Triathlon lost an icon today. Steve Hed has died at the age of 59.
Mr. Hed collapsed outside of one of his facilities on Thursday and was discovered by an employee minutes later. CPR was administered on the scene and by first responders, who rushed him to the hospital. He was taken off life support Tuesday night and passed Wednesday morning.
Steve Hed was the manufacturing entrepreneur with the longest pedigree in the sport. During the early 1980s he scraped by owning a small bike shop in the Twin Cities area called Grand Performance. His curious and generous nature was naturally attractive, and he made the acquaintance of a composites tinkerer and the two started making aero bicycle wheels that riders could afford. That was in 1985 and his company, famous for the big block "HED" emblazoned on his wheels, have set a standard since. HED was the first triathlon manufacturer.
While many of his competitors ebbed and flowed in the ardency of their attachment to aerodynamic wheels, or changed ownership or focus or were absorbed by larger companies, Mr. Hed was not compelled by an exit strategy. He enjoyed doing what he did for a living. HED's arch rival during most of HED's existence was Zipp, but a measure of the esteem in which his contemporaries held him was the number of Zipp current and former owners and employees who were regularly seen at the HED booth during the Interbike trade show. His relationship with Zipp's owner for most of its tenure, Andy Ording, grew into a warm friendship after Mr. Ording sold his company to SRAM in 2007.
Mr. Hed's patent on toroidal wheel shapes set the standard for aero wheels for years. Zipp began making wheels of this shape only after it bought a license from Hed's one-time partner and co-patent holder. Mr. Hed was an innovator in wider rims at the bead site for both road and tri. He's been generally proven right in his advocacy for wider rims, which caused his wheels to be coveted by road riders. His carbon wheels for MTB riders made him a whole new set of fans, and fat bike enthusiasts were blown away by his very lightweight wheels for their bikes at the most recent Interbike show.
Mr. Hed was an inveterate tinkerer, insatiably curious and creative, which led him to move into aerodynamic handlebars once satisfied he would not be competing with longtime friend and Scott handlebar creator Boone Lennon. The HED one-piece aerobar, debuted in the early 2000s, was revolutionary. Most recently his interest has been gravel racing, and he stepped in to help produce the now iconic Almanzo gravel race held in the Twin Cities area.
More than just a manufacturer, Mr. Hed became and has remained a technical and equipment mentor to many triathlon and cycling legends. Lance Armstrong was fiercely loyal to Mr. Hed during the 1990s and for years thereafter, riding HED wheels when he could have earned much more. Mr. Hed became the aero bike fitter for Lance, Levi Leipheimer and others on that team. No doubt the loyalty shown Steve Hed flows from the loyalty he exhibited first. Stories have been told for decades of Mr. Hed quietly continuing to send stipend checks to athletes for years after those athletes retired, well after they could provide any benefit back to the company.
His generosity was well known, even way back "...when he was broke and running that bike shop," according to one of triathlon's earliest pro triathletes, Julie Olson. "He would just pick parts off a bike that was sitting on his showroom floor, and give them away without asking anything in return."
Mr. Hed's trajectory was bent toward triathlon during the early 1980s by an attractive and smart professional in that sport named Anne McDonnell. She was part of the enclave of pro triathletes in the Twin Cities area that included Tony Schiller and Ms. Olson. Annie McDonnell became Annie Hed in 1990, but the two have been in, for 30 years, the perfect communion of Steve's out-of-the-box creativity and Annie's feet-on-the-ground attachment to the realities of business.
Steve Hed was born on July 11, 1955 and died the morning of November 26, 2014. He is survived by his wife of 24 years Anne Hed, a son Andrew and a daughter Rebecca.