Editorial by John Trends
John talks about the criminally underrated FortNine series on YouTube and why you should be watching.
Browse YouTube long enough looking at videos of vintage bikes, Kawasaki dual sports, parts and accessory install videos, and I guess the algorithm would eventually catch up to me.
It was about this time, three years ago on a cool, midwinter day. I was stuck inside, with spring feeling like it will never come, and my bike was all locked up for the season.
All I had was time to sit indoors and dream about getting out for a ride again, thinking about the motorcycles that mean so much to me and the trips left unplanned. That’s when the title caught my eye.
“Killing the Un-Killable KLR650”
“Yes,” I thought to myself, “let’s watch a fun little, 16 minute video about one of the most storied bikes in the dual-sport world. Let’s see what lengths they go to in putting this bike down for the count!”
I expected it to be a tough go. Like the Chevrolet Bel Airs and Biscaynes still zipping up and down the island of Cuba, these bikes really are the kind which let you go anywhere, do anything, and know you’re getting back unscathed, even if you let the oil sit maaaaybe a month or two or a year too long in the crankcase.
The only enemy to these tanks is the scourge spelled with a capital R, rhymes with crust, you know it I trust, and that is Rust.
Curious to see just what era of KLR 650 they picked from, knowing production had just wrapped on this bike with the 2018 model being the last to hit dealerships, I hit play and mentally prepared for a low-effort video of some buds busting about town banging ditches and crashing into stationary objects like crash dummy buffoons.
Boy, was I unprepared for what would come next.
Video from FortNine
Without knowing too much about the FortNine organization, just on initial glance of this series, based on the quality of the video I discovered, I figured this to be some high-budget automotive series that streamed in some 300+ channel cable subscription package that I wasn’t paying for.
Simply put, the music, the graphics, the HD footage, the charisma of the host, the script, the humor! It all came together in a way I can only compare to the charm of Top Gear (you know which one I’m talking about!), but for motorcycles!
Right out of the gate I’m shown a montage of classic images from straight out of 1987. Being a child of the eighties some of these recall great memories of action heroes, fast cars, Miami Vice, you name it. And suddenly the star appears: the Kawasaki KLR650 dual sport bike with a gorgeous throwback livery in blue and green with the Fox Shocks logo just haphazardly tagged on for good measure.
Be still my heart.
The metric dual-sport bikes of the 80’s are what made me fall in love with powersports, after all. It was a Yamaha XJ600 from about the same era that took me up, down, and around the Michigan lakeshore in the late 90s and early naughts, spending weekends exploring the beaten roads weaving between little towns on the way to Chicago, and every so often off the path into some dirt roads and unpaved streets, because why not head for adventure when you’re riding on two wheels (even if they were meant for paved roads)?
As the nostalgia trip continues, suddenly I’m introduced to the narrator, the host, the Jeremy Clarkson, er-, well, that’s not fair, he’s really more like the James May of this series: Ryan Kluftinger.
Let’s talk about Ryan and FortNine for a tick. So as it turns out, this isn’t just some Hollywood-produced show that I’m somehow magically pirating from YouTube. No, F9 is actually a clever advertising extension of an online Canadian motorsports parts retailer called FortNine.
What started as a simple career creating content for Canada’s Motorcycle, the superstore that would become FortNine, Ryan started out writing copy, entering product descriptions online, possibly writing a blog post or two along the way.
It was right around the time F9 decided to rebrand, that the idea to create videos took off.
Look back far enough and you can literally see the early beginnings of the FortNine series on YouTube. Although these simple point and shoot product explanation videos, set to a white backdrop, eventually turned into more and more ambitious stories, vlogs, vehicle reviews, and more. It is ultimately the charm and wit of Ryan who leads you down this rabbit hole touching on topics you might already have knowledge in, to those you never considered before, like how does the DOT assess its helmet ratings, or what is the best position for cornering a bike (that last one seems to have opened up a big discussion among fans of FortNine and Ryan).
What really draws you in to FortNines’s impassioned videos is the way Ryan talks to you in a conversational, likeable, and not too over-the-top way, with a little enthusiasm and humor. In a nutshell, FortNine is friendly chatter with your pleasant neighbor… it’s very Canadian!
But it’s the technical knowledge of the host and the easy to understand way in which it is scripted and conveyed that makes Ryan the James May of motorcycles, FortNine his Top Gear, and the KLR650 the series’ unbreakable Toyota Hilux.
So what came of our ’87 KLR650 in the video? After taking what was a very deep dive inside one of Kawasaki’s most legendary bikes in stunning 4K quality (a subject I’m already familiar with, but never once losing my interest), Ryan proceeds to run the bike full throttle until it empties out of fuel. He then continues to drown the engine, hauls a Christmas tree with it across the woods, he even goes so far as to punch a hole in the engine by going over some heavy ruts and boulders. But even then, Ryan manages to use his MacGyver skills to J-B Weld a soda can over the hole and drive safely home—or at least somewhere off-camera.
Spoiler: the 34 -year-old KLR650 lives to ride another day.
And it was with that conclusion of the video that I knew I was in love with FortNine.
The sad part is I speak to so many of my peers and colleagues, my friends and acquaintances who have simply never watched this series before.
Allow me to reiterate that it is FREE to watch on YouTube, and is absolutely as brilliant as it is seductive in making you want to watch more and to continue to learn about each new bike or adventure featured from one episode to the next.
In a recent favorite video, Ryan spends one episode explaining what to do when you’re caught on your bike in the rain, and even I picked up some clever tips!
The sincerity of this series is in the reality it isn’t hosted by some bike bro, or that it is not simply some glorified stunt reel, but also in that it isn’t stymied by corporate interest (besides the obvious backer). That is what makes this series a real gem for those of us who like a little pizzazz with our storytelling, who want to be engaged, and want to hear from a fellow enthusiast. Ryan nails all three of these marks with aplomb.
Though it may not share the commercial success of a Top Gear or a Grand Tour, or anything of the sort, it has to be said: FortNine is a professional and quality video series that is just waiting for you to discover.
Give it a try over at their channel: http://www.youtube.com/c/FortNine/videos
Update 6/29/22: Just this week Ryan has written another love letter to the new and improved 2022 KLR650, the spiritual successor to the 1987 that was beat about in the video shared above. I hope you enjoy this three minute featurette as much as I did!