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Common Tread

An interview with FortNine's Ryan F9

Oct 10, 2019

In a few days our video podcast series Highside/Lowside will return for Season Two. 

New for this year, we’ve decided to differentiate the YouTube video from the podcast by including in the podcast select interviews with notable characters and known favorites in the motorcycle community. 

We kick off the second season with an interview from Ryan Kluftinger, better known as RyanF9, of FortNine. If you’re not familiar with FortNine, it's an online Canadian retailer much like RevZilla. And Ryan and his crew are in charge of all of the video content the company creates. Sound familiar?

The two of us spent almost an hour talking about motorcycles and motorcycle content. To catch the full interview, make sure you download Episode One of Season Two of Highside/Lowside, just type in “RevZilla” to Apple iTunes or your favorite podcasting app.

The following is an excerpt from the upcoming episode. 

Ryan F9 as a kid
A young Ryan F9 getting started early. The hockey helmet he's wearing does nothing to play down those Canadian stereotypes. Photo by Mama Kluftinger.

Spurgeon Dunbar: So it sounds like your parents had a pretty influential hand in getting you involved on two wheels. 

Ryan Kluftinger: Yeah, my first bike was a dirt bike that my dad got for me when I was 11 years old. It was a XR100, just a little Honda trail bike. And when you're 11, having a motor and a place to ride, it's really endless. It's like flying. You don't get that freedom as a kid. You know, everything is, "You can do this, you cannot do this. Stay inside the playground. Don't go out after dark," whatever.

But like a lot of kids in Canada, I had this bike and I had this mountain as my backyard and I could come home from school and just bomb endless trails for four hours. And this trail network connected to this whole abandoned a rail line. And the train rails were all ripped up and gone, but the trail, overgrown as it was, was still sort of there. 

So me and my buddy, 11-year-old kids on dirt bikes would be like, "Bye, mom. See you in four hours." They thought we were just riding around the trails behind our houses. They would absolutely freak out if they knew that we were really riding up to this old rail bed and going like two municipalities down. Like, we were going like 150 kilometers, 200 kilometers away from Kelowna, which is the city that I grew up in, to the next few municipalities and grabbing a burger down there or whatever, and then riding all the way back. 

All on that XR100. I mean, I toured on that thing. And it was absolutely brilliant. I can't imagine a better introduction to everything that motorcycling can be.

Ryan F9 FortNine
A gloomy day for Ryan. FortNine photo.

SD: If Canada is anything like America, there is no motorcycle 101 course at the universities, right? So, how did you go from school to deciding, "You know what, I'm gonna make a career out of motorcycles"?

RK: Ooh… I'd love to have this epic fancy story about that, but it's literally as simple as I answered an ad on Craigslist for this job at this motorcycle company and it worked out. 

I was a young, recent graduate, not from anything useful, I had my undergrad in art history and physics. And I got married and I was like, "How am I ever gonna pay a bill?" And there was an ad on Craigslist for this job as a copywriter at a company called Canada's Motorcycle, which I had never heard of before. I was like, "Sweet, that'll do. It's full time. That's what I need."

I'd been working a little bit as a freelance writer for a few magazines while I was in university. So I thought I wanted to do something with writing. And so it seemed like a good fit. Obviously, I had the motorcycle background, so that was a bit of a bonus for me. And I started working at this company doing ad copy and writing product pages for the website and all kinds of boring stuff like that.

It wasn't until Canada's Motorcycle wanted to rebrand that we really started doing video. Because if you change the name of a company overnight, Google is gonna be like, "What the hell is this?" And it's not gonna push anyone to this new website, right? So we were like, "Okay, we wanna change Canada's Motorcycles to FortNine. And six months ahead of that, we'll start a YouTube channel and call it FortNine so that Google starts to understand that this is who we are and it has some association with motorcycles. And so, when we change the name of the store over, there'll be some SEO groundwork already done." And when they came up with that project, they basically just came to me as the in-house writer and said, "You're the closest thing we have to a video guy."

Ryan Kluftinger FortNine
Transitioning from writing to video isn't easy, but it's safe to say Ryan made the leap successfully. FortNine photo.

