Sky Yaeger of Swobo Bikes: Industry will notice Manifest bikes

Sky Yaeger on a Swobo Otis.
(Photo: Richard Masoner/Cyclelicious)

We’re getting excited for the kickoff of the Oregon Manifest on Friday. One of the marquee events in the six-week bike culture blowout is the Constructor’s Design Challenge. We’ve already written a lot about it, but today we take a look at it from a different angle. I asked one of the judges — bike industry luminary Sky Yaeger — to share her thoughts about the event.

Yaeger is a well-respected bike industry veteran, known for her marketing/product/design skills at Bianchi where she brought the archetypal Pista and Milano models to life. These days, she is the manager of Swobo’s urban bike line.

Last week, between high-powered meetings at Interbike, she was nice enough to take some time and answer questions (via email) about the upcoming Design Challenge…

“… they [the bike industry] will be looking at these bikes and we’ll see everything from blatant rip-offs to barely disguised rip-offs of them in their respective lines next year.”
— Sky Yaeger

First, tell us why you’re such a big deal in the bike industry?

Woody Allen said, “Eighty percent of success is showing up.” I have been showing up at bike shops, road races, track races, mountain bike races, cyclocross races, Taiwanese bike factories, Japanese bike factories, Italian bike factories, British bike factories, Chinese bike factories, dealer bike shows, consumer bike shows, and riding various European, American, Mexican and Asian tracks, roads and trails, for almost 40 years.

By the way, I would never say I was a big deal. I’m from Wisconsin and we are humble people.

Why do you think Oregon Manifest organizers asked you to judge the Design Challenge?

See above. I have more than 20 year designing all types of bicycles, causing them to be manufactured, bringing them to market and then selling them. Some of them were market leaders like the Bianchi Milano and the Bianchi Pista, over 11 years of single-speed mountain bikes and some of the first production cyclocross bikes.

Do you think the bike industry is lacking in events like this to push the R&D of this category (as opposed to race bikes)? If so, why?

The bike industry is slowing waking up to the potential for using bikes as transportation. Amazing as it sounds, this is the first year at Interbike where it was like a huge “DOH” when I saw all the urban bikes. The bike industry is obsessed with racing, no secret, so it is nice to see the beast committing to more practical bikes. I love racing, don’t get me wrong. If we didn’t have racing we’d only have dorky hybrid bikes to ride. I’d just like to see a tiny crumb of R&D and product development money, as well as institutional muscle, behind internal hub technology.

“I think we now have enough novel ways to open up beer bottles, so I won’t be awarding any points for that.”

Do you think the Constructor’s Design Challenge will have an impact on bike design industry-wide?

Yes, because the big guys are never first to market with anything cool, so they will be looking at these bikes and we’ll see everything from blatant rip-offs to barely disguised rip-offs of them in their respective lines next year*.

As a product manager, what will you be looking for from the bikes the builders create?

I like to see solutions to problems that I’ve never seen before. A fresh way of thinking about hauling things and integrating different technical challenges. I want to be surprised. I don’t care if they are steel or not. I don’t give a rat’s ass if they have a Brooks saddle. I’d like them not to be precious objects.

Can you share a few features of what you think every good transportation bike should have?

I think we now have enough novel ways to open up beer bottles, so I won’t be awarding any points for that.


Thanks for the interview Sky.

For more on the Constructor’s Design Challenge, visit OregonManifest.com and bookmark our Special Coverage Page for all the Oregon Manifest action.

— In a related side note, industry stalwart Electra told a Portland bike shop owner during Interbike last week that their new Ticino line, was directly inspired by what they saw at the Portland NAHBS show in 2008.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at maus.jonathan@gmail.com, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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Mabel Worth
Mabel Worth
13 years ago

I appreciate that the kitsch and gimmick will be overlooked and the goal for this design comp is utility and real problem solving. I love my bicycles, I want my around town hauling/porteur bike to be– above all else– useful. Of course, I still want it to have those design aesthetics, but I don’t want to view it as a “precious object” because it is a work horse, beautiful in its utility and strength.

twistyaction
13 years ago

The related side note at the end of the post got me. “Directly inspired” is an understatement. The new bikes from Trek are an example of skipping the design/innovation phase in favor of straight up copying. I know some will say “whatever it takes to get more people on better bikes”, but it’s just shameless. I know that this bike was “directly inspired” by this hand built, one-off bike, but at least it’s not a carbon copy. Keep an eye out for the big manufacturers’ product designers with their photocopiers at the Manifest events over the next month. I just hope it doesn’t hurt the sales or value of the small builders when their designs and innovations are being rapidly fed to Asian factories for big brand profits.

