By the foot HPV and recumbent bicycle article

Sharie and Ray Brick of Minnesota ride back to back for improved aerodynamics on their recumbent racer.
"Star Wars meets Looney Tunes." That's how one guy watching the 1999 Human Powered Race America races described some of the recumbent bicycles and trikes, also known as HPVs--human powered vehicles--as they whizzed past him at the Northbrook Velodrome last summer. While many of the HPVs at this year's Northbrook HPRA races will again range from wacky-looking to eye-popping, the cyclists pedaling these machines have one thing on their minds: speed, speed and more speed.

Sean Costin of Arlington Heights speeds around the Northbrook Velodrome on the recumbent bicycle he built. He says he can go as fast as 41 MPH.

"I really like going fast. It's exhilarating," says Sean Costin, 34, of Arlington Heights, one of the racing directors of the Northbrook HPRA races and one of the favorites on the HPRA racing circuit. "It's like driving a car fast, only cops are not chasing you."

HPRA is a non-profit, volunteer organization begun in 1987 by a recumbent bike rider who loved to race, said Garrie Hill, who calls himself one of HPRA's two "co-dictators." The association sanctions 13 to 15 HPV racing events a year.

As part as the HPRA 2000 series, races have been held in Alabama, Michigan and Indiana. Anyone with a HPV, an itch to compete and a $20 entrance fee can take part in the Northbrook HPRA races in July. More than 30 riders are expected this year. The match is free to spectators. It's not the Tour de France, but award ceremonies follow the races, and top winners receive nominal prize money--usually about $20; the figure is based on how much money is left after paying the rental fee at the Velodrome, at Maple Avenue and Waukegan Road.

Recumbent riders put their mettle to the pedal at the start of the 1999 Tucker 50 race

More HPRA events are scheduled in Wisconsin and Ohio this year, with the series culminating in the North American Championships at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. Velodrome, road, drag, straight-line top speed or hill climbing races may be featured at HPRA-approved events, with riders and their vehicles entering a race by class.

Among the eight classes are:

  • Stock, an HPV without a fairing (an enclosure that improves a vehicle's aerodynamic efficiency and helps increase speed).
  • Superstock, an HPV that may have a front- or rear-wheel fairing.
  • Streamliner, an HPV that may have any amount of fairing.

There also are classes for women, multi-riders and juniors, considered to be riders 15 or younger. HPRA races are geared primarily at those who ride recumbent bicycles and trikes, but upright bicyclists can and do participate.

"Sometimes people race on Rollerblades, too. But that's just for grins and giggles," says Hill. About 50 to 60 percent of the vehicles in HPRA races are homemade, said Hill. One of HPRA's goals is to advance technology. "Technology and athletic ability go hand-and-hand in these races," says Hill, owner of Contour Forming Inc., a Newark, Ohio, firm that specializes in precision deep drawing of sheet metal for aircraft and aerospace parts. "A lot of the riders are involved in high-tech industries. Some are mechanical engineers or have science backgrounds."

Costin, a manager of a thread-locking and -sealing company, is one of them. At 13, he built his first bike, an upright. Since 1991, he's built eight recumbent bicycles, but it's his Monkey Hand, which he created three years ago, that has made his renown and is a consistent HPRA winner in the Stock class. Monkey Hand got its name after someone remarked that its carbon fiber bike seat, which is molded in a shape that envelopes the rider, looks like an ape's hand. But that's not the weird part. Monkey Hand is designed so the cyclist is practically prone. "To improve the aerodynamics, I made it as flat as I can and still navigate," says Costin. He says his power output is less than if he was more upright. "But because the aerodynamics are so good, I can still go faster," says Costin. Monkey Hand is made of aluminum and carbon fiber and has a front-wheel-drive system. "It's very efficient. There's a shorter distance to get to the drive wheel." Many of the machine's components were recycled from old upright bicycles, and Costin admits to "raiding garbage cans" behind bike shops to find some. Costin, who trains 12 to 25 miles three times a week, says: "I'm a friendly person. I love my competitors. But when I race, I really want to pummel them."

On a straight, flat road, he has gotten the bike up to 41.5 miles per hour. (Costins says he can do 37 to 38 m.p.h. on an upright bike.) In addition to winning numerous HPRA events last year, including a 50-lap race in Northbrook in which he averaged more than 28 m.p.h., Costin won the 200-meter sprint at the 1999 International Human Powered Vehicle Association's World Championships in Interlaken, Switzerland. (IHPVA is the governing body of human powered vehicle groups from 11 countries dedicating to promoting human-powered transportation. It also sponsors races.)
But Costin has another goal, which he hopes to fulfill next month: to be the fastest rider on a human-powered vehicle in the world. The record is 68.7 m.p.h., set in 1992 by Chris Huber, at high altitude (helpful because the air is thinner and consequently offers less resistance) in Alamosa County, Colo. Costin hopes to break the record by 5 m.p.h. on a vehicle he is creating with Tom Ollinger, of Dayton, and his brother Charlie Ollinger, of Seattle. There will be no metal frame on this HPV; components will be attached to a fiberglass shell. All the design work is being done by computer. Costin plans to make his record-breaking ride at high elevation in Nevada. Race officials from IHPVA will officiate.
Costin hopes to break the record by 5 m.p.h. on a vehicle he is creating with Tom Ollinger, of Dayton, and his brother Charlie Ollinger, of Seattle. There will be no metal frame on this HPV; components will be attached to a fiberglass shell. All the design work is being done by computer.

While Costin relishes racing, he finds designing HPVs just as satisfying. "It's like being a car driver and being able to design your own car," he said.

