INSIDE THE INDUSTRY
Hayes Bicycle Group
WORDS: R. Cunningham
IMAGES: Paris Gore
Wisconsin is a blue-collar working town that happens to be the birthplace of both Harley Davidson and Hayes. Hayes invited Pinkbike to visit its headquarters there, which is the nerve center for Hayes Brakes, Answer accessories, Manitou suspension, SunRingle’ wheels, and Wheelsmith spokes. If that seems like a handful of divergent brands, it definitely is. There is, however, method behind that apparent madness.
The story goes, that Hayes was originally a made-in-USA manufacturer that was happily making disc brakes for mountain bikes and for its core business, which catered to Harley Davidson, motorsports and heavy industry. Sales quickly outstripped the factory’s bicycle manufacturing section. That, and pressure from Taiwanese bike makers to open a factory close by in Asia to directly service the OEM market there, led to the creation of Hayes Asia, where all of its cycling components, with the exception of Wheelsmith spokes, are now made. Hayes is not unique to this business model. SRAM was compelled to make the same move for the same reasons in its early years.
Seen in the R&D department: a Manitou MRD in-line
shock with a high volume air can and remote damping control.
The storyboard used to name the new Mattoc fork. Wall
sculpture: an un-machined magnesium fork slider casting.
More Than Brakes
Sometime around 2005, after enjoying a run of exceptionally good business making disc brakes for most mountain bike brands, Hayes came under fire from Shimano and SRAM. At that time, Shimano and SRAM were beginning to produce good brakes and OEM customers were under pressure to one-stop-shop their drivetrain purchases to include brakes for special pricing. Rumors were circulating that Shimano was also tooling up to make wheels. Hayes management could see the writing on the wall. The only way to compete was to diversify. By selling a component package, Hayes too, could offer attractive pricing packages and hopefully sway OEM customers to cherry pick Shimano and SRAM for their drivetrain components and to choose Hayes to fill out the rest of their bikes.
Hayes, however was a heavy manufacturing company, not a slick design and marketing firm, so a buyout was arranged, led by Rand McNally and other key Hayes managers, to buy out the previous owners and change the name to HB Performance Systems Inc. The key aspects of Hayes's business were separated into marketing divisions , and the new cycling wing was named Hayes Bicycle Group (better known as Hayes Components.)
At that moment, Rand McNally’s new enterprise could not have been better timed, as there were a number of globally known component companies that were on the edge of collapse for various reasons – so they went on a shopping spree. One month after forming the new Hayes, they bought Sun Ringlé. In 2006, they purchased Wheelsmith spokes and later that same year, the Hayes group acquired Answer/Manitou.Hayes' Shopping Spree
By the end of 2006, Hayes Bicycle Group had a pasture full of horses that needed a lot of work before they would be able to pull a wagon. Darren Campbell, who became the General Manager in 2009, said that they were committed to invest heavily to bring each brand to full strength as quickly as possible, but nobody there anticipated that the US economy would drop into a recession within months of their spending spree. At that point, most businesses would have cut and run, selling off the least promising members of their recent acquisitions. Instead, the Hayes team bolstered their resolve and stuck with the original plan.
Perhaps the best outcome of this difficult setback was that Hayes was forced to identify its target customers and then focus the product development programs for Answer, Manitou, SunRinglé and Hayes Brakes exactly on point. That point, by the way, is the middle section of the enthusiast mountain bike market, where riders expect elite performance from affordable equipment.
|We are not a glitz and glam company. We want our parts, even if they are on a 400-dollar bike, to outperform anything out there. |
- Darren Campbell, VP/General Manager
To make headway in the enthusiast market, however, requires substantial commitments from OEM customers, something which was slow in coming. Surprisingly, it was Manitou suspension that gave the Hayes team its breakout year, posting the division's best return to date in 2012, and leading all of its divisions with strong sales in Europe. More recently, when the Manitou Dorado was the only downhill fork that could adapt to the mid-sized, 27.5-inch wheel, many riders and product managers rediscovered that its performance was competitive with the top offerings from RockShox and Fox – which further boosted Manitou’s credibility at a key moment.
Manitou’s initial recovery precluded the development of any new fork or shock platform, which was the reason for its adherence to the old-school 32-millimeter-stanchion format for its single-crown forks. The new Mattoc
long-stroke all-mountain fork, however, has broken the curse with its DH-damping sophistication and stiffer, 34-millimeter stanchion tubes. While we were visiting, we also took a look at a new in-line air-sprung shock design that is scheduled for 2014 release. Both suspension items are targeted at the long-travel AM/trail segment. It seems that Manitou is once again on the move.
