The History of Sean Costin's HPVs and recumbent bikes

Sean Costin's bikes

The highlights and lowlights of Sean Costin's prolific adventures in bike building 

I actually built my first bike when I was 12 years old. A friend of  mine had built a BMX bike and I wanted one too, so we garbage picked some frames and welded a bike with terrible geometry. The first day I rode it, we met some friends out by the railroad tracks where most of the BMX trails were. There was a 20 foot dirt pile that other kids were riding down and then hitting ramp made from a 4x8 sheet of plywood propped up onto a 55 gallon drum laying on it's side. 5 feet down the trail was the landing ramp- made the same way. I went of the first ramp a little cock-eyed and never pulled out of it. I broke my wrist. 

It was 13 years later that I built my next bike.


This was the first bike I ever built, in spring of 1990. I made it from a rowing machine. The seat slid back and forth on the chassis. 

It was fundamentally slow and I never bothered to work out the bugs.

This picture was taken at the IHPVA speed championships in Milwaukee in '91 at the very slightly banked Brown Deer Park Velodrome. I was still having trouble shaking my upright roots at this point, but I knew I wanted to get more aero. This design had an infinitesimal effect on my speed, but by going to the races, I got turned on to Front wheel drive by Tom Traylor who is seen in the background with his FWD racer.
This picture was taken at the very first WISIL meeting. That's Bill Murphy in the background. I built this BMX bike to FWD bike in my suburban 
apartment. The front drive system was a little flimsy. 

It was a rear end of a mountain bike bolted on, but it worked o.k. and didn't cost very much. 

Racing my first FWD bike at the Milwaukee mile in 1992. I found that If I laid the seat back a bit, I could get more speed. 

I averaged about 24 mph for the hour that day.

Later that summer I decided to compete in Yreka at the speed championships with a fairing. Yes it was faster, but almost uncontrollable with a fairing. 

I am a little proud of the front curve of the fairing. It was made by pinching a truck inner-tube from top to bottom and using it as a male mold for the fiberglass.

Fortunately Dave Kraft of the MNHPV'ers took pity on me and my junk yard FWD creation and we collaborated on a race version known to racing fans as the Crashomatic 5000. First it was just the rear frame assembly as in this picture from the 1993 Ice bike races. 

The down tube eventually broke while riding at 22mph - ouch!

By Summer of 1993 Dave and I finished the front drive and I built a nice little tail cone. This bike was very fast. I remember averaging over 25mph 
for the hour. I won quite a few races that year, even beating World Record Holder Wimpe van de Merwe of South Africa at the speed championships in Blaine, Minnesota in the 1500M.standing start. I also entered some USCF Time trials, finishing in the top 10 out of 120 riders and winning another time trial. One could call this an early Low racer. It was hell to get started, but once it was going, it was only a nightmare to handle. 
This is the bike I rode out in Alamosa, CO for the Colorado Speed Challenge. 

Dennis Northey of Milwaukee had bought it from Wimpe Van de Merwe at the Blaine, MN speed championships. I talked him into driving out there and letting me race it. It was a pretty fast bike, but not made for top speed. With the help of an extended tail made of cardboard, I went 60.9mph to take 6th place in the 200M flying start-high altitude. 