Rob
Rob
13 years ago

What’s been happening with commuter/”urban” bike development is very similar to mtb development in the early ’80s. The marin crowd started it and Specialized copied it.

Donna
Donna
13 years ago

“I’d just like to see a tiny crumb of R&D and product development money, as well as institutional muscle, behind internal hub technology.”

Me too, Sky.

Metrofiets
Metrofiets
13 years ago

@Donna and Sky…

Just you wait… Shimano’s Alfine 8 (501x) is really nice but the 11 speed Alfine internal is gonna ROCK! (fingers crossed)

We have PUNISHED the 8 speed Alfine Hubs in our possession and unlike the Nexis 8, we have not been able to harm them – yet.

Internals are not the God Hubs that some folks would like to claim – but being able to shift gears at a dead stop is really nice when one is pushing 300+ lbs. around town.

Don’t even get us started on the amazing Rohloff 14 gear internal hub. Oh, wait… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7USVMrg5phY

BURR
BURR
13 years ago

I think there is already plenty of good internal hub technology out there, but, like dyno lighting and city bikes in general, it’s been really, really slow to catch on in the US.

midnight
midnight
13 years ago

I am compelled to point out that the bike Ms. Yaeger is pictured with has an integrated bottle opener.
Also, part of the race requirement of Oregon Manifest entries is to carry a full glass sixpack. No one should be left without a way to open them up at the finish. Total party foul. Therefore, a bottle opener should be a required element. (You can bash them open on the top tube if you prefer just use your own bike.)

Is she openly admitting to participating in OM so she can rip off small builder ideas and profit from them in her own business? That’s lame!
I am looking forward to seeing the bikes in this event but I will not put much stock in the judges determinations. I hope the builders can somehow copy protect everything.

mbsf
mbsf
13 years ago

I would like to see some user research which I think is lacking from the bike industry. In my mind the bike industry is behind curb in that area unless you are a racer or mountain biker.

Tony Pereira
13 years ago

I’m excited to meet Sky. She has shown her foresight with excellent designs, spurring singlespeed mountain bikes when they first started becoming popular. The Bianchi Volpe had an influence on me when I was first starting out because I worked in a Bianchi shop and saw how positively people responded to a comfortable, sensible design.

The world of bicycle design draws on many influences. That the big companies like Trek have “copied” what some of us artisan builders do is pure flattery. It’s not like we invented the mixte. I get a lot of ideas from the French builders of the mid 20th century. The big companies can copy me all they want. They will never be able to match the custom tailoring and craftsmanship that draws customers to someone like me.

As for the bottle opener thing: I’m firmly with Sky on that one.

On the internal hub debate: The Rohloff is amazing. It also retails for about $1500. The Alfine is pretty durable and inexpensive, but it can be horribly inefficient. There is lots of room for improvement.

I hope everyone comes to the Manifest Challenge events. I know there will be at least one amazing bike there!

aljee
aljee
13 years ago

@metrofiets #5

Wait wait WAIT! are you saying you heard something about an 11sp alfine!?!
Balls! I just bought an 8sp(501 with the triple roller clutch) for my pugsley build. 11sp would be waaaaay sweet.
+1 on the Rohloff. i hope one day to build up a thorn nomad with a rohloff. some day.

Austin Ramsland
13 years ago

RT @OREGONMANIFEST: "I think we have enough ways to open up beer bottles, so I won’t be awarding any points for that." http://bit.ly/2Lc5vW

OREGON MANIFEST
13 years ago

"I think we now have enough novel ways to open up beer bottles, so I won’t be awarding any points for that." Sky Yager http://bit.ly/2Lc5vW

Joe Doebele
12 years ago

Alfine 11: due out in late November, $600 retail, pre-ordering now at Joe Bike (joe-bike.com). Gear range of something like 500%, compared with 307% for the Alfine 8-speed and 360% for the new and vastly improved Nuvinci hub, the N360.
The N360 is available now at Joe Bike for $399 including shifter. We’ve tested it with 450 lb. loads, up and down hills, etc., and haven’t been able to kill it.