As a follow-up to the Bikeminimalism Awards, we touched base with some of the winners. First in line is a man who doesn’t need any introduction. We had a virtual beer and a little chat with John. Here’s the full story:
Photo: Ed Glazar
”Prolly Is Not Probably” collected more votes in our awards than the next five runners-up put together. Congratulations dude! Thanks.
Let’s talk about the beginnings of Prolly Is Not Probably in NYC. What got you first into riding fixed gear?
I rode MTB and road bikes in college, but when I moved to NYC, I didn’t think people rode nice bikes, so I sold mine and bought a fixed conversion. This was around 2004. I went to a few alleycats and eventually bought a track bike. It all progressed from there.
Many younger readers don’t have any touchpoints to the fixed gear scene back then. What was it like?
It really wasn’t a “scene” per se in NYC. You had bike messengers who worked on track bikes and only a handful of people who rode them to commute on. I started hanging out with people I met riding or racing alleycats and from the NYC fixed boards but even back then, people just rode, raced and talked bikes online. Back then, if you could bunnyhop onto a curb, it was a big deal.
Why did you start the blog?
I originally started it to collect and archive things I saw and was doing in New York. Every other day, I was going to an art opening, or checking out a band and it was a good way for me to record my life in NYC. As bikes took over more of my life, the site just kinda shifted to a cycling site.
How did Prolly Is Not Probably grow from there?
I had a Canon G10 that I used to shoot shows, events, parties and this new “fixed freestyle” thing. After I started hanging with Tom and Tony from Philly, I was really into documenting this emerging movement. We caught a lot of shit for it, especially from the West Coast. I think everyone felt threatened for some reason.
Photo: Milwaukee Bicycle Co/Doug D.
Obviously, fixed gear and the whole urban cycling phenomenon has evolved a great deal since then. There’s FGFS, global alleycats, international criterium races and multi discipline events, with a whole industry serving a worldwide community. Even Hollywood’s picked up on the phenomenon… where do you think it will go from here?
I’ve always said that track bikes and fixed gears are the gateway drug into cycling. You’re already seeing people making a move from riding their track bikes to road and track racing. Some people got into cross, too. But as far as the future of fixed is concerned, I think it’ll still be around, just more core. The alleycats, criteriums and mini-drome races are making things more competitive but they’re also bringing people together from all over the world. Sure, faces, names and blogs come and go, but the people who truly love to ride will still be there.
The fixed gear thing is booming in Southeast Asia. Jakarta has a huge scene, along with Taiwan, Malaysia, China…it’s against all odds that of all places the cities with most congested traffic conditions are the ones where street riding is bustling. Having ridden there, why do you think it’s so big over there?
I think people really enjoy the feeling of being part of a community. In Jakarta, there were dozens of “teams” that showed up to events, raced and rode together. From what I could tell, they were kids in the mid to late teens who had fathers that also raced on road teams. It’s pretty rad. Track bikes are easy to work on, pretty inexpensive to get rolling and teach you a lot about bike control. The kids there like the rush and were inspired by MASH, Macaframa and other videos, just like a lot of us were.
The riding in Jakarta is unlike anywhere I’ve ever been before. If NYC is chaos, this was auto-Armageddon. No traffic rules, thousands of scooters but it was tons of fun. Luckily no one got seriously hurt riding like jackasses.
What about the bikes there? What do you think about the bikes over there?
So, I was kinda blown away at how expensive all the bikes were but one of our hosts told us that most parents have saved up money to buy their children a scooter or a car and when they told them they wanted a bike instead, that money went to a track bike. That’s how a lot of kids end up with a Level with a HED3 and a full Suntour group. Crazy!
While the fixed gear thing has grown, many of the original riders, yourself included, have put more emphasis on road cycling, cyclocross, gravel grinding – the raidô. Is the urban fixed gear thing past its best before mark, or do you think people are following a natural calling for more versatile riding?
