From an Attack Helicopter Pilot to a Mountain Bike YouTuber

Jared Hoffman joined the Army during the recession and became an Apache helicopter pilot. Now he's' creating everyday MTB content for YouTube.
Photos courtesy of Jared Hoffman

You tell me if your Sunday morning looks somewhat similar to mine. I’m up early(ish) and heading downstairs to perform the ever-so-important ritual of coffee making. Once my coffee is finished, I sit on the couch, sip the strong beverage and catch up on the YouTube videos I’ve missed that week.

As you can imagine, the videos I watch are usually mountain bike related.

One YouTube channel kept popping up over and over again—@JaredHoff. This YouTube channel, run by its creator Jared Hoffman, became one of my regular Sunday morning shows. I found Hoffman’s content to be applicable to an intermediate-advanced rider like me.

The more videos I watched, the more I realized Hoffman may not live too far away from me. Indeed, he didn’t. After what could potentially be characterized as internet stalking, I found he was just over two hours south, and very near a trail system I’d been wanting to ride. 

With making a connection in the industry and riding new trails as my excuse, I reached out to Hoffman to see if he had some free time to hit the trails. A window in our calendars opened and I headed south. I found a much bigger story than just mountain biking and YouTube.

An Army National Guard AH-64 Apache Helicopter during a training exercise. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Brian Hamilton

From skateboards to Apache Helicopters

Hoffman and I met at Spence Mountain Trailhead where I tried to keep up for a few hours. Summer heat, and dust, have fully made their presence known in Oregon, so after a few laps we grabbed lunch. We chatted and shared stories over a couple of beers. I have to admit, Hoffman’s stories are much better than mine.

Hoffman grew up in the Bay Area as a skater kid. He went to school for graphic design, hoping to land a job in the skateboard industry. Hoffman’s future looked promising until the economic crash of 2008 made graphic design jobs scarce.

With that door seeming to close, and now with a family to support, Hoffman enlisted in the Army in 2009. His initial contract was a 3-year commitment as an aircraft refueler. Hoffman figured he would serve the three years and return to a changed economy where he could pursue his dream of graphic design in the skateboard industry.

Military life suited Hoffman well and he found that it was an area he thrived in. The aviation unit Hoffman was assigned flew Apache helicopters. Once Hoffman saw one, he immediately reconsidered what he thought would be a short stint in the military. But it seemed like the road from refueler to pilot could potentially be out of reach.

“I went to refuel my first Apache and went back to talk to my sergeant, and told him that I was going to fly Apache helicopters one day,” Hoffman explained. “The guy started laughing at me.” Apparently, enlisted refuelers don’t often become pilots, but the mockery was what Hoffman needed to prove people wrong. 

Fortunately, Hoffman already possessed a Bachelor’s degree, thanks to his graphic design pursuit. With this, Hoffman could begin the process of transitioning from an enlisted man to an officer. Hoffman got his paperwork in order and entered officer candidate school. 

Hoffman continued hurdling all the barriers that made becoming an Apache pilot difficult. Enlisted men don’t fly helicopters, West Point grads do. But Hoffman, now Lieutenant Hoffman at the time, came out of officer candidate school on track for aviation. Hoffman graduated at the top of his class, allowing him to pick what he wanted to fly, so to speak. Hoffman’s choice? The Apache.

“If you’re not familiar with the Apache helicopter, it’s got missiles, rockets, a big giant gun. When the pilot puts his helmet on, the gun moves with his head. When he moves his head, the gun moves up, down, left, right. It’s a tank killer.”

Two more deployments awaited Hoffman but he now flew Apaches instead of refueling them. He made it to the rank of captain in the Army as an aviation officer and Apache helicopter pilot.

From Apaches to mountain bikes

Apaches are attack helicopters. They are found at the front lines of battle, supporting troops in the most dangerous of areas. Flying for nearly a decade, Hoffman saw his fair share of battle. Like many, returning from the Middle East brought baggage, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

After three tours in Afghanistan, Hoffman felt it was time to transition out of the Army and focus on his family. He landed in the Air National Guard at a base in Southern Oregon. Hoffman was able to be home but he had to leave flying Apaches behind. 

“Now I’m not flying Apache Helicopters anymore,” he said. “That original drive, resiliency, calm under pressure, and adrenaline fix I had from skateboarding and then got from Apaches, now I had nothing to fill that void. That’s when the PTSD set in a little bit.”

With a new career in the Air National Guard, Hoffman set out to fill that void that Apaches left. Mountain bikes seemed to do the trick. A similar clarity, a release of fear, and a complete focus on the trail translated to flying in Hoffman’s head. 

In being introduced to mountain biking, Hoffman was also introduced to a community. Not only did he find this community at his local bike shop, he also found it on YouTube.

A transition to content creation

Like many of us getting into mountain biking, Hoffman was consuming the typical YouTube channels that grace the mountain biking genre. With his background in graphic design, Hoffman saw the potential to begin making content as well. 

Initially, Hoffman hoped to be in the bike industry, creating content and doing reviews. Views weren’t too hard to come by. Reviewing things like the latest action camera got a lot of clicks. Despite doing such, Hoffman didn’t find this to be a good fit. He continued to see the gap between creator and consumer getting wider.

The problem Hoffman noticed was that the advice, reviews, and general information was often coming from the very best, elite riders. If not currently pros, many riders in the videos are former pros and, frankly, just on a different level than most.

“We need to know what the pros are thinking because they are the ones pushing the limits. If they can do a 20-foot drop and not break their cranks and pedals, surely those will hold up on my 5-foot drops,” Hoffman joked.

We often depend on the opinions of these riders to help us decide on our next upgrades.

“But what does the average guy like me think about Maxxis tires? Do I really need to spend $110 each on a set of tires? Is the average rider going to notice the difference?”.

Hoffman had found his niche and began to create videos geared in that direction.

“I wanted to make videos for guys like me,” he said. “He has a wife, has kids, has a job, he’s working his butt off for that paycheck. Now he finally has his weekend to go ride his mountain bike and just really wants to know if he’ll actually notice the difference between carbon and alloy wheels, carbon and alloy bars.” 

That is precisely what Hoffman is doing. And the numbers are showing. Hoffman has been a weekend content creator of sorts for only two years but has gained 6,000 subscribers and over 2 million views. 

Hoffman has also connected with Brian Kennedy, better known on YouTube as BKXC, and the guys at Worldwide Cyclery. He is supported by Trail One Components and KETL Mountain Apparel through Worldwide Cyclery. This support has allowed Hoffman to receive discounted or demo products to review.

Hoffman is continuing to serve his country as a squadron commander and a major in the Air National Guard. Though he doesn’t fly in Afghanistan any longer, you can find Hoffman flying down Speedking or Nighthawk at Spence Mountain, his Apache having been traded for a Trek Fuel EX.