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The stable of bicycle brands residing quietly in Mequon is rather impressive, covering several bases from the ground up.

Led by President and Chief Executive Officer Philip Malliet, a Wisconsin native with degrees from Marquette University, HB Performance Systems Inc. has grown organically from a Milwaukee manufacturer of parts for outboard motors, in 1946, to a world leader in braking, steering and suspension systems today.

Malliet’s team of 500, working under the Hayes umbrella, takes pride in their ability to integrate components and technologies into systems that provide superior braking and electro, hydraulic and mechanical controllability for snowmobiles, motorcycles, military vehicles, heavy-duty construction and agricultural equipment. And bicycles.

We spoke with Malliet, and asked him several questions about the company’s bicycle product past and its future plans.

Bike Fed: With a history of providing braking systems for Harley-Davidson motorcycles, Caterpillar’s wheel loaders and Polaris snowmobiles, it seemed inevitable that Hayes was in the right position to bring production disc brakes to the mountain bike world in 1993. Some may not remember that it was Hayes who developed the first disc brake for the Chicago-based Schwinn in 1972. Does having first-mover status help or hinder Hayes?

Philip Malliet: To be the first in the bicycle market with a new technology can be a great position, but product evolution in the bike industry is fast-paced, so being first doesn’t guarantee longevity. We have to constantly evolve our products from a performance and appearance perspective to maintain the leadership position.

Bike Fed: Does the continuous development for powersports aid the bicycle product development cycle?

Philip Malliet: There are crossover opportunities for technology both ways, and you will see that continue at Hayes.

Bike Fed: With such a wide breadth of markets covered, how do you plan to keep the Hayes name at the forefront of your current and future customers?

Philip Malliet: You will see a renewed commitment of support from Hayes to our customers’ markets through more visibility at industry and customer events. More important, though, will be our continued commitment to the development of new technologies and high performance systems that address our customers’ needs and their customers’ desires to go faster and further in the most demanding conditions. 

It’s all about passion for the products our customers make and our employees enthusiastic participation with our customers products to recognize first-hand the next new technology and high performance system.

Trimmed wire in the spoke machine for finishing.

In June 2005, the senior leadership team led a management buyout and renamed the business HB Performance Systems. The new ownership team quickly moved into an acquisition mode, and purchased several businesses to strengthen the bicycle products group, including:

  • Sun Metal Products of Wausau, Ind., which made SunRingle’ components, specifically rims and wheels for bicycles and wheelchairs. HB also acquired an on-going Chinese wholly owned foreign enterprise in the deal;
  • Wheelsmith Fabrication, Inc., the only U.S.-based manufacturer and recognized brand of high grade bicycle spokes, with production moved to Milwaukee;
  • Answer bicycle components (handlebars, saddles, stems, cranks, pedals, shoes, gloves) and Manitou suspension (front fork and rear shock products).

Darren Campbell is Vice President & General Manager of the Hayes Bicycle Group. He started out as an intern in the engineering test labs. Campbell holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Milwaukee School of Engineering and an MBA from UW-Milwaukee. His versatile background in everything from design to production to marketing serves him well as he helps shape all aspects of each of the five brands.

“Growing up in rural Wisconsin working on farms, meat plants and other grunt jobs, you learn to take nothing for granted,” he said. “Just keep your nose down, work hard and good things will happen.”

Bike Fed: Where does Hayes see room for growth in the bicycle segment?

Darren Campbell: We see room for growth in each segment we participate in. Each of our brands has been a leader at some point during its history. We have built our company around driving each of them to a leadership position once again.

We use our company brand drivers of Purposeful, Premium, Smart, Engineered and Reliable to drive all aspects of our business from product development to customer service. Our portfolio of products includes some outstanding product lines and intellectual property. Combining these assets with our global infrastructure and nimble size, we are able to offer significant value added products and services to our customers that our competitors cannot.”

Bike Fed: You must be excited to see growing segments like fat bikes, gravel bikes and the prospect of the pro peloton adapting discs brakes in the near future. How do you and your team stay ahead of these curves?

Darren Campbell: Growing segments go well beyond disc brakes and are driving innovation in each of our categories. The Fat and Plus size opportunities are probably some of the most exciting at the moment and have resulted in some new categories for Manitou and SunRinglé. We utilize a Voice of Customer (VOC) approach which is key for any market-driven business. You have to stay close to the market influencers and align your product plans with where your customers are headed. We also keep R&D initiatives moving that can be disruptive in the market place.

An important balancing act with VOC is for a company to leverage our component expertise to help evolve the markets themselves. Customers often don’t know what is possible. Combining these two pieces, VOC and R&D are how we keep ahead and lead these trends. Of course, we’re all riders too and are constantly tinkering and experimenting to improve our own experience on the bike. Most often work doesn’t feel like work!

Trimmed wire in the spoke machine for finishing.

We run stories about our great partners in Wisconsin’s nation leading bicycle industry to share their passion for cycling as well as to encourage our members to ask for Wisconsin products the next time they are making a purchase at their local bike shop. No matter what your upgrade, you can find a Wisconsin product that will be as good or better than anything else on the market. When you make that Wisconsin purchase, you not only get a better bike, you support local jobs, the Bike Fed and help make Wisconsin America’s Best Ride.

We asked Malliet to describe his perfect summer day in Wisconsin.

“A dirt trail to conquer, miles of open pavement to ride, a farm field to plow or a bridge to build!” he said with a chuckle. “At Hayes we have a lot of passions, and in Wisconsin all of them are possible! Of course a whole bunch of sunshine doesn’t hurt either.”

Green Bay native Gary Boulanger is editor-in-chief of Bicycle Times Magazine in Mountain View, California, and worked at Waterford Precision Cycles 20 years ago.