Lightning P38 and F40 Recumbent Bike

LIghtning P38, blue, next to a field
Lightning P-38

Lightning P38 Recumbent Bicycle

The legendary P-38 is still Lightning’s flagship and at 24 lb., one of the lightest recumbents made. It has a steeper head angle than the Stealth for a bit more nimble ride. At high speeds, it takes a bit more getting used to than a Phantom. The triangulation of its space frame design makes it stiff, strong and one of the fastest climbing recumbents around. At first, you won’t be fast on any recumbent; but after a few months of regularly riding a P-38, you should be ready to out-climb your old bike. If you used to climb standing on big gears on your old bike, you will have to learn to gear down and spin.

Ian Lighting P-38 in the desert

The P-38 seat lacing needs to be re-tightened after the first 25 to 50 miles, it’s pretty easy to do. I do not recommend the Campy component option. It shifts well but has a limited cassette selection. For instance, if you want a 26 tooth low gear you have to put up with a 13 tooth high. A bike as fast as the P-38 really needs an 11 tooth high gear.

Ian lightning at shop in the snow

One fall I rode a P-38 on a 20-mile road club ride. I started in the middle of 70 riders (5 recumbents, 65 uprights) and caught the leaders in about two miles. I had no trouble staying with the lead group without drafting them. I easily led every climb the whole ride. Once, as I led up a hill a roadie in the group said, “that will be enough of that!” He and his friend jumped out of his saddle and chased but didn’t catch me. At the end of the ride, a friendly wedgie rider told me they had heard recumbents were slow, but they guessed no one had ever told me!

Over the past 20 years stronger riders than I have demonstrated how fast the Lightning F-40 with fairing is. Here are a few highlights: Seattle to Portland record holder – 192 miles in 7-1/2 hours (26 mph average) San Francisco to Los Angeles record – 400 miles in 18 hours (22 mph average). This speed advantage is partly due to the recumbent seat position, which has less frontal area and, therefore, less wind resistance. On the P-38 this results in a ~15% speed increase over a standard road bike. The P-38 with the optional Zzipper fairing and wheel covers can yield an additional 15% speed advantage.

The P-38 and F40 with side pull brakes and the medium P-38 or F-40 with a 20” front wheel has a front fork with very little tire clearance. There are only two tires that I know of that will fit in this fork, both are fast, neither is particularly durable.

The P-38 is a great recumbent for club racing, touring and recreational riding. (If you want to do HPRA or HPVA races, look out: low-racers will eat you alive on a flat course!) The P-38 is one of my favorite bikes.

Lightning F40 Recumbent Bicycle

Lightning F40 red

The P-38 with a full fairing is called the F-40. For racers and high-performance enthusiasts fully faired F-40 can be extremely fast. If you are an experienced Lightning rider having trouble keeping up with low-racers on your beloved P-38 this is the magic bullet. The F-40 is so fast that it holds some long distance world speed records. The fairing adds speed and warmth but requires more bike handling ability, especially in a gusty wind. The F-40 is the Race Across America team record holder. A 4-rider team taking turns on an F-40, pedaled 2910 miles in 5 days and 1 hour (24 mph average). This bike is not for timid or casual riders. It is for riders with the skills to be safe in it and a strong desire to fly.