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P38 vs R84

I have been researching the Lightning P38 and R84, trying to decide which is the better bike. I have seen negative reviews about the R84 but not of the P38. I would like to hear from both sides on which is the better bike to ride for Century rides using both flats and hills. Thanks...

Hello Heidi -

I have both bikes that you are interested in, and have many miles on them. (Also have a Lightning Phantom, and a few other recumbents too. My name is Joel and I am a bikeaholic.) Briefly, the R84 is certainly the nicer machine. It has front and rear suspension, a lighter frame, and fancier components. As you would expect, it costs substantially more too. The suspension is nice when you travel on rougher roads. If you only ride on well-maintained smooth pavement, the suspension is superfluous. There is a long tradition of cyclists obsessing over bicycle weight. If you are a slender person and do a substantial amount of hill climbing, trying to pare down the weight of your bike is reasonable. If your own body packs some surplus mass, and you mostly ride in a flat area, spending lots of extra money on ultra light bike frames and components is largely a waste. If your century rides involve lots of steep climbs, get the lighter bike. Not ounces lighter, but pounds lighter.

I think some of the critical reviews of the carbon fiber R84 were reactions to earlier versions of the bike going back twenty years ago or more. The earlier versions suffered from some teething problems, but the more recent versions of the bike have been refined and improved. I would not hesitate to get an R84 of more recent vintage. A used one from the nineties might be more risky.

My own personal enthusiasm is for Lightning bikes with full fairings. I ride in a pretty flat area, so weight does not preoccupy me. If you are decently fit and like to go extremely fast, the F40 style fairing is the only way to fly. My riding area has pretty lousy roads, so suspension and fatter tires work well for me too. The higher the speeds you go, and the worse the road surfaces, the more important it is to have suspension.

Here is a thought: try a P38 first, and see how you like it. You might be perfectly happy with it. Or you might not. There is no way to be sure without putting in the miles. If you decide that the P38 is not your cup of tea, you can probably sell it at a small loss. Used Lightning bikes have relatively high resale value, because they have a richly-deserved reputation for being wonderful bikes. If you really like the P38, after riding one for awhile you might decide to try the lighter fully suspended carbon bike. Or you might instead decide to keep the P38 and enclose it in an F40 fairing to create a streetable streamliner. Riders who have never had a chance to pilot a fully faired recumbent like the F40 really have no idea what they are missing.

Just some thoughts off the top of my head.

One last bit of advice: most people who gravitate toward recumbent bikes do so because of comfort problems they have with traditional upright bikes. They hope to continue cycling in greater comfort on a recumbent. This is a reasonable hope. But not all recumbent bikes are created equal, and not all comfort problems are the same. Different recumbent bikes put your body in very different orientations, and recumbent seats vary widely in design. The moral of the story? Test riding is crucially important to making an informed choice. Your first priority should be finding a bike that feels good to you over the long rides. This can be a major problem, since shops selling a wide variety of different recumbent bikes are so few and far between. Before you worry about the relative merits of steel P38 and carbon fiber R84 bikes, make sure that the Lightning design feels right to your own body. Try before you buy, even if that means making a long road trip to a shop that has bikes in your size that you can experiment with.

Safe riding,
Joel

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