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 promised to update my experience with these Compass Elk Pass tires after riding them for at least a few hundred miles. Well, I’ve only put about 60 miles on these tires and I’ve already had my first flat. That experience led to some other important realizations about these tires and the Schwalbe tubes I purchased with them from Compass Bicycles, a few months back.
Schwalbe tubes vs. Qtubes – 26″
To say that I am in a good mood this evening, after walking my bike home (rather than repairing the flat on the road – to be explained later), and then spending nearly two hours attempting to repair my flat rear tire at home would be incorrect. First, though, I’ll talk about how these tires handled out on the road – before the flat.
These tires are lightweight – significantly so in comparison to the Pasela’s I had been using. That reduction in weight, and the nature of the tire’s properties led to an enormous increase in my enjoyment of cycling on my Terry, which features 559’s front and rear. The Elk Pass tires are fast and responsive under acceleration. Accordingly, I found myself riding more aggressively than normal (but maybe that’s not such a good thing). They are comfortable tires, and while narrower than their advertised width (32mm vs. actual 28 mm on my rims), the plush ride they provide feels like 38 mm tires or more.
The flat I had today occurred on pavement, and without any observed road detritus such as broken glass or thorns. Within seconds of hearing a strange noise while climbing, my rear tire was flat. This fortunately happened while I was cycling at low speed. The tire went TOTALLY flat – something that really can’t happen with regular clinchers that have more robust sidewalls. The sidewalls on the Elk Pass tires are so supple that once the tube lost air, the tire had nothing to support it. These tires are very much like a tubular in that respect. Since I was only about a half mile from my house, I tried inflating the tube to see if I could simply coast home before the air made its way out. No luck there. The tube would not hold air at all. So I removed my bags and walked the bike home with the rear wheel elevated, so as not to further damage the delicate sidewalls.
Once home, I examined the tire. I couldn’t see any obvious cuts or sidewall cracks. But, that’s not unusual when assessing a bicycle’s flat tire. When dealing with flats, I normally unseat one side of the tire’s bead, take out the tube and then inflate the tube to determine where the puncture occurred. That way, I can see where the tire is compromised, and if a projectile needs to be removed. This tube went flat so quickly as I tried to inflate it that I ended up removing the tube from the wheel and closely examining it for the source of the puncture.
I hadn’t used the tubes that Compass had recommended for these tires – Schwalbe SV12 tubes which are wide and heavy in comparison to the Conti 650c tubes which have worked well for the 559 Paselas I had been using on this bike. Since my existing tubes were good, I re-used them when installing the new Compass Elk Pass tires. Upon close examination, I determined the source of the leak and then searched the tire for that location.
And, voila, here is the tiny little cut in the tread area. Although very small, the cut bulged out once I had a new tube installed, so I booted this area with a folded dollar bill. This experience made me want to mount the heavier and wider Shwalbe SV12 26″ tubes which are recommended (and I think this is due to the delicate nature of this tire’s construction), but after hours of trying to make these too large tubes fit into my tire and rim, I gave up (and remember that I recently mounted at 700c tube into this rim, with success). The Compass recommended Schwalbe tubes are simply too large in diameter and too wide to enable them to work with this tire and on my Mavic X221 rims. I tried dousing my hands, tires and tubes with some carcinogenic talcum powder to see if I could get these tubes to flatten out and not bunch up inside the tires. NO SUCH LUCK. And now, I am probably radioactive…
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.