I acquired this late 80’s Georgena Terry Gambit a number of years ago. I don’t remember whether I purchased it just as a frame, or as a full bike. I was attracted to it at the time because I imagined the long head tube and small front wheel (a 24 incher) might make an interesting reinterpretation as a cycle truck of sorts.
At the time, I hadn’t paid much attention to the provenance of the frame, nor to its geometry. Recently needing to clear some space from my shop area, I brought the bike out and started to think about its purpose in life. With its Made in Japan brazing, using Cro-Mo lugged steel tubes, the bike would definitely not be considered a low end offering. So, I thought I would add a few components to make it ride-able, and then donate the end result to to Community Cycling Center so that the right cyclist can enjoy this interesting bicycle.
Original to the bike was the front Araya 24 inch rim laced to a sealed bearing Suzue hub. A nice and competent front wheel. The geometry of the bike is not ideal by my standards, with more wheel flop than I prefer. However, its short 51 cm top tube, made possible by the small front wheel, allows this bike to be a comfortable ride for those of shorter stature. The easy reach to the front of the bike, even with traditional road handlebars, is the whole idea behind this frame style.
For the front end, I threw on a salvaged Claud Butler road bar set mounted with Shimano non-aero brake levers. The road-ish style and leather bar tape seemed about right for this bike. Plus, I enjoy setting up the brake housing on non-aero style hoods, for that nice vintage look.
I used Shimano down tube shifters, but set the drive train up for a single chain ring up front. A Sakae crankset completes the build, and works amazingly well. A funky Pletscher rear rack adds utility.
This bike is an interesting example of the quality of steel frames which can be found in the 1980’s. While not technically vintage by my standards, this frame is an excellent example of the cycling industry’s offering of this era, with Georgena Terry being one of its most important innovators.
I recently had an experience involving a flat that restored my faith in Portland cyclists, and maybe in humanity itself. I was riding to work on my beloved Terry Symmetry, which is equipped with 26″ (559) wheels front and rear. While crossing the Tilikum Bridge, I experienced a flat, so pulled over to get out the tools needed to install a new tube. Unfortunately, the tube I was carrying would not hold air. As I contemplated my fate, thinking I would walk the bike, or take the Max train, a friendly cyclist rode up to ask me if I needed anything. I mentioned that my replacement tube was compromised, and she reached in her bag to offer her spare tube. Taking a quick gander at her bike, with its flat bars, I mistakenly assumed that she was riding 26 inch wheels. She rode off before I could even offer payment for the tube she supplied, and that is a favor I intend to pay forward. However, the 700c tube (622 mm) I had in my hand needed to go into my 559 mm rim. Well, it did.
I barely inflated it, and gingerly installed the Pasela TourGuard folder back onto the rim, and was reminded why I carry FOUR tire irons in my tool kit. The Paselas are a tight fit on these Mavic X221 rims, both on and off. While I was underway with getting the bike back on the road, using very low pressure for the too large tube, a nearby construction worker asked me whether flats are a common problem. To which I replied, no.
I have had more flats on my Terry, with its Pasela Tourguards than on any other tires I ride, but that is too say only once every year or two. Even so, as I was thinking about the fact that the only tires I ever have flats on are these Paselas on the Terry, maybe it was time to consider something different.
Compass Elk Pass 559s
Pasela TourGuard 559s
Based on Georgena Terry’s recommendation, I ordered a set of Compass Elk Pass tires. As you can see above, these tires have no tread at all, and have a kind of cross-hatch pattern on the very flexible side wall. The logo is understated relative to the Pasela’s. Both tires are made by Panasonic.
Elk Pass width – a little over 28mm
Pasela width – a little over 30mm
I was hoping that the Elk Pass tires would be at least as wide as the Pasela’s, but that was not that case. The Elk Pass tires mounted at a little over 28mm on the Mavic rims, whereas the Paselas are a little over 30 mm in width. Both tires are marketed as 32 mm tires. I suspect that the Elk Pass tires will widen over time, but probably they will never be 32mm on my rims.
I also questioned my sanity when I read this warning on the Elk Pass packaging: “This tire is made of very sensitive material. Never use the tire when you drive on unpaved road, mountain trail and waste land. Please be careful of flat tire due to side wall cutting by fallen rocks…” Hmmm…are these tires so delicate that commuting on them will rip them to shreds? I am not sure, and hope that this is just a wacky result of over zealous product liability advisors.
Now that I have the Elk Pass tires mounted, which involved over-inflating them so that they would seat properly on the rims, then bringing the pressure back down, I am going to test them out on my Portland commute, which includes occasional rough roads and some gravel riding. I will follow up with a second post once I’ve ridden these tires for a few hundred miles. As far as tire pressure goes, I am going to start with 70 psi rear and 60 psi front, which is the tire pressure I have used on the Pasela’s. We will see how that goes.
A Terry Symmetry frame, built up to my specifications.
