Steve Hed, aero wheel innovator and all-around cool dude, passes away at 59

Steve Hed at Interbike

Here at Bike Hugger, we are saddened by the news that Steve Hed has died at age 59. Founder of Hed Cycling, Hed’s personal history has been deeply entwined with high performance cycling, particularly in triathlon and time trialing. Since the mid-1980s, Hed had represented the personification of the American innovator: creative, maybe a little kooky but willing to follow his ideas with equal measures of diligence and honesty. With many hours in the wind tunnel long before it was cool, he helped bring deep profile rims and disc wheels to cycling world, but when his own design for a composite spoked wheel did not produce good results in aero tests, he scrapped the idea (unlike several other manufacturers). Years later he would purchase the rights and equipment to manufacture what is now generally known as the Hed3 wheel. Then in the 21st century he was the leading proponent for the current philosophy of wide aero rims that acknowledge real world riding conditions. Additionally, he led the move towards wider clincher rims and wider tyres in performance road riding, as exemplified by the C2 Belgium rim and the even wider Belgium Plus recently. Something I personally respect is how clean Hed designs are, without all the trademarked and patented gimmicks that companies in Hed’s wake have added to distinguish their products in the consumer consciousness. Arguably, in an industry that is awash in hype, Hed represented a purity of design and purpose.

For such a small company, Hed Cycling has always had surprising connections to the biggest names in cycle sport. When I visited the Hed Cycling’s headquarters in MN a few years ago, the guys were glued to their monitors as they watched Levi Leipheimer power through his ToC time trial, knowingly commenting on how Levi had been consulting on wheels and positioning earlier that year. I walked through Hed’s shipping department to see a box of wheels to be shipped to some customer named “Contador” in Spain.

I couldn’t say that I knew Steve well. With longish, almost white hair, I could picture him blending in at a local coffee shop or farmers market. But he had certain sense of humour. One year he brought a downhill MTB wheel with a deep section rim profile to Interbike. He had this twinkle in his eye as he explained the design. Whenever I think about that occasion, I imagine that Steve built that prototype to answer a half-baked question or a bar bet, and then with the actual data hidden in his hand, he wanted to see how many people would hype it up.

I had met Steve several times at Interbikes over the years, but one of my favourite anecdotes I’m sure he never realized. I worked at a bike shop that was renowned for the retro tastes of one of the owners. That owner bought some vintage parts from a seller on Classic Rendezvous, and when they arrived at the shop I recognized the Minnesota address. In fact, Steve was the seller, and included some Hed Cycling paraphernalia as a bonus. Oddly, those items……erm…..disappeared from the box. So today I’m going to wear that Hed Cycling beanie as I ride one of many bikes fitted with Hed rims. Good bye, Steve.