In Memoriam: Steve Hed (1955-2014)

The dash between the year Steve Hed was born and died was full of life, excitement, innovation and speed. Hed, a respected Minnesota cyclist and businessman who brought modern carbon fiber disc wheels and aerodynamics into the forefront of bicycling, died at 6:30 a.m. on November 26, 2014. He was taken off life support in a Minnesota hospital after collapsing outside his Shoreview office on November 20.

A congenial fellow with a look that resembled more of a liberal arts college professor than bicycle innovator, Hed pioneered carbon wheels for triathletes in the 1980s after dabbling with water skis. His focus on improving his category evolved into what is becoming a new industry standard: a wider road rim.

He was also a tireless wind tunnel user who relied on scientific data, helping hundreds of athletes cheat the wind over the past several decades. He frequently rented the Air & Space Technology Low Speed Wind Tunnel in San Diego to test aerodynamics, not just of his products but of the riders using his products. I was part of a small group of journalists invited to the San Diego wind tunnel in early November 2008, where Steve assisted Lance Armstrong, Alberto Contador and Taylor Phinney:

I first met Steve at a Quality Bicycle Products open house in 1995. I was living in Milwaukee and writing for a now defunct trade publication called Bicycle Dealer Showcase. HED wheels—then and now—were distributed by QBP, and the bespectacled and pony tailed man made a very positive first impression on me that cold February day with his warm smile and easygoing personality. Over the years our paths crossed many times, and he was the same congenial gentleman who always made eye contact as he described his latest project. I interviewed him a few times, and he was the same consistent story teller who held you captivated.

Aerodynamic specialist Steve Hed with you-know-who in the San Diego Air & Space Technology Low Speed Wind Tunnel on November 4, 2008. Photo: Gary J Boulanger

Aerodynamic specialist Steve Hed with you-know-who in the San Diego Air & Space Technology Low Speed Wind Tunnel on November 4, 2008. Photo: Gary J Boulanger.

The best testimony of his genuine likeability and technical prowess was his involvement with both Lance Armstrong and Greg LeMond; the former a multi-decade student of Hed’s, the latter a reseller of HED products with his new line of custom bicycles. The two retired American road racers once shared a friendly relationship, but haven’t sent each other Christmas cards since at least 2001. In short, Hed was a bicycle agnostic: he didn’t care what kind of bike you rode or who you were friends with; if you were a cyclist interested in improving your cycling experience then he was willing to help.

I spoke with a few industry folks who knew Steve well, all of whom were equally shocked and saddened to hear of his passing on November 26. It was a stark reminder that none of us can cheat death, and the bicycle industry and world in general will miss Steve’s contributions. Steve Hed is survived by his wife and business partner Anne and two children.

Chris Carmichael, former Team 7-Eleven road pro and founder of Carmichael Training Systems:

I’ve known Steve for at least 20 years. He was always looking for ways to improve cycling by engineering, aerodynamics and Biomechanics. He couldn’t sit still, as he was always on the go; nothing was ever finished, everything could be improved up even if it was his design it could always be better. He was very respectful of athletes and coaches. He never ventured in to tell an athlete how they should have performed nor did he ever second guess a coach’s decision after the fact.

Steve loved cycling and was involved in all cycling including track, road, mtb, fat bike gravel, touring; if it was a bike he was involved. We last spoke at Interbike in 2013; I will miss him and think of him often. He was my friend.

A 2014 Triple Crown HED gravel bike video:

Joe Vadeboncoeur, Global Director of Product Development, Marketing and Creative Design for Trek Bicycle Corp.:

I had known Steve since the days that we worked together on the U.S. Postal Team.   Not well, because at the time I was the Gary Fisher product manager and we didn’t really cross paths. I got to know him much better when HED built rims for Bontrager.

I remember visiting him and Annie once at the little house they had converted into their factory in Minneapolis. It was a hoot; Annie was great and Steve was a loveable kook.

I’ll always remember how Steve held onto his passion for cycling and his passion for making great stuff. Because at his core he was a bike geek, and he was always on the front end of a trend. The bike world and the real world is a better place for Steve having been in it.

Steve Flagg, founder and co-owner of Quality Bicycle Products:

Steve walked into QBP as a customer of a new bike shop in 1982 with his father.  Steve became a loyal customer and friend. The one thing that always amazed me about Steve; his mind was always spinning in different directions with different and unique ideas. But the wonderful thing was, Steve turned these ideas into reality while the rest of us stood amazed.

A group of us toured the HED facility a few months ago and discussed the fat bike scene. We discussed mutual product interests and collaboration points. Steve and his team were riding and learning fat bikes and could see a real business opportunity. They were interested in the direction of fat bikes particularly as it veered into the high performance end. The Twin City bike scene shares employees and customers and is pretty tight so visiting HED was about seeing old friends and mixing that with the best of bike talk. It was no surprise that his spin on carbon fat bike rims was different than everyone else’s and surprisingly successful.

Steve and Annie have created such an iconic company based on innovation and then ingenuity and execution. I cannot help but stand back and wonder at the force of will and the creative imagination that has been the hallmark of this pair. Hearing Steve’s latest thoughts were like reading a great book; it had all the elements of surprise and suspense and then the flourish of a wonderful ending.

Jim Felt, founder of Felt Racing:

I met Steve and his wife Anne sometime around 1990 or so. Anyone that knows me knows that I do not typically put anyone on a pedestal, but Steve was a genius and someone who I respect and admire. His vision and thinking was ten years ahead of anyone else. Steve’s death actually hit me harder than expected.

Felt_Outfitter_FrontAngle    Felt_Outfitter_RearAxle

I was just in the wind tunnel with his guys last week on a co-op project we’re working on. Steve was a perfectionist. One example of how focused and intense he was involved orange spoke nipples on the HED carbon rims he built for my Felt Outfitter fat e-bike that we introduced at the 2014 Interbike Show. ‘Oh no, Jim; I’m ordering orange nipples for accents with the hunter orange on the bike…’ I was thinking black was fine. We’ve lost a true legend in our industry.

Steve talking fat bikes:


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