About 8 years ago I bid on a NOS 1990’s Terry Symmetry steel frame on eBay. I was at that time searching for the perfect bike to fill the gap left by my crashed (in 1999) 1976 Centurion Pro Tour. I had purchased and ridden quite a few bikes since then, but none of them “took”. I won the auction for the Terry frame, but when it arrived, I saw that one of the downtube shifter bosses was damaged, and perhaps that was why the frame had never been built. The seller was shocked that he hadn’t noticed this, and he reimbursed me for the costs I incurred to have the frame repaired.
Damaged shifter boss
Nice hand lettering on the Georgena Terry logos
I took the frame to Oregon Manifest winner Tony Pereira, who re-brazed a new downtube shifter boss. That involved removing the existing lavender sparkle paint in the immediate area around the shifter braze-ons. His painter was not able to match the paint exactly, so instead came up with the perfect solution of using an accent color. You can see in the above photos the new blue accent color and the perfectly executed hand-lettering of the Georgena Terry logos. Now my Terry frame sports a custom paint job!
Georgena Terry is an engineer by training. She is an avid cyclist, and after the frustration of not finding a bicycle appropriate for smaller cyclists, she began building bicycle frames in her basement, and by 1985 introduced the first steel Terry hand-built bicycle, designed specifically for the dimensions and stature of women’s bodies. If you don’t know anything about her, you’ll be amazed by this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IDRbinNduhM
If we use the term “womankind” to signify all human beings, as is always done with the term “mankind” then we would have bicycles sized for such beings – who are on average about 5’4″ in height. Such bicycles would have appropriately sized wheels (probably 26 inch or smaller), and bicycle frame geometry would reflect the correct dimensions of such a human. Georgena’s initial frame geometry solution was to keep the big 700c wheel at the back, which was the industry standard at the time, and to use a smaller wheel on the front – a 24 incher. This meant that the steel frame for the rider could be quite large, with a hefty headtube, but still be “as fast” as any other bike out there due to the 700c rear wheel.
Georgena Terry Classic – courtesy of georgenaterry.com
While I am one of those cyclists that prefers the look of a bicycle with the same sized wheels front and rear, this design proved wildly successful and womankind was pleased, as finally they had bikes to fit their bodies. Since then, Georgena has researched the anatomy and physiology of women riders, and has incorporated her findings into her latest endeavor: Hand built steel bicycles– both custom and off the shelf, built by Waterford and engineered by Georgena, having sold her interest in Terry Precision Bicycles back in 2009. All of the bikes she builds now feature the same sized wheels front and rear (559s usually), plus many frames designed with a sloping top tube. They are typically built with Waterford OS2 double butted steel. Her bicycles have some unique characteristics: large head tube, very little BB drop, steep seat tube angle, slack head tube angle, vertical drop outs, long chainstays, and minimal fork rake. Some of these characteristics are not necessarily what I seek in a bike frame, yet the Terry Symmetry that I ride regularly is one of my most comfortable and treasured bicycles!
One of my theories about this bike’s amazing comfort is the large head tube – made possible by the almost negligible bottom bracket drop of 35 mm. The frame is “square” meaning that the seat tube and top tube are the same length – 51 cm. With the minimal drop, there’s a high bottom bracket -about 28 cm. You’d think I would hate this frame, but instead, having all that steel (Tange tubing which is TIG welded) under me helps to absorb road shock, and is much more flexible than a smaller frame would be. The frame is a bit tall for me – but, who cares? I often ride pretty tall frames. The most important measurement for frame comfort is the top tube. In this case, it’s only 51 cm – much shorter than many “smaller” frames, and that’s why I feel so relaxed on this bike – my hands naturally connect with my Nitto Rando bars with no effort at all.
I set this bike up with some of my favorite components: Shimano bar end shifters, Shimano side pull brakes, Shimano brake levers, and my 1984 Shimano 600 crankset and front derailleur (taken off my old Davidson) which apparently will never wear out! I ordered a Harris custom 8 speed cassette after riding the bike for a while with an off the shelf unit.
I built the wheels myself (Mavic X221 32 hole rims on Shimano hubs), converting the bike from its original 650c wheel size to 559, and after years of service my wheels have never gone out of true. Because this bike has minimal clearance (it was built in the sad “racing” days of yore), I needed to mount my fenders over the top of the fork and rear brake bridge. I cut up an ancient Bluemels fender set which was pretty long in the tooth. But, the fenders are holding up well. Recently, I switched out my p-clamps on the front fork (which had no eyelets), for a Velo Orange fender bracket. The bracket cleans up the look on the front end, but makes front wheel removal much more finicky. I use Panasonic Panaracer Tourguard folders on this bike which have been comfortable and reliable. Georgena Terry is now recommending Compass Elk Pass 559 Road Tires for her bikes (also made by Panasonic), so I may try those out whenever the Panaracer’s wear out. But, meanwhile, I will continue to enjoy this wonderful bicycle which I always look forward to riding.