By Scott Molina
As I sit here in my wonderful home in New Zealand sipping Laphroig in my library, now retired and reflecting on all the people who’ve contributed to my successful career as a professional athlete, Steve Hed is right here with me.
His technological innovations and friendship helped me win a hell of a lot of races.
Once I realized the other advantages in our thirty-year friendship, I never raced on any other wheels, always asked his advice on anything to do with the bike. Steve was a visionary and has been one of the main innovators in our sport. His influence in the world of triathlon and cycling was profound.
He was good friend. A loyal man, authentic, trustworthy and genuine.
I’m so thankful our lives intersected.
My first meeting with Steve was at the Tour of Minnesota in ’84 or ’85.
I was competing in a bicycle stage race with a friend, Mac Martin, who’d convinced me that the best way to prepare for the upcoming World’s Toughest Triathlon was to do a brutal week-long stage race.
The additional carrot for me was the USTS Series Minnesota Triathlon to be held on the morning of the last day of the stage race. Do the tri in the morning (and make some money), I thought, and then do the final 100km stage in the afternoon.
Steve owned a bike shop in Minneapolis and was doing wrench support for some team or another and was a fan of triathlon, so we spoke a few times. It all seems a bit hazy now but what I do remember was Steve worked his tail off on that tour looking after bikes.
After that event we had some contact on the phone. He was developing a disc wheel and asked if I’d like to try it, and of course I said yes as hardly anyone in triathlon had a disc at that time. This was early ’86, I think. A disc wheel was an expense way beyond what any of us could afford and there were hardly any of them outside the track cycling world at that time. So the day before the Bakersfield Tri I took it out for a test ride and it came un-glued in about two miles and I had to walk back to the hotel.
I wasn’t very impressed to say the least.
I told Steve about it and he just kind of sighed and said something like “I’ll have to get some better glue.” But a friendship was born and before the end of that year I was winning races on a HED disc.
Either that winter or the next Steve started producing other wheels along with other tri-related gadgets like behind-the-seat water bottle holders and waist straps attached to the stem to push against for extra power. He was always tinkering. Steve invited me down to Texas to do some wind tunnel testing of products and various aero positions to see if there was some “free” speed to be found.
These experiments were anything but “free” for Steve.
He paid a fortune to use the wind tunnel, for flights and accommodations for the trips, and to make the molds to produce experimental wheels. But I was thrilled to be a part of it.
And the most amazing aspect of all this experimenting was that if Steve found the data didn’t support his hypothesis, he’d shrug, throw it in the trash, and get back to the drawing board.
One year he and another forward thinker named Ralph Ray came up with an idea to build a bike with 24-inch wheels in order to get more aero, lower in the front. Back then a rule was introduced that both wheels had to be the same size. For what inane reason I forget, but Steve and Ray made this bike for me that got me into an incredibly aero position. Some people might remember that there were a few aero bikes with bullhorn bars and a 26-inch front wheel. Ken Glah used one for a few years with great success.
For this 24-inch wheeled bike, however, Steve also machined a solid 2-cog bit (11-tooth, 9-tooth) that screwed onto the cogset where the 12-tooth normally was. This bike was gonna’ be my new secret weapon. Problem was, I had terrible back problems and could hardly pedal the thing. Think of Bjorn Andersson’s position - this was even f@#$%n lower!
And the chain skipped around that 9-tooth cog like Little Red Riding Hood on her way to Grandmother’s house.
The race was a disaster.
But Steve and I had a few beers afterwards and we gave the bike to Ralph to do as he pleased with it.
Onto the next thing.
Fast forward to the USTS Championships in Hilton Head, maybe ’85 or ’86. Steve said he had a super fast bike he could send me to ride in one of my big races for the year - the USTS Champs. The day before the race he shows up with a unique carbon bike made by Huffy for the ’84 Olympics. No one had access to a bike like this one. Incredible!
Carbon, monocoque frame, enclosed rear disc wheel, super low in front, cow-horn bars (before aero bars). So, I take it out for a spin the night before the race in the dark so no one will see me.
I adjust the seat height a bit. All ready to go. I’m psyched.
When I check the bike on the next morning, everyone in transition is looking at it.
Looks fast. Then, twenty km into the ride, I go over a speed bump and the seat post drops about two inches.
Not much I can do but ride the damn thing mostly out of the saddle for the next 1/2 hour even though the course is perfectly flat. My legs are throbbing on the ride and run but I go onto win the race and the series.
Steve and I have a few beers and laughs like we did after every race he was at with me.
I miss him already.