Scores of Olympic, Tour de France and world champions have one thing in common: Bicycle wheels designed by Steve Hed carried them to victory.
Hed was founder of HED Cycling, the eponymous company where the innovator revolutionized the cycling world with aerodynamic bike wheels that helped riders go faster.
“I ride his wheels,” said Gwen Jorgensen, an Olympian and the 2014 International Triathlon Union World Champion from St. Paul. “Everything he made was top quality stuff. He was still thinking and creating. I don’t think he realized how talented he was.”
Hed, of North Oaks, died Nov. 26. An employee had found him lying unconscious and without a pulse outside the company’s factory in Shoreview on Nov. 20. Hed was revived and taken to Regions Hospital, “but never woke up,” said company spokesman Andy Tetmeyer. He was 59.
At one time Hed had operated a skateboard company. In the early 1980s he opened a small bike shop in the Twin Cities called Grand Performance. His father had been a pilot in World War II, and Hed developed a deep interest in aviation and aerodynamics. That, along with a never-ending sense of curiosity and ingenuity, was all Hed needed to start making bike wheels out of carbon fiber.
Hed designed a spokeless rear disc wheel in his garage just before the 1984 Olympics and it immediately gained traction. It was not the first disc wheel to come along, but it was the first that was affordable, and athletes — amateur and professional — wanted it, Tetmeyer said.
By the 1990s, Hed introduced front wheels to his offerings, and model after model followed. Hed patented his toroidal wheel shapes that set the standard for aero wheels throughout the industry. He pioneered wind tunnel research on bicycles.
“There is a long-running joke that I referred to him as the propeller head,” said professional cyclist Lance Armstrong. Hed sponsored Armstrong when he was a 16-year-old triathlete, and their relationship continued as Armstrong won the Tour de France a record seven consecutive times from 1999 to 2005 before he was disqualified for doping offenses.
“He was such a fanatic of aerodynamics, performance, speed, wind and a lot of factors way before anyone even could comprehend such things,” Armstrong said.
Some of the world’s best riders, including Armstrong, Levi Leipheimer, Tony Martin and Marco Pinotti rode on HED wheels and sought out Hed for advice on everything from choosing the right equipment to positioning themselves on a bike to gain every possible second.
Jorgensen, the triathlon champion, met Hed in 2010 when she joined the triathlon circuit. She said he was a genius, but also a humble man who was always giving back to the sport and to those who participated in it.
“He took time for me, like I was the best in the world before I really was,” she said.
At the outset Hed primarily focused on supplying wheels for triathletes. More recently he developed a new interest: He had begun competing in and organizing gravel races.
“As much success as he had with professional and elite athletes, he had turned his focus to the common cyclist with the goal of getting people on their bikes and going for long rides,” Tetmeyer said.
Hed is survived by his wife of 24 years, Anne; a son, Andrew; a daughter, Rebecca; two brothers, Daniel and Curtis; and his mother, Joan.
Services have been held.