First Ride

First Ride of the Lightning P-38

Lightning P-38: A recumbent that knows how to climb

by Jim Langley

The usual rap on recumbents is sluggish climbing. Well, Lightning’s P-38 surprised me. Though it has a low gear of only 34 inches (30×24-tooth), I can climb steadily up the steepest hills around. No, I can’t match the performance of my upright racing rig, but I’m sure I’ll get speedier with time. Most important is the “feel” of the bike. The triangulated, small-diameter crome-moly steel tubes resist flex and enable you to get a rhythm going on hills. Campagnolo’s Athena group and Racing T triple crank provide quick gear changes via bar-end shifters. The Campy Scirocco rear wheel offers good acceleration, and a shock fork with one inch of travel softens the ride. The bike weighs [sic] is just 26 pounds — impressive for a ’bent.

The 45-inch wheelbase — tight for a recumbent — and 20-inch front wheel give the bike quick and sporty handling. A relaxed posture is key. If you kick back and hang onto the handlebar, carving corners instead of steering, you’ll feel like Buck Rogers blasting down the road. Overall, this is a competition-worthy ride. We expect nothing less from the company responsible for building the bike that set the cross-country record of five days, one hour, in ’89.

Nitpicks? The P-38 has heel overlap (your heels may strike the front tire), which needs to respected during slow maneuvers. Another quirk share by many recumbents is that the right leg occasionally bumps the chain, causing frequent calf tattoos.

Cost is $3,100 ($2,800 with rigid fork); available with other parts groups, starting at $2,095. Also available as a frame set (seat, bars, and fork included).