As a kid in the suburbs of Boston, Mike Spriggs cultivated a lifelong affair with cycling. At an early age he became addicted to the freedom and solitary nature of exploring the South Shore on a bicycle, and after attending college, where he studied political science and government, Spriggs worked as a bike messenger for a few years before settling into a job in IT for nearly a decade. In 1995 Spriggs moved to New York, and has lived in the East Village since. As the former general manager of Rapha’s New York cycle club, and editor of the brand’s city cycling blog Survey, many recognize Spriggs as being at the heart of the New York City bike scene.
In 2009, Spriggs created an outlet to explore and create within the worlds of design and professional cycling. Gage & DeSoto, an online only storefront and blog took aim at the sport through eclectic and uniquely designed products. As the business flourished, an office and storefront opened in Red Hook, New York, which for a short time served as a haven for the informed, and a pilgrimage for the uninitiated. After Hurricane Sandy in 2012, Red Hook saw extensive flood damage, leaving much of Spriggs’ collection damaged or lost to the tide. With the grand opening of the Rapha cycle club, and the impact of the flood, Gage & DeSoto closed it’s doors and returned to an online presence until 2015, when Spriggs began a measured release of new products, hinting at the return of his personal brand.
I sat down with Mike one morning outside La Colombe Torrefaction and talked cycling, art, and life in New York City as the quiet East Village streets he’s inhabited for twenty one years slowly filled with the pulse of 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 when I was a little kid, during and after college, and through coming to New York I was always on a bike. I think it was an extension of that. Being something that I did, it 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?
Definitely. 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 aesthetic is fully informed by their love of the sport, which is genuine. So to be in that environment all the time was great because you attract those types of people that come to the club, and they want to talk about it, and learn about it. We would get people who never watched a cycling race before and you’d tell them about the culture, the nuances, 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 that aesthetic?
Rapha 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 came 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, 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 1980, 1979. The hey-day for all that kind of stuff.
Is that also a sweet spot in professional cycling?
I’d say the early 70’s are 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 are 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, 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 watch, like basketball is here. In some sense it’s ingrained in the culture of Europeans, in their daily interactions. 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 won 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 in Europe 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 to critique.
And I think the other thing that you get into, going back to the designing is, if you’re into bikes, and like bikes, 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 encourages that.
What sparked the move to design your own products?
I am not a graphic designer but I’ve always had a hand in it. I created Gage & DeSoto as an outlet to work on designs 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 the crossroads for fashion, style, design, and 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 like 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 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. It crossed over to people who were not cyclist, who used it to go to the gym or to go hiking.
Do you plan to collaborate with other artists?
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.
You can find Mike’s work at www.gagedesoto.com, on his Instagram & Twitter @MISTERSPRIGGS, and on Tumblr @ gagedephoto.com