always looking to be healthy, Kelly went with the optional salad. When her plate arrived, she was both thrilled and dismayed. The food looked great, but there was far too much for her to eat, and we had no way of bringing back leftovers. The sandwich and salad were as delicious as they looked, and, much to my amazement, Kelly cleaned her plate. I have never seen her put away that much food at a single sitting. Hey, we didn’t have breakfast, and it was a long ride before dinner in Williams.

Fully fortified, we headed back to Williams. There aren’t many reasonable route choices, so we were forced to do something we don’t typically want to do—backtrack. It turned out to be fine, and the road and the scenery seemed quite different in reverse. The long uphills were downhills, and vice versa. We noted a few things we missed the first time, so repeating our route was a plus.

Kawasaki KLX300 and KLX230 Dual-Sport Ride: Grilled Cheese

We settled into the KLXes, swapping them back and forth at various times. We were making good time, so as we neared Williams, we had enough light to make a side trip. We turned off County Road 73 at Forest Road 111 and headed for Bill Williams Mountain—a local landmark.

It was time for another hillclimb. This one takes us up nearly 1800 feet in five miles. The road is a relentless rocky uphill, with a few steep, tight switchbacks. This is what dual sport bikes are made for. Kelly was on the KLX300 again, so she sprinted off while I did my best to hold the throttle wide open on the KLX230. I was starting to feel the suspension limitations of the KLX230, in addition to the consequences of a small motor at high altitude, though both KLXes are helped by fuel injection.

The view from the summit of Bill Williams Mountain is staggering—it’s 9259 feet above sea level. You can climb up a tower for an even better view—doable in Alpinestars Tech 7 Enduro boots. It’s not that far off the main paved road, and well worth it. If you’re on an adventure bike, I hope you’ve got off-road capable tires. If you don’t, it’s going to be rough going. Those who have the skills and properly set up ADV bike will love it.

Kawasaki KLX300 and KLX230 Dual-Sport Ride: Bill Williams Mountain

We marveled over the view for a bit, but we also noticed the sun was setting. We swapped bikes for the ride down, and Kelly was able to keep up on the KLX230 for the most part—downhill has its advantages. The tires aren’t the best for braking on loose, rocky descents, so we had to be careful on the switchbacks. The disc brakes get the job done with the right mix of feel and power. The KLX230’s standard ABS wasn’t a problem, as Kelly relied on the front brake and engine compression braking.

We hopped back on County Road 73, and the fuel lights came on both KLXes. We were close enough that we didn’t have to stop for fuel, arriving back at my dad’s as the sun was setting and the cold was settling it.

It was a fun and revealing ride on the Kawasaki KLX230 and KLX300. We learned that both are fully capable friendly dual-sport bikes on dirt roads, and can take on the rougher 4×4 routes when necessary.

Kawasaki KLX300 and KLX230 Dual-Sport Ride: Scenic Ride

The KLX230 is definitely oriented toward smaller, lighter riders. Compared to the KLX300, Kelly preferred the KLX230’s more compact ergonomics, 0.4-inch lower seat height, and 11-pound weight advantage compared to its bigger brother. At her weight, the suspension works quite well, and the power is adequate. Would she take a KLX230 chassis with a KLX300 motor? In a heartbeat.

I liked the KLX230’s small, maneuverable chassis. However, the suspension is too soft for me when the going gets rough or fast, and the engine is challenged on uphills, particularly at altitude. The KLX300 feels far more like a dirt bike, and the additional power and firmer suspension are much better for me, as are the roomier ergonomics. For me, I’d spend the extra $1000 for the KLX300 without a second thought.

Kawasaki KLX300 and KLX230 Dual-Sport Ride: Bridge Crossing

For off-roaders, both motorcycles would benefit from purpose-built dirt tires rather than the decent compromise rubber used to sell the dual-sport siblings. Additionally, both bikes need larger fuel tanks to have usable off-pavement ranges.

We will be heading back to Williams for more dual-sport rides, and not just because my dad lives there. Plenty of other routes in all directions are begging to be ridden—maybe on adventure bikes. On my to-see list is the 110-yard Johnson Canyon Tunnel, built in 1882 by the Atlantic and Pacific Railroad, and abandoned by Santa Railroad by 1960. I can’t wait!

Kelly Callan contributed to this story

Photography by Kelly Callan and Don Williams

RIDING STYLES

KELLY

DON

  • Helmet: Arai VX-Pro4
  • Goggles: EKS Brand EKS-S
  • Communications: Cardo Packtalk Slim
  • Hydration: USWE Raw 12
  • Jersey, gloves + pants: Alpinestars Techstar Venom
  • Body armor: Alpinestars Bionic Pro V2
  • Knee braces: Alpinestars Bionic-10 Carbon
  • Socks: Fly Racing Knee Brace
  • Boots: Alpinestars Tech 7 Enduro

SpecsKawasaki KLX230Kawasaki KLX300
ENGINE
Type:Single-cylinderSingle-cylinder
Displacement:233cc292cc
Bore x stroke:67.0 x 66.0mm78.0 x 61.2mm
Valvetrain:SOHC; 2 valvesDOHC; 4 valves
FuelingEFI w/ 32mm Keihin throttle bodyEFI w/ 34mm Keihin throttle body
Cooling:AirLiquid
StartingElectricElectric
Transmission:6-speed6-speed
Clutch:Wet multiplateWet multiplate
Final drive:ChainChain
CHASSIS
FrameSteel box-section perimeterSteel box-section perimeter
Front suspension:37mm forkCompression-damping adjustable 43mm inverted cartridge fork
Front suspension travel:8.7 inches10.0 inches
Rear suspensionLinkage-assisted, spring-preload adjustable shockLinkage-assisted, fully adjustable piggyback-reservoir shock
Rear suspension travel:8.8 inches9.1 inches
Tires:IRC Trails GP-21F/GP-22RDunlop D605
Front tire:2.75 x 213.00 x 21
Rear tire:4.10 x 184.60 x 18
Front brake:240mm disc w/ 2-piston caliper250mm disc w/ 2-piston caliper
Rear brake:220mm disc w/ single-piston caliper240mm disc w/ single-piston caliper
ABSYesNo
DIMENSIONS and CAPACITIES
Wheelbase:54.3 inches56.7 inches
Rake:27.5 degrees26.7 degrees
Trail:4.6 inches4.2 inches
Seat height:34.8 inches35.2 inches
Ground clearance10.4 inches10.8 inches
Fuel capacity:2.0 gallons2.0 gallons
Curb weight:291 pounds302 pounds
ColorsLime GreenLime Green; Fragment Camo Gray (+$200)
2022 Prices$4,799$5,799

 

Jerome or Bust! Kawasaki KLX300 and KLX230 Dual-Sport Ride