Georgena Terry is credited with starting a women’s industry in a man’s world. Since 1985, the bicycling pioneer has been designing and customizing steel-frame bikes for women throughout the United States and around the globe, putting a little heart and soul into each one she delivers.
At 2 years old growing up in Montgomery, Ala., Terry contracted polio. Her family never treated her differently, and she grew up doing all of the normal things that kids do. She never felt held back by the physical effects of the disease.
“The great thing about a bicycle is that it’s such a mechanically efficient machine. I’m not as fast as my friends, but is my enjoyment diminished? Not at all,” she says.
Bicycling started out as a hobby later in life.
The hobby quickly turned into an addiction. “People who ride bikes are just a happy group of people. It’s worse than drugs,” she says. “I don’t know about drugs, but I bet if I did, it wouldn’t be as bad as bicycling.”
A mechanical engineer by trade, Terry worked in research and development at Xerox. She knew early on that the corporate world wasn’t for her.
“I just don’t like working for other people,” she says with a laugh. “And it wasn’t something I was looking to fix.”
In 1985, after building herself a bike frame in her basement and receiving requests from friends and other cyclists, she kissed her 9-to-5 job goodbye and began to build full time. Increasingly, women were asking her to help them with the discomfort they felt when riding. Terry saw an opportunity to build frames exclusively fit for women. It was a gutsy move; no one was doing that in 1985.
“Bikes are designed for men—tall men at that,” she says, noting that even women’s bikes out on the market today are not made with a woman’s anatomy in mind.
Terry boils it down to science. Women’s legs are longer, their torsos are shorter, and their muscles are smaller.
Terry grew her project into a successful company and sold the majority interest in Terry Precision Cycling to Vermont-based businesswoman Elisabeth Robert in 2009. By 2012, the company had moved to Burlington, and Terry left, but retained the hand-built portion of the business. Out of her Penfield home, she designs 20 to 30 bikes per year.
Terry approaches each bike like a good engineer would approach a project: meeting with the client to understand what she wants to achieve, understanding her physical health and ability, and customizing one of Terry’s designs to meet those specifications. After reviewing the design with the client, Terry sends the final drawings off to Waterford Precision Cycles, a hand-built bicycle maker in Wisconsin, for production.
“Designing bikes is a nice mix of engineering, a little hocus-pocus, a little faith, and a lot of listening to your customer and reading between the lines,” she says. “There’s a little piece of me in every one of those bikes.”
Buying a hand-built bike from Terry is an investment. Her bikes run anywhere from $3,500 to over $5,000, depending on the design and customizations. But she says that you’d be hard-pressed to find a steel-frame bike at her price point elsewhere.
And her customers are women who are serious bicyclists; women who think for themselves and don’t want a middleman—women who are just like her.