SD: When FortNine comes to you and they say, "Hey, Ryan, we want you to start producing videos. You've been a copywriter, you've done a bang-up job at writing copy for the website. We're gonna have you produce some videos." I mean, what's your reaction to this? Is it, "Hell, yeah?" Is it, "Hell, no?" Is it, like, "Maybe I can do this?" How did you feel about this?

RK: In the beginning, I think I was definitely more apprehensive. I'd always hidden behind a keyboard or behind a magazine or whatever. Put my words out there but nobody got to see me. So it was different and new, but I was open to it because they were paying my paycheck. And that's what I needed to do. So I was like, "Hey, I'll give it a try." I mean, if you look, there is still some Canada's Motorcycle videos online that have a much younger and shyer version of myself in them.

If you look at the videos, I appear to be about 13.

SD: And now you look like you're a strong 17 is what you're saying?

RK: I'm looking like a strong 17, yeah. I always get ID'd when I go to buy an adult beverage, put it that way. But these early videos, I look truly childlike and very shy and awkward in front of the camera. That's just the way it starts, I think, for most people in video, it's an unnatural thing at first.

SD: What was your process getting started? How did you decide how you were going to tackle it? 

RK: Well, from the beginning, we knew what was out there. You guys were already huge when we started. And there was Cycle World and Motorcyclist. There were lots of other YouTube channels making really good stuff. And so, from the beginning, we decided, "Okay, we have to do something different," because there's no point reproducing something that's successful.

I mean, you can look at like a million-view video and say, "Wow, that's got a million views. Let's make that video." But you're not gonna get a million views because everyone's already watched the other one, you know? You have to actually add something. You have to add value to the space if it's ever gonna be popular.

Ryan Kluftinger Interview FortNine
One-upping Rollie Free on the way to some prime waves. FortNine photo.

So from the beginning, we decided, "Okay, we're gonna have to do something different." We just didn't know what different was. And so we started experimenting. We had a spare room in our office building and I think somebody who worked there had an old camera. It was more like a photography camera, but it shot a little bit of video.

We bought some cheap, cheap, photography lights off Amazon, set those up. We got a big roll of paper, just a huge roll of white paper that we could rig up to the ceiling and unroll so we had like a clean white background because we thought Apple does that and so, wow, this is gonna look really cool and everyone's gonna like this.

And it was shit. I literally can't even watch the videos. I mean, if anyone's near a computer and types in "Canada's Motorcycles," you'll find some of these OG old videos that we shot. And they're rough. When we started doing gear reviews, it was before the time that we had actual products. I mean, now we just buy everything that we wanna review. But in the beginning, we didn't have the justification to spend that money because we had a very unproven project. So we shot gear reviews but without the actual gear. 

My first gear review, I had this table with six screwdrivers on it from my toolbox and I was like, "Okay, this is the gear." And I just pretended that the screwdriver was a helmet, and that this screwdriver was the glove and the other screwdriver was the rig so we could practice the shot. I had read about the different features online, so I had some idea what this helmet was supposed to be. But I was holding a Phillips-head screwdriver. "Yes. It has a visor and it's tinted and this and that." That's how we got started in the beginning. 

Ryan Kluftinger Interview FortNine
Motorcycling can take us to some unexpected places. Like countless screens around the world. FortNine photo.

SD: So, over the past three and a half years, you've become an extremely influential person in the motorcycle community. And I think that anyone out there who has seen your content, would agree with that. Being that you are an influential person in the motorcycle community, if you had one piece of advice for a new rider or someone looking at getting into riding, what would it be?

RK: I would say, we're all amateurs at this. You say, I've become sort of this influential figure, which is very humbling because I'm like, "Man, I don't know shit. I don't think I'm qualified to be influential in any regard to the motorcycle industry." And I think that a lot of motorcyclists feel that way. We're all kind of like, "Man, I don't really know what I'm doing out here."

So to someone starting out, I'd just say, man, we're all learning at this. We're all learning all the time. To some extent, we're all amateurs. So, just don't be shy. Don't be embarrassed if you're new and you don't know something, we've all been there and we’re all still there sometimes. So just embrace that. Learn, learn throughout your lifetime, because that's what we're all doing.

Want to hear more?

Listen to the entire episode below.

The F9 interview starts at the 54-minute mark. Enjoy!