If there was an HPRA prize for most unusual HPV, Ray and Sharie Brick's black, low-racer, recumbent tandem, which Ray built in 1997, gives Costin some competition.

Sharie, a registered nurse with the American Red Cross, sits back-to-back behind Ray, a pipe fitter for a refrigeration and air conditioning company. Why back-to-back? "It's all about being aero, man," as one HPV racer puts it. "The design of the bike puts Sharie directly behind me so that the wind resistance is like one person instead of two, putting her directly in my draft, making it (the vehicle) more aerodynamic," says Ray. Indeed it is. The Bricks, of Cottage Grove, Minn., took first place in the multi-rider class in all the Alabama HPRA 2000 races they entered, just as they do almost every time they race the bike. The 16-gear, 42-pound, fully suspended, carbon fiber over foam-core bike has a chain length five times longer than that of a regular upright bicycle. "Sharie's chain goes through a jack-shaft in a figure 8 in order to reverse rotation so she doesn't have to pedal backwards. My chain comes to the same jack-shaft on the other side of the vehicle."

The Bricks use the bike primarily for racing. "Sharie doesn't like to ride the bike on the streets because she doesn't want to look directly at traffic coming toward her. She finds looking at peoples' bumpers intimidating," says Ray.

"Sharie got a bug to race a single alone," adds Ray. So in addition to riding the tandem with her husband at Northbrook, Sharie will enter some races on another Ray-built bike--an 18-pound champagne- and copper-colored low-racer with 16-inch wheels. The rear wheel has 12 spokes, rather than the standard 36, making the bicycle lighter and faster. "Sharie's tiny," says Ray. "Ninety-five pounds. The bike is plenty strong for her."

Some of the fastest and coolest-looking HPVs at Northbrook will be the ones enclosed with fairings. Warren Beauchamp, 38, a senior computer technology consultant from Streamwood, will be riding his Barracuda, "a work in progress" he began in 1998.

The Barracuda's frame is made of chro-moly steel tubing and has rear-wheel-drive and a mono-blade front fork to give the chain clearance. The bike is a low racer; Beauchamp sits seven inches off the ground.

In 1999, Beauchamp covered the frame with a yellow fiberglass and Coroplast (corrugated plastic) fairing. The word "CUDA" appears across the sides in black letters.

This year, at the Alabama HPRA races, Beauchamp won a one-hour time trial, a two-mile sprint and every drag race he entered.

While the HPV, made by Beauchamp and Bill Murphy, another recumbent builder and racer (as well as co-director, with Costin, of the Northbrook HPRA races), has a missile-esque look to it, Beauchamp is constructing a fully enclosed fiberglass and carbon fiber shell for the bike that will be ready for the Northbrook races.

He says building and racing recumbent bikes is an "addiction".

Beauchamp has built five bikes since 1996. One of the things he likes most about the sport is the people. "Car racers want to keep secrets to themselves," Beauchamp said. "Recumbent racers are more than willing to help each other out. They're happy to tell you what they did to make themselves go faster."

Then there's David Pearson and his 21-speed Banshee. The 65-year-old-dentist, known as "Doc" Pearson in the HPV racing world, built the HPV out of "inch and a half muffler pipe and the back end of an old bike." The HPV has front-wheel-drive, a short wheelbase and a windshield. The frame is covered with a clear plastic fairing in front and white Coroplast on the sides. "It's comfortable, a quick handler and I can cruise at 22 to 24 m.p.h., depending on what kind of shape I'm in," says Pearson, of Mooresville, Ind. He says that he can get up to 30 to 32 m.p.h. for short distances. A former Soap Box Derby racer, Pearson began building recumbent racing bikes for other people in 1980 but started racing his creations four years later, after a racer had to leave an event early to catch a plane. "I had so much fun, I thought the heck with other people. I'm gonna race," says Pearson.

Pearson won a quarter-mile road race in Indiana this year after Beauchamp ran off the track and crashed, but Pearson says: "It doesn't matter if I'm first or last. I could care less. As long as I'm doing the best I can at the time."

While HPV building and racing may seem like an obscure avocation, HPV aficionados, such as Brad Wagoner, have influenced the upright biking world. Recumbent rider Wagoner is director of product development at Trek. He has developed upright bicycles for the Waterloo, Wis., company, and was instrumental in the production of Trek's first recumbent, the R200.

And Chet Kyle, a retired professor of Mechanical Engineering at California State University in Long Beach and the 1976 founder of IHPVA, designed the low, aerodynamic drag frames and the disc wheels used by the U.S. Olympic cycling teams in 1984 and 1996. Recumbent bicycles hold all the land world speed records for human-powered vehicles, according to Chris Broome, IHPVA chairman.

Ray Stockinger's "Alley Cat" recumbent was designed to be an extreme low rider.
But what is it about HPVs that gets folks so hooked on building and racing them? "You have to be a little bit off the wall to get into this," Hill says.

Costin, a bit more philosophical, adds, "Why do you love your wife? It's something you just do."


For more information on HPRA racing and recumbent bikes, check out the following:, maintained by racer Warren Beauchamp, the Wisconsin and Illinois Human Powered Vehicle Association site, includes group information as well as a look at recumbents and other human-powered vehicles being built by members., maintained by Ed Gin, president of Chicagoland Recumbent Riders. It offers ride schedules, photos, race info and everything you've ever wanted to know and more about recumbent bicycles., another informative site put together by a recumbent bicycle devotee includes chat rooms, recumbent bike clubs, a buyer's guide, parts and supply information and videos.

-- Judy Marcus


** A request for reproduction of this article has been submitted to the Chicago Tribune. **

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