John Watson, aka Prolly, has documented everything from epic alleycats and up-and-coming fixed gear free style riders, to the latest in urban cycling trends (and even a death metal album or two) since 2006, wrenching it all together on his blog: Prolly Is Not Probably. Starting out as the voice for New York City’s fixed freestyle culture, Prolly has pedaled into a successful career on the blogosphere over the past five years, traveling around the globe from San Francisco to Australia, providing us with a taste of what those greasy bike meccas have to offer. I met up with the "#fixiefamous" cycle god himself where he now resides in Austin, Tejas, to juice his brain on various subjects.
SLUG: Why did you start Prolly?
Prolly: I rode mountain and road bikes in college and sold them when I moved to New York ’cause no one has nice bikes there, and got a piece of shit single speed fixed conversion. Eventually, I started finding out about alleycat races and going to alleycats and parties and events and art shows. The Internet at that point was something that was growing, and I wanted to have a way to compile everything that I was doing and everything I was interested in. It grew from there. I think once the fixed freestyle scene started getting bigger and track bikes in general, I was the voice in New York City for that. If you’re doing something you love, people will notice, and if people want to support it, they’ll ask.
SLUG: Why "Prolly Is Not Probably"?
Prolly: I was friends with a group of guys in architecture school … they were kind of the surfer, punk/metal heads. They started saying this thing to the super quasi intellectual students who, every time a professor asked a question, would go off into these really pretentious answers, so my friends would just go "yeah, prolly" and it started to piss them off. Eventually it just turned into, "Oh I need a ride … Who’s going? John’s going. Which John? John Prolly." Now I look back and I’m like, fuck, I wish I had a better nickname and I wish I’d named the site something else, because it’s not very conducive to search engine optimization to have your blog not say "spinning cranks" or something like that, but I think it’s also its own identity.
SLUG: You post a lot of content, how do you pick what to include?
Prolly: It’s tough. It’s easier now that I just migrated to WordPress so I can look at in-post analytics. With that kind of break down I’m turning it more into a science about what I should post. Whenever I leave the house or whenever I’m done posting for the day, I think, "What’s someone going to think if they go to the site for the first time?" I always want the presentation to be nice and I don’t want to have some shit up there that I’m not proud of. It’s a curated collection of cultural influences and that’s what I want it to read like.
SLUG: How have you evolved as a cyclist in the past five years?
Prolly: As a kid I had a Mongoose BMX and a beach cruiser and we used to ride our bikes to the skatepark. New York was weird because I really hated the subway, I hated taking trains so it became something out of transportation. Then the whole fixed freestyle thing started happening and I was really into it ’cause I grew up skateboarding and surfing, and it was fun to apply this new bike handling to the streets and go and ride. At the time, I wasn’t really into [road bikes] ’cause New York’s not a good road cycling city. I was still going out on the road bike, but it wasn’t for fitness or adventure, it was just to get out of the city. Then I moved [to Austin] and brought my road bike and thought, fuck, this is awesome, but it was really hard to ride here on an old trick racing bike, the gearing wasn’t right and the climbing was something that I hadn’t really experienced before. I’m riding more and more, I’m getting more fit and adjusting to the hills. I still ride fixed freestyle, I still ride BMX, ride my road bike, I still take my track bike out on rides. I feel like when you live in a major city sometimes, you get fixated on one kind of bike and your whole life revolves around that. I try to mix it up partially because it gets kind of boring here if you don’t keep yourself preoccupied.
SLUG: How has that opened up your blog?
Prolly: The site has always been around, not the sport side of cycling, but more about going out with your fiends and doing rides. I’ll talk about how far we rode and how much elevation we did, but I don’t put it in a way that I’m challenging people or trying to talk it up, it’s more just sharing what you’re doing. I try to keep the site more towards riding with your friends and hanging out. You can have fun with any kind of bike doing any kind of thing. You don’t have to use a bike for its intended manner, you can take a cross bike down single track, you can ride a track bike on road rides, you can fuckin’ ride a freestyle bike in a skate park. That’s the kind of thing I’m trying to show people: There’s no rule book for any of this, you can do whatever the fuck you want. I have yet to see anyone do any major freestyle on a road bike… I wouldn’t recommend that.
SLUG: Salt Lake had a bike boom a few years ago, then things slowly died on the social end, especially in the fixie community. Do you see that happening across the globe?
Prolly: I think right now the track bike, fixed gear thing is so segmented … You’ve got the guys who only ride fixed freestyle bikes, some of them only ride street or only ride park. I think SF and LA are some of the only cities where guys go out and really push the track bike thing, New York kinda, too. The rest of the country realized these bikes are good, and they’re efficient in the city, but they’re not that efficient when you live out in the suburbs and you’re spinning your ass off going 10 miles. It’s a shame that the social side of it is dying. People that pick it up for the hipness of it are missing the main reason why you would socialize doing something like that. The people that still love it are still doing it. It’s just the guys that were going out in white belts and girl jeans are now like, "Oh, this kinda sucks actually, ’cause I’m not good at it," or something.
SLUG: What’s your five-year plan for Prolly?
Prolly: I have no idea … I used to be good about planning ahead, but my bank account goes up and down and I haven’t really planned anything. I’ll just keep doing it. If I do go back to full time work, the site will scale back and it’ll be only things that I really want to post, it won’t be 20 posts a day, it’ll be five. I think I need to keep it up, obviously, I really want to and I love doing it.
SLUG: Where do you see yourself as a cyclist in five years?
Prolly: I won’t be a road racer … I’ll keep doing the fun shit. I’ll still ride track bike, I’ll still ride fixed freestyle, I’ll still ride BMX … definitely still be on the road bike. If I did anything, I’d like to race cross, but not for the competitive side, more for the get-drunk-and-act-a-fool side. I’ll continue to become a better cyclist, whatever that means.
Prolly’s posts are a pretty good depiction of what it means to be a "better cyclist." Check ’em out on prollyisnotprobably.com, and for a glimpse of his "get-drunk-and-act-a-fool side," follow him on Twitter @JohnProlly.
Though Prolly boasts knowledge on the bike scenes from San Francisco to New York, he’s never been to SLC. We definitely have the guts and grease to make it on his map with all of the awesome urban cycling events planned this summer. Come out to Velo Weekend on June 29-30, where your favorite urban cycling events come together for two days of two-wheeled glory.