Georgena Terry: The Pioneer of Women’s Specific Design
In the early 1980’s, a woman had few choices in the bike shops. She might have found a pink bicycle, but most manufacturers were designing women’s bicycles as if women were just smaller men. Many women kept riding the unisex bikes that were available, hoping they would just get used to the aches and pains it gave them. The saddles available at the time gave real meaning to the phrase “a pain in the butt,” and even women who raced, made do with made-over men’s cycling clothing. No doubt about it, the cycling world was a man’s world.
It was in that era that Georgena Terry, who had both a degree in mechanical engineering and an MBA, learned metallurgy and soon began to build bicycle frames. Her friends told her how they could not find bikes to fit them and she began her study of the geometry of a good bike fit. The average woman stands 5’4” and right away she saw the lack of bikes for women on the shorter end of the spectrum. Georgena carefully noted some general physical differences between men and women: generally, women have shorter arms, torsos, smaller hands, narrower shoulders and longer legs. The bicycles they were riding were giving these women aches and pains because they were not properly fitted for them.
As word spread about the bikes that Georgena was making in her basement, the demand grew. Georgena made the leap, leaving her job at Xerox to launch her niche business of designing and making bikes for women: “I figured if the message was coming so clearly from friends, there was a bigger world out there in need of bikes that fit properly.”
Terry Precision was launched in 1985 selling quality steel well-fit bicycles made specifically for women. She gave special attention to the design of bicycles made for women who stood 5’2” or shorter: the standard wheel size was changed and she altered the top tubes so women could reach the handlebars comfortably. Whether women were shorter or taller, there were other anatomical differences she took into account: the proportions of arms and legs and the placement of muscle mass. She designed the bicycles to not only fit comfortably but to position women on the bicycle for better performance.
One frustration for many women was that few saddles were designed to fit them comfortably. A good saddle should support a cyclist’s sit bones, not the whole butt. (“Sit bones” are actually the ends of the pelvic bone that touch the seat as one sits down.) The front of the saddle is supposed to support some of a cyclist’s body weight. The problem is there is a lot of sensitive tissue there and it can be quite painful. In those early days, Georgena recommended to her friends that they take a hacksaw to their seats and make a crude cut-out to relieve the pressure in that area. Georgena is familiar with cycling history and recalls there were cut-out seats for bikes as early as 1903, but she took them to a new level as she began designing bicycle saddles with cut-outs in 1992. Terry bicycle saddles were so popular that she started designing them for men as well. Terry bicycle saddles are designed for a variety of bicycles from hybrids to racing. They are designed at Terry and made in Italy.
Terry introduced their line of cycling clothing in the 1990’s. The women’s cycling clothing was another great niche that had been underserved. The clothing was well-designed, actually pretty and like the bicycles, the clothing would fit a variety of different women (not just the tiny, trim women). Terry’s clothing designers have put creativity and a fresh sense of style into their clothing over the years.
Liz Robert, former CEO of Vermont Teddy Bear, bought Terry Precision Cycling but Georgena has stayed on to continue to design the bicycles. Some favorites like the hybrid bicycle, the Susan B. (named after Susan B. Anthony) will be brought back. The bicycles are still fairly custom fit, and can be ordered from Terry Precision Cycling and a Terry Dealer or any local bicycle shop can build and fit it for you.
The impact Ms. Terry has had on women’s cycling is amazing if you really think about it. She doesn’t take credit for making the first bicycle designed for a woman, but when she launched her company, she started a movement in cycling that for the first time really took into account the needs and wants of female cyclists. Larger cycling companies caught on and have put their own research & development into developing bicycles, clothing, saddles and accessories for women, but the modern revolution in women’s cycling truly began in a basement in Rochester, NY.