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Terry Bicycles (Public Radio Commentary)

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(For radio stations: Bill's public radio work can be licensed via PRX).

Recently my wife bought a bicycle designed especially for a woman. By this I don't mean it was missing a crossbar, but that the whole bike was redesigned with a women's anatomy in mind.

Intrigued by this, I called the bike's designer to find out how she got into designing bikes. I learned from, Georgena Terry, the bike's designer, that the bikes came about because of her restlessness and her love for blowtorches.

Terry began her career with a degree in Theater, working behind the scenes, building sets and adjusting the lighting. But this didn't fulfill her, so she when to Wharton, earned an M.B.A and worked as a stockbroker. But, as she told me, she hated "being tied down to a desk", it made her "absolutely nuts."

So, she quit her job, and returned to school to become an engineer. She found it "comforting to work with engineering and science because they tell the truth" because, as she told me, "they are very, very logical." I suppose, yet the next thing she did defies logic: She fell in love with a special type of welding called brazing. And here, of course, is where the blowtorch enters.

For her senior project she had to weld a bicycle frame from metal tubes. This was so intriguing to her that two years after graduation, she quit her well-paying engineering job and starting making bike frames for a living. As she said to me "sometimes I don't think a lot, I just go on a hunch, and I find that that's not always bad."

When she brought her bikes to rallies, women would approach her and ask, "can you build a bicycle for me." They pointed out that their bikes gave them neck and shoulder pain. She'd never thought of designing a bike specifically for women, but this intrigued her.

So, she went to a library to learn about the anatomical differences between men and women. She found out that the Wright-Patterson Air Force base had extensive data on these physical differences. The Air Force needed to design things like uniforms and cockpits to fit both genders.

She learned that a women isn't simply a smaller version of a man. For example, a women's upper body is proportionally longer than a man's. So, a bike that fits men in the legs and upper body, will fit women in only one of these areas. The key to making a women's bike, she decided, is getting them into a slightly more upright position.

In her first year, 1985, she sold twenty of these women's bikes, the following year, 1,300, then 5,000, and today its a multimillion dollar enterprise.

Now that her company is thriving, I asked what she does everyday. She told me "anything I want", noting that she since 1988 she hasn't had to use a blowtorch.

Copyright 2002 William S. Hammack Enterprises