Hayes Performance Systems designs and manufactures brakes for mountain bikes, motorcycles, construction equipment, military vehicles, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), and more. In the bicycle market the company also manufactures wheels, rims, suspension systems, handlebars and other components.
If I ride a mountain bike or a motorcycle, why would I want to use a set of brakes from Hayes Performance Systems? Hayes Chief Executive Officer and President Philip Malliet is not the least bit phased by this blunt query. The company has a tremendous reputation in all its segments but is particularly well-known for its braking systems, which have earned kudos from industry pundits and athletes alike.
“I would say we design a product that is specific for the application. There are some significant requirements for a motorcycle on the track versus a motorcycle on a country road. There’s also a big difference between a rider who goes down a mountain [on a bike] as fast as he can to win a race versus an adult pulling their burly behind on a trail. We have a tendency to design our product by application, which really differentiates us,” replies Malliet.
There is another key reason to buy Hayes brakes and other products. “The thing we like to talk about is that we’re ‘out of sight, out of mind.’ You never have to worry [about our products]. They’re reliable. In the [agriculture] and construction sector, for example, our product is mostly park brakes,” says Malliet. “When you stop a vehicle, you don’t want to have to worry that it’s going to roll away.”
In addition to its Mequon, Wisconsin headquarters, Hayes has multiple locations worldwide and a global network of engineers. “We have an operation now in Salt Lake City. We have two operations in China, two facilities in Taiwan, one facility in Germany,” states Malliet.
Regardless of where the company operates, Hayes puts its in-house stamp on its full product line. “Everything we sell is manufactured either by us or our contract manufacturer,” says Malliet, proudly. “All of our products are designed by Hayes.”
Hayes works primarily in a business-to-business (B2B) fashion, selling top-of-the-line gear to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) and distributors. Its products are found on bikes, agriculture and construction machinery, specialty equipment, military vehicles, power sports vehicles, and motorcycles. Power sports cover motorcycles, snowmobiles, ATVs, and utility task vehicles (UTVs). The company also designs and supplies wheels, rims, and components for wheelchair manufacturers.
Of these segments, the mountain bike market “is our biggest. Our next biggest is power sports, then what we call heavy equipment which is agriculture, construction, and military,” states Malliet.
The company takes a comprehensive view to one of its central products. “A little bit of a differentiator for us is that we have brake systems, not just brake calipers,” says Malliet.
One of the company’s most well-regarded bicycle brands, Hayes, is its line of disc brakes. In 1996, Hayes was the first company to come out with a hydraulic brake, which revolutionized the mountain bike industry. Over the years, the company has acquired other bicycle component businesses to have a full portfolio of component brands. This now includes advanced bicycle suspension systems under the brand label of Manitou; carbon fiber bicycle wheels from newly acquired Reynolds Cycling; bike wheels, rims and hubs from SUNringlé; handlebars, stems and pedals from ProTaper MTB; stainless steel spokes from Wheelsmith; and a line of apparel including jerseys and gloves under the brand label of Answer. Expanding its product line by acquiring more companies is part of Hayes’ future growth strategy.
Hayes has ISO 9001:2015 certification and an intensive quality assurance process. Stringent quality standards are central to the Hayes Business System that blends lean manufacturing principles and best business practices. The aim is to empower employees, produce superior products, and maintain a firm strategic focus.
Products are also put through intensive testing. Among other measures, Hayes uses dynamometers to simulate wet, muddy and aggressive trail conditions when testing bike brake systems and suspension systems and software programs are used to determine product performance throughout an entire lifecycle.
Such vigilance is understandable given that “the majority of our products are safety-related,” notes Malliet. Indeed, an equipment failure while racing a motorcycle or mountain bike on a course or while using construction equipment at a worksite could result in a serious accident or injury. It is a reality that Hayes always bears in mind when researching and developing new products.
While laboratory testing is one thing, Hayes also exposes its products to intensive real-world environments. The company sponsors professional mountain bikers, snowmobile racing teams, a motorcycle team, and other athletes. This has the dual effect of spreading the word about Hayes while putting its products through the most brutal test conditions possible. It also conducts testing at Road America, a Wisconsin locale famous for hosting motorsport events.
“On the power sport and motorcycle side, we’re heavily engaged and use our local track. Most people are familiar with Road America, one of the most notable tracks for difficult test brake requirements. [It features] sharp turns, high speeds coming into turns,” says Malliet. “We have a facility up there that we use to gather information and test our products on everything from UTVs and ATVs to motorcycles.”
Hayes’ customer-centric approach to business carries over into specialized design and manufacturing. “Our clients tell us they enjoy partnering with us because we listen to them and develop solutions,” states Malliet. “One of the reasons we are winning market share is our customer care.”
This approach has produced increased market share and happy clients. In December 2018, for example, Hayes’ Dominion A4 disc brake system won the 2018 Component of the Year from Pinkbike.com, a leading website for mountain bike enthusiasts.
Testimonials rave about the product. “Hayes’ new Dominion A4 may just be some of the best four-piston disc brakes we’ve tested,” reads a review from Dave Hayward of Singletrack Magazine. “Smooth feel, easy lever action, plenty of power, consistent braking.”
Such effusive praise from mountain bike pundits might have come as a surprise to the company founders. Hayes started life in 1946 as a Milwaukee-based manufacturing outfit called H&H Products Company. Initially, the focus was on making parts for outboard boat motors, not bikes.
“Then as time went on, the son of the founder got involved in go-kart racing. So, we developed some brakes for the go-kart space,” recalls Malliet. From there, the company began to develop a reputation for quality braking systems, and by the late 1950s, was making disc brakes exclusively.
The company continued to expand, receiving patents for disc brakes and other products like the spring apply hydraulic release (SAHR) actuator. Along the way, the company name was changed, and breakthrough products were launched. Over the decades, Hayes has also worked for Harley-Davidson and became the exclusive supplier of brake systems for the legendary firm’s motorcycle line in 1985. And most recently, Hayes was awarded substantial OE spec with BMW to include Hayes’s high-performance brake caliper, the X32. It also serves Oshkosh Truck, John Deere and Polaris.
At present, Hayes Performance Systems has roughly 550 employees, up from roughly 420 last year at this time, says Malliet. The leap in employment was largely due to the acquisition of Reynolds Cycling in October 2018. Employees enjoy a variety of medical, dental and vision care benefits, along with life insurance options, 401(k) plans, tuition reimbursement, paid holidays, short and long-term disability plans, and comprehensive training.
Hayes has an active social media presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube. However, much of the company’s energy is spent on grassroots promotion, involving athletic sponsorships and appearances at sporting events.
The company anticipates that 2019 is going to be a big year. “We have a significant amount of new products launching,” states Malliet. “We will be launching a new park brake with integrated actuation [that is] particularly focused on the construction segment of the heavy equipment market space. It could have an application in the Ag side as well. Additionally, a new collection of inspiring bicycle products are launching in April in May at these season kick-off events – Sea Otter Classic (Monterey, CA) and Bike Festival Garda Trentino (Garda, Italy).”
Within a few years, Malliet hopes the company will be twice its current size. “We do want to double the size of our business in a five-year time frame. We will do that both organically with new technology and new product and acquisitions.”