Review

Lightning R-84

Recumbent & Tandem Rider
#38

There aren’t many recumbent manufacturers who have been on the scene in as dramatic a manner — and for as long — as Lompoc, California-based Lightning Cycle Dynamics. As a young engineering student, Tim Brummer, Lightning’s majordomo, studied rocket science (aerospace engineering), and has been involved in setting bicycle records from the early days of human-powered speed record attempts.

One might think that with Lightning as the company name, his firm better have some fast machinery to offer. Not to worry, because over the years his teams have set over 20 world records, including the Abbott, Paul Mitchell, and STP Challenge, along with several records set during the annual Race Across America in 2004.

Lightning’s R-84 is an incredibly light short-wheelbase recumbent with a monocoque frame made of carbon fiber. While there have been other carbon fiber, monocoque-framed designs on the market in the past, Lightning’s R -84 has withstood the test of time, Part of that endurance is due to the incredible performance available from the sub-twenty-pound machine. Part of it is because Lightning as a company has been successful in selling its other recumbents, such as the F-40 and its mainstays, the P-38 and the Phantom. The number of buyers who can afford a carbon fiber bike is limited, the more-affordable P-38 and Phantom each deliver its own high level of performance-per-dollar, and are Lightning’s “bread and butter” cycles.

Our review bike, priced at $6,200.00, weighed in at 19.34 pounds, sans pedals. The “Super Light 2×9” version of the R-84 is even lighter. The installation of lighter, more expensive components shaves off as much as two more pounds — and also shaves an additional $1,200.00 from your wallet.

In a visit to the Lightning factory some years ago, Tim displayed an R-84 frameset before the addition of any of the components. Talk about cognitive dissonance. Unless you’ve played with carbon fiber previously, your brain is expecting a mass as large as the R-84 ‘s frame to have a substantial heft to it. Your brain “tells” your hands to expect something like a 22-pound weight, but when only a few ounces actually hit your skin it feels like the frame is buoyant in the air. Almost spooky.

Lightning has offered the R-84 for several years, I’ve owned one for about five years. Aside from several detail improvements that have been made in that time, the R-84 ‘s seat is quite a departure my personal R-84, equipped with the familiar, and very comfortable, mesh seat. As one who appreciates life’s comforts, the racer-style seat, with its 30-degree seatback angle, concerned me a bit upon first examination. Lightning’s patented Ergofit mesh seat has a back angle adjustable from 50- to 58-degrees, allowing a more upright riding position. The concern I had about possible neck fatigue during long riding stints aboard the highracer-type seat was fully unwarranted.

With less cushioning available from the fiberglass mid-racer seat, the R-84’s suspension system — front and rear — did an excellent job of removing harshness from the ride without absorbing and wasting power. With tires spec’d to 125 psi (a Schwalbe 28-406 Durano in front, a Kenda 650 × 23c Kaliente Pro in the rear), softening the ride a bit is appreciated. The acceleration is just what you would expect from a bike this light with the 20” front and 700c rear wheel assemblies offering minimal inertial resistance. The R-84 ‘s handling is natural and intuitive, no over-control issues, nothing spooky, but it does respond well to sporting requests and provides confidence at all speeds. If you’ve got the cash, riding an R-84 will let the pack know that you’ve arrived, and you’ll probably arrive well before them!

Contact Lightning: lightningbikes.com, Phone: 805.736.0700

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Source: Recumbent & Tandem Rider #38

See all our Lightning customer pages here. For more Lightning photos and a forum for questions and sharing ideas, visit Joel Dickman’s LightningRiders.com.