Steve Hed, a bicycling enthusiast who made it a family business, would be very proud of the folks at Hed Cycling.
Hed, who died unexpectedly at 59 in November 2014, started with a St. Paul bike shop in the 1980s that has evolved to a manufacturer of high-test, aerodynamic carbon-fiber wheels for world-class racers in this summer’s Tour de France and Olympics.
And Hed makes wheels for fat-tire weekend road warriors as well.
“Steve would be proud of his family and employees,” said his widow and business partner, Anne Hed. “Business is phenomenal. A number of the products that were in their infancy when he died have taken off, including carbon-fiber wheels for fat-tire bikes.”
Hed was an idea guy, a visionary and a tinkerer who started manufacturing solid-fiberglass wheels in a garage more than 25 years ago. Anne, a bike enthusiast and triathlete in the 1980s, met Steve in 1983. She became co-owner and business and production manager.
The company, which boasts customers from several teams of Olympians and Tour de France competitors, saw revenue grow 20 percent in each of the past two years. Hed, based in Roseville, expects revenue of more than $8 million. It employs 50 workers.
“Americans increasingly want quality goods that are made in the U.S., and they want wonderful quality service,” said Anne Hed. “I still import some parts, such as hubs and spokes [for aluminum wheels], from Asia. We design and make it here.
“And we’ve spent the last couple of years here doing what Steve wanted us to do.”
Hed Cycling is equipping a number of bikes on the Tour this summer, including European teams Tinkoff and Ettix. Gwen Jorgensen, a top U.S. triathlete and longtime Hed customer, is competing in the Summer Olympics.
It didn’t hurt that one of Hed’s first customers, seeking to shave weight and increase performance from his bicycle, was an unknown triathlete in 1987 named Lance Armstrong. He went on to fame as a several-time Tour winner before plunging into ignominy over revelations that he used drugs to boost his performance.
“Lance was always very grateful to us,” Anne Hed recalled. “He was always concerned about aerodynamics and weight. He helped make our product better. Steve always said Lance helped take us to the next level. I only had positive experiences with him.”
Even the Hed kids are part of the company’s positive growth. Rebecca, 17, and Andrew, 20, are creatives who also are lefthanded, like their father. Andrew works at social media marketing. Rebecca is an artist who one day wants to produce her own line of handbags.
“I’m the business person,” said Anne Hed, 55. “Steve was the creative innovator. I’m about financing the business and getting product out the door. Steve had good hands and kindness, even when something didn’t work. He would get after it with the employees and try and fix things.”
Anne literally walked into Steve’s life. She went to his Grand Performance Bike Shop in St. Paul after winning a triathlon in Texas that qualified her for the Hawaii Ironman, the Super Bowl of triathlons. A former lifeguard from Duluth, Anne moved to the Twin Cities to race and attend Augsburg College. She was a professional triathlete until she retired in 1990 to marry Steve and work alongside him.
Steve Hed, also an athlete, grew up in Brooklyn Center, making skateboards and water skis out of fiberglass in his garage. He spent endless hours producing an early series of fiberglass-and-foam wheels in the late 1980s that were much cheaper than the $6,000-per-wheel type used in the 1980s by Italian cyclist Francesco Moser, who used rear-disc wheels to set one-hour speed records.
Steve Hed successfully produced a prototype that could sell for $500. Anne unveiled the wheels as she traveled to compete in triathlons.
“But we didn’t know how to turn the wheels into a business,” Anne Hed said. “We didn’t have money.”
Anne Hed raised some to start manufacturing 30 years ago by refinancing a Subaru hatchback she won in a triathlon. Steve sold the St. Paul bike shop. The pair began making wheels in the back of their small house in White Bear Lake.
Today’s Hed carbon-fiber wheels range from a set that Jorgensen rides that cost about $2,200 per pair to aluminum or alloy wheels that run about $1,000 for a pair.
Anne Hed, who leads a busy but comfortable life running a business and raising two teenagers, also can remember the lean years of 20 years ago. The young Hed family struggled to make the house payment, and the food budget was limited.
“I still can’t eat Malt-O-Meal,” Anne Hed said. “We used to buy a lot of it.”
Steve Hed wasn’t an engineer, as many suspected. A liberal arts graduate of Bethel University, he was handy, creative and worked hard.
Last Wednesday, Anne Hed awakened, thinking of Steve and that something good was going to happen. She learned a few hours later that Hed Cycling was one of 10 winners of the annual FedEx Small Business Grant contest, each of whom won $7,500. Hed Cycling was chosen from among 100 finalists, all small businesses with fewer than 50 employees.
Anne Hed, who enjoys bike rides on trails from her suburban St. Paul home, plans to reinvest the money into the business.
“Steve would be super happy about this,” she said of the award.
Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.