Mike Spriggs was born in Boston, thirty minutes outside the city on the South Shore. He attended Northeastern University, where he studied political science and government, worked as a messenger post college, and later settled in IT for nearly ten years. For most of his adult life he has called New York City home, living in the same neighborhood and apartment in the East Village. For the last four years Spriggs served as general manager at Rapha’s New York cycle club, and for a time held position as editor for Survey, a city riding blog by the same brand. For many he was a fixture of the store, and of the New York cycling scene. You wouldn’t see him out riding in kit on the weekends very often, but he was always around. From launch parties to bike shop events, Spriggs was omnipresent. In part because of his gregarious attitude, but largely because of his generosity and love for the people and sport of cycling. Since early fall of 2015 Spriggs has slowly, intentionally, trickled out new products hinting at a return of his personal brand.

An outlet to explore and create within the worlds of design and professional cycling, Gage & DeSoto started as an online shop selling vintage books, ephemera, and a few t-shirts. Springs moved the company to Red Hook in 2010 to a small but open storefront and office. It served as a haven for the informed, and a pilgrimage for the uninitiated. Though in October of 2012 Hurricane Sandy devastated much of the Northeast coast, and Red Hook saw extensive flood damage sustained during the storm. Much of Spriggs’ collection was damaged or lost to the tide, forcing Gage & DeSoto to close it’s doors and return to it’s original online storefront.

On an unusually warm and sunny mid March morning, I sat with Spriggs on a bench out front of one of his favorite coffee shops at the corner of 4th street and Lafayette, and talked as
the city slowly came to life.

What drew you to cycling?  Were you a fan growing up?

I was a cyclist!  It’s what I did.  I didn’t race, but I rode my bike everywhere.  From being a little kid, through college, through coming to New York I was always on a bike.  I think it was an extension of that.  Being something that I did naturally made sense to follow it.

Many people know you from your recent tenure at Rapha.  Did that experience lend to you as a designer, and your process?

Being in that environment was great.  The brand really gets the history and romance of the sport.  And they really do their best to try and put their design aesthetic into everything.  That design aesthetic is fully informed by their love of the sport, which is genuine. So the be in that environment all the time was great.  Because then you attract those types of people that come to that spot, and they want to talk about it, and learn about it.  We would get people who never watched a cycling race before and you could tell them about the culture, and people really saw that there.  In turn that informed me, and allowed me to put ideas out there.

When the Cycle Club opened, did you have a say in it’s aesthetic?

Those guys gave me a lot of free reign to decorate the store in a way that was informed by North America, and the United States. It’s a British company so they are obviously going to lean on the UK and the European Heritage.  When it comes to the US we had things like the Coors Classic, and the Red Zinger.  Races in North America that Europe wasn’t easily exposed to.  There is a lot of history here, but it’s buried a little. So I was able to put a little bit of my mark on that (with posters, framed photos, exhibitions) in terms of how the club looked.

Did you collect a lot when you were younger?

No, but I think when you’re an early teenager, whatever is going on at that time has a huge impact on your life in terms of what you like and how you look at the world.  That era definitely informs some of the stuff that goes on now, even if I’m not doing it other people are into it, because that stuff keeps coming back.  Whether it’s car style, fashion, music.  We’re talking about 1980, 1979.  The Hay-day for all that kind of stuff.

Is that also the sweet spot in professional cycling?

I’d say the early 70’s is probably the golden era, mainly because of the rise of the all-powerful Eddy Merckx.  You still had doping in various guises (amphetamines and other nasty drugs, along with alcohol and painkillers), but it hadn’t been brought into the laboratory yet.  The 70’s is also when you get all those cool steel bikes and kits that still looked classy and hadn’t gone all day-glo yet.  Show someone a picture of Merckx mid-race and they either get road cycling or they don’t.

Has cycling’s self-seriousness affected the rise in the United States?

It’s a crazy sport. It has all these international components.  So it remains this sort of subculture.  It remains this sport that nobody can really figure out.  When Lance took over for those eight or nine years there, Americans were sort of involved.  But even then they only understood the Tour de France.  They didn’t understand all the nuances of the sport.  It’s a hard sport to follow, because it’s not straightforward, and that leaves a lot of room for interpretation.  You can follow just the Tour de France, just the Italian races, or the classics.  You can follow some tiny Polish team that nobody knows about and learn about all their riders.

There is a huge history to cycling.  I think that people, in the US especially, have trouble relating to it because we typically don’t grow up with it.  So if you grow up in Italy, cycling is just another sport that people go and watch, like basketball is here.  In some sense it’s ingrained in the culture of Europeans, in their daily culture.  You can pick up the newspaper and if there is a bike race that day you’re going to find out who won.  Here in the US, you still have to dig to find out who one a specific race in Europe. Even when it was Lance Armstrong. He became more of a pop-culture guy, because of the way he carried himself, but over there it’s just another part. Here in the states, we don’t have to invent it we have to interpret it.

How did the Speed Metal Podcast come about?