Falling on the heels of the big-travel trend, one would think that the handlebar and stem offerings of the Answer brand – the first name in high-performance cockpit items - would be doing a smashing business, but Hayes indicated that it intentionally held back on its marketing plans for Answer in order to prioritize efforts for SunRinglé and Manitou. It doesn’t help that the market is presently saturated with boutique bar and stem makers - each with a cult following - but surely, with the Answer’s reputation for exceptionally strong and lightweight handlebars and stems, there is much potential for the brand in the present OEM and aftermarket.SunRinglé
SunRinglé wheels are on a sizable chunk of OEM mountain bikes from prominent brand names, which can’t have hurt the Hayes Group. The continuing trend towards more aggressive riding styles and the all-mountain/trail segment of the market has fallen into their laps, as one of their first pushes into the wheel market was with its heavy-duty Charger wheelset
that featured 28-millimeter rims that were wider than the accepted norm at the time and featured Stan’s tubeless BST low-profile rim-flange technology.
Hayes Components’ head-first dive into factory-built wheels created a demand for high-quality spokes, which was the reason that the team purchased Wheelsmith. The initial success of the program easily outstripped the production capability of the two machines that came with the Wheelsmith deal, so they took a trip to Japan and bought out Asahi – the spoke maker that once made the lion’s share of Wheelsmith’s spokes in their heyday – and brought the entire operation to Milwaukee. Using secret stainless steel wire from Japan, and set up in the old Evinrude outboard motor factory, skilled workers coax millions of spokes from a handful of Asahi spoke forging machines that date back to the 1960s, when the Japanese company copied the original Swiss built forging and threading devices. Watching the machines work is a trip back in time to the age of steam and opportunity.
Wheelsmith also builds a small amount of wheels on site for special customers and applications, but for the most part, Sun Ringle’ wheels are manufactured in Asia where they can be shipped, just in time, to OEM customers. Ironically, Wheelsmith spokes are one of the few manufactured items (jobs excluded) that are made in the USA and exported in large quantities to Asia.Hayes Disc Brakes
Ironically, Hayes is lagging in most in its founding business. Shimano has kicked every brake maker’s butt with its ICE rotor and pad technology, which has forced even the mighty SRAM to play catch up. Shimano brakes are not so far ahead that another maker could not pull alongside. The gap that Hayes must close is not the lack of power or control – but mainly because the industrial look and external adjustment features that once were the key attraction to brakes like the El Camino, have been eclipsed by new sleek and super-compact designs for both lever assemblies and calipers. That said, Hayes has extensive resources waiting to be tapped within its factory walls with which to prototype future brake, and the sharp looking Prime model indicates that they are already in the hunt. The fact that their competitors are facing the same challenge makes it a level playing field, so it will be interesting to see Hayes’ response to this industry wide challenge as its future disc brake lineup takes shape.Inside the Factory
Touring the manufacturing facility at Hayes is a treat. They build braking systems for Harley Davidson motorcycles and a number of ATV and snowmobile brands – many models of which, were present at the factory for ongoing testing. Interestingly, Hayes invented a cell-manufacturing system, a method that isolates the assembly and testing of each brake model in a unique production line, to ensure quality control for its bicycle brakes. After bicycle production was moved to its factory in Taiwan, the cells were converted to assemble motorsports brakes. Taking a step learned from OEM bicycle sales, Hayes was able to ship completely assembled, bled and tested brake systems, with hoses made to length and all the hardware in place to its customers – which turned out to be a game-changer for the motorsports industry as a whole. In this manner, Hayes can control its quality from the raw cast and forged metal components, through the customer’s first ride on the vehicle. Bow down to the power of the bicycle.
Their newest division, located in the research and development bay of the Hayes factory, is developing automated traction, braking and power-steering controls for OHV applications. Most of what we were shown was still in the secret phases, but we did get to test-ride a four-wheel-drive OHV that was wired to a computer, which featured a Hayes-designed proportional-input power-steering system. The feel was steady and sure when driving in a straight line, and the assistance kicked in to ease maneuvering when the handlebar was turned beyond a certain distance. There was a dramatic improvement when the system was tuned on. Will we be seeing power steering on bicycles? "Definitely not," was the consensus at Hayes.
See the cover photo full size.
|For sure, it has been a rocky road for Hayes Components to get its five brands up and running, and there is still some work ahead. As a whole, however, their hard work and perseverance seems to be paying off. Manitou and SunRingle are on the move, Wheelsmith is selling as many spokes as it can produce worldwide and Answer is in the blocks, ready to sprint into the emerging enduro segment. If Hayes Components continues at this rate, and can manage to deliver a cutting-edge brake system to go up against Shimano, they could pull off the comeback story of the decade. - RC|