[WLF] PROFILES: SPENCER HILL - 17
RIDER: Spencer Hill
GARAGE: 2019 790 Adventure R
RIDING TYPE: OFFROAD // ENDURO // Adventure Touring
How it starteD
I was standing on the shoulder of HWY 101 somewhere in northern California listening to a guy talk about his big white KTM (some manufacturer I had never heard of before) while describing amazing places I couldn’t go because I had the wrong type of motorcycle. I wasn’t amused, after spending several weeks on the road with my girlfriend (now wife) aboard our Triumph Bonneville, the last thing I wanted to hear was that I couldn’t go somewhere. We had been primitive camping and exploring back roads up and down the west coast without any itinerary, having the time of our lives. And then here comes this ADV action figure telling us what we were doing wasn’t an adventure at all. It was an inauspicious “ah-ha” moment for me, I thought he was a tool, but I also begrudgingly wanted to know more about this dirt centric riding he spoke of. This was the interaction that sent me down the rabbit hole and would change my life in ways I could never have imagined.
Soon after returning from the Bonneville trip, I stumbled upon an issue of Adventure Motorcycle Magazine in a small independent bookstore in Port Angeles, Washington and I dove into the sport headlong. In the beginning, I was just a gear junky working as a marine engineer on oil tankers, that’s how I came up with the name The Gear Dude. I poured over magazines, books, and online forums while I was working at sea as an engineer. If it was better, smaller, or lighter than the piece of equipment I already used, then I had to have it! I would come home from several months away to find a small mountain of brown boxes and then have tons of free time to get lost in the woods. It was an interesting cycle of freedom and captivity that I found unsustainable mostly because I was gone for at least six months out of the year. Eventually, I transitioned to a shoreside job that kept me home every night and traded the Triumph for what I thought was the quintessential adventure bike: a BMW F800GS. I rode the wheels off that thing, and crash tested it countless times while cutting my teeth in the dirt. The culmination of my love affair with that bike was an Oregon Backcountry Discovery Route (BDR) trip for my bachelor party that solidified my love for dirt touring.
My first KTM 690, @thegeardude690 and a fledgling career as a moto photo journalist guy…
I had just purchased a brand new 2015 KTM 690 Enduro R and was riding more than ever when I discovered a deficiency in the still new to me dual-sport segment. While obsessively researching boots, helmets, and other items marketed for individuals like myself, I was having a hard time finding reviews of even popular products. In the outdoor segment, it was easy to find reviews in print & online for almost any product you could think of, but that wasn’t the case in adventure motorcycling at the time. That’s when it occurred to me that product reviews could be the vessel I used to insert myself in the media side of this culture I had become so enamored with.
I grew up the son of an English teacher and stepson of a professional photographer with a father who taught me no adventure was too extreme. In hindsight, it makes sense that I would end up in the position I’m in now, but in the insipid stages of my moto journalist career, it couldn’t have seemed any less attainable. I knew I wanted to share my experiences with the hordes of people flocking to adventure riding, but I faced the sizable problem of not having any idea how to break into the industry.
Product reviews weren’t exactly the type of writing I was interested in, but it seemed like a manageable place to start. I figured the first logical step was to make a website and some dedicated social accounts, so that’s what I did. Literally, the day after I launched my first crappy website, Adventure Motorcycle Magazine posted on Facebook looking for someone interested in reviewing moto products. I jumped at the opportunity, and the rest is history (not really). In reality, I hustled and lived off whatever scraps were thrown my way while stumbling blindly through a treacherous landscape.
Sometime in this period, someone told me to start an Instagram account (Id never heard of her), and I created a profile on a whim. I began sharing photos of my new 690, and I found a remarkable community that seemed to be growing by the minute. Do you remember what IG was like when it was chronological, or am I just aging myself? To my surprise, a significant number of people started following my account and were showing interest in the things I was doing. Pretty soon, my Instagram account became exactly what I had been looking for all along: a conduit for sharing my experiences on two wheels and helping out others along the way.