Like I said, I think track bikes and fixed gears are the gateway drug into cycling. Sure, some people made the transition from fixed to road in two years and never looked back, and some got into road, MTB, cross, BMX, whatever and still ride their track bikes. I think people are just stoked to ride bikes, period and as a site, I’ll always encourage that.
Is that why you left NYC for Austin?
Nah, I left NYC because the architecture community crashed and burned from the economic fall and I couldn’t find a job that paid the same. Winter was approaching and I wanted to fly south to escape the snow and ice. I had some friends that lived in Austin and I liked it here, so I moved down for the winter, then went back in the spring to New York and moved the rest of my stuff here. It’s easier for me to run the site now, since my overhead is extremely low, versus spending all of my income on rent alone. Austin’s a rad place for what ever kind of bike you ride and I enjoy riding all of mine here but I wouldn’t be able to do what I’m doing now if I was still in NYC.
Do you still ride fixed?
Of course. People think because I don’t post a dozen track bike or fixed freestyle videos a day that I don’t ride. I have two track bikes that I ride all the time and a FGFS bike that I’m still waiting on a hub conversion for. I don’t really ride FGFS seriously anymore but still enjoy jibbing around. It’s tough, because I’m a lot older now (32) and I get hurt a lot easier. If I get hurt riding BMX or FGFS, then I can’t ride my other bikes and I’ll just sit indoors and get fat…
Any other favorite places around the world for a good raidô?
Australia is amazing. Melbourne is one of the best cities to ride in. Period. In the States, Los Angeles. When Kyle from Golden Saddle took me up the 2 last year, it was as intense as it was beautiful. Both of those places have influenced my riding as much as they have my life.
You went to Red Hook Crit last year. Based on you Twitter feed, some good time was had.
Man, that was fun. For the week leading up to the race, there was a lot of shit-talking from Garrett Chow on Instagram, saying Ranier was going to kill everyone. Then Dan Chabanov handed over a total ass-kicking. It wasn’t like he barely won, he made everyone look like amateurs. It was all in good fun, but seriously, Dan showed up after a month of training in Arizona. No one had a chance.
You spoke some nice words about Dan Chabanov in your live tweets from Red Hook. And some not very nice words about others. Why, in your opinion, was Dan so sovreign at Red Hook?
Like I said, I was just rubbing it in. It was all in good fun and I don’t think anyone was offended. At least I hope not. We all partied afterwards, got drunk together and had a great time. Dan’s story is much like a lot of people’s, only he went Pro in cross and is doing pretty well as a Cat1 road racer. Dan’s been pretty humble publicly about his racing, even if he was a little punk rock shit-talker when he was winning alleycats. I guess he’s still punk as fuck, but he’s a lot more humble now. I love watching Dan pop up all over in road cycling news, it reminds me of NYC and how a lot of my friends are doing quite well for themselves.
Let’s talk framebuilding. There seems to be a huge renaissance of custom frames built by hand in the all over the place. Why do you think it’s happening right now?
It’s always been happening, I just think the younger generation is better at marketing themselves. With Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and even Vine, builders can reach out to more people, easier.
Film by Flwrider TV
You’ve talked a lot about NAHBS over the years. What makes it so inspirational to you?
NAHBS is my biggest time of the year, as far as traffic and networking is concerned. While I don’t really enjoy the stress, I’ve come to terms with having to “work” and “play”. For me, it’s a culmination of every builder’s efforts that year and over the years, you can totally pick out building trends, most of which are generated by enthusiasm from the builder’s clients. For instance, pack bikes and fat bikes have made a steady climb up the ladder. But you’ll still see track bikes, road bikes and touring bikes a plenty.
Any inspirational framebuilders or you’d care to namedrop?
I think anyone that reads the site knows I love what Chris Bishop and Ian from Icarus are doing. Firefly too, but Ben from Argonaut is killing it with his carbon frames that are produced here in the States. JP Weigle and Richard Sachs were and still are total rock stars. Other builders I’ve been digging are Stinner and Rosko. Both are making no-nonsense steel bikes that are meant to be thrashed, not babied.
