Our series on women leaders in cycling continues with an interview with Georgena Terry, founder of the women’s bicycle company that bears her name. She visited New York City recently in conjunction with a screening of the film profile, Georgena Terry by Amanda Zakem, at the Bicycle Film Festival. View it after the jump.
Georgena Terry began to ponder the subtleties of bicycle fit, notably for smaller women like herself, while working as a young engineer in the 1980s. Her fascination with how women’s physiology relates to frame geometry led her to teach herself how to build bicycles in her spare time. “I never liked working for a big corporation,” she says now. “I think I always knew that I would end up doing something on my own.”
That “something” turned out to be the founding in 1985 of Terry Precision Cycling, the first woman-specific bicycle company. At a time when women’s options were still limited to men’s bikes and apparel, Terry listened. She focused on problem-solving for women who, for example, couldn’t clear the top tube of a men’s frame or who suffered neck and shoulder pain from having to reach too far for handlebars. Early on, a male-dominated industry was less than encouraging. But Terry, who considers being called an “absolute maverick” the highest compliment, and who has since been widely recognized with industry distinctions, achieved success by innovating — creating women’s bicycles, saddles and apparel that enhance comfort and performance.
Terry sold controlling interest in the company to private investor Liz Robert in 2009. Today, from her base outside Rochester, NY, she continues to make bicycles, working directly with customers on measurements and specifications and having the classic steel frames manufactured by Waterford Precision Cycles in Wisconsin. “I’ve got no overhead, no rent, I don’t build a bike until I sell it,” Terry says. Perhaps that’s one reason why this petite legend estimates that she’ll log 6,500 miles on her own bike this year.
What do you love about riding a bicycle?
Just being in nature. I like to get out in the middle of nowhere where there are no people. Just the sun and the land and wildlife. Riding a bicycle gives me an incredible appreciation of our environment and how precious it is. It’s also a great place to think. I get a lot of problems solved on my bike.
What’s your favorite ride?
Black Water National Wildlife Refuge on the eastern shore of Maryland. You can ride 20 miles straight without seeing a car, and when you do, the driver gives a friendly wave. (Terry became an avid birder, not by scanning trees with binoculars, but by listening from her bicycle.)
How has the industry changed since you started your company in the ’80s?
I’m sometimes aghast at how little progress has been made. So often people in bike shops look right past the person who’s talking to them. This is the case in the industry too. But I guess it seems easier to stay in a groove than to take a chance and do something differently.
At this, a member of the audience mentions the increased presence of women at the annual Bike Summit in Washington DC and at the Interbike industry trade show.
But are they asserting themselves at these meetings? Terry asks.
What’s different when you work with female customers?
When I work directly with women, they want information, they want to know the science and the geometry. They’re process oriented. It seems to me that the industry could make a fortune if they would just listen to women.
Looking back, what would you have done differently in your own career?
I’m not a extrovert. I’m more of a loner. I think I should have been out and about and more in the face of the dealers. I think the company would’ve grown faster.
What advice would you give to women entrepreneurs?
To thine own self be true! Be a bull and go after what you want.