I knew the guys who ran it, and they asked me to join the show.  The podcast is an extension of me being able to learn a lot from the guys who run it because they know way more than I do.  But to also bring my perspective to it as someone who’s growing up with the sport in a different way.  There is way more available to us.  You have to put all of that into some sort of context.  You can’t watch, and I can’t watch every race, you can’t follow every single storyline, and every single team because you would lose your mind. So we pick, and we decide what we like, what to talk about, and what the critique. 

And I think the other thing that you get into, going back to the designing: bikes are very design-y. If you’re into bikes, and like bike, where do you even begin. There are so many brands that have so much history, that if you’re a design nerd, forget it, it’s a rabbit hole. But until very recently all this information was incredibly hard to find. You had to know somebody who knew somebody, and then you could get together and talk about it. You couldn’t just go on a forum on the internet and have someone explain it to you. There’s a mystique, and a sort of something that encourages people like that to go deeper. The podcast is like that.

What sparked the move to design your own products?

I am not a graphic designer but I’ve always had a hand in photography, art, and design. I created Gage & DeSoto to have an outlet to work on design that I could control, that wasn’t someone else’s design and idea.  It starts the way a lot of things start where you think, I want to make a T-Shirt or, We should make a T-Shirt.  I taught myself how to silkscreen, and started making t-shirts.  You control everything; the design, the production, the distribution.  I looked at it as a fun experiment.  It wasn’t anything where I thought, I’m going to take over the world, it was more like, I want to know how to dip my toe into all these things that I am into.  The main one being design.  No two guys have ever sat around and not said, Let’s make a t-shirt. Everyone does that.

I’ve done that!

Right, exactly.  It’s a desire to create, to be in control of yourself and your ideas.

Do you start a project by hand, or on a computer?

I always start with paper because I am usually writing words first.  For me, words help generate concepts and even though I can’t draw, I can represent what I’m trying to do well enough with pencil and paper.  Plus, a lot of what I do is with typography, and laying it out is the easy part. Figuring out how it’s going to look, and what it’s going to say is the hard part.  Sometimes I never figure out what I’m trying to solve, so I abandon the concept.  At other times something will just come to me from the remnants of old ideas.

What effect does living in New York have on your work?

You’re exposed to so much all the time.  You just see everything.  Everything comes through here.  It’s like the crossroads for fashion, style, design, music.  It’s a cab away, or a few blocks away if you want to go look at something or see someone.  I spend a lot of time looking at art, photographs, galleries, and museums. You have to take advantage of that stuff while you’re here.  If you live in the middle of nowhere you can get it online, but being in New York you get it in person.

Who are some of your big influences now, and of all time?

That’s a good question.  I look at a lot of photography.  I typically like to look at portraiture.  I think those make the best photographs.  What was the last thing I saw…There is a Chinese photographer, Ren Hang, who is really good.  He does a lot of nudes and portraits with multiple people in strange positions.  I listen to a lot of hip-hop and electronic music.  I see what’s popular, and then sort of navigate through what you hear coming out of cars, or what you hear coming out of an apartment window.  Whether it’s the latest Kanye album, or Future.  I’ve been listening to a lot of that (Future) lately.

A lot of your past designs, the canal street bottle for instance, are references directly or indirectly to specific things in music and pop-culture.

You take what you see that’s bubbling around.  The Canal Street bottle came not from me walking down Canal Street seeing all the rip off Louis Vuitton bags.  I read an article about Dapper Dan in Harlem, who used to screen his own leather and make giant Louis Vuitton rip off trench coats.  Things that he wanted, that he and his friends wanted to wear. He made things that these fashion brands were not making, but branded them as these big fashion brands.  And I thought, This is genius, this is the impetus for so much.  You just put someone else's brand on a product that they would never make.  Then it hit me that you can do that with anything, like a water bottle.  It wasn’t so much that I thought the logo was so special, but more the concept of making a ridiculous product.  Louis Vuitton is never going to make a Specialized Purist water bottle.  But everyone I knew wanted one.

How many cease and desist letter have you received?

I only got the one from Sriracha.  The other ones, the Louis Vuitton bottles sold out so quickly that I don’t think anyone ever saw it.  But I was actually really nervous about it.  Because they are probably more hardcore than Sriracha would be about enforcing it.  We tried to license the logo from them, but they wrote back and said, Nope we already did that.  And then a Sriracha Urban Outfitters bottle came out about six months later.  There was a lot of interest in that Sriracha bottle to the point where the Food Network wanted to include it in a gift guide. This was in July, but they were preparing for Christmas.  And I said, Listen I don’t think you understand me here, this is a bootleg product. I don’t think anyone even saw my logo on the bottle, they just wanted it for the design.  And it crossed over to people who were not cyclist, who used it to go to the gym or to go hiking.

Has any of this lead to new collaborations?

Not yet. We’ll see.  I have some ideas.  I’ve gotten into pins.  I want to start doing a line of pins.  We haven’t done a T-shirt in a while.  They are expensive, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility.  Really whatever seems like fun.  I want to branch out into doing things that other people aren’t doing.  Kits and bottles, they’re great, but it feels like there are so many out there now that you’re just competing with a thousand tiny brands.  I’d like to do something that gets someone to go, Oh hey I’ve never seen that before, that’s cool.