I made friends quickly and discovered a groundswell flock of believers that seemed to be as excited about adventure riding as I was. It still amazes me to this day the number of solid people that are now in my life due to social media. It seems like such a hollow void at times, but it has continually redeemed itself in my eyes with meaningful interactions and abundant opportunities. As my social streams and profile grew, there was the unexpected side effect of my online presence feeding my journalistic endeavors. Something I still value greatly is having a tuned-in audience that I can direct to whatever project I am working on or article that was just published.
I loved adventure riding right off the bat because it wasn’t a team sport but still involved the camaraderie of other riders. There wasn’t a ton of macho bro bullshit; it’s about you and your motorcycle, the places it will take you and the friends you cultivate by the campfire. I once had a riding buddy tell me that he wouldn’t bother with motorcycles or any of the ADV accouterments if he couldn’t share his experiences. This wasn’t because he was obsessed with imaginary Internet points, he legitimately just wanted to contribute, and that’s the same way I feel about it.
Bike Builds, Photography and BEYOND…
Around 2016 I had established a name for myself as a “690 guy” and somehow popped up on the radar of the new ownership at ktmtwins.com. The company had recently changed hands, and they wanted to spearhead a marketing push with a rally 690 bike build. I eagerly took on the project and proceeded like a kid in a candy store with no budget. When I was done, I put 5,000 miles on that bike before giving the keys back to the guys at Twins and they were some of the best I’ve ever logged.
After the success of the Ultimate 690 Twins asked me to do the same thing with KTM’s then brand new 1090 Adventure R and I obviously obliged. That was a big transition for me figuratively and literally; I was now working in a marketing capacity for this company while also riding a behemoth bike that I had minimal experience with. In the end, I kept the 1090 much longer than the 690 partially to get a feel for it and also to bide my time until the 790 was released. Eventually, I got comfortable ham fisting it in a similar manner to the 690s, but I never bonded with the Twins 1090 in the same way.
Most recently, a yet to be named KTM 790 Adventure R came into my life and changed everything. It’s still early days with only 2,000 miles on the clock and a lot more changes to come, but I can safely say it is my favorite bike yet. With this one Twins has again given me the keys to the kingdom and industry support has been unreal. We have some extraordinary things in the works for this bike so don’t touch that dial!
Sometime between starting my Instagram account and before the KTM Twins bike builds, I picked up a camera for the first time since I was in high school. (Not just any camera, the one Tim Burke got started with) From a young age, I had an interest in photography, but it wasn’t something I had embraced for a long time. Growing up with a working photographer as a parent, there were always cameras around and photo excursions to be had. Photography was an important creative outlet for me until I became a shitty preoccupied teenager. The underlying affection was always there; I just got distracted…
Eventually, I got tired of relying on other people to take photos for me, and iPhone shots weren’t cutting it, so I picked up a second-hand Nikon and haven’t looked back. It took some time for me to re-familiarize myself with the technical mechanics of photography, but the artistic side of it came flooding back immediately. Now, photography is easily my favorite aspect of motorcycling, most useful tool in my quiver, and my favorite type of assignment.
My career in the motorcycle industry has been similar to a Choose Your Own Adventure book: Don’t like what you’re doing? Flip forward to the next chapter.
You completely botched that assignment! Go back to page one.
I’ve learned by making mistakes, but by and large, I’ve been incredibly lucky. Over the years, unbelievable opportunities have been laid out in front of me; I’ve partnered with amazing companies and met some incredible people along the way. It’s truly been a wild ride, one that I have enjoyed immensely and don’t wish to get off of anytime soon. Besides regular writing assignments, photo projects, and marketing ventures, I also have an incredibly supportive wife and adorable daughter that my world revolves around. Moonlighting efforts include The Dirt Circus event in Moab and advweekend.com that is a source for epic rides in weekend sized pieces.
I am eternally grateful to all of the people who followed me from the beginning and taken time out of their lives to check out my work. Finally, where would I be without the WLF family? It’s a great honor to be featured in this space by the same people whom were early supporters of whatever I was doing, and are now pillars of our community.