This is a Kingcycle knockoff bike I built for training and touring purposes. I didn't like it too much. It had the stiffness of a wet noodle and the frame liked to launch me upward when I hit bumps. I cut it up for parts.
By this time, I was really starting to understand how to go faster. I knew 3 things. You need to be low, laid back and have an efficient drive train. This was what Little Eddy was all about. Little Eddy is stripped to the essential. I still love this design. The drivetrain is so sweetly efficient, with no idlers. The frame is just one muffler tube with one bend. I think Charles Mochet would have liked this one. At Eureka, where this picture was taken, I won the 200M at 40.5 mph and the 1 hour at about 27 mph. Bill Murphy helped me build this bike.
This was the WISIL Missile. It was a team effort of the core group in the WISIL Club which included Rick Wianecki, Len Brunkalla, Bill Murphy, Bob Buerger and myself with help from other interested members. It wasn't a super fast HPV, but we all learned greatly from the experience. Later on, Warren Beauchamp put his mark on the design by redesigning the top. It was sold to Jeff Potter publisher of "Out Your Backdoor" who still rides and races it as competitively I ever did.
Me on sling seat with huge chainring. Pro-life or not, this baby should have been aborted. The enormous chainring given to me by my Russian -now American friend Boris Zakoldaev was too 
cool to not try. It weighed only 7 lbs and was machined in trade for a bottle of Vodka in a Russian Military Helicopter factory during the Cold War. The reverse fork gave poor handling and a seat suspended by ropes is next to impossible to drive. Bill Murphy helped me build this bike too, but he will probably deny it.
This is the blown fairing on the Monkey Hand. It was hot, Loud, not very fast, flimsy. I hated it and gave up on this type of fairing for good. It took Bill Murphy and I years to learn the art of blowing canopy's. These days I prefer to look at a video monitor- Its a lot faster to put together, easier to see out of and you can make an ideal shape.
This photo was taken in 1999 while racing the Tucker 100 in the Northbrook Velodrome. Despite the fact that the Monkey Hand was a bad Fully Faired bike, the Chassis proved to be an excellent non-faired bike once I lowered it more. I averaged 28 MPH in 50 lap race with this bike and later that summer won the 200M at the World Championships in Interlaken, Switzerland beating Europe's best racers. The frame is designed to be stiffer than a traditional Z-frame. This bike even breaks into 3 sections for easier shipping. The name Monkey Hand came from when it was sitting atop my roof rack and someone said the seat looked like a monkey hand.
This bike was built by Bill Murphy and I one winter. We wanted to see if we could master rear steering on a FWD low racer. Though it made a nice scooter, it was THE MOST FRIGHTENING BIKE I ever rode. This bike was later turned into an even more unsuccessful Ice Trike.
I think every serious married bike builder tries to build a bike for his wife at some point. This was my effort. I thought the paint job would help, but it failed to cover up some design flaws that made it too difficult for her to ride. I didn't like it much either, so we bought her a Lightning Stealth which she loves. A unique quality about this bike is that the frame has no welds. I glassed in the head tube and the rear is a reinforced fork that clamps into an aluminum block that bolts to the frame. Desperate for a working bike early one racing season, I won a race with this bike at the Whiteland, IN Go Kart track.
  This was my greatest Victory. I am joined on the podium by Frederic Van de Walle and Eric Fidder after winning the 200M at the 1999 Worlds in 

 I won by 4 Km/hr riding the Monkey Hand completely unfaired - they used tailcones.


In 2000, Thom Ollinger and I built the Coslinger Special streamliner, and raced it at the Worlds fastest bike event. In 2001, Sam Whittingham built the Forte' adjustable-on-the-fly-seat quasi-low racer for me to train on.

I didn't want to create this page to immortalize my bikes, but rather to be instructional and inspirational to other people interested in building bikes so strange that only you can ride them. Cleary I have been responsible for the construction of some very crappy HPV's. Some didn't even live long enough to be photographed. The point is that we all start from some where (usually the bottom) and if we experiment enough and dedicate ourselves to making our ideas become a reality. Someday you can have the satisfaction of knowing that at least you didn't waste half your life chasing around a little white ball. 

Unbelievable as it may seem, building bikes and racing them has been the most rewarding thing I have ever done. I have met great people while doing it. I sincerely appreciate all the help people have given me in the construction of my bikes. They are (in chronological order) Greg Dalton, Will Ince, Dave Kraft, Bill Murphy, the WISIL Crew and Thom & Charlie Ollinger.

- Sean Costin


In 2012, Sean built the Swift speedbike, and raced it at Battle Mountain. Sean set a personal best speed of 70.4 MPH.


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