Sky Yaeger is one of those fascinating women that seems to have crammed in far too much for one lifetime, but far from being ready to hang up her cycling shoes for a quiet life, she is leading the charge of women into cycling and design arenas. We caught up with hr to talk about her incredible career and her thoughts, as a woman in modern business.
1. You have had a lifelong relationship with bicycles, in various guises, so was it love at first ride for you?
Yes, it was definitely the feeling of freedom that you get when riding a bike. It is as close to flying as you can get.
2. With bikes being such a constant presence, what has been the most challenging way that you have interacted with them? As a racer perhaps, or a designer?
Some days it is just trying to get high-pressure road clinchers on modern rims, as I just struggle with them every time I get a flat! But the most challenging for sure has been trying to make unique bikes in factories in Japan, Italy, China, Taiwan and now USA. I also drive component makers crazy asking for very specific components.
3. I’ve read a lot about you breaking out in a ‘male-dominated environment’, but would you call yourself a feminist or are you simply someone who knows their stuff, regardless of gender?
I have no problem with the word, “feminist” and can’t understand why it is such bad word now. Women have had to fight for basic rights, respect and dignity that men take for granted. We are still second-class citizens, in my opinion. You have to know your stuff, if you are going to work in a technical field. You cannot design something unless you understand materials, processes and practical usage.
4. Have you experienced any direct sexism or prejudice and if so, how did you deal with it?
Yes. I ignore it and try to make a joke.
5. Do you think that ‘female-friendly’ cycling accessories and clothing make it difficult to leave outdated attitudes behind? (I ask this as I almost gave up on trying to find a performance ‘women’s’ helmet without pink or floral decals.)
There are some accessories and clothing that need to be designed for women, as far as fit is concerned, and some that shouldn’t have any gender-related label. As far as the pink colors and flower graphics, there is definitely pandering going on, but if you look at what women wear in everyday life, you cannot pigeon-hole us with one idea of what we want to wear. I have to believe that some women want the pink stuff, even though it is not my taste.
I wear a men’s size 40.5 cycling shoe because it fits the best. I wear a men’s size medium helmet, because it fits me best. Same with most of the wind vests and jackets, gloves and arm warmers. Just like with frames, it should be all about the fit. I hope women look beyond the patronising colours and labels, on both bikes and accessories, and focus on the fit.
6. Did you consciously decide to move up to the forefront of bicycle design, or did your years in the saddle make you a complete natural in the new venture?
I worked for Bianchi for 17 years. I left Bianchi in 2006 to start a bike company, so I have put in my time designing. It has been my career.
7. What was your primary intention when designing the stunning Bixby and Runwell models for Shinola? Function, style or the perfect combination of both?
I believe all the product managers and bike designers, who I know, definitely want the perfect combination of both, considering all the material, manufacturing and costing challenges.
8. Do you think that cycling becoming fashionable is a good thing? Can you see it encouraging more women to get in the saddle?
More people on bikes is always a good thing.
9. Do you think we will ever see a truly authentic women’s Tour de France, or even a mixed gender version, in our lifetime? Would that be a good thing for cycling as a sport?
Traditionally, it’s been a challenge trying to attract sponsors for women’s racing. In the mid 80’s there was a “Tour Cycliste Feminine,” which had 18 stages and had the women racing their own race, during the men’s event. The first edition, in 1984, was won by Marianne Martin, an American. I doubt we will ever see a mixed gender version, but we will see women racing again next year on the Champs-Elysees, before the men. It will be a criterium around the same course. It’s not a three-week Grand Tour event, but it is a start and I believe it will definitely lead to more high-profile women’s stage races.
10. What advice would you give to women who have a talent and passion for an industry that is still considered to be ‘male-dominated’?
Working in a bike shop is one of the best ways to get into this industry, as well as racing. You will get a ground-level education and meet people who are connected to the different companies. The sport is all about passion, on so many levels. If you are passionate and you know your stuff, I think women have an advantage, because we stand out from the crowd.