I got into the office this morning to find the first copies of the next issue of American Bicyclist, our bi-monthly magazine, on my desk. The issue is still making its way to members’ mailboxes, but, with the National Women’s Bicycling Summit just two months away, I can’t help but share a glimpse of my interview with our opening keynote speaker: Georgena Terry.
Long-time members will know that Terry has graced the pages of our magazine in the past — one of only two women [!] honored as the Top 25 Agents of Change in American Bicycling in the Fall 2005 issue. And that title was well-deserved. It wasn’t until the early 1980s, when the inquisitive engineer starting tinkering with bike frames in her basement, that anyone even thought to construct a bicycle that fit the shorter torso and narrower shoulders of the average woman. Both an entrepreneur and an advocate, Terry dared to follow her passion and ingenuity and grew a basement operation into an internationally known brand: Terry Precision Cycling.
I was honored to chat with Terry about her role in the movement and her take on women’s cycling. Here’s an excerpt of our conversation…
What originally inspired your love of cycling?
I really jumped into it seriously back in the mid-70s, when the gas crunch came along. I just thought, “Wow what a great time to buy a bike.” I hadn’t had one since I was 17 years old. I was living in Pittsburgh when I bought that bike and it was love at first ride; a total sense of freedom. And the fact that Pittsburgh had a incredible bicycle club — the Western Pennsylvania Wheelmen — sealed the deal. Those people were so fantastic, so nurturing, so appreciative of what a new cyclist goes through to become a safe and educated cyclist. It was really my social world until I moved up to Rochester.
You were the first to design a bike that addressed the comfort of women riders; how quickly did that catch on?
In 1985, I took five bikes, a full size range, to the Great Eastern Rally and women started walking up to me saying, “What do you mean you have bikes made for women? What’s
the big deal?” But once they test rode them I started selling those bikes before the booth officially opened. I recently had the pleasure of seeing one of those original bikes at the Wild Goose Chase ride. The woman was so excited to show it to me; she even had her original bill of sale with her!
What are some of your proudest moments?
Starting a damn industry [laugh]! I’m dead serious! Nobody comes out and says that but, my God, if I hadn’t started this do you think all the other manufacturers would be making women’s bikes? That’s my proudest moment!
What has changed since you started and what’s stayed the same?
In terms of women cycling, I think women are a lot more vocal now and consider themselves a market apart from men. Women are just coming to that point, which wasn’t the case when I introduced my products. As far as the industry, there are a lot of products for people to choose from and I think we get so hung up on the marketing that sometimes we miss the purity of riding a bike. I’m reading Grant Petersen’s book right now (Just Ride) and I agree with a lot of what he has to say: Just get out there and ride!
What do you think we need to do to reach more women?
I still think a lot of work is done at the dealer level and, honestly, I’m still hearing the same stories I heard when I first started: A woman walks into a bike shop and says I want a bike and they want to sell her the cheaper bikes or they assume she wants a hybrid because she’s a woman. They don’t necessarily listen to what she has to say. That theme hasn’t gone away. I don’t want to criticize, but there’s an opportunity that’s being missed…
Stay tuned for the January-February issue of American Bicyclist for the full interview — if you’re not a League member, start the new year right by joining today! In the meantime, check out the growing list of incredible speakers confirmed for the National Women’s Bicycling Forum and register today!
Carolyn SzczepanskiCarolyn joined the League in March 2012, after two years at the Alliance for Biking & Walking. In addition to managing the League's blog, magazine and other communications, Carolyn organized the first National Women's Bicycling Summit and launched the League's newest program: Women Bike. Before she crossed over to advocacy, she was a professional journalist for nearly 10 years.