It seems that the whole American-made entrepreneurial craftsmanship thing extends way beyond framebuilding. Chris King, Paul Component Engineering and Phil Wood have all grown into respected international brands. The likes of Chrome, Mission Workshop, Outlier & Cadence are all enjoying worldwide exposure. Very local bricks and mortar places like Golden Saddle Cyclery or Velocult and tiny one-man-shows like Stanridge and 44RN have become household names worldwide. What makes the US cycling industry tick in such a big way?
I’m not entirely sure but blogs have a lot to do with it. Some of my biggest posts feature the names you just mentioned. As much as it may annoy people, we live in a consumer society and people like to spend their money on high-end components and clothing. Good quality sells itself and there will always be people making knock-off parts or pieces that cost a fraction, at the expense of quality. I’m very proud to be a part of this “community” and having a voice in it is very stressful at times.
Back to the subject of your site. You’re constantly under a heavy load of requests to share content. How do you choose what to post and what not?
Honestly, I look at the subject in the email and the first two sentences to decide whether to read it or not. It sounds bad but I get about 200 a day. Most of which I can just delete immediately, but at the end of the week, I have a full inbox that is nearly impossible to go through. People get upset, some email back angry, but I have to explain to them that if I answered every email, I’d never get anything done. I suppose a need an assistant or an intern but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.
As soon as you post something, the content is all over different sites within hours… subsequently, a lion’s share of content out there is reposts from PiNP. How do you feel about this?
I don’t mind, I used to get pissed because other sites would repost without a link back and I still chuckle when I see Vimeo codes that were copied from my site and still have the purple text / link, especially when it’s from some huge fashion blog or whatever. What I wish people would do was link to the original content and not just cherry pick from the other stuff but that’s the whole point, right? Information is out there to share and if you’re not the author, you can’t get mad about not being linked to, I guess.
Who, in your opinion, bring the best content to the web and why?
I think Fyxomatosis and Tracko still kill it. Andy’s been doing it longer than just about anyone, “since forever” and his love for vintage bikes and photography shows through with his content.
Tracko’s a rare bird. Last year, around this time, he was just posting randos and touring bikes, now he’s trying to only post track bikes and single-speed cross. I think he finds the site easier to maintain when he sticks to one thing only. He’s also the owner of Golden Saddle Cyclery, so he’s pretty busy.
Many readers only know you from Prolly is Not Probably. What other projects occupy your time?
My health, my friends and my girlfriend take up all my spare time. :-)
You travel a lot. Along with a constant stream of new content to your site, combined with other projects, it must be a full-time job?
You have no idea. Never not working. If my girlfriend is out of town, I’ll sit at my desk from 7am until 11pm each day, only breaking to ride and eat. I force myself to ride every day, because I think the content is better when I’ve had time to get out by myself. It helps me clear my head and focus.
Photo: Matt Lingo
You’re also a passionate photographer with a portfolio of some epic shots. What constitutes to good cycling photography and who else is doing it well?
That’s a tough one because it’s totally up to the opinion of the audience as to what is “good”. Brian Vernor is exceptional at what he does, which is making cycling look like an art form. Emily Maye’s work for Rapha SKY has been some of the best I’ve seen this year, as far as product photography is concerned. Mostly because it wasn’t actual product photography. I think the guys at Full Frame Collective have a good thing going and Matt Lingo’s action stuff is really progressing.
What about films? Anything good out there since the MASH & Macaframa days? Any recent short flicks you’d care to mention?
Man, I gotta shout out Ace at the Sleepers. His recent web edits have been killing it. Also, I love seeing videos from Duraath.
What’s next in the pipeline for John Watson? Anything you’re particularly looking forward to in the near future?
I’m heading to Taiwan, China and Australia at the end of the month. Then making it over to Europe hopefully. I really hope to get back to Indonesia as well.
Everyone who has ever supported what I’ve done. There’s a huge list, but you know who you are!
Thanks John for touching base with us!