Irreverent and going against the grain, possessing healthy amounts of self-deprecating humor, and taking the phrase going off the beaten path“ literally, Jussi Hyttinen, known to most as The Rolling Hobo, is someone I’ve been wanting to interview for years. Famous for his minimalist approach to bike builds, gear, and travel, Jussi is a man on a mission to go ever further and lighter.
He has covered obscure Mongolian and Siberian routes on his KTM690, gone on two-wheeled Arctic expeditions and, having swapped the 690 for a lighter, nimbler KTM 500 EXC, Jussi is now planning new expeditions to West Africa, Central Asia, and the Russian Arctic. Preferring to make his own tracks and ride where nobody else does, Jussi confesses he’s gradually moving away from ADV and towards enduro and hard enduro, and there may even be a rally race or two on the horizon – but for now, having holed up in Romania for the summer, The Rolling Hobo is exploring Easter Europe and the Balkans on the least motorable trails he can find.
Where did it all begin, and what’s behind Jussi’s “dark and sinister”, as he says, photography, and minimalist outlook on motorcycle adventures?
Northern Roots and Snow Riding
Jussi is originally from Finland, but he tells me he’s been rootless to one degree or another for a while now. “I’m a mix of Finnish, Russian and Swedish ancestry, and thoroughly Northern. People often ask why my photography is so dark – it’s because I’m from the North! There’s a reason some of the best metal bands come from the North”, Jussi smiles. Having lived in Norway, Spain, Germany, Estonia and now, the Netherlands, Jussi was always into travel and adventure.
“I’ve been a mountain biker longer than I’ve been a motorcycle rider. I bought my first motorcycle- a naked bike – in my thirties when Ilived in Spain, but when I moved back to Finland, it was the fall and the riding season was closing. I wanted to ride anyway, so I got a small dirt bike with studded tires and rode it in the snow…it was miserable, but I stuck it out, and in spring, I finally hit the third gear on the bike. The snow melted, and I realized this dirt riding stuff was actually fun“, Jussi explains.
From then, he never wanted to ride tarmac again. In 2013, Jussi bought a KTM690, modified it, and left for Mongolia and Siberia in 2014 – and just like that, The Rolling Hobo was born.
I’m very obsessive with everything I do, so I trained hard, although nothing can prepare you for Siberia. It was a crazy dream back then. But that’s the thing – you should always dream big, because dreams are never realized as you imagined them. So if your plan is truly megalomaniac, even if you only partially achieve it, it’s still a big win. I’ve never had a problem with big stupid dreams”.
With a background in engineering, creative, and photography, Jussi confesses he hasn’ had a “proper” job since the nineties. “Currently, I’m the CEO of a management consulting company focused on financial services; I’ve always been an entrepreneur, because it just gives you so much more freedom. I also have a side job setting up a business focusing on ultralight motorcycle parts for ADV and racing. Frankly, everybody on our team is much smarter than me, my job is just to steer the direction, but I have the freedom to come and go as I please, and that’s huge for me”.
Adventurizing the KTM 500 EXC
According to Jussi, the bike mods came naturally as he progressed as a rider. “No bike is really ready for adventure straight off the showroom floor, so you’ll always need to modify your motorcycle to one degree or another. It’s a very individual process; my mods are just bolt-on parts mostly, I don’t get into the nitty-gritty of complex engine mods or the like. To do this, you have to be a little mechanically minded, but in the end, it’s about having a vision of where you want to go. With ADV and motorcycles in general, the whole joy is to tweak and make it your own. It’s personal. For me, weight and power ratio is the most important part – more and more, I find myself wanting to ride technical, gnarly terrain, lots of single track, lots of unknown factors, so I need a bike that’s capable of it all”.
Jussi explains that his obsession with minimalism comes from his previous experience as a cave diver and climber. “The weight of the bike aside, I try to be minimalist in my gear, luggage, and you could say, even the way I travel. I don’t take anything that’s not absolutely necessary. As a cave diving guide, I remember how the margin of error in that sport had to be very small – for example, all divers had to have the exact same gear in exact same places so that if you need to help them in the dark, you know exactly where the equipment is on their body. With alpine climbing, you have to be as fast and light as possible. So a lot of my minimalist approach with bikes comes from that”, Jussi explains.
For the Rolling Hobo, motorcycle adventures are all about finding that magic trail no one has ridden before. “With ADV, there’s no precision in terms of gear or riding tactics like with cave diving or climbing. It’s chaos; you have so many different styles and ways to ADV, and some people just see it as an extended camping thing. For me, it’s finding that perfect trail, that magical line somewhere in the wilderness, some track that maybe hasn’t been ridden before, and just experience that. It’s being away from any civilization, on technical, steep terrain, wet, sticky, muddy, unpredictable – and that’s where the weight of your bike and gear matters. So I keep trimming things down and looking for ways to save weight; I don’t have to have comfort, I’m happy with survival. In the West, it’s all about convenience. I like to get away from than. I like being wild and dirty.
Finding those trails isn’t as complicated as people may think: whenever I have an interest in a certain area, I do a little research, but then, it’s just looking at Google Earth and trying to figure out if you can get through these areas. Is it steep, is there an exit? This line that doesn’t look rideable – but can I ride it anyway? My navigation is about exploring rather than pre-planned routes; I just go and see if I can make it across a mountain pass. Sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t, but the point is to go and see rather than download a GPX file and follow that.The chaos and the not knowing what’s going to happen: that’s what drives me. Battling through, finding a way – there is a certain exhilarating anticipation of what’s going to happen when you ride this way”.
Rolling Hobo: the Blog
Most of the inmates here will have heard of the Rolling Hobo‘s blog – a place where he meticulously documents his bike builds, gear reviews, and expedition dispatches. According to him, the blog started as a way to track and document progress, then became a way to give back to the ADV community.
I haven’t monetized my blog, and I recently terminated most of my sponsorships (except Adventure Spec – we have a really good connection) because I don’t think it’s worth the hassle. My blog is a narrative, a creative outlet for me, and a way to pass on the experience and information I’ve accumulated over the years. For me, forums like ADV Rider have been an irreplaceable source of inspiration and information, so my blog is my way of contributing to the online ADV and endure community. It’s not some narcissistic, look-at-me type of thing, I just want to document my builds and expeditions in a real, unedited way showing all – the spills, the mistakes, the grime – there’s no censoring and no bullshit, and I hope that perhaps it helps people out there who are looking at similar bikes, builds, gear, or expedition ideas. That’s all there is to it.
Whatever way, shape, or form you ADV, I think the main thing is… don’t play it safe. Don‘t ride other people’s tracks, come up with your own chaotic plans and crazy projects, execute them, and then tell us all about it“.
Images: the Rolling Hobo